My mom always stressed how important it is to treat people with kindness. But, she also taught me to act smart and careful. I grew with these teachings, lived by them and eventually took them to college. Going to school in a city, I didn’t think much about how I should act. I felt prepared to take my surroundings into account. Sometimes acting as an actual adult showed me that I should shed some patterns from my childhood.
Last week, my roommate and I went to the grocery store, only to experience getting taken advantage of for the first time.
We’d just got our nails done at a place right down the street from Star Market, so we figured we’d stop by to grab supplies for dinner. We had fun shopping together. Fantasizing about meals that we could make or recipes we wanted to try took up more time than actually shopping. Strolling down the aisles, we took turns pushing a cart that slowly became filled with various ingredients and snacks. After about an hour, we decided to check out. But, down the last aisle, my roommate saw a small shelf filled with Hanukkah decorations. We stopped and she looked over the slim choices for decorations to hang in our apartment window. As we lingered in the aisle, a man walked up to our cart.
“Excuse me miss, could you buy these for me?” he said, holding up a pack of diapers.
The man wobbled where he stood a few feet in front of us, waiting for our response. My roommate and I exchanged a quick glance and stumbled over a response only to be cut off with more pleading. “Please miss?” he pleaded, shuffling from one foot to the next. “I really just need them.”
A pause. We tried to find something to say. His persistence backed us into a corner while the idea of a baby in need of necessities pulled at our heartstrings. We had nothing else to do but agree.
But, while we were taking a while to come to that conclusion, the man spoke again. “Or you could just get this, it’s just 25 dollars,” he said, picking up a Visa gift card from the rack. “Please?”
The situation rubbed us the wrong way. Whether the man’s troubling demeanor, his body swaying side to side as he spoke or his slurred speech, something felt off. His expectant eyes watched our every move. My roommate quickly responded. “We can buy the diapers.”
He thanked us, and asked to grab a few more things he needed. We didn’t know how to stop him, so we waited to see if he wanted more baby products, which he did. He came up to us in line and placed Desitin diaper rash cream and baby lotion on the conveyor belt with our other items.
“Thank you misses.” he said, still wobbling on his feet. “I’ll wait for you by the exit. The people here don’t like when I linger around.”
And with that, the man left. A few red flags sprung up in our heads, but we went through with the purchase, not sure of what we got ourselves into.
After paying, we put all of the man’s items in a bag and handed it to him as we left the store. “Is the receipt in here?” he said as he took the bag with dirty hands. “I really need the receipt in case the diapers don’t fit.”
I stumbled on my words, but ultimately made an excuse. The situation became slightly creepy, and my roommate and I had an Uber waiting outside.
“I think we threw it away, I’m sorry.” I said, walking towards to door.
But, he followed, shouting questions about which register we were at and if he could have the receipt. We called out apologies over our shoulder, just wanting to escape the situation.
Walking across the street to meet or Uber, it hit us. The man wanted a receipt so that he could return the items we bought him in exchange for cash. He scammed us. It felt humiliating as well as sad. On one hand, the man manipulated and essentially stole money from us. On the other, he used our morals against us. During the car ride home, we reflected on the situation.
In a way, it felt infuriating. We wanted to help a baby. Babies all over the world go without basic necessities and care, and this man used that against us. He lied about something as serious as a baby in need.
Ultimately, we don’t know that man’s story. And we probably would never know for certain, but we can guess. Addiction, poverty or homelessness could have caused his actions, all uncontrollable circumstances that have run rampant in our nation with no sign of stopping.
Regardless of the motives and the outcome, this situation made me confused. While it could make me cynical, it just made me reflect on the world and the people in it. Sometimes life can hit us hard, and people lie. No one can avoid it. Life genuinely goes unpredictably. We can only control ourselves. I can keep putting goodness and positivity out into the world. It might be taken advantage of, like in this circumstance, but it definitely can’t hurt.
As far as the lesson this taught me, I learned to spare my trust and listen to warning signs. Even when I want to help, I need to evaluate the situation and make sure it is safe and smart. I thought my mom prepared me to handle situations like these, but living on my own showed me that I do not know everything. And that’s okay. As long as I act cautiously and kindly, any situation serves as just a learning moment.