The man in front of me looked disheveled and flustered. His fraying coat hung loose across his shoulders, and he was stuttering out a reply.
“I-I-I can’t a-a-ford th-thirty dollars to r-r-replace the b-book. I swear I d-d-didn’t hurt th-the book.” His shame of being accused of hurting something as precious as a book was obvious.
Everyone in the library knew this man. His name was Wendell Hanks and he lived down the street from the library in a tent on the grounds of an old elementary school. He had been fired from his job in telemarketing when he developed a stutter as a result of a car accident. The doctors told him they didn’t discover the brain lesion until too late and he would have a stutter for the rest of his life.
His wife left him a few months later saying she couldn’t be married to someone unemployed and with so many disabilities. At the time it was harsh, but Wendell knew she was right. She got the house in the divorce, and with no means of support he ended up living on the street. The library was his last bastion against the world. He used books as an escape from his life.
“For the last time Mr. Hanks, unless you pay the fee I can’t let you check these books out. There are patrons waiting behind you, so can you please step aside and let me help them?” The librarian said. She was new here, and didn’t know Wendell. Her dismissal hurt him deeply. A tear begin to build in the corner of his eye, and with a long breath and head hanging, he left the books and began to walk outside.
“Wendell wait,” I called, “what’s the problem?”
“They s-s-say I destroyed a-a-a book. I would n-n-never do th-that,” Wendell replied.
I stared at the librarian as I said, “I know you wouldn’t. I don’t think anyone here likes books more than you, not even the librarians.” Wendell’s face lit up with relief that someone believed him. I pulled out my wallet and slid the librarian my credit card. “Please put whatever charges you say Wendell accrued on that. No one should be denied the joy of a library, especially someone who needs it as badly as Wendell.”
The librarian ran the credit card, and after a couple minutes typing on the keyboard Wendell’s account had been cleared and he was on his way with his books. He turned to me and said with a genuine smile, “Thank you so much. You have no idea how much this means to me.”