Penelope Robinson dragged her well-worn khaki duffel bag behind her as she trudged down the poorly lit downtown street. Seeing a glimmer on the sidewalk, she stopped short; flipping her matted hair out of her eyes, she got down on her hands and knees to investigate. A dime – she cracked a smirk, picked up the coin, and shoved it in the front pocket of her shirt. She felt for what else might be there and pulled her fingers out to look at the contents. She did the figuring in her mind and replaced her coins. Another six cents and she could get one.
Penny continued her trek. Most of the stores along her path were closed, but she could see lights a few hundred feet down. The closer she got, the quicker her pace became, until she was trotting toward the window of The Blissful Baker, where she stopped. Lowering herself to the ground, she sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, inches from the window, and stared at the mostly empty display cases. All she could see was a few donuts and a dozen or so cookies, but Penny knew more were coming. With the sun just beginning to rise, the bakery would be opening soon, and Mr. Zarba would never open without his cases filled with delicious treats.
Penny closed her eyes and breathed in deeply through her nose. The aroma of baking goods and coffee filled her nostrils and brought a feeling of contentment over her that belied her unkempt appearance. As she continued breathing deeply, every muscle relaxed and the corners of her mouth crept upward into a relaxed smile.
A bang on the window interrupted her reverie. Mr. Zarba, attempting to place a tray full of bagels in the front case, had stumbled, causing the tray to slam into the window. Half a dozen of the treats flew off the tray and onto the floor. Looking ahead to investigate the damage, she noticed Mr. Zarba’s face level with hers, where he was on his hands and knees, picking up his dropped wares. She quickly averted her eyes, and spied a nickel beside her on the sidewalk, which she quickly pocketed.
Raising her eyes again, she saw Mr. Zarba, no longer looking her way, putting the remaining bagels in the case. Penny reached into her pocket, recounted her change, and sighed. She scanned the ground, spotting a collection of cigarette butts and an empty potato chip bag, but no coins. Depositing the garbage in a nearby receptacle, she returned to the shop window.
The bakery case was full now. Staring at all those donuts, bagels, and cookies made her mouth water, but the smells were enough to keep her glued to her spot on the sidewalk. They almost silenced the roar of her empty stomach.
Looking above the display case, she saw Mr. Zarba walking toward the front door, likely to open for business. Penny hastily stood up, grabbed her duffel bag and started traipsing further along the sidewalk. It was one thing to look at the tasty morsels – watching someone walk out of the shop with one in hand was more than she could bear.
Penny stopped and turned her head to find Mr. Zarba chasing after her. She waited, her eyes transfixed on a hole in her left shoe. Mr. Zarba tapped her on the shoulder.
“Little girl, are you all right? Would you like a little something?”
She shook her head. Regardless, the baker gently took Penny’s hand and led her back to the bakery. Allowing herself to be dragged along, she kept her eyes focused on the sidewalk ahead of her.
“What is your name, little girl?”
“Penny,” she mumbled, her eyes still lowered.
“Well, Penny, I would very much like to give you a donut and a bath, if you’ll let me.”
She looked up cautiously.
Mr. Zarba smiled. “Actually, it would be Mrs. Zarba who gives you the bath, but the donut would definitely be from me.”
Penny smiled despite herself as she walked into the shop with her new friend.
As they got to the counter, she emptied her pocket on the table. “Please let me buy the donut. I have almost enough.”
Mr. Zarba smiled at this proud girl. He counted the change.
“Well, my dear, you are the only extra Penny I’ll need.”
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