Irving's ears pricked up. Who was that?
His eyes scanned the whole area, unsettled. They finally rested on a small person dangling from a ladder which was propped near a shelf too high for him. Irving's breathing, which had suddenly hitched up, slowed down. He strode over to the boy, who seemed to be praying for dear life.
"Need me to give a hand?" he asked. The boy nodded vigorously, eyes tightly shut.
Irving extended his arms and lifted the boy and put him down on the floor. "Next time you need help, just call me, okay?"
The tiny boy creaked his eyes open. He looked rather relieved to be back on terra firma. He gazed up blankly at his savior, apparently too impressed at his strength to thank him. Suddenly, he turned around and scampered away. Irving felt a nerve twitch in his temple.
"No sense of gratitude..."
Yet, Irving walked away happily, glad that he had helped another person out. He could swear others had already been blinded by his brilliance.
Irving hadn't always been like this. He used to be a bully in middle school. When he was about to enter high school, his overall score had taken a hit because of his mean behavior. The Principal had personally deducted his marks.
Now, he was one of the top scorers, and a master in academics. He wasn't going to allow a puny thing like discipline to affect his sparkling reputation. He decided to help wherever he felt it was necessary... just for the sake of marks.
As soon as he headed out of the library, his classmate Benjamin caught up with him.
"What were you up to?" he asked cheerily. Seeing the mountain of books Irving was carrying, he came to a conclusion. "Ah... of course. The brilliant scholar without a shred of conscience has been working. The world's about to go blind by his examination reports."
"What do you mean 'without a shred of conscience'?" Irving snarled. Ben retreated to a safe distance. "Hey, just listen to me before bashing my skull, all right?"
Irving made a disappointed grunt. A smirk formed on Ben's lips.
"Oh yeah, you can't hit anybody anymore, right?"
Irving glared at him, rubbing his fists together threateningly. Perspiration trickled down Ben's forehead faster than he could ever fathom.
"Okay, okay," he tried to calm his friend down. "but you ought to listen to me."
Irving inhaled deeply. It seemed as if he was praying for patience. "What is it?"
"I meant everything I said," Ben continued, plucking the courage. "You are helping everyone you see, even if they don't ask for it! That's not necessary, is it?"
Irving frowned. "None of them have complained, though."
Ben smacked his forehead. "They didn't have the guts to, Irving! Some of them came to me later to ask for help. They said that even if you were coming to their aid, you had some kind of malevolent aura surrounding you."
"Is that what they say?" Irving muttered, his face becoming red all of a sudden. "I should just-"
"Calm down, buddy. Maybe they are right, and maybe you need to work on that first," he reasoned. Irving turned away. "See you later," he growled and stalked away.
Ben was left standing alone. "He really has got an inflated ego, hasn't he?"
Meanwhile, the egoistic person's brain was having a violent inner conflict.
"Ben's just gone mad, that's it!"
"But he has a point, bro!"
"Ben is just stupid. He wants to irk you."
"Shut up! Ben has been your long-standing friend. Try to take his advice."
"You don't want to lose your authority here by trying to change yourself."
Irving shook his head vigorously. "I should just get home," he thought to himself.
On reaching home, the first person he met was his mother.
"Had a nice day, dear?" she asked him. He nodded wordlessly, but then looked up. "Hey, mom," he called out. "When should you come to the aid of someone? Is it when they ask you?"
His mother was taken aback. "Of course not, silly! You must go to help them when you think they need it. However, asking them is a good way to confirm it."
"So... haven't I been doing it wrong these years? I haven't shied way from helping others."
"It's true," she chuckled. "But was your heart in it?"
And she walked away to take care of the dishwasher.
Her son stood bewildered for a moment. What had his heart got to do with that? He ruffled his hair.
Why was everyone being bizarre today?
He strode over to the couch and sunk deep into its soft embrace. He thought over it. To be honest, he had initially despised doing good things to everyone. His train of thought drifted from its track.
Why on earth was this system of 'values' applied in his school? It wasn't just to increase the general score, was it? It was much more than that.
But how was he supposed to 'like' offering help? It was something too childish!
But then Ben's words floated into his head.
"You had some kind of malevolent aura surrounding you."
Was it true? Was it because of his unwillingness despite his performing the actions?
He sighed and closed his eyes. His mother was a really warm person. Where did that warmth come from? Was it her goodness? Kindness? Willingness? Or was it simply because she loved sitting by the fireplace all day long?
"I'm so confused," he breathed. He looked at his own hands. They had helped many people, but deep beneath those good deeds, there were also scars of his brutal past. These very hands had hit several innocent people, and he didn't even regret his actions till now.
He flopped back and lay down completely on the couch. Ben's words were pounding in his ears.
Maybe giving it a try wouldn't be so bad.
Five months later
"Umm... who can I give these documents to? They're really important," a girl from the debate club fretted. Ben smiled.
"Irving's the one you're looking for. He's really nice."