The Gift of a Green Vase
Understanding the power of doing your part
No one was surprised when Kim and I ended up working in the same office. After all, we’d grown up in the same neighborhood, living just a couple of houses down from each other. We went to the same high school. Heck, we even left for college together.
We’ve been inseparable since the day we met.
She and I are adults now, but for the most part, that fact remains. It’s different, though. Life tends to get busy, so we don’t spend nearly as much time together as we used to — but we try.
Once a week, usually on Friday, we sneak out of the office for lunch and catch up.
I’ll admit it. Hanging out with my best friend, just the two of us sitting in a restaurant booth and talking about life, is the highlight of my week. Sure we speak at the office, but not like this. Lunch is special.
Unfortunately, time flies when you’re having fun. Like each that came before, our lunch break on this particular Friday has ended far too soon. Sensing it was time to return to the office — back to the real world — we grabbed our things and made our way outside.
The second the restaurant door closed behind us, we were stopped by a homeless man standing in the middle of the sidewalk. His clothes were unkempt, and he was definitely in need of a long-overdue shower. I won’t say he blocked our path because that would be a lie, but he made passing him a challenge.
He stared at us for a second before pushing aside whatever pride he had left to ask if either of us could spare “a couple of bucks.”
Here we go again. Without making eye contact, I mumbled, “Sorry buddy, no cash,” before walking away.
After I’d put ten feet between the homeless man and me, I looked over to notice Kim was gone. I turned around just in time to see her reach into her purse and hand the unkempt stranger a crisp bill. I don’t know how much money she gave him — it was definitely money, but it was too much.
She smiled at him and walked away. After she’d turned, he folded the bill she’d given him and put it in his front pocket.
I stared at my friend as she walked toward me, disappointed at what she’d done. When she got close enough to me that no one else would hear, I told her how I felt. “Kim, if you give homeless people money, they’ll never leave the sidewalk. You’re not helping him — you’re keeping him from getting help.”
She ignored what I said and kept walking. I turned to walk with her, wanting to say more but knowing when to keep my mouth shut.
As we walked away, we heard a gruff voice behind us. It was Kim’s homeless friend.
“Miss…Miss, just a second, please.”
Kim and I stopped and turned around.
I looked at her, half-smiling and half annoyed. “Look what you did, Kim. Seriously, don’t give that guy any more money.”
She punched me on the shoulder and told me to shut my mouth.
When he caught up to us, the man looked directly at Kim — it was like I wasn’t even there. “I have something for you.” He reached into the garbage bag he was carrying and pulled out a dark green, dirty vase.
He stared at it for a moment, like he was trying to decide whether or not to part with it, before handing the disgusting vase to my friend.
She smiled, “Thank you. I know exactly where I will put this.”
In the garbage, I hope.
I seriously couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
No longer the owner of the nasty green vase, the man shuffled off to his spot on the sidewalk to harass other unsuspecting people coming and going to and from the restaurant.
Kim and I once again started walking to her car. She’s my best friend that will never change, but I can’t believe how naive she is sometimes.
She knew I was judging her. “Stop it, jerk. How do you expect the world to become a better place if we don’t help people in need?”
Kim believes society can be saved. I let her know that we were too far gone for that. Something big will need to happen to fix the mess we are all in. People with lots of money and power will have to be willing to step in.
That’s not happening anytime soon.
Kim disagreed. “You’re wrong. Each of us, even people as insignificant as you and me, just need to do their part.”
Okay, there’s being naive, and then there’s whatever Kim is doing right now. She’s lost her mind. I look her squarely in the eyes and put my hands on her shoulders. “What? Us? You can’t seriously believe that….”
“Why not?” She continued, “Instead of sitting back and waiting for someone else to fix things for us, we need to step up. If we each make our little piece of the planet better, eventually the world will be a better place.”
“We are way past that point, aren’t we?”
She vehemently shakes her head, “Maybe I’m being naive, but I refuse to believe that. In fact, I’ll bet you a cup of coffee that I’m right.”
I couldn’t uncurl my face, “You’re being naive. How much did that ugly green thing cost you?”
I laughed and looked over at my friend. “Betting against people doing the right thing against their own self-interests? That is a bet I’m willing to take.”
The conversation continued until we reached her car. I decided to change the subject — after all, she was my ride. I didn’t want to get her too mad at me.
Work isn’t far from the restaurant. We were back in less than ten minutes.
After we pulled into a parking spot at the office, she grabbed the vase. “It’s not so bad. I’ll throw some flowers in it and put it in the window. It’ll be fine.”
