A teenager, wearing his father’s oversized coat to shield him from the chilly night wind, strode purposefully toward the market. Many of the neighborhood bodegas had closed because of the pandemic, but this one survived. He had limited funds to purchase enough food for himself and his younger sister. The siblings were just two of a growing number of recent orphans produced by COVID-19. He decided that being placed in the welfare system was unacceptable, and he would do everything possible to keep that from happening.
For the last three nights, a stray dog had been hanging around the market entrance. Like the boy, the dog had no one to look out for him. She stood by a large sign next to the door and looked up woefully at patrons as they entered and exited. Most people ignored her, but not the boy. He would stop on his way in and pet the stray while muttering quietly to her. He felt a connection to the dog, both being abandoned by fate. No matter how broke he was, there was always enough money to buy a snack for the stray.
What the teen didn’t realize was his actions were being watched. Sitting by a dimly lit street level window next to the market was an elderly woman. She observed all the comings and goings in the neighborhood, looking for just the right candidate to join her organization. This seemingly harmless old woman controlled all the drug distribution for blocks. The young man with the baggy coat might be her next recruit.
She owned the market frequented by the boy, so she knew what he bought and how frugal he was. Working for her would increase his income tenfold—unless he got caught. His punctuality, arriving at the same time each night, was impressive. It appeared the boy’s only weakness was his kind streak. If he would share his meager income with a stray dog, how would he react to a strung-out junkie with no money? It would all come down to the age-old struggle of putting oneself first ahead of helping others in need. The old woman excelled at her ability to read people, but the boy baffled her.
The teenager and an elderly woman approached the market simultaneously. Instead of pushing past the lady, he stopped and held the door for her. She looked at him and smiled, then continued into the market. Meanwhile, the normally docile stray uttered a low growl as the lady passed by. Puzzled by the dog’s reaction to the woman, he bent down and stroked her head. The dog quieted, and the teen entered the store.
“Excuse me, young man.” The craggy female voice came from the lady he had held the door for. “I was wondering if you were looking for some work?”
Surprised by the question, the teen hesitated for a moment, then answered, “I sure could use a better after-school and weekend job. The one I have now only paid minimum wage. What kind of job is it?”
The lady’s expression brightened slightly as she answered, “I’d describe it as a sales position. It is a commission-based job and even my worst sales agent will make well over $1,000 per week. I have an opening in one of my busiest territories, so I’m sure you will make much more than that. The longer you work, the more you’ll make, so quitting school would be best.”
The boy stared at the woman in disbelief. It was her, the one known throughout the neighborhood as “Grandma Good Times.” He took a few minutes to organize his thoughts before answering.
“My father once told me that life was full of choices. Some seem right initially, but ultimately lead to disaster. Others look wrong, but in the end, offer the best long-term solution. You are offering me a chance to make a lot of quick cash while destroying my future. The right choice for me is to continue being frugal with my parent’s life insurance money, stay in school, and find a career. Thank you for the offer, but I have to say no.”
With that said, the boy turned and walked away, leaving the woman with a flabbergasted expression on her face. As he left the store, he looked at the dog and said, “Let’s go home, girl.” The dog wagged her tail and followed him.