A Story About the Time I Paid for a Stranger’s Costco Purchase & The Ensuing IOU

When we lived in Vancouver I didn’t have a Costco card, but once in a while we wanted something from there. Back in spring 2014 I popped in to the Port Coquitlam location with my sister to take advantage of her membership and purchase some ribs. Of course the lineups were huge, and we waited to pay with our couple items in hand, queued behind a snake of heaped carts.

As we approached the conveyor belt, we placed the divider bar down, separating my package of ribs from the items belonging to the customer in front of us. I would describe his collection somewhere between “Menu of Every Child’s Birthday Party Dream” and “Nutritionist’s Blacklist”. The man who belonged to this stack of empty calories unfortunately looked the part; it seemed these foods were his mainstay. Maybe in his fifties (but looked quite a bit older), he wore grubby sweatpants, worn-in flip flops, and a T-shirt that had seen better days. Large glasses with thick lenses magnified the crazed look in his eyes. I say this in the nicest way possible, but this man was definitely a bit off.

The cashier rang through his items, and he reached for his wallet. He pulled out all the cash he had (Costco doesn’t accept credit cards) and handed it to her. She counted it and explained he was very short. He turned to my sister and I and said, “Could you lend me $50 to pay for my things? I promise to pay you back.” My sister shook her head.

This guy clearly could be making better food choices, and none of the food in his pile seemed like necessities. It seemed obvious to me that he should just return some of the chips to the shelf. I honestly don’t know what came over me, but I heard myself saying yes, and handed him the cash. My sister looked at me like I’d lost it. I assumed my “loan” would never be seen again, but the man handed me his card and insisted he would pay me back when he had the money. I glanced at his homemade “business” card, saw his name was Edward*, and gave him my card too. He thanked me profusely and wheeled his cart toward the exit, promising to let me know when he had the cash.

I didn’t believe him.

A few weeks later I got a call from an unknown number. I answered and it was Edward. He still didn’t have the cash but he hadn’t forgotten.

Several more weeks passed and Edward called again. He wasn’t available but would have one of his employees (?) meet me to hand over the cash. He would follow up with details. No details followed.

It was probably mid-summer when I got another call, and Edward insisted that he would meet me near my office. I knew he lived in Coquitlam (by this point I knew all sorts of things about him) but he insisted he would come to Kitsilano to meet me. We coordinated a time the following week to meet at a Starbucks. At the designated time I made my way over but after waiting for 15 minutes there was no sign of Edward. I gave him a call, and a woman answered. She explained Edward was in the hospital but he would be in touch.

Another time Edward coordinated with me to meet up, this time at a Starbucks near my  house. Again, he didn’t show up, and later he called, apologizing profusely.

I honestly don’t remember how many times I got a call from Edward or how many rambling and incredibly random excuses I heard about why he couldn’t meet me with the money. I truly didn’t mind (and I mean this sincerely) because when I gave him that money, I 100% didn’t expect to see it again. I was, however, intrigued enough to continue answering his calls and just curious enough about his seemingly good intentions to see what might happen.

By fall Edward’s calls had ceased, and as the end of the year approached (maybe 8 months after I gave him that “loan”) I had completely forgotten about the IOU.

The end of 2014 was an intense time for us. I was incredibly busy with work, including several trips around North America and one to Asia. Braden was offered a job in Hong Kong, and we quietly explored that possibility as our wedding date neared. Before the end of November he had accepted a position in HK and a couple weeks later, in early December, we got married. Six weeks later Braden moved to Hong Kong. I gave my notice at my job in Vancouver, sold our apartment and vehicles, and moved back in with my parents until my move to Hong Kong just after Easter, 2015.

Rather than ending  my job on an earlier date and getting paid out for vacation days owed, I technically remained employed for several weeks after I stopped working and was “on vacation”. This extended my benefits and seemed like a strategic way to finish up my time living in Canada. My boss graciously allowed me to keep my work cell phone (which was my only cell phone number and point of contact) until I moved to Hong Kong, as I was still technically employed, and he knew it would make my life easier.

And then, a couple days before I moved to Hong Kong – literally one of my very last days in the country and one of the last days I would ever have that phone number – I got a call from an unknown number. I answered and of course it was Edward. He hadn’t forgotten about my loan, he had the money, and he wanted to meet. We coordinated a time later that day at a Starbucks near my parents’ house.

I arrived at Starbucks and I JUST KNEW he would be there this time. I believe so strongly that I was meant to meet up with him before I moved to Hong Kong and lost that phone number for ever (not that he knew any of that). I walked through the door, and there was Edward waiting for me. He thanked me again, and handed me $50, explaining how complicated his situation had been over the last year. He felt terrible that it had taken him so long to pay me back and gave me another $20 for interest so I could go for lunch on him. He insisted, I took the cash, and of course I haven’t seen or heard from him since.

This story isn’t about getting paid back, even though I think it’s pretty incredible that I did get that money returned. And it’s not even about getting EXTRA money, as kind as that gesture was. I share this story for a couple reason. First, I was reminded of it recently by a friend who posted on Instagram about a backpack she bought for a homeless man and his joy at her seemingly simple act. It warmed my heart to read her story and reminded me of Edward. You never know how an act of kindness will affect someone else.

Secondly, I recently saw on LinkedIn a suggestion for an interview question “Tell me your proudest accomplishment”. What an awesome question! I thought about what my answer might be and while this certainly isn’t my absolute proudest accomplishment, I think it’s fair to put it on the list of good deeds I’ve done. It was nice to reflect on things I’m proud of and kindnesses I have extended.

And lastly, I LOVE that everything came together in just the right way, with the most incredible timing, to close the circle on this IOU. There is no doubt in my mind that all of those events – the loan, the many failed attempts to get me the money, and the eventual payback – happened for a reason, even if I’m still not sure what that reason was. The universe brought Edward and I together; I gave him money, he paid me back. And then my life continued and so did his.

For whatever reason, after several years without a single thought about any of this, it all popped into my mind a few times over just a couple days, and that seemed like a sign. Maybe the universe wanted me to tell my story about Edward. So here I am, many years later, on the other side of the world, telling you the tale of a $50 IOU given in a Port Coquitlam Costco.

It might sound strange, but I would like to think Edward’s somewhere telling his side of the story, too.

*I changed Edward’s name because goodness knows the world is small and maybe he wouldn’t like me sharing any of this.


6 thoughts on “A Story About the Time I Paid for a Stranger’s Costco Purchase & The Ensuing IOU

  1. Lovely story! I’ve never regretted acting on opportunities to “pay it forward” either – you never know what someone’s going through in their life, and helping them during a hardship may just make a lasting difference (even if you never get paid back).

  2. Ahh, thank you for “paying it forward.”
    Your thoughtfulness just might have been what was necessary in Edward’s life … May he be aware of your thoughtfulness and “pay it forward” when he has the opportunity.

  3. For the record… the sister who thought Alison ‘lost it’ has made a couple of gestures like this after Alison’s encounter with ‘Edward’ as my faith was restored too… eventually….!

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