Thelma’s ten hour shift at the City Line Diner ended at 4:00 pm. She helped set up for the dinner service, said her goodbyes to the incoming waitresses and kitchen staff, punched out on the grease covered clock mounted on the kitchen wall and started on her journey home. After spending ten hours waiting on and busing her own tables, there was not much pep left in Thelma’s steps as she shuffled her 5’4”, 200 pound frame down four city blocks to catch her Harlem bound bus.
It was starting to get dark as Thelma exited the bus and continued walking north three blocks to her one-room apartment in the run-down tenements. There was no surprise or anguish when Thelma met the “Out of Order” sign still on the elevator door; Thelma simply made her way to the stairs and, grabbing the railing, started the climb up the three stories to her apartment past bodies in the stairwell, broken bottles and the accompanying smells of urine, alcohol, marijuana and other odors causing her to hold her breathe for short intervals of time as best she could.
Panting at her doorway from the climb, Thelma inserted her key and entered the empty apartment.
Thelma said, “Hello, Dear” to the picture of her now dead husband, grabbed a notebook, pencil and envelopes off of the counter in the portion of the room that served as a kitchen and sat down on the one chair at the small kitchen table. Thelma emptied her pockets of the tips she had gathered for the day and began her “account’n”. Thelma made an entry in her notebook and then put a portion of today’s tips in an envelope marked “Rent & Bills”, some in the envelope labeled “Food” and the remainder in an envelope with the words “Lottery Money” printed on the front.
After tucking the flaps back in on the first two envelopes, Thelma emptied out the “Lottery Money” envelope and started counting up the bills.
“Fifty dollars,” she exclaimed. “Donald,” she addressed to her husband’s picture, “I think it’s time. The Powerball is up to eight hundred million dollar, Sweet Lord, and we’s ready to win that money for sure.”
For over six months, Thelma had put what little bit she had left over from the other two envelops into her “Lottery Money” account just waiting for the Powerball to reach a number high enough to entice her to make this investment. And now, the time was right.
“I’s got to get me down to Jackson’s corner store afore seven-o’clock for tonight’s drawing, Donald. Wish me luck, Sweetheart, ‘cause I sure could use it. You tell Jesus up thar with you that I am praying like I’ve never prayed before to help me wins this lottery.”
Thelma pocketed the fifty dollars and retraced her steps back down the foul-smelling stairwell and onto the noisy city streets. At two dollars apiece, Thelma could purchase twenty-five Powerball tickets. Thelma clutched a piece of paper detailing twenty-five sets of numbers she had constructed with special meaning from her fifty-five years on earth. Each set of numbers was meticulously thought about and grouped with other numbers to make each ticket its own story in six number increments.
Thelma walked into Jackson’s Market with just one purpose – purchase her twenty-five Powerball tickets of which she was sure one would save her from her sorry lot in life.
Thelma walked into the store and immediately got in line behind a woman with three young children buying some groceries. The clerk had already wrung up the few items the lady had brought to the counter as she tried her best to open her purse with a small infant strapped to her front, a two year old hugging her leg and a ten year old boy pouting at her side.
The young mother nervously stated, “Just a minute, I can’t find my money. I just got my money this morning and I am sure I put it in my purse.”
The clerk did not look happy.
The ten year old boy whined, “You ain’t got no money, Momma?”
“Yes, yes I got the money, I just can’t find it now”, she announced as she frantically shuffled through her purse.
“Come on lady, we don’t have all day,” stated the clerk as a few more people were now waiting in line to check out.
“I, I, must have left it back in the shelter. Can I just take this and bring the money back tomorrow. They close the shelter doors at eight and I can’t get there and back by then.”
“Hey, Lady, this is a grocery store this ain’t no charity place. You shouldn’t come in here if you ain’t got no money,” the clerk rudely responded.
“Can’t I just have the diapers? My baby is all wet and we ain’t got no diapers,” the poor lady pleaded.
“No, you can’t have no diapers for free,” snapped back the clerk. He then spoke into a microphone, “Bob, I need you up front to void an order.”
The people in line behind Thelma were now getting agitated and also giving the lady a hard time for creating a backup in line.
Thelma then spoke up. “Now hold on,” she said, speaking to the clerk. “Why you got to be so rude? This lady lost her money and she got these children to feed. You ain’t got to be like that.”
“Yeah, right, she lost her money – bull-shit, she ain’t got no money,” shouted one of the customers behind Thelma.
Bob then approached the cashier and took out his key to void the transaction.
“Now just stop,” Thelma shouted. “Just stop. How much is it?”
“Forty-five dollars and thirty-two cents,” announced the clerk.
“Fine,” said Thelma, “here’s fifty dollars,” she announced handing over six months’ worth of saving left-over tip money for lottery tickets.
“Oh ma’am, you ain’t got to do that,” cried the young mother.
“Don’t you worry, Honey, you need to feed your family,” Thelma replied with her outstretched hand clutching the fifty dollars in front of the clerk.
The small boy announced, “It’s okay, Momma, I don’t need the candy bar – and you can give back the cereal.”
The woman said, “Maybe just the diapers, maybe you could buy us just the diapers.”
“Now hush up,” Thelma replied, “These are the groceries you needed, these are the groceries we is buying. And son, you can have that candy bar, you just promise me that you won’t pout anymore and you will help your Momma out, okay.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said the little boy.
The clerk took Thelma’s fifty dollars and Bob walked away satisfied that everything was taken care of.
The mother said, “Thank you ma’am. Thank you very much. Now you give me your name and address and I will bring that money back to you tomorrow.”
Thelma smiled and said, “It’s okay, Honey, life has been good to me. You just remember this and when life is good to you again in the future, you do this for someone else.”
“Yes, ma’am, I will,” promised the embarrassed woman.
The little boy looked up at Thelma and asked, “Lady, are you an angel?”
“No,” Thelma chuckled, “I ain’t no angel – but my husband is an angel and he sent me here to help ya’ll tonight.”
“Are you rich,” asked the boy.
“I is rich enough,” smiled Thelma.
The clerk finished bagging the groceries and handed them to the mother and the little boy. Thelma followed the family out of the market.
The mother asked, “Ma’am, didn’t you buy nothun? Did we take all of your money? Wasn’t you here to buy something?”
“Nay, I wasn’t here for nothing important. Like I said, my husband and Jesus sent me here to help you and to help me remember what is important in life.”
“Well thank you ma’am, and thank your husband and Jesus for us, too” said the mother as they started off in opposite directions.
Thelma walked into her lonely apartment and threw the empty “Lottery Money” envelope into the trash can.
As Thelma laid in bed that night watching the News on her little TV, the news anchor announced, “Well, there were no winners in the Powerball Lottery tonight, the next drawing will be worth over one billion dollars.”
“Now, Donald and Jesus,” Thelma said aloud, “We all knows that ain’t true, there was one winner tonight – thank you for showing me the way. Good night, husband. Good night, Lord.”