A Nickel's Worth
"How old is the girl?"
Hilton's stature was tall, and his gaze was serious as if he was trying far too hard to keep a professional atmosphere in his messy dim-lit office. "I'd say about nine, maybe ten. I could be wrong though," he responded.
Despite not having Hilton's size, Griffin made up for this with stern features. A cigar hung out of his mouth, with puffs of smoke overtaking the clean air that had once claimed the entirety of the room. "That's a bit young to be out here on her own. Especially in the dark," he said.
"I've never seen any adult with her. Thankfully, I haven't seen anyone come to kidnap her either." Hilton studied the recording that played of the young girl, skipping around to pick up coins off of the ground. Every once in a while, she would toss away litter. "She stays away from any late-night washers as far as I can tell. I've never gotten the chance to approach her though; she always comes once I've gone home." His attention returned to Griffin, who was clearly not intrigued with watching the girl hop around the empty car wash lot like a ballerina. "That's what you're here for, right? To talk to her. I'd do it myself, brother, but as you know I have a business to run."
One loud scoff was his immediate response. "What makes you think she'd trust me enough to have any decent conversation?" Griffin asked.
A hand reached out from Hilton, patting Griffin's back. "I have faith. You'll find a way to convince her," he said.
No amount of eye-rolls or sighs seemed to change his brother's mind. So, in defeat, Griffin gave a solemn nod. "I'll talk to her, but that's it," he said.
"That's all I ask," Hilton responded. The man turned, and in a few strides he was out the door, leaving for the day.
Griffin was left alone. He switched the camera off of its recording, settling down as it redirected to the current scene outside of the office. All that was left to do was wait for the mysterious little girl.
The man was beginning to fall asleep when he caught the first glimpse of her.
She held a notable confidence in her step, as if she was well-adjusted to her late night wanders. Her eyes scanned the ground meticulously in a clear search for fallen coins. It was as if she knew exactly what she was doing.
A couple were busy vacuuming out their car on the other side of the car wash, but other than that there was no other sign of life anywhere nearby aside from the occasional passing car. It was well on its way to midnight.
Removing himself from the comfort of the chair he had managed to settle himself into, Griffin strode out of the office as if it was his. He stepped out, waiting near the doorway for the girl.
It was clear that she was caught off-guard by his appearance, but it seemed as if her search had only become more desperate. Confidence was replaced by an attempt to not be noticed, despite the way his eyes never wavered away from her.
At last, she made the decision to approach. Her shoulders were slouched with her gaze remaining diligently on the ground as if she thought she was in trouble, but she approached him regardless.
His position and gaze remained, waiting for her to be the first to speak. She seemed to be struggling to find the proper words.
"I'm not causing any trouble, sir," she said after it was clear that Griffin was beginning to become impatient.
"No one said you were," he responded. "My reason for being here is someone else's curiosity. What are you doing here?"
A dragging sound followed as she pulled her foot across the asphalt. For as nervous as she was becoming, the way she kept re-directing her gaze back to his signaled that she was attempting to be brave. "I'm looking for money," she said. "People are forgetful and lazy. They sometimes drop coins here, and I pick them up."
"Why?" he asked, despite his clear disinterest.
"To buy food," she said. Her voice was calm, but she seemed to be uncomfortable. "You don't seem to care about that though. Who cares about a homeless girl? One who must scavenge for food? I suppose humanity's forgetfulness is their only saving grace in helping people like me." The hair along her neck began to raise. She put one foot back, as if she was about to run, while tensing up her body in preparation to defend herself.
"Relax. No one here is going to hurt you," he said. Griffin found that her words held no meaning to him. She was correct in her assumption of him not caring though; he had always had food on the table and a warm roof over his head. There was no way for him to relate to this girl enough to care. Instead, she seemed pitiful and unimportant like gum on his shoe. "There's a saying, you know. It says, and I quote, that money does not buy happiness." His voice lacked any signs of sympathy.
In response, she gave a soft laugh. It held no optimism, instead seeming to condone him for his lack of empathy. Even her judgement meant little to him. "I don't know a person who hasn't heard that quote," she said, reaching down to latch her fingers across another silvery coin that someone had lost or forgotten. "There should be a small asterisk next to that saying, though." It was clear that she was not done speaking, but she gave Griffin a suspicious glance. The little girl had not released her defensive walls.
A small ledge supported his buttox as he made himself comfortable to listen without further interruptions. His insensitive postures and actions did not mean he was zoning her out quite yet, but was instead continuing to listen.
