I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop last Monday, drinking chai tea and working on a grant when an older fellow was preparing to exit the shop with some coffee in hand. All of a sudden, he stopped in his tracks and looked at me.
"What's that little thing you have there?" he asked.
"Oh. They call this a netbook," I said. "It's basically a mini computer."
"Cool," he replied. "What are you drinking?"
"Me? Oh, chai tea. The best chai I've ever had, really. I love this place."
He pointed at the sugar packets hanging out near my cup.
"I can't believe you're consuming that stuff," he said. "Splenda is so bad for you. I'm allergic to it."
"It's funny you say that because every time I order my chai tea, I'm never sure what brand of sugar to sweeten it with."
"Well, I wouldn't recommend that. When I drink it, my vision gets real blurry."
"I'm sorry to hear that. What kind of sugar do you recommend?"
"Go with the cane sugar," he said. "You're too young to screw up your body with all that artificial stuff."
"Cool. Thanks for the advice. I'll get the cane sugar next time."
I expected him to say his goodbyes and walk out, but instead he shifted his coffee from one hand to the other and leaned up against the wall.
"So, are you a writer or something?"
"I am," I said. "Right now I'm writing a grant for my workplace, but in addition to that job, I also write for two newspapers and a few magazines."
"Is that right? That's good, you see."
"It is. I like it. I've been writing for a long time . . . I mean, a lot of writing for what seems to be a long time . . . and I figure that as long as I continue to love it, I'm just fine."
He moved from the wall to the couch, conveniently located right across from me.
"Are you familiar with Susan B. Anthony?"
I kind of lied. She's the one I always mistake for Rachel Carson.
"Well, Susan B. Anthony worked really hard for women's rights. If it weren't for her, you would probably have as many rights as that computer on your lap."
He pulled a coin from his pocket.
"Susan B. Anthony is one of two females who appears on United States currency. See this coin? I used to collect these, you know. When my mother turned 90, I gave her 90 Susan B. Anthony coins."
Then--and I certainly didn't expect this--he handed me the one in his hand.
"Here. My mom passed away so now she doesn't mind me passing them on to other women."
He laughed. I smiled.
I placed the coin in the palm of my hand and examined it. I loved the shape, all the little edges.
"Thanks," I said. "This is really nice of you. Are you sure you want me to have it?"
"I want you to have it and I want you to remember that you can go anywhere with your career. Don't let anybody stop you."
"See? All you had to do was sit and listen to an old guy talk for 10 minutes of your time and now you have a coin in your hand worth about $10. Do whatever you want with it. You're a big girl. Listen, it was nice talking to you."
And then he left. I didn't even get his name.
But I'm keeping his coin.
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .