Creative Nonfiction Fantasy Inspirational

She clutched the steering wheel, and her knuckles paled. She could feel her pulse in her temples, and she wasn't breathing, as indicated by the vein popping in her forehead as reflected by the rearview mirror. She tried, she really tried to contain the anger and frustration that she had always felt lately. She tried soothing music, audiobooks, and a car diffuser…but the road rage always seemed to seep back in. She glanced down at her speedometer, 25 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone. The cars in the other two lanes whizzed by so fast she couldn’t make the lane change without fear of a crash.

The two-footer in front of her could barely stay in the same lane. A two-footer, someone driving with one foot operating the gas and the other foot on the brake, was the worst type of driver to her. It also messed with one’s head to watch a car accelerate with the brake lights lit. She wished she could throw her coffee mug at his car. 

Finally, able to go around the menace, he was merrily eating a breakfast sandwich and drinking coffee all the while bopping his head to the beat reverberating in his car. She shook her head, and she pondered how some people thought knee driving was safe. She was proud of herself that all her fingers stayed wrapped around the steering wheel, although one itched to be free. She grumbled and grunted her way into work.  

After parking and dropping her keys while getting out, she continued to grumble. She spotted a coworker walking in. Bree intentionally loitered in her car to avoid talking to her. She was a morning person. Bree needed large quantities of coffee to make her somewhat approachable. Speaking of which, she had overlooked her full travel mug of coffee. Gingerly taking a sip, she felt the lightly sweetened coffee soothing her nerves. She should be human again in no time. She watched her coworker enter the building. Whew, close one. 

She grabbed her things and walked down the sidewalk toward the building. The landscaping around the building was beautiful, and with the weather warming up, the perennial flowers were starting to peek through the dirt. She slowly took it all in, knowing that she didn’t need to rush in to be a desk jockey for the day. She passed her favorite old wooden bench and tons of flowerpots and watched a bunny dash into the bushes. As she was admiring a bird feeder, someone cleared their throat behind her. She turned to see a man sitting there, legs crossed, watching her. What the…

“Hi,” he said. 

“Where did you come from?” The morning was no time for small talk. He wasn’t there a minute ago.

“I’ve been here.”

She stared, feeling the pounding in her temple again. “No, you haven’t.”

“Hmm, okay.” He smiled. Dark hair, green eyes, and white teeth. Wearing all black. Who was this guy? “Want to know something?”


He laughed a belly laugh. “You’re funny, Bree.”

“I didn’t tell you my name.”

“Name tag.”

Yes, the name tag they all wore. Her company wanted everyone to be friends. She grumbled about that. It was mainly a nuisance because she constantly forgot it. It was an obvious answer to her question, but still weird. She stood staring at him.

“Want to know something?” He asked again. 

“No, still don’t. Do you work here?”

“I am going to tell you anyway.” He paused. What was she going to do? Object? Beg? Then, he said, “Kindness is free.”

She snorted. “Thanks, Socrates. Just what I needed to hear.”

“You never know what other people are going through.”

“Do people care what I am going through?!” she asked a little too loudly.

He smiled. It was infuriating. “Even cheery people carry pain.”

“I don't see anyone cheery around here.” 

“You just avoided a cheery morning person.”

She raised an eyebrow. How did he know that? “Okay Nostradamus, thanks for the insight. Your turban is crooked. I am going to be late for a meeting. Enjoy the day.”

She turned and walked away, miffed, to say the least. She turned back around to glare at him and he was gone. She stood, stunned. She needed to go home and go back to bed because it was obvious she was on the verge of a mental break. In her mind, she sneered ‘Kindness is free’. She even made a mocking face to go along with her snide thoughts. 

She sat through the morning meeting and scrolled through the news while everyone chattered. Everyone was so animated and excited about their day. Just say what you gotta say and get it over with, she thought. Miss Morning Person was in the meeting too and Bree watched her. Sure enough, she would smile and laugh but at times the smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. Not my problem, Bree thought.

Task after task she slammed through during the morning hours. Before going to lunch she had to run downtown to mail a package. She parked at a meter and walked past a couple of buildings with art in front. On top of one of the pieces of art, which looked like an oversized metal boulder, sat the man in black. 

“Hi, Bree! Did you think about what I said?” He hollered down at her. 

She stared. “No! Who are you and where did you come from, and most importantly, how did you get up there?”

“A friend. Think about it, Bree!” He hopped off the fake rock and disappeared behind it. She walked on, shaking her head. Yep, somewhere, she had gone off the deep end and didn’t even see it coming. After the line at the post office, she was even more surly. Kindness is free, my patootie, she thought. 