She grabbed a napkin off of her car’s floor and started wiping the disgusting thing off. Suddenly it began to glow. A puff of smoke shot out into the back of the vehicle.
When the smoke cleared, a man was sitting in the back of the car.
“Greetings to you! I am the genie of the vase. You have summoned me from the vase. As a thank you, I will offer you three wishes.”
I couldn’t believe it. There was only one thing to do. “Kim, wish for money — a lot of money. Kim? Seriously — what are you waiting for?”
She looked at me, “I’ll meet you inside. I’m going to need a minute or two to process this.”
Kim growled, “Out — now.”
She wasn’t interested in what I had to say. “I wish that you would get out of my car.”
The next thing I knew, I was sitting at the desk chair in my office. Once I regained my wits, I ran to the window to check on Kim. Her car was gone.
I called her phone, but no one answered.
A text message came through just before I started to dial her number a second time.
I’m fine. Talk soon.
“Soon” turned out to be seven days later. Kim returned to the office precisely one week after a genie showed up in the back of her car. I freaked out as soon as I saw her — I needed to know what happened. Was she rich? Was she famous?
She could wish for anything in the world — why was she still working? I tried to get her to tell me what was going on, but she ignored me all morning.
Around lunchtime, she poked her head into my office, “You wanna grab lunch?”
I couldn’t believe it. “Seriously? I’ve been worried sick about you all week, and you want to act as nothing happened!”
She smiled, “Do you wanna get something to eat or not?”
I was hungry, so I agreed to go with her. “Fine, but you have to buy.” Maybe she’d fill in the blanks.
Kim nodded, and we walked to her car.
She was silent the entire drive to the restaurant. When she pulled into the parking spot and shut her car off, there was one thing I had to know.
“Kim, seriously, what did you wish for?”
She put her keys in her purse and turned toward me. “Well, when I said that I wanted you out of my car, I used the word ‘wish.’ It turns out that was my first one.”
I cringed, “That sucks. You lost your first wish on a technicality?”
She shrugged. “Yup.”
“What about your second one?”
Kim told me that she wished her mom and dad would go to Europe on vacation. “They’ve always wanted to travel.”
What? She had two wishes and somehow wasted them both? I couldn’t believe it.
“And…how about the third? Did you use the third one yet?”
She nodded. Just as she was about to tell me about it, she saw the homeless man she’d given money to the week before.
“Oh hey…there he is. I hoped we’d see him,” Kim jumped out of her car and ran over to the homeless man. She handed him a thick manila envelope. He looked in it and immediately hugged her.
She walked back, smiling. In all the years I’ve known her, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile that big.
I climbed out of her car as she returned. “Oh, Kim…I just, I don’t believe it.”
“C’mon, let’s get lunch before we have to get back.”
We went inside to eat. We were both quieter than usual. I felt terrible that Kim had used her last wish on something so silly, so I kept my “I told you so” to myself. Keeping my mouth shut was a challenge.
The silence was odd. Lunch usually went by way too quickly. However, this Friday time seemed to drag on. Having both eaten, we gathered our things and headed for the door. It was time to get back to work and put this whole wish thing behind us.
Kim and I walked outside. A large group had gathered across the street. We had a little extra time before we had to get back to work, so we walked over to see what was going on.
It was something I will never forget.
Kim’s homeless friend, the former owner of the disgusting green vase, was standing behind a table holding large grocery bags of food. Whenever someone walked up, he handed them a bag. When the table was empty, he turned around and grabbed more bags off of the ground.
The man that had harassed us for a couple of bucks only a week ago was giving bags of food to hungry people. Young, old, boy, girl — it didn’t matter. They walked up to him with nothing, empty hands, and empty stomachs. Everyone left with a bag of food.
When it was over, and there wasn’t a single bag of food left, the man strolled back to his place in front of the restaurant and returned to asking for money.
I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed.
“Kim, I had no idea. You helped feed all of these people.”
She looked at me with a big smile on her face, “Aren’t you going to ask me about my third wish?”
I shrugged. “I don’t need to. It was to give the homeless guy enough money to feed those hungry people. “
“Nope” was all she said.
Okay, she obviously wanted me to push her for the information, “Fine, what was it then?”
She pointed at the coffee shop between us and her car. “I wished you’d owe me a cup of coffee.”
I smiled and reached for my wallet, “Your wish is my command.”
About the Creator
Historian for The Streets of St. Paul and Minnesota Then. I'm using this platform to share stories about Minnesota history and whatever else (or wherever else) I find interesting at the time.
There are no comments for this story
Be the first to respond and start the conversation.