Written by Susan Brooks
Maggie snapped awake when the bus pulled into the station. Making her way to the front of the bus, she waited her turn to step into the cold drizzling rain. Grabbing her beat up suitcase from the belly of the bus, she made her way inside the bus terminal. She was surprised to see how busy it was considering it was two in the morning.
Thankful to finally be able to use a bathroom that wasn’t a cubicle perched in the back of a moving vehicle, Maggie pushed open the Ladies Room door. Spying the unoccupied handicap stall, she maneuvered her suitcase, backpack, and purse inside and pushed the door closed, locked it and sat down on the toilet. Leaning her head on the stall’s door, Maggie closed her eyes. She was so tired. She felt like she could sleep for a week, but she knew that wasn’t possible. But she allowed herself to relax and for few precious minutes, she fell asleep.
The sound of a door slamming woke her up. Groggy, she pulled up her pants, flushed the toilet and gathered her belongings. When she emerged into the bathroom, she locked eyes with a woman who was dressed in a waitress uniform and who was applying bright red lipstick. Maggie looked away and went to wash her hands.
“You just get in on the bus from Cleveland?” she asked.
“I did,” replied Maggie.
“Where you headed?’
“I’m not quite sure.”
“Seems to me a person should know where they’re going before they start a trip. That is unless they are running away from something, or someone. Are you running away/”
Maggie didn’t say a word. She just stood there, staring at the stranger’s face in the mirror, and began to quietly weep. Before she could react, the woman grabbed her, pulled her close and wrapped her arms around Maggie. She hugged her so tight, Maggie couldn’t breathe.
“Sugar, whatever is wrong in your life, I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think it is and tears never solve problems.”
Maggie grabbed some paper towels and wiped her tears and blew her nose. “Try being homeless, broke and pregnant.”
The woman stood there staring at Maggie. Then she smiled, extended her hand and said, “My name is Angela and I have to admit those are some mighty big problems, but every problem has a solution. It’s up to you to figure out a solution and maybe with some help, you can find those solutions faster.”
Maggie smiled and took Angela’s hand and mumbled, “My name is Maggie. It’s nice to meet you Angela.”
“Honey don’t you fret over things. Let’s get you something to eat. You look like you could use a good meal and if you’re eating for two, it’s real important to eat.” Angela grabbed Maggie’s suitcase and opened the bathroom door.
Maggie had no choice but follow behind, wondering what just happened.
Angela led Maggie to a coffee shop located in the back of the bus terminal. It wasn’t very large with a few tables and a counter lined with worn-out stools. Pushing open a swinging door, Angela beckoned to a guy hunched over a greasy flat top and said to Maggie, “That’s Pete. He’s the cook but I use that term loosely.”
Pete grunted but flashed a big smile at Maggie.
In a back storage room filled with shelves of canned goods, boxes and bottles, Angela put down the suitcase and took Maggie’s backpack and purse and placed them inside an old, brown locker.
“How long has it been since you had something to eat/” she asked Maggie.
“Two days ago, but I did have a carton of milk this morning,” replied Maggie.
“Well, that’s not enough for you or your baby, so how about we start you off with a plain omelet, some toast and some more milk?”
“That sounds good but how much will that cost? I don’t have a lot of money to spend.”
“Don’t you worry about the money. It’s on the house. While Pete fixes you some food, why don’t you stretch out on this old sofa and rest? You look worn out and though that sofa is old, it’s actually very comfortable. I’ve been known to take a quick nap on it so I can highly recommend its comfort.”
Maggie didn’t protest too much and stretched out on the sofa. Angela was right that it did feel comfortable, though Maggie was so tired that she thought even a board would feel good. Soon Angela was back with a tray of food. Maggie sat up and Angela placed the tray on Maggie’s lap. She and Maggie talked while Maggie ate. Without really meaning to do so, Maggie shared her story with Angela. She told her about leaving her boyfriend when he got abusive when he found out about the baby and her refusal to get an abortion. She told her how she lost her job because she taught in a religious private school, and it was against her employment contract to become pregnant and not be married. She shared how her own mother threw her out when she asked to stay with her until she got back on her feet. Her mother said she wasn’t willing to risk her reputation as a God-fearing Christian woman by allowing her unemployed, unwed, pregnant daughter to live with her.
“So, I took the money I had, bought a bus ticket and headed out of town. I have no plans, no friends, no family, no job and a baby on the way.” Maggie started to cry again, and Angela sat next to her and held her hand until Maggie fell asleep.
When Maggie woke up, Angela was gone, and Maggie could hear voices coming from outside the storage room. Maggie opened the door to the kitchen area to find Pete flipping burgers, pulling baskets of French fries out of the fryer, and ladling soup into bowls. A young man was filling the dishwasher and Angela was coming in with an empty tray and leaving with one laden with food. To Maggie’s eye it was chaos but somehow it worked without any problems.
Angela spotted Maggie and told her to go rest and she would stop by when she had her next break. True to her word, twenty minutes later, Angela came into the storage room and plopped down in one of the chairs next to the small dining table.
