An Envelope, a Single Stamp

A week or so ago, I walked to the post office nearby to mail something and to buy some stamps. Not knowing if USPS might have jacked up the price per stamp again, I put an extra dollar in my pocket. (I didn’t want to carry my heavy purse or have lots of money on me.)

When I arrived inside the post office, I got in line behind two men. The first, a young guy, was having the clerk on duty price out the various speeds of mailing several different sizes of the boxes stacked on the counter. $37.50 seemed the limit to what the young guy would pay, so he gathered up the boxes that he’d apparently brought with him, and fled.

The next man stepped up to the counter laid a plain white rather square envelope on the counter and asked for a single stamp. I never saw this guy’s face, but I could tell he was older than the first due to his gray hair and hunched shoulders under his thin coat jacket.

During the first failed transaction, I read the nameplate on the pocket of the clerk’s shirt and found out his name was Tom. A man about sixty, he had brown hair and a pleasant, round face. After Tom rang up the single stamp, the older man asked, “How much is the envelope?” He pointed to the envelope on the counter.

“That envelope? Well, that envelope belongs to one of the cards on the rack. It’s not actually for sale.”

“Oh,” the man said.

“If you need an envelope, there are some on the other rack, just turn it around and you’ll see.”

“Okay.” The older man returned the first envelope to the rack among the cards and brought back a postal service envelope of similar size that he lay on the counter.

Sneaking a peek past the guy, I saw that his fingernails were little more than short, white flakes close to the quick.

“How much?” the man asked.

Tom rang the purchase up. “That will be a dollar four.”

The man reached toward his pocket, but stopped. “I only have a dollar,” he said. “I’ll pay with my debit card so I can get change for a twenty. Can I do that?”

“You bet,” Tom said. “Put your card in the machine right there.” After the man did that, Tom said, “The transaction failed.”

“Oh . . .”

And so, finally more from impatience than any kindness in my heart, I reached in my pocket, peeled off the extra dollar bill and tossed it on the counter. The man scooped the bill up with his damaged fingers and handed it to Tom. Tom quickly rang the purchase up adding the four cents he paid. The man left and I stepped up. “Takes all kinds,” Tom said toward at the door after the guy had left. “And what would you like today?”

Not until much later did I realize that the man’s flaky fingernails indicate that he’s probably diabetic, his bounced debit card a sign that he’s almost penniless. Quite possibly he’s homeless, too. And what sort of letter did he put in that envelope and send with that stamp? A plea for help perhaps? Or maybe an apology to a loved one in some place too far for him to travel to. I’ll never know.

“A book of stamps, please,” I said to Tom. They didn’t have any more books of the Winter Berries stamps that I like so much, so I got a sheet of twenty Celebrate stamps, paid for them with the eleven bucks remaining in my pocket and walked home to my life for which I have so many reasons to celebrate.