Friday, August 21, 2009

The Incredible Power of Soap

It was neither storming nor sunny when the wide wheeled jeep rolled around the dusty corner and into the unmarked driveway. Grass patches stubbornly claimed their territory despite being driven on, and the inhabitants of the jeep didn't bother to tell them otherwise. Chickens roamed about behind a fence that kept them more or less behind the house, although an occasional escape went unnoticed by all except the neighbor's dog.

A flabby, slovenly woman emerged. Her jeans were torn, and her feet were black with grime atop her minimal foam shoes. Her over sized shirt besmirched with food completed the ensemble, and her short, greasy hair hung in clumps atop a pimpled and unwashed face.

She waddled lazily to the porch, followed by two overweight and very dirty children. Her grocery bags were full of airy new packages of sweetened, flavored, oil-soaked chips upon which they would all feed for the rest of the afternoon.

The cluttered house gave one the feeling of being in a pack rat's den. Crooked window hangings, caked with dust, let in a small amount of daylight, and the dim glow of the television allowed them to see what they were eating.

A knock at the door brought one of the children to see whom it could be, for her laziness did not yet outweigh her sense of curiosity.

A saleswoman, brightly dressed, stood beaming a smile through freshly applied red lipstick.

"Would you like a sample?" said the lady.

"Who is it?" bellowed the woman on the couch.

"A pretty lady," said the girl.

"What does she want?" grunted the woman.

"What do you want?" echoed the girl.

A look of extreme compassion washed across the saleswoman's face.

"I'll be right back," she said.

She disappeared to her car for a moment, then returned with a heavy looking paper bag.

"Here," she said, handing it to the girl. "You can tell me how you like these the next time I come."

The young girl closed the door and began to peek inside the bag.

"What did she want?" repeated her mother, not looking up from the talk show.

"She left," said the girl. "She wanted to sell perfume."

"Ain't got money for it," grunted the woman, who filled her mouth full of chips beside her son who did the same.

The girl looked in the bag and tip toed to her room. There was a bar of soap, a small bottle of shampoo, some powder makeup, and some earrings. She carefully placed them in the corner of her top dresser drawer and covered the bundle with a wrinkled handkerchief.

The next school day the girl held her head up high. She was still overweight, but her whole outlook had changed. She was clean for once, cleaner than she'd ever been in her life, and it felt good. She made her mind up then and there: she would grow up to be like that pretty lady.

She began to try harder at some of her school studies, and found that she really was smarter than she'd formerly realized. Her grades were noticeably higher--noticeable by colleges who scouted scholars.

She left her mom and brother when she turned eighteen and rented a small apartment, which she kept clean--not pristine or spotless, but clean. Her weight problem was never perfect, but it did go down several sizes. She stayed busy and got several job offers when college was finished. The pretty lady kept in touch with her and they often exchanged short notes. Eventually she became involved with politics and ran successfully for a local position several times.

She never married, although she'd turned down a few dates. In a joint project the pretty lady and she raised a large sum for medical research.

She felt fulfilled in life, useful, a valued community member; and when she retired, she often visited houses in poor districts at Christmas time, bringing gift baskets composed of shampoo, bath oils, and soap.

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