Mr. Francis Hubbard was a creature of habit. Every morning, his alarm went off at 6.15 am. After performing his ablutions, he went for a brisk walk around the block, returning precisely at 6.45 am. His breakfast, consisting of two slices of toasted bread buttered on one side, and one hard-boiled egg (boiled exactly for twelve minutes), was served to him at 7 am. He ate at the kitchen table whilst he read four different newspapers, paying special attention to the finance sections. At 7.55 am, he took a three-minute shower, stepping out of the bathroom in time for the 8 am news, which he watched in his bedroom as he dressed himself in a an old-fashioned, black double-breasted suit.
He had never missed a day of work for the past thirty years, working even on weekends and holidays. His chauffer arrived at half past eight and drove him to his investment firm. There he spent his mornings making business calls, investing his own money and that of other people so it made more money. He took a break for lunch at 1 pm, which consisted of a sandwich (ham, egg and lettuce on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; chicken on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; cheese on Sundays), an apple, and a canteen of hot tomato soup.
Mr. Francis Hubbard lived by the idiom ‘time is money’ and was loathe to waste any time when he was supposed to be making money. So he ate his lunch at his desk, quickly and efficiently like he did everything else.
During the second half of the day, he attended business meetings, went over presentations, and listened to reports from his employees on how his competitors were doing. His day at the office concluded at 5 pm when his chauffer picked him and drove him back home for supper, which consisted of meat (roast beef and roast lamb on alternate days) and vegetables. He believed a brisk walk after his supper aided in digestion and unfailingly walked around in gardens before he retired to bed at 9 pm and read finance journals till 9.45 pm.
To a casual onlooker, Mr. Hubbard might seem cold and unfeeling, almost Scrooge-like, but he was neither a cruel, nor a harsh man. He simply liked the rigid, disciplined scheduled he had set for himself, for he believed that it had been discipline and hard work that had made him a rich man. And so for the better part of the past thirty years, he had adhered to the self-imposed timetable.
Nobody knew about Mr. Hubbard’s past or how he had come to be one of the wealthiest men in the country. Being a man of few words and having no friends or relatives, he wasn’t given to regaling people with stories about his life. But people, especially his employees wondered. In fact, coming up fictional stories about their employer’s life was one of the favourite pass-times at Mr. Hubbard’s investment firm. Mostly they were harmless stories meant to be taken lightly, and though aware of the ongoings, Mr. Hubbard did not intervene.
When Mr. Hubbard woke up on the morning of 25th November, he had no reason to believe that the day would be any different. He went for his walk as per usual, had his breakfast, read his newspapers, showered, and was being ushered into his car by his chauffer at half past eight.
He rode the lift up to his office and was walking the length of the short hallway to reach the door of his office when it happened.
His secretary had an open bakery box and the aroma that wafted out reached his nostrils. He broke his brisk stride, pausing briefly at her desk, he stood irresolutely for a second, before he went into his office.
Cinnamon rolls. That’s what was in the box. It had been so long that he had almost forgotten they existed. Oh but how could he forget? He remembered the first time he had had a cinnamon roll...
“I said let it go, you scrawny little thief!” The big, burly woman who was setting up the display case at the bakery had a firm grip on little Francis’ arm and was shaking it violently. But Francis, having gone without food two whole days, only held the cinnamon roll tighter.
“I am going to give you a proper hiding if you don’t let go of it!” Her shrill voice seemed much louder than it was in the quiet hours of dawn. Francis did not fear a hiding; he often received them at home. But that wasn’t the case with nourishment. His mother, who was an alcoholic, had gone on a drinking binge a few days earlier. He didn’t mind it much when she was intoxicated—she simply slept most of the time.
But it worried him when she couldn’t buy her drink. That was when she got really mean and accused Francis of stealing all her money. The verbal lashing was followed by a physical one more often than not. He was small and thin, and managed to slip out of her clutches most times, although sometimes she had him cornered and he couldn’t really do much. The last time he had received a beating had been two days ago. It had been so bad that he had run away from home. Run away from his mother.
He had been sleeping on the street, scavenging for food bins but hadn’t really been lucky. When he had woken up during the early hours of dawn on his second night on the streets, he had smelt the most amazing smell coming from a stone building nearby. It was warm and sweet and made his mouth water and his stomach hurt with hunger. Pulling himself up, he followed his nose and reached the source.
Through the brightly lit window, he had watched the men and women dressed in clean white clothes as they rolled out the dough, sprinkled out something on top, rolled it into a log, and then expertly chopped the log in equal-sized pieces. So fascinated was he by the precision and skill that for a moment, he had simply watched, forgetting his hunger.
Then he had been reminded of it again as he watched the trays being pulled out of the oven and the aroma hit his nostrils again. A burly looking woman had taken the trays and he had followed her towards the other side of building. He had simply been unable to resist from picking up the delicious smelling treat when she had gone back in to get more trays.
Unfortunately, he hadn’t been quick enough in escaping and had been caught red-handed.
“Give it back to me! Get your filthy hands away from the trays!” She shrieked giving him a whack on his back for good measure, making him cry out.
“Martha, what’s all that noise? Who is this?”
A stern-looking man dressed in a crisp white shirt and a tall hat stepped out to intervene.
“He is a little beggar he is! Caught him stealing from the display case!”
For what seemed like an eternity, the man surveyed Francis from tip to toe.
“Let the child go Martha.”
“But Mr. Sherwood, he was stealing!”
“You may leave us now.”
Even at that young age, Francis had been impressed and slightly intimated by the authority in his manner and bearing. He had been tremendously awed when he had managed to make the woman let go of him without raising his voice.
“What’s your name boy?”
“Are you hungry?”
Francis nodded mutely, not wanting to believe that he would get fed.
“Come on in then! Let’s get you washed up first!”
After a quick wash and a change of clothes, he had been given a cinnamon roll. He still remembered the first bite. Soft and warm and yeasty with the sweet filling in between the layers; he clearly remembered the sense of comfort and security he had experienced in the warm bakery.
His life would have been vastly different had he not met Mr. Sherwood. So caught up was he in trying to make the best possible use of all that his mentor had provided him that he hadn’t even noticed when he had arrived at his destination.
Leaning back in his chair, he closed his eyes briefly for a moment, and then called his secretary over the ‘phone.
“Mrs. Burton, I want you to order a cinnamon roll for me please.”
“I beg your pardon sir, I’m not sure I heard you correctly. Did you say cinnamon roll?”
“Of course, Mr. Hubbard. I’ll be on it right away.”
The news spread like wildfire around the office. Mr. Hubbard had had a cinnamon roll! Within moments, there was a betting pool going. Some people bet on it being Mr. Hubbard’s birthday, whilst the majority of them thought he was having a stroke. It fell upon his secretary to find out the truth.
“The cinnamon roll was to your liking Mr. Hubbard?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Dare I ask what the special occasion is? I hope we haven’t missed celebrating your birthday!”
“I was celebrating the day I started living.”