Change for a Ten

I’m out on the balcony of my third-floor apartment with my partner, John. I’m telling him about my plans for a spring garden.

“I wanna do tomatoes, but they didn’t work good last year, so I’ll have to try a different variety. And corn, I wanna do corn again.”

John nods along politely. It’s a beautiful warm Sunday.

We hear a commotion on the stairs outside the apartment. I look over the balcony edge and see three young black boys running up the stairs. They get up to the top level, our level, and start knocking on doors.

I’m intrigued.

The boys don’t get any answer from the other doors. They knock on all of them before coming over to us.

“Hey, can we take out your trash for a dollar?” they ask, craning their necks to see us. The oldest looks maybe twelve years old.

I consider.

I’ve never been in this situation before. Neighborhood kids coming around and asking for work seems like a thing for the ‘burbs- lawnmowing, and all of that. I’ve never paid a kid to do work for me. It seems weird. But it’s also kind of cute.

I decide to try it.

“OK, one minute,” I say. I go check my wallet. The only thing in there is a ten-dollar bill. John’s talking to the kids.He’s asking them what they need the money for. One of the kids tells him that they were thinking about going to the movies. Adorable, I think. I go back and open the front door.

“Can you guys break a ten?”

“A ten?”

“A ten-dollar bill. That’s all I got.”

The boys look at each other. I can almost see dollar signs in their eyes.

“Oh sure!” they say. “Sure we can break a ten. No problem.”

“All right,” I tell them. “I’ll go get the trash.”

I get the trash from the kitchen and bathroom and scoop the cat’s box. Then I go back to the door. I hand the kids first the bag of trash and then the ten-dollar bill.

“You guys can take a dollar each. So give me back seven.”

They nod. Then they turn around and head for the stairs.

“Uhhh,” I say. “So are you guys gonna come back with the seven, or..?”

“Oh yeah, yeah,” they assure me. “We’re gonna go get change at the store.”

“Okay,” I say. I’ve got mixed feelings as I watch them troop down the steps. John comes in off the balcony and looks at me.

“You’re too nice,” he says. He doesn’t think they will come back. At this point, I’m not feeling so sure myself. I just gave three random kids all my cash and watched them run away. But, I tell John, I want to give them the chance to be honest. I want to see what they’ll do. John shakes his head and rolls his eyes to the ceiling.

I sit down and pick up a book. “Well, we’ll see what happens.”

5 minutes pass. Then I hear a knock on the front door. I look over at John. He’s looking at me. I get up and go open the door.

It’s the kids.

The oldest one hands me a stack of bills. I count it. Seven dollars.

The youngest boy says, “We should get an extra dollar for comin all the way back up here.” He falls to the ground, panting, laying it on thick.

I want to laugh. This is getting good. But I put on a stern face and say, “Look. Y’all asked for one dollar to take out the trash. I gave each of you a dollar. I think that’s a pretty good deal.”

The two older boys quickly jump in.

“He said that,” they yell, pointing at the youngest kid, who’s still writhing in mock-exhaustion on my front porch. “We didn’t say that.”

“All right,” I say. “You guys stay outta trouble. See you later.”

They run off.

“I’ll be back up here!” the youngest one shouts. The kids clomp down the stairs and disappear.

I close the door and turn around to look at John. “Well,” I say.

He raises his eyebrows and nods.

“They came back,” he says.

 

 

 

Katie Gohmann

2017

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