Lunch Counter

Lunch Counter
by Anonymous
San Antonio, Texas, USA

Lunch Counter

I was having a terrible, hectic morning. Nothing was going right.

At 2:00 p.m., I finally made time for a quick lunch at a burger joint. While I waited on line I couldn’t help but notice that the customer being served was the shabbiest looking person I had ever seen. His hair was stringy and matted, half covered by a moth-eaten filthy wool cap. His clothes were in even worse condition. His right shoe was half torn, and he wore no socks.

In a quiet voice he ordered a small cup of coffee, with four creams. He carefully counted out the coins to pay, took a handful of sugar packets and sat down at a corner table, away from all the other patrons.

I got my meal and sat down and started to wonder about this man. How did he get into this unfortunate state of existence? What does he do all day? Where does he go? Does he have any friends? As I ate I glanced over to see what he was doing, and all he did was slowly sip his coffee, never looking up.

A small coffee with four creams and a handful of sugar packets is not much of a lunch.

When I finished eating I went up to the counter and asked the manager if he knew anything about this unfortunate guy. The manager said that he came in from time to time for only coffee. He never caused any trouble or talked to the other customers. I told him that the guy looked like he could use a better meal, so I ordered another burger, fries, and drink. I paid and picked up my change.

As I walked over to the corner table where the guy was quietly sitting, I wondered what his reaction would be. I used to live in New York. Street beggars there could be extremely rude. Would this guy yell at me? Would he be embarrassed? Would he make a scene? Yes he would: when he looked up at me his face broke into the biggest smile possible, and he practically yelled “thank you”.

I had the best afternoon ever.

If you decide to print this story please leave my name off. Just writing these words down has helped me to realize how callus and uncaring I, and many others, have become when it comes to the really poor and homeless. It really is better to give than receive.

Originally published as HeroicStories #38 on July 29, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.

2 thoughts on “Lunch Counter”

  1. The person who wrote this story is so right, great story….makes a person stop and think about all thats going on these days.
    Thank You

  2. At a time in my life many years ago when I had a job but no income (a bureaucratic error that took months to resolve) a total stranger gave me a car, titled and insured in my name, and another total stranger gave the the keys to an apartment. Both said “Pay me when you can”. My employer (Uncle Sam) had a mess hall, so I could eat as much as I needed. A kindly First Sgt. lent me a few dollars. The Red Cross offered a loan but I didn’t need more than I already had. The experience was humbling and educational. I have ever since that time been alert to people in need and provided assistance when I can. Most often my terms are simple–“Don’t pay me back. Keep your eyes open for someone who needs help and pass it along.”


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