If there was one thing which Franklin Robinson knew about life, it was this: that you are tested in some manner every single day to reveal the person you truly are. These tests needn’t be large or even complicated. They could be as simple as ‘Are you going to take the last piece of toast on the platter or pass it up so that one of your kids who you know is hungry can get it?’ or as relevant as ‘Twenty years of marriage, and this girl is coming on to me?’
Franklin was not an overly religious man…although he was a spiritual one. From as long as he could remember, he had been taught that a person is responsible for their actions and that a deed done can never be un-done. Raised by a set of parents who were determined that their children were going to learn what was right and what was wrong from their own points of view, they were taught to think for themselves and not to be swayed by any “Yeah, but…” which friends or the world would use to tempt them with.
A deep thinker—even in his younger days—he could often be found sitting upon the rocks along the shoreline wrestling with such concepts as ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘What happens when we die?’ Believing strongly how there had to be a purpose to this life other than simply to enjoy the many distractions which the world could employ, he finally settled on the notion that—how we as humans had been given the ability to reason—our purpose was to become a better person when we leave this world than the one who had entered it.
While he may have laughed at the thought of some gigantic omnipotent being up in the clouds watching him and keeping a journal filled with notations for every time he ‘stepped out of line’ as if it were (Woah! For what he was thinking when he was watching that girl, he’s going to get two demerits!’), Franklin did believe that when we pass on that we will have to answer for what we had done with our lives; probably as much to ourselves as anything or anyone else. Perhaps there was some form of ‘Cosmic Consciousness’ which we had to prove ourselves worthy to become part of, get another chance at rectifying our shortcomings, or possibly just fade away into oblivion.
If there was one thing which Franklin knew for a fact, it was this; that life was unfair! No matter how good he tried to be, or how true he thought he was to the man he understood himself to be, rewards which he felt he was justified to be receiving never came…only more tests. Thankfully, some had been easy to accept and address.
Lately, they had not!
It all started this last summer when the transmission of the family’s only car crapped out to the tune of $2500 to fix!
Having twin boys in their first year of High School as well as his ‘Babygirl’ in Middle School, keeping up with their needs was becoming more difficult by the day! With the two boys into sports, finding the athletic equipment they needed on sale was becoming more difficult; almost as if it were being controlled to his detriment by fate—or the powers that be—or some gigantic orange goblin! Whichever force it was, he couldn’t care less…but why did they have to be so good at what the did! Then there were the clothes and the shoes…especially for his daughter but also for the boys as well.
Due to some medical conditions—which naturally were expensive to treat—his wife Terry could only work part-time at best. They had been fighting with Social Security for the past year to try to get her disability benefits but had always gotten the same response: if she was capable of working at least part time, then she was not disabled…claim denied! Unable to quit her job and lose the income she was earning left them no choice but to keep scuffling from paycheck to paycheck!
This forced Franklin to provide for the bulk of his family’s needs; something he could not do with the job he held for the past twenty years as a worker in a local oil refinery. He had correctly surmised that he would have to find a second job for the family to survive, so he took a job in a convenience store after work until closing at midnight. While the extra income was a godsend, this meant that there was less time to be home for helping out his wife or just to spend quality time with his family. But there was one thing that he believed in with his heart and soul…and that was how a man’s responsibility was to provide for his family…both financially as well as guidance to allow his kids to successfully step through the minefield which was life as a teenager in the inner city. In some folk’s eyes, this was an outdated and even ‘sexist’ concept, but Franklin didn’t care about being judged by people whose opinions meant nothing. His response to those rude pompous windbags who felt compelled to point out the ‘errors’ of his ways was always the same: feel free to live your lives as you see fit….just stay the hell out of mine!
The income from the second job was beginning to make a difference in the family checkbook when the car’s transmission broke down. Having no significant savings to fall back on to meet the necessity of getting his only vehicle fixed, Franklin had managed to get yet another credit card company to open up a line of credit for him. Between the funds available through the card and the amount of money he had managed to scrounge up by pawning some of the family treasures, he came up with enough to get the car fixed.
‘Another test passed!’ he thought to himself.
