“Karma” A Short Story

The sun was high, clouds gingerly passed overhead. It was cool, comfortable. The news said it would reach seventy. I wouldn’t know; I had to be indoors for most of the day to clean up the aftermath of the party last night.

There were bottles and beer cans everywhere. Silly string, a few G-strings, someone vomited in my dead aunts urn (probably Dan- I’ll get him). Drops of blood stained the kitchen floor from when Kristen yelled about her period suddenly coming.

A pile of hair in the hallway near the bathroom from when Josh took the dare to go completely bald- I was his barber and for someone who had been drinking nothing but Patron all night, I did a great job.

Food caked the floor and somehow, the walls.

My head felt like a nuclear explosion had gone off in my brain. Water and eggs were my only friends all day.

By the time the apartment resembled what it looked like prior to the bash, the sun was down. I was too tired to bring the bottles to the curb for recycling, which would be picked up in the morning, so I left it by the door to be taken to the can and bottle distribution machines for a nice refund.

All in all I should have about fifteen dollars on just the bottles alone.

A final helping of scrambled eggs and I was off to bed.

Nine the next morning I found myself alone at the bottle and can machines. Usually there are at least three gentleman already getting started on the day before’s overhaul. Maybe because it was Saturday…?

Soo Lin wasn’t even there and she’s always a fixture. I met her just after last Thanksgiving. I was waiting for the bus. She had been pushing a cart with a towering blue bag fitted inside with two clear industrial bags on the sides- all filled with cans and bottles. Her eyes hung low as her chin was buried deep in her jacket.

It wasn’t particularly cold but being out on the street long enough, well, the cold bites into your skin. Sometimes a hot shower can’t soothe those bruises.

There was a trash can at the corner. She immediately began rummaging through it. I had just started a new job after being laid off by my previous employer but I dug into my wallet and handed her a ten along with the three Gatorade bottles I had in my bag. She didn’t speak English so upon my first attempt at the gift she flinched in fear. She looked me in the eye as I put my hands up in defense hoping she could see the generosity in them. She did. In fact she was so elated with joy she offered to teach me Chinese.

Had it not been for Soo Lin and those lessons I never would have met June who is arguably the best fuck I’ve had in my twenty-nine years living.

Such a disappointment that Soo Lin wasn’t around. I did what I went there to do and with my receipt I went into the supermarket to claim my cash.

I was right- more than fifteen dollars on the bottles alone, with my total reaching almost fifty.

I put the money in a separate part of my wallet for the next time I saw Soo Lin. I’m by no means financially secure but I get by where this money wouldn’t hurt me if I spent it. Or gave it away.

Soo Lin is a sweet woman who generously taught me a new language with the patience of a seasoned teacher. I didn’t know her back story. It was irrelevant at this point. All I needed to know was that she’s been nice to me and it felt good to return the gesture.

I ran into her the next day. She had an extra bag attached to her cart which lead me to believe she had been pulling in overtime, so to speak.

“Good evening, Miss Lin.” I said to her in Chinese. “You’re getting much better at pronunciations, Michael.” We bowed while I said, “I was looking for you yesterday.” “I was in Brooklyn. Finally worked up the courage to go see my daughter and grandson.” “How did that work out?” “Well,” she lowered her head, “I hope I get to see them again.”

She’s such a proud woman, I could tell the whole situation made her feel shameful.

I reached into my wallet and took the money out. “I wanted to give you this. I had a party the other night. This is the outcome of all the liquor we consumed.”

I handed her the bills. Soo Lin took them with a tear in her eye, which fell and left a clean path down her dirty cheek. “Now I can buy that Gucci bag I was eyeing.” She then burst into laughing tears. Her lips stammered and then she finally managed to say “thank you.”

We bowed and I went on my way.

I hadn’t seen her for a while after that. I asked around but most of who was part of her “circle” claimed they had no idea where she’d gone.

Several months and two full seasons changed with no sign of Soo Lin.

I finally saw her in the most unexpected way. Just before Labor Day I had been arrested on embezzlement charges. The evidence stacked against me wasn’t looking too good in my favor. Just before all of this I had made an investment that went belly up- I was practically broke. I sat in my jail cell awaiting legal counsel from a city defense attorney when a short Asian woman wearing a skirt and blazer stood on the other side of the bars. Fairly young but seemed to have experience from the look in her eye.

“Hello Michael.” I knew right there that it was Soo Lin. I got up and just stared at her in shock. I had no idea what to say. Were words even appropriate? So many mixed emotions came flooding through my body as my jail cell opened and in walked Soo Lin.

The bars then closed, and I took a seat on my bed. “H-how,” She told me everything. She wasn’t poor- cashing in bottles was her choice. A choice she made after a child killer had been set free that she fought against. She had all the evidence, played her cards right. Nothing should have stopped the jury from casting a guilty verdict. But they didn’t on a technicality she had not foreseen, and one she chose to keep silent on.

She felt ashamed so she condemned herself to punishment. When I had met her it marked her fifth year on the streets. She could have easily gone home- her apartment keys were in her left pocket the whole time. But it served as a reminder that not everything in life is secure, not even what should be.

The bid about her daughter and grandson- she chose not to see them because she knew they would convince her to stop this “ridiculousness” as her daughter put it.

Soo Lin smiled at me. “You were the only stranger who showed me kindness” she said in Chinese. “Let me repay you.” I lost it. Everything she said, I couldn’t believe it. Nor could I especially believe it when I walked out of the Manhattan courthouse a free man.

Soo Lin helped clear my name. I went back to work. I saved up all the money I could to make up for the mistakes I made. Two years later on the anniversary of my acquittal I knocked on Soo Lin’s door bearing a gift- a Gucci bag she once eyed in a window display. We burst into laughter as I embraced her, my savior.

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