It was a Tuesday evening in late August, about 7 p.m. when the knock came to the window of the front door. I thought it would be one of the guests who had just left the potluck supper – someone who had forgotten something or someone who wanted to help finish off the wine.
Standing there was a girl about 12- or 13-years-old who I didn’t recognize. She had on a knitted crop top and patterned leggings and held in one hand a manila folder and in the other a couple of the scrunchies we used to wear in our hair in the late 1980s.
“I’m selling some things,” she said. She showed me the hair ties. “I have these scrunchy hair things I made.”
I nodded politely, but my hair is not of the length to benefit from scrunchies. “And I have some drawings.”
Now, she had my attention.
“Would you like to look?”
The simple pencil drawings appeared to have been copied or perhaps traced from a book. Mostly Anime. Not particularly interesting.
Still, she was a kid, standing on my doorstep trying to sell art. What if she wanted to be an artist? What if this would be her first sale? “How much are you asking for your drawings?”
“Any amount. I’m trying to get money to buy shoes for school.”
I glanced at her face. It did not occur to me to look at her feet. I assumed she needed new shoes because the ones from last year were too small.
“Hmmmm,” I said, turning the pages of her portfolio as if it was fine art. My feet had begun to pain, the pinching of out-grown shoes. I knew I’d give her money. “Do you live around here?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “On Prairie Road.” She pointed in the right direction.
“Are you thinking of becoming an artist when you grow up?”
“Maybe.” Her “maybe” held no passion or conviction. So, had she made these drawings just to sell? Was she a budding entrepreneur? Did she really need money for shoes? What circumstance might her parents be in that they couldn’t afford shoes for their girl?
Prairie Road is a neighborhood of mostly well-kept bungalows, bi-levels and duplexes. It’s also the south end of huge apartment complex.
I should have asked more questions: What kind of shoes are you hoping to get? Were these normal shoes or was she wanting something from Sole Addiction? Had her parents promised a certain amount of money for shoes and she had to come up with the rest? Or was she, actually, in dire need of footwear because you can only wear flip-flops for another week or so?
I selected a drawing and gave her cash. I wish I had reminded her that all artists sign their work. I wish I had given her a pencil.
She looked at the money in her hand and she looked at me. I have rarely seen a child beam as she did. Her expression told me I hadn’t been scammed. Maybe she was going to go to the store and blow the cash on chocolate and chips, or maybe she actually did need shoes. It didn’t matter. This was a kid who needed/wanted money for something, and she’d found a way to earn it.
“So, how are the sales going?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Not so good.”
But she was still glowing. She skipped down the step, then turned. “Do you have a bag or something? I don’t have a pocket for the money.”
The Queen of Re-useable Bags Rummaged for something small. I found a tiny paper bag printed like an old newspaper. “You could probably make some cool art with this,” I suggested.
“It’s so cute!” she said. She was an artist after all.
She skipped down the remaining steps and turned again. “What does ‘no solispiting’ mean?”
“No soliciting? You mean the little signs people have on their doors?
“It means they don’t want people trying to sell them things. Mostly, it means they’re rather grumpy. You’re best not to knock on those doors.”
I got the smile again. Her skipping grew higher. She got on her bike and vanished.
I’m still wondering if I did the right thing. What would you have done?