by Alan Davies
December Writing Prompt What Happens to a man's routine when faced with someone in need.
|December Writing Prompt
What a Character
“It was getting cold, real cold,” Jacob thought, “what do you expect living in Boston.”
In fact, except for his time in the army, he had never lived anywhere else. Sixty two years old and he had spent a total of four of them away from Boston.
He tucked his head down yanked his coat collar up and headed up to his bus stand; Route 11, City Point to Down Town Boston. He had been riding this bus for 28 years. Well, the route anyway, the buses and the drivers had changed a lot. Hell, in 1990 it was a real smoker, diesel and belching black, with every hard acceleration. The bus he rode now was very quiet and comfortable, hybrid electric and natural gas.
He found a seat and opened up his Boston Globe. He liked a paper, not some iPad glowing in his face. Of course the inks they we using now seemed to smudge easier and more than once he’d gone into the men’s room at work and found black smears on his face. In fact, if he thought about it, reading the paper was responsible for his work arrival bathroom routine. Pee, wash his hands and face check his hair. Checking his hair was far less important now that he had far less than ever.
Twenty eight years at Boston Mutual Insurance. He had an office now, had for nearly 10 years, after years of cubicles on different floors.
He sat down and turned on his computer, Alice came in with his coffee and what else, a Boston Cream donut.
“Thanks Alice,” He said. Yep, the same; she managed a “welcome” and swiftly headed back to her desk area.
Jacob said good morning to his wife’s 4”x 6” gold framed photo. His wonderful Elizabeth, She’d been gone nine years, breast cancer. Discovered too late, she died only eight months after she detected a lump in her arm pit while showering at the Y.
Alice looked in at her boss, he looked so lonely. He appeared gruff and unapproachable. He really wasn’t. He was kind enough. Of course much of his reputation was his own fault; he never attended office parties, though he was generous when giving money to buy gifts for office birthdays, baby showers, or flowers for some departed worker somewhere from one of the six floors Boston Mutual occupied. He just wasn’t social.
Years earlier, at a decent time after his wife’s passing, Alice tried to let him know that she was “interested”. He looked sour and gruff, expression wise, but he was almost six feet tall no real belly and his eyes were a wonderful piercing green. He was in his early 50’s then. Nothing developed and her overtures were never too overt so they were never embarrassed by them afterwards. In fact, he had simply said, “Alice, you are a wonderful, beautiful woman, but I’m still married.” He was a widower, but he was, “still married.”
Jacob was President of Boston Mutual’s Corporate Risk and Loss Division. He had over forty employees under him. Much to his chagrin, he was the old man. Yep, work honestly and hard for years and years and you get promoted along the way until you have the office with two windows with a very distant and narrow view of the Charles River, and you’re the guy everyone spots and snaps to, getting off their fantasy football or LL Bean catalog screens. He’d hear, “Crap, hey the old man’s roaming!”
Generally, Jacob chose to eat lunch at his desk with his Boston Globe and some classical music playing whisper soft on his Bose unit behind him. He’d paid his dues over the years, attending endless lunches and laughing at crude jokes, smiling, nodding and generally playing his part. Finally, with 28 years in, he rarely got invited to lunches, and he didn’t miss it one bit.
Four hours later, another day over, Jacob wondered momentarily if he’d stay in town for dinner and a movie then quickly decided against it when he remembered that the Boston Bruin’s hockey game was on tonight, and he had a perfectly good Marie Calendar chicken pot pie in his freezer.
Back on his Rte. 11 bus headed home, regular old white businessman, so plain as to have been invisible.
Jacob noticed them again, two kids, maybe mixed race, they were huddled together and sharing a juice box and a small bag of chips between them. A boy, what 13, and a girl maybe 9; clearly brother and sister.
He’d seen them before, yet tonight they looked decidedly worse; dirtier and more “desperate”. Though the sites of them made him wonder who, if anyone cared for them, he did as he had every time he’d seen them; he heard his mom’s voice, “mind your own business son, there are agencies that take care of them.”
In his brownstone he turned on the hockey game, let his pot pie cool and sipped his Coor’s Lite; normally, the set up for a perfectly decent evening, but tonight he was restless. Those kids, were they in trouble? Were they in a life threatening situation? The Bruins scored and Jacob shook off the shadow the two kids had snuck over his evening. They were none of his business.
