There was snow on the ground. I was running late again, but that wasn’t the worst part. I hadn’t prepared for my presentation that day. I hadn’t slept for the past four days but couldn’t come up with anything. I had somehow managed to get the date wrong and I only realized the presentation was due in a few hours when I spilled coffee all over my papers and phone. So I was left with nothing. And that’s not good – especially when your boss is never in a good mood.
My boss wanted us to come up with ideas and present about what money cannot buy. He wanted to appeal to the emotions of our clients to crack the deal. Now, I could think of a lot of things that money couldn’t buy – starting from a sense of originality and responsibility for him. He really was unreasonable at times. Or maybe that was just me, not being able to handle a simple task. But here’s the thing – there was nothing “simple” about it. And I was so late, I might even lose the job. I had an idea of sorts, but it was more about what you could give regardless of your bank balance. I had to give it a shot. I ran up towards the street and stood at my usual spot, waiting.
The man turned up at the same time everyday, like clockwork. He was always dressed ordinarily. He would walk up to the woman and her daughter holding up a sign “For school” and put one or two dollar bills in a bowl containing a few coins and walked away. Each time, he would quicken his pace as he turned around the corner. It was almost as if he didn’t want anyone to see him. But that day, the woman’s daughter wasn’t sitting beside her. The man stopped short in his tracks. I had been watching the exchange for a few months and probably felt just as surprised as he did. Then as he turned, the little girl skipped over to him and smiled. She looked all cleaned up and had a bag hanging on her shoulders. She was going to school. I couldn’t see the man’s face but I could imagine the joy etched on it. He knelt down and hugged the little girl. Then he walked away and quickened his pace around the corner.
I had started to follow his example – I would spare whatever I could everyday after he left. The woman looked up and smiled at me knowingly. I smiled back and started running again. I was really, really late. My boss looked at his watch as I walked in and said, “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t fire you.” I wanted to laugh. Instead, I just started describing the man and how he’d been doing so much for a stranger without getting anything in return. I had spent months trying to understand it but the only theory I had so far was that he was a good person. Sometimes, people just want to be kind. When I finished, he said that he wanted me to present it to the clients, “I know you will not let me down. You never have. And if your experience can’t get us this deal, then we don’t want it.” I heard the backhanded compliment. Of all those times I might have needed it, he chose that day? I wasn’t being ungracious, but I suddenly wasn’t sure about sharing the story with everyone in a room where most of them just evaluated it from a profit-and-loss perspective.
I had to present the story, of course. Along with all the strategies of our company. I wasn’t the boss, as I needed to be reminded so often. But I had managed to keep the essence of my experience intact. The room was so still that I thought the applause was all in my head. When I finally realized it was for me, I was momentarily taken aback. The applause wasn’t for me – it was for the man. The man who did everything he could within his means.
The next morning, I watched the man carrying a pile of books. I wanted to talk him and find out more about him. I walked up to him but we crashed into each other as he couldn’t see through the pile of books. I kept apologizing as I helped him gather the books that had fallen. He thanked me without looking up. Then he walked over to the woman and handed her the books, along with a dollar bill. I followed him and did the same and noticed her eyes were filled with tears. I asked her, “What do you know about him?” since I couldn’t speak to him. The woman looked up and gave me a crooked smile. Then she shrugged and replied, “Only that he’s a good man.” Oh.
I stared as the man kept walking with his hands in his pockets. I watched him quicken his pace around the corner. I smiled back at her and agreed, “Yes, he is. Absolutely.”