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Tea For Tea Towels

, , , , , , , , | Friendly | March 25, 2022

When the health crisis started, the National Health Service set up a volunteer responder scheme, so people could help those in need — mostly with things like grocery shopping and picking up prescriptions for those asked by their doctors to shelter and those isolating or in quarantine. The prescriptions are often free; for everything else, we arrange payment.

I call a man and see if there is anything he needs. The only thing he is short of is tea (dish) towels. It’s an unusual request, but I can do it when I am shopping anyway, so I say yes. Knowing that these people are usually on a fixed income, I say that if I can get a packet of three for £5 or better, I will buy them, and he agrees.

I manage to do better; I find a pack of four beautiful tea towels for £5. Bargain! I buy them and give him a call to let him know I am on my way. I confirm he has £5 to pay me. There is no misunderstanding.

I arrive, and he comes outside to greet me.

Me: “Here are the tea towels. Are they okay?”

Man: “That’s great, thank you! Do you like tea?”

Me: *Taken aback* “Yes, I guess.”

He handed me a packet of teabags. They were cheap ones, and the packet was opened but had been resealed by the white paper sticker. The packet had a greasy feel like it had been near a cooktop for months. It had the price printed on the packet: £1.59. I did not want this, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I took it. I assumed it was a gift to thank me for my effort.

I awaited being paid the amount we’d agreed on. There was a long, awkward pause as I stared at him, eyes widening as he made no move to pay me. Finally, he realised that I was not bartering £5 worth of tea towels for rubbish, and he pulled the £5 out of his pocket. The tea bags went in the first litter bin I passed.

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