Around October, it finally became impossible for Terry to continue working due to her health. While quitting her job was imperative, the loss of family income was difficult to overcome. Eventually they would be able to collect Social Security now that she had a Doctor’s note stating that she could no longer meet the requirements which her job demanded, but that process would take several months to complete; it would be at least Springtime until they would receive their first check…and December was right around the corner!
Ah…Christmas! This was the family’s favorite time of the year when the spirit of happiness and love flowed through the air to land upon the spirits of one and all! Aware of the family’s financial situation—and especially the long hard hours which their father was putting in every day to provide for their welfare—the three children had gotten together and agreed that they were not going to ask for much for Christmas—just one small gift each.
In response to their Dad’s inquiry of where their usually long list of things they wanted for Christmas, each of the three replied that there was little they would want this year; just the few items they had decided to ask for.
Proud of his children for their non-selfish positions, Franklin was determined to do better than what they had requested. Remembering conversations throughout the year and what they had remarked would be cool to own, Franklin was armed with a more substantial list of what to get them, when…
On the first Monday in December, while arriving for work at the refinery, he was shocked to find that the entrance gate was locked! Workers were standing outside the gate screaming at the clearly nervous Security Guards stationed a stones-throw back behind the gate. In response to his inquiries, Franklin soon learned the reason for this situation.
Looking back on it, he wished that he had not!
Apparently, over the weekend, the refinery had failed a surprise safety inspection and was forced to shut down until the many defects found could be addressed. In a statement issued by The Company, it was revealed that they had ninety days to comply completely or risk permanent revocation of their business permitting. While it was explained that this was only a temporary situation, it could not have come at a worst time!
It was a sad and depressed Franklin Robinson who sat in his car where he had parked it in The Company lot hours ago. How was he going to explain this turn of events to his family…the family who had sacrificed so much already? He felt like such a failure…as if he had been unable to fulfill his sacred trust as a Father to those whom he loved.
Franklin had finally hit rock bottom!
Anger began to enter into his mindset, as he began to berate his situation to nobody and anybody who was watching over him.
“Where have I failed?” he asked of the very air. “Have I not always done what is best for my family regardless of the price to be paid? And still all I get is more obstacles to overcome! Perhaps I should change my name to Job?” he yelled, his emotions getting the better of him. “When does it end?” he demanded…seeking an answer which he knew he would never receive.
Beginning to sob, he finally admitted that he couldn’t take no more! He had always believed how good deeds would somehow be rewarded. And yet, here he was constantly getting beaten down by all of the obstacles which life was tripping him up with. “When is it enough?” he cried as he raised his hands toward the heavens!
Eventually, he was able to get himself under control. Figuring on stopping by the convenience store and asking the boss if he could pick up some extra hours, he had just parked his car in the street outside of the store; when upon exiting the vehicle, he happened to spot an object lying in the gutter. Curious as to the nature of the object, he approached…only to come to the realization that what he was seeing was a Commercial Bank’s Deposit Bag…locked and apparently full from the looks of it!
Quick as a cat, he scooped up the bag! Looking about to see if anyone had noticed his actions, all he saw was the normal hustle and bustle of the area during the day; apparently, he had not been spotted!
Putting his prize underneath his jacket to keep it from any prying eyes, he got back into his car and immediately locked the doors.
Here was the answer to all of his problems! While there would undoubtedly be checks and such contained inside which he could not benefit from, there had to be cash…possibly as much as thousands of dollars! All he had to do was wrestle that bag open, and…
That’s when the internal debate began. For while the contents of this bag could make life a whole lot easier for his family—and especially for himself—it would certainly cause a hardship for whomever had lost it. ‘Ah…it probably belonged to some big rich corporation who could afford to lose the contents without blinking an eye!’ he thought. But what if it didn’t? What if it was the weekly proceeds from some small business who would be ruined if it were lost?
For over an hour he went back and forth with his arguments. The only problem was…the more he tried to reason how this was the boon which his family deserved, the more he began to feel the guilt which keeping it would bring.
Finally, forcing himself to look into the rearview mirror, he knew that he could not hide from the image looking back at him as he asked the simple question “Just who do you want to be?”
