Our first meeting in 2018 was on the 9th February. The homework task was to write a story about making (or not making) a donation. So I thought for a bit and came up with this little oddball story...
Trevor noticed the girl with the collecting tin as soon as he drove into the supermarket car park. She was standing in a patch of brilliant sunshine just by the supermarket entrance. Even though the day was sweltering hot, she was wearing a thick woollen pullover and he was almost sure she was shivering. Perhaps she comes from somewhere even warmer than here, he thought, recalling how his parents in law had complained of being cold while he himself melted away in the 42 degree Centigrade heat of his wedding day in Perth, Western Australia.
He parked his car and walked towards the supermarket entrance, his thoughts full of bread and milk and vegetables and perhaps even beer. As he passed her she said, "You look like a generous soul. Would you like to make a donation?"
Trevor was a bit surprised to hear her say that. Collectors weren't supposed to solicit donations, they were just supposed to stand there waiting for people to approach them. "That's a bit naughty," he said. "You're not really allowed to do that sort of thing." Now that he was closer to her he could see that not only was she wearing a chunky pullover, her feet were encased in a pair of fur lined boots and her hands were thrust into thick, heavy gloves.
The girl shrugged and said, "Sometimes breaking the rules can pay dividends." She smiled at him and shook her collecting tin suggestively. It made a dry, rustling noise. Perhaps everyone has been putting banknotes in there, thought Trevor. If people had been giving her coins, surely it would have rattled instead.
"What charity are you collecting for?" asked Trevor.
"Charity?" asked the girl. She sounded a little puzzled. "I just need to collect my quota so that I can go back home. It's far too cold for me here."
Trevor wiped beads of sweat from his forehead. Even the short walk from his car to the supermarket entrance had been distinctly unpleasant in the debilitating heat. "It must be quite soul destroying," said Trevor, "having to stand here all day in the cold."
"Oh it isn't like that at all," said the girl. She laughed suddenly. "If anything it's quite the reverse. People can be so generous."
"You must be from somewhere really hot if you're finding it cold here," said Trevor. "Where's home?"
The girl didn't reply, she just shook her tin again.
Probably she's a student travelling round the world in her gap year thought Trevor. She looks like a student. Maybe she's reaching the end of her journey and now she needs money to buy herself a ticket home. He decided that he would give her something, and he reached for his wallet. But as he did so, he glanced at the tin and he noticed that it didn't have a slot in it. For the life of him, he simply couldn't see how he was supposed to get his donation into the tin. Puzzled, he wondered if he should ask the girl how the tin worked. But in the end he decided not to ask. The question would make him look stupid, and she might laugh at him. Feeling slightly embarrassed at his inability to spot the secret of the tin, he changed his mind again and left his wallet in his pocket. "Sorry," he said. "I don't have anything for you today."
As he walked into the supermarket, he heard the girl say, "Maybe later?"
Trevor wandered around the supermarket concentrating on shopping and looking for bargains. He poked the vegetables, choosing the freshest. Capsicums were expensive again, he noted. Probably the season was almost over. But broccoli was amazingly cheap. Lamb roasts were on special, so he bought two. He looked for venison, but failed to find any. Milk, yoghurt, bread and beer. Bread is one of the basic food groups, he thought. And beer is just liquid bread, so it must be good for me. Very nutritious. He queued at the checkout and paid for his purchases.
The cold and shivering girl with the collecting tin was still there as he carried his groceries back to his car. "Take care," she called. "Drive safely. Don't get distracted."
Trevor waved at her and then drove off home. As he reached the outskirts of town he increased his speed. The road was very twisty, but Trevor had driven along it so many times that every corner seemed like an old friend. He turned the radio on, but decided that he didn't like the channel. He glanced down at the radio as he tuned it to a different station and when he looked up at the road again all he could see was an enormous logging truck that filled his field of vision as it took the corner far too fast and headed straight towards him on the wrong side of the road. There wasn't enough time for either of them to take any evasive action even though everything seemed to be happening in slow motion...
The noise of the logging truck ploughing into his car was the loudest sound that Trevor had ever heard.
* * * *
The paramedics took Trevor out of the mangled remains of his car in five separate pieces. Trevor stood at the side of the road and watched them as they arranged the fragments of his body on a stretcher, putting the body parts in roughly the right places so that his corpse didn't look too asymmetrical. That's me over there, he thought. But it's me over here as well. How odd. How interesting.
He heard footsteps, and a moment later the supermarket girl walked up and stood beside him. She shook her collecting tin. It still didn't have a slot in it. "Hello," she said. "I warned you not to get distracted."
Trevor nodded. "I should have paid more attention to you," he said.
"The part of you that's standing here talking to me is all that is left now," said the girl. "The parts of you over there on the stretcher don't matter any more. I think that perhaps it's time to make your donation. You'll never get another chance."
"Yes," Trevor said. "Maybe it is time." Then he remembered how puzzled he had been by the absence of a slot on the collecting tin. "Just how do I make a donation?" he asked.
"Oh, it's really quite easy," said the girl. "Stand still a moment." She grabbed hold of Trevor and popped him into the tin, right through the slot that wasn't there. I wonder how she did that, he thought as the walls of the tin surrounded him. Then he wasn't thinking anything at all as he rustled deep down in the comfortable darkness. And he never thought anything ever again.
* * * *
The girl shook her tin and listened critically to the rustling. One more soul, she decided. That's all I need. Then I'll have enough and I'll be able to take them all back home with me. She shivered. It would be so good to leave this place. She really, really missed the huge, hot sulphurous fires of home.