This morning there was a frantic pre-Christmas rush at the Post Office, which is situated in the corner of a small congested supermarket. A long queue snaked back from the PO counter and unavoidably clashed with the equally long line of people clutching baskets of groceries waiting to pay at the woefully understaffed checkout.
Tempers were fraying, as small children trying to escape the enforced boredom by whirling like dervishes tripped the unwary, feet shuffled as those who’d worn their warmest clothes to combat the wintery chill outside started to feel beads of sweat form and roll down their spines. Having cycled down, dropping small boy at nursery on the way, dashed to the bank and various other places before I got to the Post Office, I was already dripping sweat and about to expire with the heat, whilst juggling cards, bills, and a parcel.
In front of me in the PO queue something was causing a hold-up, a woman’s strained voice could be heard at one of the two active counters. Then she hastily apologised and ran out, pushing through the expectant crowd, to use the cash machine on the wall outside, because her credit card had been rejected at the counter and she’d insufficient cash for the postage on the cards and gift she’d just posted. The crowd tutted and grumped, two women behind me made their frustration evident as they discussed the woman’s inability to be properly organised, which meant she must be an abject failure as a mother too of course.
The woman quickly returned and quietly apologised to the two people at the front of the queue, and with tears beginning to well up in her eyes admitted she’d failed to get any cash from the machine outside. Unsympathetic grumbles emanated from behind me and I turned to look at the scowling faces of the couple, one tutting, the other looking at her watch with a dramatic flourish.
I moved forwards into a space between a pair of static displays where I could more easily see what was unfolding. The woman at the front looked utterly defeated, her face betraying the fact that this had just overwhelmed her. Then from the adjacent counter the other customer, another woman, leaned over, put her hand gently on the woman’s shoulder and in a hushed voice said “Here dear, let me help you, take this to pay for it.” and at the same time slipped a £10 note across the counter to her.
The recipient looked at her in astonishment at this unexpected turn of events, and her face glowed as she realised what was happening, but she said “No I can’t accept it”. But the donor insisted, saying “I think I recognise you, you can give it back to me sometime.”
The few people close enough to hear the interaction looked on in silence, whilst the grumpy ones behind me continued to moan incessantly.
It was a small gesture, but sometimes such simple things can have a significant effect on the beneficiary, and this one turned a stranger’s morning around.
In this ‘season of giving’ it’s worth remembering it’s not what you give, it’s the reason why that really matters.