Once she realized that he was there for the lang haul of their conversation, the tips of her shoulders dented downwards as if they might soon relax. "Everything costs something these days. Luxury might not buy happiness, but that doesn't mean money has nothing to do with it. Basic needs are bought with it, and I'd say that those are a pretty important step to happiness," She shoved the coin that had been twiddling around in her hands into the depths of her pocket. "Money is now what this society depends on for such a fickle emotion, but only the amount needed for survival."
Griffin sighed. He was talking with a child, but her intelligence was clearly immaculate. "Where did you get so smart?" he asked.
This question seemed to make her uneasy. "Not every poor person is stupid. We all have a past, and maybe at one point in time we did have everything we needed as well as education at the tips of our finger tips," she said. "Some might even be gifted."
This answer sent the first realization of amusement through his mind. He hadn't been paying much attention, but now he was beginning to realize just how much he had been missing in their conversation. "Well, I won't stop you then. Just be careful out there," he said. Griffin got up to return to his brother's office, finding himself watching her on the cameras once again.
She continued her money-scrounging adventures without further interruptions.
It was peaceful at night. Lonely, but for her loneliness was a good thing. It meant she was safe.
The little girl knew that the same man was still around though. The car that was there the first night he had come to bother her returned night after night. She knew he wasn't the owner, but he must've known the owner considering he seemed to have access to the small building in the middle.
As long as he didn't continue to burden her with further conversation, she was fine with him being there. He didn't seem to care about her, but maybe somewhere in his heart he had found a reason to. It didn't matter, regardless.
At least, it didn't until that night.
She was continuing to mind her own business. There was quite an abundance of coins that night, which kept her busy and focused attempting to find each and every last one. Her belly was already grumbling in excitement at the feast that would soon await her.
Focus on her task was so deep that she didn't know the group of teenagers creeping up behind her until they pushed her face-first into the ground.
"What's this twerp doing?" one asked.
Another laughed as her collection of coins spilled out across the lot.
They snatched a few as she scrambled to recollect what she could, rolling herself into a tight ball.
Their ridicules and teasing didn't last long though.
It sounded as if glass had almost broken with how quick the office door slammed open.
Where the teenagers had once been, the man replaced them with her stolen coins crashing against the ground once again. She had never seen anyone run as fast as the bullies did once they realized they were about to be interrupted.
He reached down, picking up a nickel before turning to offer it out to her.
The girl snatched it away, pulling it close as she eyed him up and down. "Why did you do that?" she asked.
"No one deserves to be bullied," he responded. "Your clothes..."
She looked down, realizing that they were tattered and torn from being thrown across the asphalt. Her knees were sore and bleeding. "I"m fine," she lied.
A huff escaped him. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up," he said, offering out his hand.
Hesitation. She could feel her heart racing out of fear. Avoidance of strangers had been burned into her lessons for so long that she didn't know how to accept his kindness. So, with a glare she reached out to grab his hand in return.
Before she knew it, she was pulled to her feet. He led her into the building. She was seated in the chair of a small office that overlooked a bunch of televisions that viewed the entire car wash. He gave her a jacket that was much too big for her before disappearing, returning a few moments later with a wet rag and a first-aid kit. He tended to her wounds, dabbing them clean before placing a bandage over them.
In no time she was all patched up and out the door without another word. He allowed her to keep the jacket.
The next night, as she turned the corner she stopped in shock.
Many people were there. The car wash had been replaced with a banquet, with tables full of appetizing food scattered around. The scent wavered in the air, causing her throat to feel sore with envy at the sight that was laid out before her. No litter remained in sight, with everything appearing quite shiny and clean.
She edged her way around the people, attempting to appear invisible until she saw a familiar face. The little girl was quick to race to the man's side, crouching beside the chair he was seated on. "What's all this?" she asked the man that had confronted her many nights ago.
"A fundraiser," he responded, not even giving the time to glance at her. After all, Griffin had been expecting that she would show up eventually. "For you."
"Me?" she asked. Past him, she noticed a long table full of gift baskets and luxurious items with papers placed in front of them. A few people were mingling around the table, overlooking the items and writing onto the papers.
"That's a raffle," he said, knowing exactly where she was looking. "The items were donated for the event. There's also a box to donate money into right in front of me."
"Why?" she asked.
"No one should go without basic needs," he said. "These people here all agree with me that you should have a better life."
She felt herself cower close to him. There were so many people.
He rolled his eyes. "Go eat before all the food is gone," he said.
For once, she felt happy and enjoyed the night. Not from the money though, but instead the people who were there to support and ensure a better life for her.
She'd never admit that to Griffin though.
© 2017 Alexis Chantel