A woman drives to work in Montreal, on a day like any other. At an intersection near her apartment she stops at a red light and a squeegee kid approaches the car and cleans the windshield. He’s in his late teens, maybe early twenties, and though he looks a little rough around the edges he doesn’t look like a bad kid. She’s seen him a few times before and she never gave him anything, but this time she decides to. All she’s got in the ashtray is a nickel, so she gives him that. He’s not impressed; probably he’s even a bit insulted.
The kid has made this his regular squeegee corner and from that day on she sees him often, almost every day. And every time now, she gives him a nickel. Why a nickel? She figures that it’s something, at least, but it’s not enough for him to go out and buy drugs with.
It goes on for weeks, day after day, weekdays, weekends – whenever they happen to meet at the intersection. She gets rolls of nickels at the bank and keeps them in her car. When he sees her car at the intersection, he heads straight over to clean her windshield and claim his nickel. It’s like they’re friends now; it has become their little joke.
One day she has some time to spare, and maybe he looks a little rougher than usual, so she rolls down the window, gives him a nickel and says, “Would you like me to take you to McDonalds for a meal?”
He hardly hesitates a second before he says, “Yes, I’d like that very much.”
So he gets in, squeegee and all, and they drive to the restaurant for something to eat. They get to talking about his situation, which isn’t a good one, and the woman says, “Would you like some help?”
They talk about that for a while, and then the woman takes out her cell phone and calls a friend of hers who works in a halfway house. Arrangements are made.
After that she doesn’t see him at the intersection anymore, and soon she pretty much forgets about him. The nickels in her car are eventually swept into her purse and spent.
Three months later she’s walking through a mall and a young man walks up to her. She hardly recognizes him, away from the intersection, and he looks a lot different, much more presentable. He recognizes her, though. He has a job now, he says. He has a place to live. And he has something for her, something he’s been carrying around for weeks. He pulls a roll of nickels out of his pocket and gives it to her. They have a good laugh. And then they go on with their lives, feeling a little better about things.
The woman is my sister, Rhonda, whose open-hearted acceptance of everybody, foibles and all, is an inspiration to me. I wish i had the savvy that could keep a five-cent joke going for that long, and know that a nickel is sometimes much more than a nickel. She’s an artist of life.