Over the next couple of weeks the two kids showed up at different times a day. He kept seeing them, kept wondering about them. He couldn’t shake worrying about them, the two kids that were none of his business.
To Jacob's surprise he ended up telling Alice about them.
Alice’s face showed that she was as surprised as he was that he was talking to her about two unfortunate children. Somehow she couldn’t picture him seeing anything or anyone over his statistics and risk sheets or his ever- present Boston Globe.
Alice managed, “Oh, well, goodness, surely there are agencies for that sort of thing.”
Jacob agreed, and headed back into his office.
He opened his lunch bag, unwrapped his tuna sandwich and reached for his Globe; His routine, regular, comfortable and familiar. Yet, even now he was wondering about the two from the bus.
It was three more nights before he saw them again. If it was even possible, to him they looked colder and more disheveled.
“For heaven’s sake,” he thought, “what do I do…talk to them?” He shuddered as he thought of a conversation he’d be having with a Boston MTA cop after the bus driver called him in as a possible predator. Nope, these two would just have to find help some other way.
Then Jacob heard the girl say, “I’m hungry, can’t we get something?” and the boy shushed her, “Quiet! I’ll get a can of ravioli from Quickie Mart.”
The bus came to a stop near the Quickie Mart and the two kids got up to get out. Without thinking Jacob grabbed a twenty from his billfold and shoved it at the boy wordlessly.
The boy grabbed it, mumbled, “Thanks mister,” and then hustled his sister off the bus.
Jacob looked back in time to see the boy showing his sister the twenty, and for a moment felt better about it all.
It was December 15th, just ten days before Christmas; Jacob remained in his routine, living his life. He was earning a living, paying his taxes and tithing at his local church.
It was at the church where he was asked to give extra for their donation to World Vision’s Christmas fund that those two kids, who were not in Angola or Somalia, but living somewhere along MTA Bus Rte. 11, jumped back into his consciousness. Easy to send money to World Vision, they were after all one of the best, most honest charities in the world. He was pretty sure he had read that they distributed at least ninety cents per dollar, with only ten cents per dollar going to administration. But, in the now, right in his Boston neighborhood, what was he doing for that pore brother and sister.
Instead of going out the door of the church, he turned back into the sanctuary and waited for his turn to talk to his pastor. He had never spoken to her. In point of fact, church was Elizabeth’s idea, and it was where her memorial service was held.
“Well, Jacob, how are you?” Pastor Williams asked.
Jacob, momentarily taken aback, hearing her call him by his name, managed, “Pastor I need some help.”
He told her of the two kids and she was not at all surprised. “Jacob, there are hundreds of kids, in fact thousands of kids like those two on your bus. Some are in the system but many, many more are not. Maybe the majority are not.”
Pastor Williams continued, “The waiting list for Foster Families is tremendous…”
Jacob listened and told her how the kids were on his conscience, and his fears of even speaking to them in the Transit Bus.She agreed that his doing so was risky, and that he should not do so alone. Yet, if he was really determined to do something for them she would help.
They both agreed that getting the kids in the system could be as harmful as leaving them to their own devices.
“If they are on the bus with you again, call me and I will get in my car and get to you if you get off with them, and keep an eye out for where they go.” Pastor Williams said giving Jacob her card, adding, “My collar will help make the meeting a bit less suspicious.”
It took six days, and there they were. He dialed Pastor Williams’s number and as he did so he thought, “Jeez, I wonder if dialed is what someone calls a cell phone call, there isn’t any dial.”
Twenty minutes later, Pastor Williams pulled her church’s Pontiac Lacrosse into a space across from the Quickie Mart where, fortunately the two kids still were. Perhaps, lingering in the store for the warmth.
Pastor Williams approached the kids and introduced herself. The girl smiled and was eager to talk, but her brother was wary and worked hard to block his sister from being too revealing about their actual living circumstances.
After about fifteen minutes, Pastor Williams got the boy to agree to going to the Metro Diner with her and Jacob.
Everyone got huge cheese burgers, fries and cokes.
During the meal, the kids relaxed more and the boy revealed he was named, Zane and 13 and a half years old, his sister was Aliyah and nine years old. They had been living with their grand mama, who had been taken away by ambulance and the kids forgotten about by the overworked EMT’s.
It took 9 months, of papers, visits, and research driven by Pastor Williams, and today was adoption day! Jacob was going to be a father!
His routines smashed, destroyed, turned inside out!
He could not have been happier!