There have always been conflicting opinions on what I believed was my generosity or displays of my obviously upright morals. Though I was raised to treat others with respect even if it wasn’t due, when I made choices that existed outside of my comfortable boundaries to personify the goodness I was taught, I was cut back. I have learned through action that doing good things for good reasons isn’t always good. I realize this may seem a little bit abstract, but from my own experiences I have come to understand that generosity often arises from selfish desire.
It was a crisp October day. The leaves had already abandoned the branches and the air wanted nothing more than to chill the warm air in my lungs. Some people might have called the weather miserable, but I enjoyed the hint of moisture in the air, as if the clouds had descended to personally cloak me. I was still young and impressionable, but mostly independent. I was close to being able to drive a car, but still young enough to not have to learn to shave without mutilating my chin. It was just after lunch, and I had a spare class at the end of my school day. As my parents had gifted me with the power of a city bus-pass, I was free to roam as long as it fell upon my route home and I didn’t leave the bus. I got on the bus at the stop across from the library and made my way through the empty husk of vehicle to the back, where I could put my feet up and enjoy the ten minutes of seatbelt-less travel.
It wasn`t even minutes before we stopped in front of the hospital and picked up another passenger. The man who came onto the bus didn`t have a bus-pass, nor exact change. I remember that he was quite bothered because he had to pay an extra .25 cents over the regular adult fare because the bus driver couldn’t give him change for his toonie. The man who entered fit my personal definition of “druggie” as his dark hoodie had too many holes and his thick jeans looked worn to the point that no patches could help him once they tore through. His hair was thin and fell in strands from a dark toque, and his weathered skin was tight over an almost visible skull. This is the kind of man you cross the street to avoid late at night. He came and sat in the back of the bus with me.
“Damn it’s cold out,” the man said to nobody in particular. I looked straight out the window and tried to ignore the dirt under his nails. He leaned a little bit closer to me, looking at my half closed lids that were trying to hide prying eyes. “Does this bus go up to Columbia?”
“Yeah, it goes right up Ridgedale, then back down Duncan past the school,” I replied and then tried to shift myself to indicate I would much rather be left alone. You’d think he would have asked the bus driver where the bus was going before paying his oh-so-coveted toonie.
“Thanks man.” He seemed genuinely thankful, but not thankful enough to spend the trip in silence.
“This is some bullshit for the bus ride. It was only $1.50 like last month. I’ve gotta make this trip another three times this month.” I felt silence wasn’t the best course of action and curt small talk never killed anyone.
“They bumped it up just last week,” I said, “heard they’re updating the buses after one of the school route ones like this broke down on Duncan hill halfway up.”
“Don’t tell me that man!” He smiled wickedly at me with most of his teeth, but I was still frightened at his feigned anger. He lost his smile quickly. “I can’t get anyone to drive me to all these appointments.” I stayed silent this time. I didn’t want to force him to tell me anything he didn’t want to say. He didn’t waste any time seeing if I was going to inquire anyways.
“I just found out I have cancer.” He looked away from me and leaned back in his seat. I could tell he was still in shock. “26 years old, and they tell me I have some kind of tumour in my back. Apparently it’s …heridid…tree.” He struggled with the last word, choking on the emotion he was trying to play off. I was shocked for words, but it seems he didn’t need me to say anything anyways. He just wanted to talk.
The next five minutes of the bus ride seemed a whole lot longer. He told me about his father and how he was dependent on him again. He showed me all the licenses he had and all the heavy equipment work he could no longer do. He told me that he already felt dead. I just kept thinking to myself to tell him about my family. I wanted to talk to him, to tell him about my grandmother and her battle with cancer. I wanted to tell him that most of my family had died fighting, but the fight was what mattered. I couldn’t tell him any of this, I couldn’t do anything to comfort him. I couldn’t speak to this man who had it so much worse than I did, this man who chose me to unload all of this on. He spoke to me until his voice was raw from confession and emotion.
“I would kill for a pop! I won’t be able to drink them soon,” he said, “I don’t even have the money for the bus.” He tried to laugh at himself but it came out fairly pitifully. I wasn’t exactly Mr. Moneybags at the time, but I had a job and a debit card. I formed a plan in my head. I would help him out. I would give him this charity and then impart my knowledge of the disease he was fighting. I would tell him how my grandmother fought two types of cancer at once, two of the most painful forms possible, and how she fought for seven long years. I would tell him the stories I heard, how she went on trips across Canada and then across the US. I would tell him how she was given less than 6 months to live and she lived happily for 6 more years before being bedridden.
“I’ll buy you a pop.” I told him. His eyes lit up. “You’re going to Columbia Elementary right? Stop at the corner store with me and I’ll buy you a pop.” Sure enough he got off the bus with me at the corner store. It was another 10 minute walk to my house, but that was a small price to pay to help this man who confided in me. We walked together across the street to get into the building. He was excitedly telling me how great I was and how much I made his day. I was loving it. When we got into the store, I walked to the large coolers and told him to take whichever he wanted. He was torn between an orange pop and a Barq’s root beer. He went with orange. There was a debit minimum of $3.00 so I grabbed myself a diet Dr. Pepper. I put mine down on the glass counter and he followed suit. He leaned down over top of the translucent surface. The grease covered sleeves of his hoodie covered the scratch-and-wins below. The owner of the corner store apparently knew my new bus friend by name. The owner had seen me around and was friendly with my father. The owner looked bemused when the man told him of my generosity. I felt proud of myself. I felt I was better than this man. We exited the store together but before he went on his way I was determined to impart my story to him.
“My grandmother had cancer. She was given 6 months to live.” Memories flooded my throat, they were all about to rush out to this stranger.
“It’s rough. Thanks for the pop!” he cried to me as he was walking down the hill towards whatever destination he had in mind. Without even looking back at me he just took off. I had worked hard for what little money I had, almost all of it was squirrelled away for my college fund. The money that had gone toward his pop was something that I would never dream of even buying for myself as a treat. It was too temporary an object to spend my money on, and yet he had no qualms about taking my charity and running off before I could unload my story onto him. I realize it was next to nothing, but those luxuries I denied myself were because I didn’t want to end up like him.
This is when I realized the true face of my generosity, of my charity. I never wanted to give anything to him, I was selfish. By making him my charity case I was raising myself to be something above him. I wasn’t giving out of apathy but out of greed. On my walk home I pondered these things, but I also thought of what a great story I would be able to brag about. I could use the tale as a way to show people how great I am. I drank my sugarless soft drink on the cold walk home and let the black syrup fizz down my throat. I enjoyed the artificial drink more than I should have.
When I went home I rushed to tell my father what happened. I expected him to be proud of my generosity. Instead I was laughed at. I was told that I was used for a free drink. My stomach was sour from the diet Dr. Pepper and the bitter taste of denied truth. I don`t think I minded the pain as much as I did the uncovered reality. What was truly bothering me was the fact that I was the one who used someone else under the veil of generosity. I paid $1.50 plus tax for a lesson on generosity, and then again for a lesson on what drinking too much aspartame too quickly does to an empty stomach.