Walking back to her car, he was across the street at a cafe sitting in the sun. He waved. Lifted his coffee in a cheers motion. She shook her head and kept walking. Behind her, he yelled, “Kindness is FREEEEEEE!”

Hmmm, one of her fingers had that itch again. Shut up! She grumbled internally. She got into her car and on the radio and the song Humble and Kind was playing. Give me a break, she thought. She sat in the warm sun in her car for a minute and looked around. People with their heads in their phones oblivious to everyone around them. Bumping into each other, not saying excuse me. People sitting at tables together but lost in their social media. No one had the time or the inclination for kindness. Why say please or thank you? 

When did SHE get so cynical and hard? Was it a byproduct of the way people lived their lives these days? Connected to everything but not to each other? Besides, she said out loud to herself, one person can’t change anything. Why waste her time? She put her car into drive and drove away. No one signaled. The cars revved, screeched, and honked alongside her. 

She went through her day brooding, more than usual, that is. That night she dreamt of the man in black. Who was this weirdo? Why was he picking on her? If she saw him again, she would give him a piece of her mind. Kindness is free. Whatever.  

The next day was the normal grind. Mr. Johnny Kindness didn’t make an appearance. She stopped at a coffee shop and grabbed her usual overpriced coffee. Some guy on his cell wearing an expensive suit turned abruptly and bumped right into her. SPLASH! There went her $6 coffee. He had the audacity to gripe at her for spilling on his expensive shoes. She wasn’t shy about her feelings, and then he just left! Bree hollered after him, “thanks for the coffee, jerk!” The barista who helped her saw the interaction waved her over, and told her he would make a new coffee on the house. She willed her hands to stop shaking. The barista was cheerful and chatty while he made her a new coffee. He even threw in a cheese danish. She couldn’t believe it. Kindness can happen, she thought to herself. She was appreciative. What could have been a horrible morning ended up not being so bad. 

She walked outside and, from beside her, heard, “See? Isn’t it nice to have some kindness?”

“You again!” she turned on him. 

He was sitting at one of the outside tables. He smiled at her and waved. Every time, that goofy wave. She was furious! 

“Who ARE you?”

“A friend.”

“No friend of mine.”

“Ouch, Bree. You just got a free coffee AND a cheese danish. And you still don’t see. Kindness doesn’t cost a thing. It’s free.”

“What is the joke here? I don’t get it.”

“I gathered. But you will.” He sat and smiled at her. If he had more to say, she didn’t care. She turned and went to her car to go to work. Another morning of head down, avoiding people, and grumbling. Finally, lunch rolled around and she escaped on foot to her favorite salad place. She walked past a bus stop and sitting there, Mister Johnny Kindness again. She stopped dead in her tracks, completely exasperated. “Are you following me?”

“No. Kind of. Yes.”

“Pick an answer, any answer?”

“Sure! Did you think about what I said?”

“Nope! I got to go. Have fun spreading the message!”

He laughed again, “You don’t lie very well.”

“So what! Kindness is free. Who cares? Migraines and stress are free too.”

“Think about it, Bree!”

I have been, she said to herself, and it made her feel more hopeless and less excited about being part of humanity. She knew there was no point in turning around to see if he was still sitting there. She knew he wasn’t. Was this some sort of social experiment with hidden cameras somewhere? If it was, she was failing miserably. Just get to the punch line already.

She ordered her usual Cobb salad, light on the onion, and, of course, an iced coffee. There was an older woman in front of her who had the cutest white pixie cut. As they worked their way down the counter, picking their salad toppings, she listened while the woman chatted with the young guy helping her. Bree turned to see the long line behind her. Was this lady oblivious?

Bree was at the second register being rung up when she noticed the woman frantically looking through her purse. “Oh, darn it, I know I had my wallet in here.” She started to dump things out. The young guy looked frazzled, too, glancing at the long line and the people getting restless. Bree snorted to herself. Who forgets their wallet? People are crazy! And as she walked past, the green-eyed man flashed in her mind. ‘Kindness is free.’ She rolled her eyes at herself and walked up to the register. All right, Johnny, you win, she said to herself. 

“I will get your lunch, ma’am.”

The woman looked at Bree, shocked. “Oh, my goodness, really?”

“Of course. Did you need a drink too?” Bree asked. 

“Well, I did, but that would be too much!”

“Not at all! Grab your drink, and we will also take two of these brown butter Rice Krispie treats. They are amazing!”

The young guy smiled at Bree and rang everything. He handed the salad bag to the woman and the second treat to Bree and said thank you, looking flushed but relieved. As the woman and Bree were walking out, the woman said, “My husband has dementia, and he is always taking my wallet out of my purse. He thinks it is his. I thought it was tucked inside, but he is quick, and he probably has it stowed away in the couch. I would be happy to pay you back if you give me your contact information.”

