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The Angel and the MAC Machine

by Jamilla B.

The airline clerk looked at the check in my hands, then shook her head. "I'm sorry, Miss, but I can't possibly cash this," she said. "It's not our policy to cash third party checks."

I stared incredulously at the woman. I tried to protest, but as the woman courteously refused to even consider my request, my heart began to sink. How was I going to pay for the plane ticket home? It was already Thanksgiving eve, and the plane was due to take off in less than an hour. If I tried to go back to town to find a bank, I would miss my flight, and I already was sure there wasn't an open seat to be had on any plane leaving the airport. But if I didn't go back to town, I could never get the check cashed.

"Oh God, what am I going to do?" I cried to myself. I thought back to the last phone call I'd had with my mother.

"Honey, I know it's been such a hard year for you. That's why I'm sending you a check to cover the plane fare, and I've made a reservation for you already," my mother had said.

"I want to see you this Thanksgiving. Just remember to cash the check before you leave town. I know from experience that they won't cash it at the airport. Remember, cash the check before you leave town. The ticket will be waiting for you at the ticket counter at the airport."

But in my hurry to leave, I had forgotten my mother's instructions. Now I stood disconsolate, ready to burst into tears. "Oh God, what am I going to do?!" I cried again. A voice at her elbow startled her out of her incipient nightmare. "Can I help you?"

I turned quickly. A pleasant faced man with no particular distinguishing characteristics was standing beside me. A nice man. An ordinary man. Nothing unusual but he had asked if he could help.

Bursting into tears, I sobbed my story, how I hadn't seen my mother for so long because my own life had been so hard and money had been scarce, and how my mother had kindly sent a check and how I couldn't get it cashed and how --

"Don't worry", the stranger said. "I can help you." He shepherded me to the MAC machine that stood unobtrusively in the corner. "My name is Michael," he added. I wasn't sure at first what he meant until I found myself standing in front of the MAC machine and realized he was going to give me some money. I reached into my pocket and brought out the disdained check. "Here, I can endorse it over to you", she said, signing the back and holding it out to him. But at first he seemed not to notice. He punched some buttons on the MAC machine and $250 came sliding out the bottom drawer. Only afterward did I remember that the man never bothered to insert a MAC card at any time. The stranger handed her the money, then took a look at the check I continued to hold out to him. With a small smile he tore the check into a number of pieces, and, while I, overwhelmed, tried to stammer my thanks at his incredible generosity, he simply slipped away in the crowd.

Clutching the $250 in my hands, I once again entered the ticket line, finally emerging with my ticket to home -- and Mom -- in my possession.

An hour later, my heart had finally settled down enough for me to enjoy the plane ride. Oddly enough, although I had expected the plane to packed to the gills, it was half empty. I didn't know that at holiday times airlines often put on extra planes to handle overflow traffic. I sat alone by the window, with no one beside me.

For a while the long ride was pleasant -- with music and lunch and a magazine, the first hours went quickly. But as the plane moved into a different weather pattern, it began to buck and pitch. Cups of coffee and glasses of soda suddenly tilted and spilled and the "Fasten Seat Belt" sign went on at once.

"We're experiencing a little turbulence", the captain's voice boomed. "Will all passengers please return to their seats?" The voice sounded normal, reassuring, but I was anything but calm. I had never felt turbulence like this before. The plane hit an air pocket and dropped suddenly. To me it felt as if my stomach was about four feet above my head. I repressed a little squeal, but all around her she heard soft gasps and the sound of a child's wail.

And then, all of a sudden, I heard a vaguely familiar voice at my left ear. "It's all right, don't be afraid. There's nothing to worry about. The plane is safe."

I turned my head, surprised, and got the shock of my life. Sitting beside her was the Good Samaritan from the airport who had given me $250 as if it were nothing, and who had torn up the check with which I had proposed to repay him.

Where had he come from? And how had he suddenly appeared in the seat next to me?

I was thunderstruck and groped for words to reply, but everything failed me. I looked intently into the eyes of the man, who looked just as nondescript as ever. And yet there was something in his eyes, something comforting, reassuring, peaceful. As I continued to look at him, I calmed down and began to grow peaceful. My fear broke, and I took a deep breath and smiled.

The plane gave one last bump and for a moment my attention shifted as I looked out the window. But it was the last bit of severe turbulence.

I sighed with relief and turned back to thank the ordinary man sitting beside me. But he was nowhere to be seen! He had vanished. I looked around as best I could, craning my neck to see if he had returned to his regular seat. But he was gone. I waited a while, thinking he might have gone to the men's room, but he never returned.

I wondered if I had imagined it. The plane touched down lightly. I thought about the whole experience, but could make nothing of it. I was out of my seat and ready to leave as soon as the seat belt sign had gone out, and I waited at the exit, scrutinizing every passenger who left the plane, but none of them was my secret angel.

An angel, of course, was the right word. That's what I believe.

Angel Stories index * Main index



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