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Friendship Inspirational Fiction

It scares me looking back that it was an unremarkable chance encounter that made me speak to Doug at all.  


I was stressed, late for work and riding the bus. I was in a Zoom meeting with my earbuds connected to my phone; an important meeting I was supposed to be at in person.  


The man beside me got up at the next stop. His bag bumped me, stinging me back into the real world. My revenge for the disturbance was a dirty look he never saw. When I glanced back down at my phone, I realised my thumb ejected me from the Zoom call thanks to the jostle.


Exasperated, I plopped my phone down in my lap. In the corner of my eye I noticed a rectangular black outline on the beige seat where the man was sitting.


It was his wallet.


The thought flashed whether I should keep it and say nothing, then squashed by my strong pay-it-forward belief. Several times I had lost my wallet only to have it returned via the shopkeeper or barista by some good samaritan I would never meet.  


In one smooth motion I grabbed the wallet, stood and jammed my body between the frame and the closing door, causing it to slide back open.  


I stepped off the bus, the driver’s angry admonishment over the speaker fading in the distance as I followed the man down the street. 


I approached and gently called out so as not to startle “Sir, excuse me, you dropped your wallet.”


The man stopped but didn’t turn around, only cocking his head to one side like he was listening to some far off sound. Puzzled, I came around the man to stand in front. “Hi, uh, you dropped your wal…”


He was wearing sunglasses, which was fine for the sunny day we were having. The white cane he was holding is what gave me pause.  


He was blind.


“You…uh…you dropped your wallet on the bus. I was…sitting next to you and noticed it after you stood up.”


The man, facing me but not quite looking directly at me, smiled and said without irony “I see, thank you. Are you the person I bumped into when I stood up? I’m terribly sorry about that.” 


I laughed a little. “Yeah that was me. That bump is what saved your wallet.”  


The man chuckled and held out his hand, and like his gaze, wasn’t towards me but on a diagonal where he thought I might be standing.  


“Can you put the wallet in my hand please?” 


“Sorry, I wasn’t sure how…” I stuttered.


“Don’t worry, everyone’s weird at first.”


I placed the wallet in the man’s hand and he flipped it open, sliding his fingers over the slightly protruding cards before opening the bill fold and counting the bills. He lingered on each bill, feeling the paper.


“I didn’t take anything.” I said feeling slightly stung. I didn’t have to chase this guy down and from my phone buzzing constantly in my pocket this whole time, I imagined work was wondering where I was.


Doug must have heard the sting in my voice as he said “I’m sorry, force of habit. I check it like this every time I pick it up.”


“Do people steal from you often?”


He shook his head. “No, it's more me not dropping things unnoticed by picking it up wrong. I do worry about the nurses sometimes.”


“The nurses?”


He nodded. “Yeah, I have to put my personal things in a basket whenever I have a check up.”


“Like a yearly physical?” I asked, trying to sound interested but really looking at my phone which was exploding by now. The notification on top of the lock screen pile read two words. You’re fired.


“For cancer.” He replied nonchalantly. He said it in the same way he might have said his age which is why it took a second to register in light of my bad news.  


Sensing my silence, he continued, “I’m…on my way to the hospital now.”


After years as a travelling salesman, I learned through many random airport bar encounters during layovers that it was surprisingly easy to be completely open to people you just met.  


I’d said things to complete strangers I would never say to friends or family because I knew when we stood up to catch our flights, we would never see each other again. Our time together was guaranteed to be limited to this drink at this airport bar.  


Standing here on this sidewalk, with this blind man, gave me that same airport bar feeling. 


“I’m sorry, I never introduced myself. I’m Doug.” he said, breaking the awkward silence I had created. He thrust his hand out in the same off-angle as before.  


I stumbled back to the present, reached my hand into his and shook, careful not to pull. “I’m John, pleasure meeting you Doug.”


The handshake must have given Doug his bearing as he used it to course correct his stance so we were facing each other naturally.


“Likewise.” he said. “You seem…deflated somehow. Did me saying I have cancer bring out something unintended? A lot of people feel bad and I certainly didn’t mean to elicit that but…”


“No Doug,” I interjected. “I just read on my phone that I’m fired.” Saying it made me feel sheepish given what Doug had just said about his cancer.  


“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Doug said. "How long did you work there?”


“12 years.” I said, shaking my head and then uttered for the first time in my life “It's fine, I hated that company anyway.”  


“Oh well, a blessing then I suppose.” 


