The Receiving Line
Many who stood on the line had visions of going from rags to wishes, then on to a stroke of good fortune where dreams really do come true.
Every day the hopeful and the hopeless passed through the heavy glass, fingerprint stained swinging doors that led to a huge room lined with bodies looking for a future. For some, the prospects were as gray as the walls that had long given up trying to look cheerful. Chances are, few noticed.
If you needed a place to go to get a grip on gratitude, this was it.
As a reporter, I had finally cut through the proverbial red tape, and jumped through all necessary legal hoops to get a story, but needed to put a face on the facts.
After a quick once over, I finally found one.
At least six years old, she stood almost glued to her mother’s side while her doll dangled precariously in one hand – Raggedy Ann at her worse. Neither of them looked as if they enjoyed being there, and both needed a scrubbing.
I’d forgotten to approach from within eye view. Her mother’s head did a quick jerk towards the sound of my voice.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you, but I was wondering if I could ask a few questions while you wait on line?”
Stone is stone and ice is ice, and I had encountered both. Was it possible to crack the stone and melt the ice? I gave it a try.
“My name is Pete, and I’m a reporter with the Union Times.” My extended hand had no takers.
“So, wha’ does that have to do with me?”
Come to think of it, what did it have to do with her? I could have chosen any one of the hundreds who stood with forms in hand waiting for their number to be called. Think quick man, think quick.
“Well, just noticed your little girl and her doll. They both looked a little tired.”
Was there a slight softening of the stony glare? Don’t stop now.
“If you would answer a few questions for me, maybe I could get you out of here much faster.”
The ice in her eyes melted ever so slightly, I’d hit on something. Don’t push, give her a moment.
Finally, “What d’ya want to know?
“If you don’t mind, there’s a room we can go to where we can talk. There are chairs there. You must be tired having to wait on line so long.”
Look Mister, her glance said, I don’t need sympathy from you. My eyes stayed on the prize.
“And what’s your daughter’s name? She’s awful pretty.”
“Missy.” That was all
“Hi, Missy, I like your doll.”
She dropped her eyes, and her other hand clutched at her mother’s dress.
Shy, perhaps, or old enough to know that poverty also creates lines of a different sort.
Like a gentlemen, I pulled out a chair. Missy, too big to sit in her mother’s lap, did so anyway, almost blocking my view.
“You know,” I said with my most engaging smile, “You told me Missy’s name, but I didn’t get your name.”
“Adelaide Rich, hope this isn’t gonna be long.”
“Ms. Rich,” I tried not to think of the irony, “May I call you Adelaide?”
That must have been a Yes.
“Like I said before, Adelaide, I would like to ask you a few questions for an article that will eventually be published in the Union Times. Are you comfortable having your picture and Missy’s along with your story printed in the newspaper?”
“Wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”
That made a lot of sense. Whatever made me realize I needed to either skip the small talk, or walk away with an empty notepad?
By the time the interview was over, I knew what I had to do.
“This has taken a bit longer than I thought, Adelaide. Do you mind waiting here for another few minutes? I’ll be right back.”
I placed my hand on Missy’s head.
“Missy, you’re the best, most well-behaved little girl in the world.”
Words are my business, but this time words couldn’t describe how I knew she was smiling inside. I just knew.
I returned a few minutes later, with a new job offer and a voucher that read: Rent paid for twelve months.
She took one final look at the long lines outside the door, and her sigh eclipsed expression.
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