The people of the town where Zola Matthews lived didn’t hear the best things about her. Zola was known as the town madwoman in the straw hat. Everyone knew she was sitting all days in the square with a bowl in front of her.
However, Zola was not like all the other homeless people in the city. What set her apart was her unique behavior. When looking at Zola, it seemed as if you were looking at a small child trapped in an adult girl’s body. Even Zola’s demeanor was childlike.
For example, in those rare moments when Zola spoke, you could hear her ringing voice, whether she was excited or calm. Zola’s reasoning was not in keeping with her age, she thought like a child.
As a rule, the townspeople tried not to notice the girl, only occasionally showing mercy and throwing coins into the bowl. But more often, they just looked at her with contempt.
In difficult moments, when hunger and despair overwhelmed Zola, she approached passers-by and asked for money from anyone who could. However, almost all strangers tried to pretend that they were in a hurry or simply did not notice the poor woman.
For two years, Zola sat in the town square in her customary straw hat and with a bowl in front of her. Even in the heat and downpour, she stayed put. Only when the cold came hard Zola would wander the streets in search of suitable shelter.
The townspeople understood that they had to help the girl somehow, but that was it. They assuaged their consciences with only occasional handouts of change. Day after day the situation did not change, until one day a concerned woman named Rebecca Simmons approached Zola.
It was hot. Zola was dozing off into a midday nap with her hat covering her face, and she didn’t hear Rebecca approach her. The woman did not immediately succeed in waking Zola; she said as loudly as she could: “Hi!” and waved at her.
“Hi,” Zola replied puzzled. The girl was confused at the sudden attention she was getting.
“Why are you sleeping outside?” inquired Rebecca.
After a brief pause, Zola replied, “I just don’t have a place to sleep.”
“Why are you always in the same place? Why don’t you join the other homeless people?” asked Rebecca.
“It’s just that this is the last place I saw my mother,” Zola replied quietly, with tears in her eyes.
Zola’s mother, Mary Matthews, abandoned the girl when she was eight years old. The woman was forced to leave her daughter to her fate because she knew she could not give her anything. Mary left the girl alone in the square and went away. Little Zola kept waiting for her mother, but she never came.
Rebecca remained impressed by Zola’s sad story. She pondered the girl’s fate for a long time on the way home. When Rebecca got home, she hurried to tell her husband Jim everything.
“Remember that strange girl who sits in the town square day and night? I talked to her today,” Rebecca began the conversation as she lay in bed with her husband getting ready for sleep.
“Yes, I remember, she’s been living there a long time,” Jim replied and could barely keep from yawning.
“She was abandoned by her mother. And ever since then, the girl’s been growing up on her own. Like an adult, but acting like a child…”
“What’s the point of this conversation?”, Jim wanted to go to sleep.
“But winter is just around the corner. What will she do when the cold comes?” said Rebecca.
After that conversation, Rebecca started visiting Zola every day and was wondering more and more about the girl’s health as winter approached. She decided to talk to her husband and ask him to take Zola in their home for the winter. Without much enthusiasm, Jim agreed, and Zola began to come to the house occasionally to eat and keep warm.
Soon Zola stayed at the Simmons’ house for good. She took care of household chores and ran some errands. Later, Zola was hired to work in the same store where Rebecca worked. Soon the townspeople learned about Rebecca’s good-hearted act. Some regretted not doing the same for the poor girl. In an effort to make amends, people began collecting money and offered to help.
Law enforcement officers noticed what Rebecca did and decided not to stand by idly, so they organized a search for Zola’s mother. And they succeeded.
The grieving mother was found, and Zola was able to meet her at the Simmons’ house. Happiness overwhelmed the girl. “Mother!” cried Zola and rushed to hug her.
Mary cried. “I am very bitter that I left you. I had nothing to raise you on, and you had your whole life ahead of you.”
Rebecca could barely hide her anger when she heard Mary’s words. But Zola’s mother smiled at Rebecca and said: “I am very grateful to you, Mrs. Simmons, for taking care of my daughter. Thank you so much!”
Zola did not hold a grudge against the negligent mother and left with her the same day. They settled down safely and began a new life thanks to the help of the townspeople who were influenced by Rebecca’s good-heartedness.