The email popped up on my screen at 6:45 a.m. on 24 December last year. I’d already been awake for hours, working to a deadline. It was from someone I know quite well: the minister of my Unitarian church. “I need a favour from you,” it read. “Email me as soon as you get my message.”
“Ahoy, Ron,” I replied.
A friend was in the hospital battling cancer, he said, and he’d just learnt she was scheduled for surgery that night. Could I possibly pick up some iTunes gift cards?
“She needs the cards to download her favorite music and videos to boost her confidence on her next phase of surgery.” He’d do it himself, but he was tied up, he explained. “I will surely reimburse you as soon as I can.”
“OK,” I emailed back.
“Thank you so much, Bruce,” my correspondent replied. Then he got down to business. I was to buy $300 (around ₹22,000) of iTunes credit. (That’s quite a lot of music, I thought.) “I need you to scratch the silver lining at the back of each card to reveal the redemption code, then take a snapshot and send them directly to Sharon’s email.” He gave the address. “God bless.”
God bless? We’re Unitarians. Optimistic agnostics at best. The G-word doesn’t come up much. Totally weird sign-off there. I assumed Ron’s mind was still on the dire circumstances of his friend Sharon.
“I can pick up the cards around noon and engineer this by tonight,” I replied.
That would be too late, he replied. “Can you please send them to her by noon so she could be able to use them before her surgery?” This was awkward timing. But hey, what was my slight inconvenience against this woman’s cancer fight—on Christmas Eve, no less?
I drove to the grocery store and purchased four gift cards. The clerk activated them at the register. At 9:30, I emailed pictures with the following message: “Dear Sharon: The codes on the cards below will buy you music via iTunes. Everybody is pulling for you.”
A busy Christmas Eve day then unfolded. I forgot all about this until around 4:30 p.m. when I checked my email. A follow-up message was in my inbox. “Sharon just emailed me now saying she got the cards. I want to really appreciate you for that. I’m sure it’s going to go a long way in her fight over cancer.” But now there was a new development. Apparently, word of the gift cards had made its way around the cancer ward. Other patients were asking Ron for the same thing. “Could you please get me additional $500 worth of iTunes gift cards right away?”
What? The personal friend was one thing, but random strangers on the ward? Anyway, it might be too late. I called Ron.
“Hey, Bruce. What’s up?”
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