“I’ll pay you back tomorrow.”

She was standing on Detroit St. one evening after work, trying to get someone to stop to talk to her.

“I’m locked out of my car,” she told me. “Brewer’s is coming to unlock it, but they charge $30–I only have $12. Can you help me?”

I’ve lived in Ann Arbor for forty years, and stopped giving cash to panhandlers about halfway through that time. The turning point was the sad-eyed woman who knocked on my door trying to raise a little money to fix her car so she should get back home to Grand Rapids. She said it was around the corner on Kingsley, and convincingly mimed the tilted front wheel caused by a broken ball joint. I gave her the money–and regretted it when I saw her hitting up my neighbors with the same story for weeks afterward.

This woman was carrying a cell phone–didn’t she have anyone she could call?

“I don’t live here–my folks live up in Marquette,” she said.

I’m from Marquette myself, so I asked her where her parents lived. “I don’t really know it very well,” she said. “They just moved there from Tennessee.”

That set off an alarm. But I hadn’t seen her around before, and figured she just might be telling the truth. I gave her $20 and pointed out my office–we were standing in front of it.

“I’ll pay you back tomorrow,” she promised. “You can keep my phone if you want.”

I passed on the phone, but dug out my camera and took her picture, just so I’d have something to remember her by if she was conning me.

That was a month ago. I never saw her again.

It was a touching story, and I got touched.

Now I wonder–where did she get that phone?