“Yeah…perhaps.” I said weakly. “Do you mind if I walk with you to the hospital? Would be good to talk to someone if you don’t mind.” I would never be this direct but the airport-bar-layover feeling was in full effect by now.


“Sure!” Doug said cheerfully. “These days I rarely get to have a normal conversation. People usually speak to me in that voice they use when talking to a child or an invalid.” He leaned closer. “I’m blind, not stupid.” he said with a smirk.


I gut-laughed and said “That's true.” Doug continued walking down the street and I fell in stride beside him. My next question came out like I was asking the time. “What kind of cancer do you have?”


“Terminal.” was all Doug said.  


“Then why the hospital if there is nothing they can do for you?”


Doug sighed, “There are some treatments that can ease the pain, and there are things I still need to do.”


I hesitated for a second before asking, “Like what?”


Doug looked at me, not off-angle like before but so directly I could have sworn he saw me and said “Speak to someone who needs to hear it.”


As we walked he told me about losing his eyesight in his teens. A bad football hit left him blind. He said he needed to relearn moving around in the world, learn to read braille, learn to live in the darkness which wasn’t really dark as his mind still showed him things.


“I thought of suicide almost immediately.” Doug said while we were standing at a stoplight. Either he wasn’t aware of the other people waiting or just didn’t care as he continued unabatedly. “I knew that wasn’t a solution though. I still had my parents and siblings, friends too, or at least the friends you have in high school that you think will be there forever.”


Doug was held back a year due to his new adjustments. Around when he graduated, he spoke about meeting Sally, a fellow blind person in a support group he attended.


“That group was a godsend and Sally too.” Doug said in a steady voice. “We had many great years together, all of us.”


Doug then explained he was accepted into college where he majored in kinesiology. “It was very difficult as none of the textbooks were printed in braille but they were on tape which helped.”


He held out the hand not holding the white cane and said “What I found in practice was that these hands were better at finding what was truly wrong in the patient’s body than the eyesight and technology relied on by other kinesiologists.”


After graduating and several years into his career, Doug and Sally decided it was time to start a family. “We had two kids, a son and a daughter. I would give anything to know what their faces looked like but all I could do was touch and imagine.” He said softly.


“Looked?” I asked.


“Yes, past tense. In the late nineties, my family was killed in a car accident. A transport ran a red light and ploughed into their vehicle. I’m told they died instantly.”


I felt immediately grateful my parents were still around. 


“Do you have any kids?” Doug asked.  


“Yes, a daughter.”


“How old?”


“Just turned eighteen. She started college last month.”  


Doug smiled. “That’s nice. Tough age for a girl I hear, lots of changes.”


“Yeah, it seems to be.” I said remembering the night before when my daughter, out of nowhere, lost her temper at the dinner table. Even now I’m still not sure what exactly my wife said as I wasn’t paying attention, damn work phone. I do remember my daughter slamming her fork on the table, incoherently screaming and crying. She then stormed off to her room, leaving my wife and I at the table in silence.


My firing, my daughter’s tantrum, they shrank in significance listening to Doug tell his story.  


The hospital was a couple of blocks away and I knew our conversation was coming to an end. I asked a question I never had asked anyone before.


“Why continue?” I asked.


Doug reflected for a bit and then said “I thought about that question for a long time after my family died. A car accident is sudden; by the time you get the phone call it's all over. The fat lady sang, had showered in the dressing room and was home eating supper by the time you have an inkling anything happened.”


Doug tapped his temple. “I didn’t want to continue, but I knew from going blind that I wasn’t going to end my life. I needed to find a way to somehow enjoy what I had left, regardless of the circumstances. I needed to focus on what was yet to come.”


Doug took a breath and continued. “The what-was-to-come part was the scariest. Was it going to be more like this? Full of pain, sorrow and loss? Day after day, I went through the motions but I was scared. I jumped every time the phone rang. I would get angry at the uncaring tone the newscaster used when reporting on a fatal car accident. What they were talking about in that clinical, detached manner was someone who suddenly died, leaving behind shattered loved ones. And now for sports.”


Doug took another breath. “Then one day I realised I needed to learn how to control my mind as it was in complete control over me, and not in a good way either. I was…very negative. Someone at the support group endlessly went on about meditation and how it helped them. I’m not a religious person but I knew that going through the motions like I had been wasn’t getting me anywhere. I needed to set aside my notions and try something different.”