A wry smile came to his face as he arrived at an answer. “You have got to be the dumbest jackass on the face of this earth!” he exclaimed as he once again exited the vehicle with the bag hidden under his jacket. Walking unsteadily as if part of himself was fighting against the decision he had made, he finally made it the two blocks to where a branch of the bank whose name was emblazoned upon the bag could be found.
Holding the bag in his hands as he stood outside of the deposit slot which would take such potential away for all time, he whispered “My name is Franklin Robinson…and on this day I have proven to be true to myself,” as he opened the slot and dropped the bag inside! Walking away, he was proud of himself…yet in the back of his mind, he couldn’t help but wonder ‘what if’?
That evening, as he was closing up the convenience store for the night, he had just locked the front door when he heard a knock upon the glass. Peering out into the night, he saw a scruffy old man with six-day old stubble on his face and dressed in an old green hoodie. The man was begging to be let in as he had forgotten to buy his lottery tickets for that night’s drawing worth 16 million bucks!
Debating on whether to open the door for the man or to just tell him they were closed in order for him to finally go home, he finally said, “What the hell,” and unlocked the door.
From the looks of the man, Franklin figured that he must be homeless. He was dirty, rather aromatic, with his clothes covered with old ground-in dirt. What can I do for you?” he asked the man as he went behind the counter.
After thanking him profusely for opening the door, the man proceeded to hand over a crumpled five-dollar bill. “Let me have five quick-picks for tonight’s drawing please,” he said, his eyes bright with excitement.
Pushing the buttons of the lottery machine, the unmistakable sound of five tickets being printed filled the air. Picking up the printed tickets, Franklin handed them to the old man. “Here you are,” he said while wishing the man good luck.
Coming back around the counter, Franklin began walking towards the door, making certain that the man knew it was time to go. Just before he exited the door, the old man stopped. Turning around to face Franklin, he held out one of the lottery tickets. “Here…this is for you,” he told him. “You were kind enough to open the door for me…I’d like to reward such kindness.”
Protesting that such a reward was unnecessary, the old man was adamant. Finally, over Franklin’s objections, the man flipped the ticket down on the floor of the store and quickly left.
Grabbing the ticket, Franklin hurried outside in order to catch the man and give him back his ticket…except there was nobody there! Peering down both directions of the sidewalk, there was no sign of anyone! Glancing across the street, that was equally empty!
Feeling how that was rather odd as the old man seemed incapable of moving rapidly, Franklin proceeded to lock up the store when the results of the lottery drawing came over the machine which printed the tickets. Out of curiosity, Franklin pulled out of his pocket the ticket he had received.
He thought it funny how the first numbers matched, He was surprised to see that the second ones did as well. When the third numbers were the same, he thought to himself at least he would get five bucks when he turned it in. It was when he checked the forth number and it was revealed to be the same that he began to get excited. “Wouldn’t that be a kick?” he thought…meaning if the fifth number matched. When he saw that it was the same, his nervous fingers dropped the ticket, only to see it land face down on the dusty floor.
“This is impossible!” he said to himself as he just stared at the ticket on the floor. He actually debated on whether to pick it up and become disenchanted when it was revealed that the sixth numbers were different…or whether not to see what the number was and always hope for what he would never know?
Finally, reason won out as he reached down and picked up the ticket. Glancing over at the readout on the lottery machine, he noticed that the sixth number was ‘5’…his favorite number as if was the same as the members of his family. His hands shaking to the point where he needed both of them to get the ticket turned over, his eyes got to be the size of saucers as the sixth number on the ticket turned out to be his favorite number!
His legs buckling, Franklin dropped to the floor, his shock at what had been revealed showing in his reading and re-reading his numbers while verifying how they were indeed the winning ones.
Before he left for the night, he placed the ticket in the store safe after making a copy of it to show his family.
Walking out to his car, he couldn’t help noticing how bright the Christmas lights adorning the light poles seemed to be. For all was right with the world and he was occupied with thinking how his family was going to benefit from this bounty.
Offering a heartfelt “Thank You” to the heavens, he vowed to reward the old man if he ever saw him again.
However, had he looked up, he might have seen the old man standing upon the roof of the convenience store with the look of pure contentment upon his face—just before he disappeared in a shower of golden light—an old green hoody slowly floating down onto the sidewalk below!