“Whew, it feels great to get off my feet. I think everyone on that last bus decided to eat. For a few minutes, it was standing room only and that seldom happens in this dive.”
“Are you the only server working?” Maggie asked.
“I am but that’s okay. I am used to working alone. It’s not always this busy and all the tips belong to me. Not that the tips are that great but every little bit helps.”
“You look better since you had some sleep. Are you feeling any better?” Angela asked.
“Actually, I do feel better. Between the food and the sleep, I think I have the strength to move on. I can’t thank you enough for all your help Angela.”
“Honey it was my pleasure, but what’s this thing about moving on? Where are you going? What about a job? You can’t keep wandering about with no real plan, especially with you being pregnant. Don’t you think you should see a doctor?”
Maggie stood there silently staring at Angela. She didn’t have a plan and she didn’t know where she should go next. She shifted from one foot to the other and wondered where she could go.
Angela grabbed Maggie’s hand and pulled her into a chair. “I think you should stay here. You can live with me until you find a place of your own. There are jobs in this town, including teaching jobs. This isn’t a bad place to live, and the folks here are hard-working, honest and friendly. You won’t be judged by anyone.”
And just like that, Maggie had a plan.
She did move in with Angela and she found a job teaching in a local pre-school. It was close enough to Angela’s house that Maggie could walk to work. Maggie told her boss the truth about her situation, well mostly the truth. She admitted she was pregnant, but Maggie lied about leaving her boyfriend. In this version, Maggie left her abusive husband and Maggie had no living family. Maggie’s boss was very understanding and even recommended an obstetrician for Maggie to visit.
Weeks turned into months, and Maggie was settling into her new life. With Angela’s help, she found a small apartment that was on the bus line and wasn’t far from Angela’s neighborhood. Maggie enjoyed fixing up the small bedroom as a nursery and was so surprised when her co-workers at the pre-school threw her a baby shower.
Her baby was growing, and her doctor’s visits indicated that everything was normal. Maggie was excited and scared about becoming a Mom but everyone assured her she would be fine. The baby was due in November and Maggie counted down the days to her due date.
The day before Thanksgiving, Maggie was helping Angela bake pies when Maggie felt a stabbing pain in her belly. She was sure it was nothing especially since the baby wasn’t due for another week, so Maggie said nothing. But the pain didn’t go away and suddenly Maggie’s water broke. She and Angela looked at each other and laughed. Maggie was about to become a mother.
Maggie didn’t remember too much about the sequence of events that happened once Angela drove her to the hospital. She remembered being wheeled to a room and people moving about doing things. She remembered the pain in her belly getting very intense and a strong urge to push. She remembered Angela standing next to her, telling her to breath and letting Maggie squeeze her hand so hard, it was surprising it did not break.
And then, she remembered hearing a baby cry, someone telling her it was a girl, and someone placing a small, pink bundle on her chest and telling her this was her daughter.
Fast forward five years, and Maggie and her daughter are walking up a sidewalk to a small, blue house. As they go up the steps, the front door opens and waiting with a wide grin and open arms is Angela. Maggie stepped into Angela’s embrace and they held on to each other, gently rocking back and forth. Maggie felt someone tugging on her hand and she looked down at her daughter.
Scooping her up, she hands her to Angela who covers the giggling little girl with kisses. Inside, Maggie greets the other guests and proudly introduces her daughter. Everyone moves into the dining room and takes their place around the table. Sitting in the center of the table is a giant, golden-brown turkey, the star attraction of their Thanksgiving celebration.
Angela raises her glass for a toast and asks everyone to share something for which they are grateful. One by one, every guest shared who or what they felt gratitude.
When it was Maggie’s turn, she stood up and cleared her throat.
“Six years ago, I came to this town, alone, afraid and broke. A chance meeting in the ladies’ room at the bus terminal changed my life forever. You see on that day; I met a woman named Angela. This woman helped me get back on my feet and never once stopped caring for me. She gave me a place to live. She helped me find my own apartment, helped me fix it up and encouraged me when I was feeling low. She insisted I find a job in the teaching field and not just settle for a paycheck. Without that advice, I wouldn’t be a partner in that pre-school where I went to work. Angela was there on the most important day of my life, when my beautiful baby was born. She helped me bring my precious little girl into the world and was always ready to help when I felt overwhelmed.”
“I have many things in my life for which I am grateful. I have a happy, healthy daughter named Bella. I have a thriving career in education. I have a lovely home in a nice neighborhood with lots of good friends. But the one thing for which I am most thankful on this Thanksgiving Day and every day of every year is my friendship with Angela. I truly believe God put Angela into my life for a reason. She is one of His angels on earth.”
“So please everyone, raise your glass to Angela for whom I am most sincerely thankful for being a part of my life.”
Maggie looked at Angela across the table and couldn’t help noticing there were tears in her eyes. She lifted her glass and smiled at her friend.