The young couple sat on a bench across from the screening desk where Avery was taking temperatures and directing clients into the health center. Both of them were thin, their clothes scruffy and too flimsy for the cool winter weather. Two bulging white trash bags leaned against their legs. They talked in hushed voices, their faces masks of anxiety. Avery called over to them. “Hi, can I help you? What seems to be the problem?” The woman replied. “We need to get to a DMV and then to Marietta to a sober living community. We tried once before but couldn’t get there. “
Her voice was neither hopeful or angry—rather, it was flat and defeated.
“But why come here to the health department? Are you from around here?”
They named a county in Georgia, but Avery had no idea where it was. They apparently came to seek information and confused the health department with the public library, which sat directly across the parking lot.
“The people here told us there is a local bus that can drop us at the DMV; then we can call the sober living community, and they will come and get us. (Marietta is the next county over and a good hour away by car.) “But we have to call the community before 2:00 p.m. or we will be too late again.”
“Do you have change for the bus?” Avery asked. I knew that buses often take only the exact fare, and bus prices vary wildly from place to place.
The young woman replied, “It’s $2.50 a person, and we only have a credit card. I called them for their schedule, but they won’t take a credit card.”
Avery was hoping for a dollar each, not $2.50 for a community bus. Damn, she thought. Avery had a five and a twenty-dollar bill. She wasn’t keen on giving them the twenty, but the five was okay, even if it was a scam. Avery’s personal philosophy: Better to be cheated than not to help people in need. It was already past noon, and they were running out of time. She offered them the five.
Relieved, the girl called the bus again to check when it would arrive. It would be at the library in twenty minutes. They could get it all done in time.
“Have you had your COVID vaccinations yet?” Avery asked. The young man said “yes,” but his partner shook her head to indicate that she had not. “You can get one here free, right now, and be able to still catch your bus on time.” She nodded her agreement, and I ushered her down the hall to the nurses, leaving the young man behind to wait.
Earlier that December, at Hanukkah, Avery’s daughter had given her a KFC gift card. Avery occasionally, very occasionally, treated herself to a chicken thigh and a biscuit. It was an addiction of sorts—a treat for a difficult day, or a lunch break on a long drive. She had tried to use the card. It didn’t work. Apparently, she had not scratched off the code. She subsequently followed the directions, this time giving the card to a co-worker, but it still didn’t work. Her co-worker got stuck paying for lunch. The KFC help line said that it was not formatted correctly and agreed to mail her a new twenty-dollar card.
She watched the young man as he waited patiently for his partner to be vaccinated. He didn’t look sad; as before, he appeared to be resigned and tired. Avery pulled the new card from her wallet. “Be sure to scratch off the code before you use it,” she instructed as she gave it to him.
He clutched the card and thanked her.
Later, as she watched the pair cross the parking lot to the bus stop, she thought, I guess this card was just not meant for me.