Doug read my silence as his cue to continue. “So, everyday for twenty minutes I sat in a chair and focused only on my breathing. In the beginning, my mind threw up everything it had to try and regain control of my focus. It was challenging but even after those first few days, I noticed a difference. I felt lighter, more in control. That control grew over time and eventually I was confident it was me in the driver’s seat and not my mind”


“So it was worth continuing?” I asked


Doug nodded. “Yes, very much. It wasn’t a magic bullet but it lowered the instances I was triggered by something and gave me greater clarity on where I wanted to go.”


“I wonder how much my negativity shapes what happens around me?” I said absently.


“Probably more than you realise.” Doug said. “The good news is you can change it anytime. We have phones and computers and on demand TV; all distractions that endlessly show us a filtered and idealised version of reality. Our own lives never measure up leaving us always unsatisfied with what we have. Or, to put it more accurately, what we have left and how we can use that to better service those around us.”


I put a hand on Doug’s shoulder to stop him. His story moved me and I stepped in front of him to say so. My jaw then dropped.  


While walking, completely engrossed in our own conversation, neither Doug nor I noticed the group of people that had formed behind us. When moving, this group was camouflaged but standing still, they stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the other pedestrians bustling to and fro.  


I didn’t count exactly how many there were but I’d guess about fifteen people. What did strike me was how diverse the group was. Combinations of old and young, black, white and brown, male and female, white and blue collar. 


And they were all looking past Doug directly at me.


I was about to say something when a woman in front of the group raised her finger to her lips. I closed my mouth and gave Doug a hug without saying a word. He tensed at first but then relaxed and embraced me back.


We disengaged and started walking again, the group in tow. Doug continued as if nothing happened. “When I was diagnosed, I wasn’t sad or depressed. The meditation habit allowed me to control my internal monologue despite the circumstances. By then, my career had helped many people relieve their pain where others couldn’t. Now, near the end, what lives in my head isn’t loss, but a sense of achievement. Over time, no one saw the blind doctor with cancer who lost his family. They saw someone who could help them, either by hand or the word as later in my career I began teaching at the university.”


We had reached the ambulance rotary in front of the hospital when Doug stopped. “They told me six months ago I would probably only have a month left to live.”


“Congratulations.” I said.


Doug nodded. “You know what’s kept me going? Service to others.”


He reached into his pocket, took out his wallet and offered it to me. “I don’t need any money Doug.” 


He grinned. “Open it. Take a look.”


I took the wallet, unfolded it and was stunned a second time. Doug knew what I would find but the group couldn’t see what I saw. “It…it's just random business cards and receipts.”


Doug was openly smiling now, showing a set of well manicured teeth. “Cancer treatments stopped me practising medicine and university teaching so I found something else. Leaving a fake wallet on the bus and having a chat with the kind soul returning it to me.”


I attempted to speak several times, but found no words. Finally, I just smiled and said “You got me Doug.”


“That I did.” He replied. Something suddenly started beeping. Doug folded the white cane in the crook of his elbow and reached with his free hand to press the button on his wristwatch clasped on the opposite arm. “I’m late for my appointment. It was great speaking with you John.”  


We shook hands and off he went, the white cane clicking up the rotary towards the sliding entrance doors. He went inside and was gone. 


Back on the sidewalk, the group and I stood there for a while. No one said anything as we were all lost in our own thoughts. If this blind man, who lost so much but gave a lot more, could smile despite the challenges, what was stopping us?


Eventually, the group melted away. One by one we all went back to our own lives. I never saw the group again, nor Doug. 


“Until today.”


I leaned in closer to the microphone. “In that random conversation, this man…” I motioned towards the casket. “Doug...showed me what I needed to do. I took his advice and started practising meditation, not out of any religious need but more like what Doug said; to learn how to control my thoughts and subsequently, my emotions.”


I gripped the podium, looked out over the pews of attendees dressed in black. “My decisions got better and things I previously thought were the end of the world were put into a more proper perspective. Turns out my daughter wanted a better relationship with me, so did my wife. The job that fired me actually did me a favour as I was miserable and couldn’t admit it…until I told Doug. Like Doug, I began to focus on what I had instead of what I lost.”


From my pocket, I removed the wallet and held it up. “Doug lived in service to others despite enormous challenges. He displayed a level of courage not many have. But what we can all take away from Doug is the inspiration his story can elicit from others, like me and those people on the sidewalk that day.” 


I looked towards my wife and daughter sitting near the back of the church, a smile spreading across my lips. “A life changing conversation with someone who left their wallet on a bus.”


May 21, 2023 04:28

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36 comments

Mary Bendickson
13:20 May 28, 2023

Well written story with well needed message.

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Adam German
23:34 May 28, 2023

Much appreciated and thanks for taking the time to read.

