When I walk the dog round the village I often see things that mildly concern me – things I think I should do something about – like an open car boot, a loose dog, or an unlatched front door.
Mostly I worry and dither and do nothing, because I’m fearful of interfering. Not worried for my safety, because this is a country village, but disinclined to be considered a busybody or to embarrass myself.
Today I saw a cuddly toy on someone’s lawn after dark. I worried, I dithered, then I decided if it was my child’s favourite toy getting wet and mouldy I’d want to know.
So I picked up a soggy giant Tigger and knocked on the door. A bewildered woman and an excited dog answered and bedlam ensued as my mutt tried to get in and theirs tried to escape. I held up the sodden toy and explained my mission. Turns out it was the dog’s toy. I beat an embarrassed retreat as the confused woman said thank you for the fifteenth time. No relieved parent or happy child, just an interrupted evening and a sense of bafflement. Was it still a good deed? Maybe.
Hubbie is all for paying it forward, and goodness knows our daughter’s favourite toy has been rescued more times than Peppa Pig’s teddy. But hubbie doesn’t believe in such a thing as true altruism. To him, all things have an ulterior motive, if only that we feel good about ourselves.
I say, Who cares? A good deed is just that; a desire to do the right thing. What does it matter if our motivation is to feel better about ourselves, as long as the person’s needs come first. Of course I might think twice about knocking on a stranger’s doors at night bearing a dripping teddy, because sometimes an urge to help looks just plain creepy. But then again I probably would do it again. You can’t beat a random act of kindness, however small.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire tugged at her skirt, as it clung to her tights, chafed by its restriction. Instead of striding into the building with her head high, she was forced to mince like a Geisha. She wobbled on unfamiliar heels and wondered how she’d ever thought office attire anything other than a bloody nuisance.
Trying not to hold her laptop in front of her like a shield, Claire stepped up to the reception desk and announced her arrival. The middle-aged woman facing her seemed startled at the ringing note in her voice, as if people didn’t normally approach her desk with such confidence. She gave a nod of acknowledgement and reached for the phone.
With a glance round Claire located the fake leather sofa in the corner, where she’d perched nervously four months before, and went to wait. She sat with her knees together, turned demurely to one side, and her hands folded in her lap. She knew he wouldn’t collect her from the lobby, but it paid to be prepared and she was damned if she was going to betray any nerves. She could fall apart later; for now she needed to be every inch the consultant he had billed her as.
The same harassed-looking secretary collected her from reception twenty minutes later. Long enough that she’d begun to look around for a toilet and regretted not asking at the desk. Surreptitiously smoothing her palms on her red skirt, Claire followed the woman through the building, praying they wouldn’t be in the same stuffy, windowless, room they’d used for her interview.
Her prayers went unanswered as the woman knocked feebly at a hollow door and opened it just wide enough to peer round.
“Are you ready for Ms Carleton?”
Claire heard a strong affirmative in a voice she recognised as Jason’s and steeled herself for combat. She put out a hand to stop the receptionist from entering the room and said, “Is there a projector set up for my presentation?”
The woman shook her head and looked as if she’d like to scuttle into the shadows.
“No matter. I can present from the laptop.” Claire radiated an ease she was far from feeling and followed the secretary into the room.
Déjà vu washed over her, as she saw the same single desk and chair, facing the row of five faceless suits. Not faceless now; not all of them. There he was, second from the left, as he’d been before. The seat next to him was taken not by the HR representative from her interview, but by a steely-eyed woman who looked like she would happily swallow Claire whole and spit her out. Claire wondered if that was her replacement.
Come on knees, don’t fail me now.
The walk across the room to her chair felt longer than Chesil Beach and she resolutely avoided looking at her audience as she did so. Placing her bag on the chair, Claire stood beside the small table and opened her laptop. She doubted they would see much of the screen from four feet away, but that was their business. If they couldn’t find a projector, she couldn’t give a damn.
The fighting talk helped still the nerves, as she faced Mr Mean in the middle and began to speak. All the while her eyes kept dragging towards Conor and she fought and fought against her body’s instinct.
Listening to her presentation from a safe distance in her mind, Claire felt a strange sense of pride at the steadiness of her voice and the confidence in her delivery. She noticed that the woman to the left of Conor took notes in a languid fashion, while Jason span a pen on his thumb and managed to look bored and disapproving at the same time.
And then it was over. Three months of work and worry, of chatting to landlords and wandering through tourist attractions, and her recommendations were complete. She wondered if they would have offered her the full-time position if she hadn’t already declined it.
“Thank you, Ms Carleton. We will consider your findings and implementation plan, and consult with you further when you take up your full-time role in the office.”
Ice slithered down her skin at Jason’s words, and her gaze flew to Conor’s face for the first time. His blank features held the tiniest hint of defiance and there was a faint blush on his cheeks.
He hadn’t told them. He had let them think she was coming to work for them on Monday. What did he hope to achieve? That she’d have to work out her notice, or wouldn’t be able to start her new role. Disappointed at the low blow, Claire hardened her gaze and saw his eyes narrow in return.
She turned her attention back to Jason and said, in a cool voice, “I’m sorry you appear to have been left out of the loop,” she threw a challenging glance at Conor, “but I am unable to take up the full time position now my contract has expired. I had informed Mr O’Keefe of my intention not to renew. I will, of course, be more than happy to discuss plans with my successor, as well as providing the 150 page report that accompanies my presentation.”
Jason’s expression was inscrutable but Claire kept her gaze firmly on him, refusing to give Conor the satisfaction of her attention. Inside, her heart crumbled at the animosity and she wondered where exactly it had gone so badly wrong.
After an interminable pause, Jason took a breath and smiled for the first time. “I’m sorry to hear that, Miss Carleton. We thank you for your contribution and wish you well in your future endeavours.”
Summarily dismissed, Claire stood motionless for a moment, before pushing down the screen on the laptop. The click echoed loudly in the loaded silence. Leaving the machine on the table, glad that she’d deleted all personal files from it earlier, she shouldered her bag and quietly left the room.