You wake up early for work. Even your spouse isn’t up yet, and you struggle between the equally tempting decisions of snuggling back into their arms or going out and treating yourself to a nicer breakfast than granola yogurt and decaf coffee. The rumble of your tummy decides the victor of that particular battle, so you kiss your spouse on the cheek, whisper something sweet into their ear, and get up.
It’s okay to take your time, but you end up getting ready at the same pace as usual. On your way out the door, you pause for a breath of fresh morning air. It’s nice to feel unrushed, isn’t it? And more than that; the café you have in mind is a little farther away and while you’d normally just walk to work, you’re feeling so good that you decide to take a taxi to that café. Breakfast is worth it on a day you’re feeling this good.
When you hail the taxi, you don’t see the man, just a little farther down the street also sticking out his hand. You don’t see how his age-lined face creases with disappointment or how his shoulders slump with defeat as his hand drops to his side. You don’t see his eyes lift as your taxi pulls away, seeking another of those bright cars, but the press of traffic and bodies gives him nothing.
He waits there for minutes more, painfully aware of the time ticking down, like every grain in the proverbial hourglass is a burning hot ember to sizzle against his skin. When finally he does see a taxi, he’s able to get inside, slumping against the seat and checking his watch at every breath. Anxiety sets his hands wringing whenever the driver brakes or pauses too long on a turn. He distracts himself by counting out the money, a pitiful collection of ones and quarters. When the car finally stops, he thrusts the money forward and leaps out the door, making a beeline for his office building.
The man is greeted with a glare from his boss as he hunkers down into his cubicle, hoping that he had been quick enough to avoid a talking to… but that would require luck, and this man has none. He slinks over to the office and shuts the door behind him, cringing and fidgeting with his hands as each word is delivered. His halting excuses are cut down at the knees, and though the others in the office aren’t strangers to this type of abuse, all they can think in that moment is, “glad it’s not me this time”.
When the eagle is done chewing on his liver, the man is released from the office to shamble back to his desk. He can hardly sit up straight from the weight of everything on his shoulders; this was just one more rock added to the pile. The previous week had been going so well… If only he had been able to get that first taxi!
At the end of his day, a curt word from his boss drops yet another boulder on him. He can’t even muster up words to resist. The man clears the meagre contents of his desk into the briefcase that looks as battered as he feels. He doesn’t want to hurry home to break the news, nor does he think that hiring another taxi is worth the money when he’s not sure how long it will be before he does have money again.
That’s why he was on that crosswalk.
You, on the other hand, were feeling fine when you paid and entered the café. It’s a nice place, hip and upbeat with some snazzy music drifting from the speakers. You don’t mind the wait in the line, especially as it looks like the barista is a bit frazzled. Her movements are jerky and quick; she looks bleakly out to the filling café and over to the door of the backroom. You think it a bit odd that she’s working alone.
When you reach the counter, you decide to order something special; something you rarely every try. Something from the secret menu. It takes her a moment to process what you asked, but then she understands and asks you to wait a moment as she gets her coworker, the guy who really knows what that secret menu is all about. You’re still plenty early. It’s no problem, you tell her. Some stress lifts from her brow and she thanks you with her eyes before going to find the other barista.
He’s huddled in the break room, weeping. She stops in the doorway, not quite sure how to proceed, but steels her nerve and walks over to place a hand on his shoulder. He looks up, startled, the tears still wet in his eyes. Somehow, in that moment, she knows the right words to say. He ends up smiling a bit, thanking her, and goes out to deal with your order.
They get off work at the same time, leaving the café to the afternoon shift. She suggests they go out and destress; watch a movie or something. Have dinner. He agrees. They have a pleasant afternoon together and enjoy a new release at the theater. He suggests a restaurant across town that they both like. She thinks it’s a wonderful idea. The evening isn’t too cold, so they decide to walk.
That’s why they were on that crosswalk.
Your breakfast was great. When you got to work, right on time, you were feeling good enough to smile at everyone you met. An hour in, your spouse calls, saying they didn’t get to tell you they loved you before you left. You laugh and tell them you love them too. They ask you to stop by the store to do some shopping and you say you will.
The evening isn’t too cold, and your work is close enough to home, you think you’ll enjoy the walk. At the store, the lottery scratch card catches your eye. You take a few steps closer… but shake your head and hold back. You and your spouse had talked about this, and you don’t want to disappoint them. And yourself, really. It’s a difficult habit to kick, but you’re going to do it.
As you turn away from it, a woman passes you to pay for her own items. She also looks at the scratch card, and with a sigh, picks it up to place on the counter. She looks tired and her clothing is threadbare. The cashier gives her that thin-lipped smile when he scans everything, finishing with the scratch card. He doesn’t expect her to win anything. She doesn’t expect to win anything.
She scratches it and looks at the numbers. Curiosity has her in its grip, so she shifts her groceries to one hand and pulls out her phone to find the url in her history. She stares at the tiny screen, reading. Hoping. Her jaw drops at what she finds there. She looks at the card and back to the screen. Back to the card. A scream escapes from her lips and she drops the groceries, unheeding of the crack of eggs. Clutching that ticket tight, she runs for her car, clicking the lock with shaking hands and getting inside.
The car barrels out of the parking lot with a screech of tires and down the street. Tears fill the woman’s vision as she drives, and she can hardly see through them as she careens towards a crosswalk.
As you’re walking home, you hear sirens in the distance. Your contented smile fades for a moment as you remember not everyone has as good a day as you.
Perhaps it will improve for them.