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Vicki Myers
17:58 May 27, 2023

Such a heart warming story. Thank you for writing it.

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Adam German
22:35 May 27, 2023

Honoured and humbled for the kind words - thank you for reading!

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Joe Smallwood
17:26 May 27, 2023

A story with a good message. Thank you.

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Adam German
22:35 May 27, 2023

Much appreciated and thanks for taking the time to read!

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12:59 May 27, 2023

This is an inspiring story, well written, leaving me with a lot to meditate on.

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Adam German
22:36 May 27, 2023

Thank you! I liked what you did there ;0)!

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09:42 Jun 09, 2023

This hits home and is very relatable. Currently doing the meditation/get control of annoying mind thing myself! Thanks for sharing this , Adam.

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Adam German
01:38 Jun 11, 2023

Hi Derrick, congrats on the recent shortlist! Yes - I've been meditating for a couple years now and the cumulative results from less emotional decision making has been fulfilling for sure! Looking forward to reading more from you!

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John Werner
21:24 Jun 01, 2023

Lots of heart. Thank you for sharing.

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Adam German
20:10 Jun 02, 2023

Thanks very much!

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Wally Schmidt
07:14 May 31, 2023

A heart-warming story which was well-crafted. Welcome to Reedsy Adam! I hope you find your writing tribe here.

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Adam German
08:25 May 31, 2023

Thanks Wally, me too!

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Marty B
20:05 May 30, 2023

Just like doug, you guided the reader to a great conclusion! good work!

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Adam German
08:26 May 31, 2023

Thanks kindly!

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Vanessa Zone
15:39 May 30, 2023

I loved this!

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Adam German
08:26 May 31, 2023

I love that you did! :0)

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Wade Douglas
02:27 May 30, 2023

Excellent. I have no words.

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Adam German
08:26 May 31, 2023

High praise, thank you!

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Sophia Rios
18:20 May 29, 2023

Thank you so much for writing this story- so beautiful and touching.

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Adam German
23:56 May 29, 2023

Thank you too for reading, much appreciated!

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Jalecia Owens
15:58 May 29, 2023

Adam! I'm literally taking notes bro! I'm both jealous and inspired by your ability to craft such an amazing story. I hope to read more of your work ❤️. I believe your writings will plant many seeds of wise insights into the minds of those who read.

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Adam German
23:57 May 29, 2023

Hi Jalecia, thank you for the high praise, very honoured!

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Zatoichi Mifune
12:46 May 29, 2023

Just like meeting Doug changed John's life, (I'm serious) reading this story in a way changed my life, or at least the way I look at life. I've needed this story for years without knowing that I needed it. In other words, you rock, dude!

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Adam German
23:59 May 29, 2023

Hi Zatoichi, thank you. I'm humbled that you found such meaning in the words. I'll do my best to live up to your expectations moving forward (no guarantees though...;0)

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Zatoichi Mifune
17:37 Jul 08, 2023

Just going through old notifications for no reason and... sorry, I seem to have forgotten to like this story. Serious crime, but don't jail me, I'll change! ;)

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Tommy Goround
01:20 May 29, 2023

Pacing? No, I was distracted several times while trying to read this. The pacing is fine... It's the timing that is so craftsman smooth, the unfolding of the plot (without jarring the reader into tantrums), the way the story present an honesty to the human condition. A very high standard you have shown here.

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Adam German
06:14 May 29, 2023

Wow...thank you very, very much - highly motivating feedback.

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Hayley Chau
10:48 May 28, 2023

Beautifully written with such a powerful, sincere and humble message! Brought tears but yet a hopeful encouragement knowing that strength comes from the heart and mind to overcome adversity.

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Adam German
23:34 May 28, 2023

Thank you Hayley, I'm happy the story moved you as such!

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J. D. Lair
01:34 May 28, 2023

Powerful first submission! Looking forward to reading more from you. Thank you for reminding us of these lessons In selflessness. Welcome to Reedsy! Good luck in the contest. :)

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Adam German
23:35 May 28, 2023

Thanks J.D., fingers crossed! More stories in the pipeline so hopefully will make you pleased you chose to follow my profile!

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J. D. Lair
23:42 May 28, 2023

Appreciate the follow back. :) take a gander at one of my stories if you have the time and let me know what ya think!

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Adam German
04:26 Jun 07, 2023

Hi JD, sorry for the late reply, got busy with work. Do you have an email I can send critiques too? Mine is colosoldtokyo@gmail.com.

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J. D. Lair
04:36 Jun 07, 2023

Sure! Mine is: josiahlair@gmail.com

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