Bree stopped and really looked at the woman. She was tired, based on the bags under her eyes, and her clothes were somewhat wrinkled. She probably had no time for herself being a caregiver. “Hey, you know what? I am happy to buy your lunch today. No need to pay me back. You enjoy that lunch.”

“It’s for my husband and me to share. He loves this salad with candied pecans. We can never finish if we get two, so we always get one to share. I prefer a Cobb, but he likes these pecans!”

Bree smiled, “I am a Cobb fan, too,” she said, lifting her bag. What an amazing wife you are to get your husband’s favorite all the time. You two enjoy!” 

“Thank you so much for your kindness, you really saved me, and honestly, you made my day. I can’t wait to have that Rice Krispie treat!”

“You’re welcome!” Bree waved and walked back to work. She was still grumbly but she sensed a shift within herself. Did she feel more…human? Less of a robot? Lighter? That woman probably gave all of herself to the care of her husband, much to the sacrifice of her own needs. Bree smiled as she remembered the woman’s surprised, happy smile. 

As Bree finished her salad, back at her desk, she was about to open her Rice Krispie treat. Then she stopped. She got up from her desk and walked down the hall to Miss Morning Person’s office. She was frantically typing away. “Hey, Lynn?”

Lynn turned, looking puffy and stressed, her fingers poised over her keyboard. She smiled a big smile, “Bree! You never come to see me. What can I do for you?”

“Silly thing here. My eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I couldn't eat this treat, and I wondered if you wanted it. They get hard overnight, so it's best to eat them right away. I just had a big lunch, and I am stuffed.”

“Really? Is that from the salad place?”

“It is!”

“I love those! I just got a fresh cup of coffee and was wishing for something sweet.”

“Here ya go!” She said, handing her the plastic-wrapped snack.

“Just the pick-me-up I needed. Thanks, Bree! You made my day!”

“You doing okay otherwise?”

Lynn deflated, “Uh, not really. My son is having health problems, and it is so stressful.”

“I am so sorry, Lynn. I really hope he will be okay. Please let me know if you need help with anything so you can get out of here on time to get home.”

“I might take you up on that, Bree. Thank you!” And this time, the smile did reach her eyes.

Bree walked back to her office. She sat and stared out her window and watched the trees blowing in the wind, her mind in quiet contemplation. Later that day, she heard Lynn talking to another coworker, and Lynn said, “I will bring you one tomorrow. They are so good. Bree gave me this one, and it is so good!” With everything Lynn had going on, she wanted to spread the joy of a delicious treat. Bree felt a little embarrassed that she was only concerned about her own life and could barely see past the tip of her own nose. Lynn was struggling with worry about her son but still thought of others.  

A couple of days later, she went back to the salad place to get her Cobb salad and the young guy that helped the older woman was there again. When she got to the cash register, he smiled and said, “You started something a couple of days ago with that woman you bought lunch for.”

Bree looked up from her wallet, “What? Started something?”

“Yeah, it was nuts. People started buying lunch for the people behind them. It became like a kindness train. It was so cool.”

“Huh, that is nuts. Well good! Strange things can happen in this city, right?”

“Yeah, for sure. I wish it would happen more often. It was kinda fun.”

He rang her up and threw in a Rice Krispie treat. “This is on me!” He said, smiling. 

She smiled and thanked him. A kindness train, she thought. Kindness is free, and it spreads. She liked that idea. Maybe one person can create change a little at a time. A smile, a small gesture, a concerned friend.

As she walked back to the office, lost in thought, she felt someone walking beside her. She looked over to see Mr. Johnny Kindness walking with his head down and hands clasped behind his back, matching her small steps with his slow long strides. 

They walked in silence for a bit. “I thought about what you said,” she said. 

“I know.”

“You were right.”

“I know.”

“I will try harder.”

“I know.”

“Thanks for reminding me that we can change, us silly humans, and one of the greatest gifts we can offer; it doesn’t cost us a thing. Kindness is free. I have seen it, and it is amazing.”

“Thank you, Bree, for hearing me.”

She smiled. “Will I see you again?”

“I think so. Eventually.” He stopped and turned to her. “Don’t forget, okay?” His eyes were mesmerizing. Deep and full of not just green but brown and gold. And most importantly, full of love and kindness. 

“I won’t.” She paused and looked at him. Then, she said, “Thank you.”

He smiled again, his eyes bright and wet. He did his goofy wave. She turned and walked back toward her building. She knew he was gone. But she turned around anyway. The sidewalk was empty, the sun shining right in the spot where he stood. She still grunted, but this time there was a smile to go with it. 

April 14, 2023 23:22

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