Anna slipped into the leather banquette for the twentieth time this month.
“Good Morning,” said Trudy as she poured a steaming cup from the pot. “What’ll it be today?”
“Just coffee thanks. I’m waiting for someone.” Anna pressed the warm mug to her lips and breathed in the sensuous aroma of freshly ground beans.
Trudy picked up another order as the stranger shifted onto the seat across from Anna. Dressed in a black trench coat, hat, and sunglasses, he asked, “So, you’ve found someone?”
“Yes,” whispered Anna. “Her name is Trudy. She’s a single mom – often works double shifts to make ends meet. Her daughter is in the hospital now awaiting surgery…cancer. It’ll cost $20,000.00. She has no way of making that.”
“I’ll be right with you,” said Trudy, as she set down a mug and filled it with black Columbian. The man suddenly jutted his hand forward, spilling the coffee. Trudy set her tray on the table and said, “I’ll get a cloth and clean that up.”
The stranger placed a small black book on the tray and slipped outside.
“Where did he go?” asked Trudy as she mopped up the coffee. “He left his book here.”
“That’s for you.”
“For me? Why?”
“You’ll see. The instructions are inside. Just open the book to the first page and you’ll find everything you need to know.” Anna plunked five dollars down and stood up to leave.
“Wait!” called Trudy, “I don’t understand. What’s this about?”
Anna kept walking. Her lips curved into a secret smile.
After a hectic day’s work, Trudy plopped onto her couch and took the black book out of her bag.
You have been chosen as a possible recipient of a gift. You will be required to perform a series of tasks…three in all. Achieve them and you will be rewarded in the end. You MUST, however, follow these instructions explicitly. Any deviance and you will forfeit your opportunity. All of your questions will be answered at the conclusion. Do NOT look ahead in this book. Read only the instructions for one day at a time. You will begin tomorrow.
Trudy opened the little black book…
Find a homeless person. Give them what you can.
Trudy left early to walk the main street. Rifling through her bag, she searched for an offering for the unknown homeless person. She had two tens and one five. Thinking about her daughter’s surgery, she took out the five, folded it, and put the rest back in her wallet. She approached the first man who was sitting on a piece of cardboard; the stench of his cigarette smoke filled her lungs. She stretched her hand out towards him. Suddenly, a gust of wind caught the money and whisked it down the street. Trudy ran but lost sight of it and stopped in front of a blind woman.
“Did you lose something, Miss?”
“Why, yes, I did.”
The old woman lifted her foot and grabbed the fiver out from under it. “Here you go,” she said, as she handed the money to Trudy.
“You could have kept this and pretended that you hadn’t found it. Why didn’t you?”
“Aww, that woulda been stealin’. My worker told me if I could save up $600.00, she’d help me get an apartment. Only need $25.00 now. When I get me a place I can get a pension.”
Trudy paused, took out her wallet, wrapped the two tens around the five, and pressed it into the woman’s palm.
“Bless your heart darlin’. You made an old woman happy today.”
Trudy turned. Her lips curved into a secret smile.
Monday…Trudy’s “day off” from work.
These are your final two tasks. Complete them both today. Go to the nearest animal shelter and borrow a pet for the day. Visit a senior’s residence/nursing home. Share your time with the elderly.
Trudy wrenched open the heavy metal door. The odor of wet dog and disinfectant was almost suffocating.
“Hello, I’ve come to look at your dogs and wondered if I could take one out for the day?” asked Trudy.
“Of course, come with me,” said the kennel supervisor. Trudy peered down the long row of cages. Some dogs cowered in corners; others shyly pulled their ears back. “Will all these dogs get adopted eventually?”
“Unfortunately, no,” said the attendant.
“What happens to them?”
“Rescued animals are kept for 5-7 days and then they’re euthanized.”
“They’re destroyed?? But they’re healthy and loveable!”
“I know. But we get so many new ones coming in every day. There’s no way we could house them all indefinitely.”
One little white dog with a brown patch on one eye and one brown ear stood up on his hind legs and pawed at the cage door. His eyes bored through Trudy’s, and she reached her hand towards him. He licked her fingers ever so gently. “Do you want to come and spend the day with me little fella?” she asked. “He’s the one,” Trudy said to the attendant.
“That one’s Max. He’s going under at 3 p.m. tomorrow.”
Trudy’s stomach churned.
With leash in hand, Trudy set out for the seniors’ home, Max happily prancing by her side.
Max sidled up to the first man. He ruffled a fuzzy tuft on top of Max’s head. Max gave him a couple of quick licks before cautiously approaching the next woman who sat in a wheelchair. “Come and see me,” she said, scooping Max onto her lap. Max put his paws on her chest and gave her a face wash. “Aren’t you a lovey-dovey one? You remind me of our old Rex. He was a frisky little thing. Those were back in the days when I could run with him. I sure do miss those times.” She set Max down on the floor. Max was a little braver as he curiously sniffed and scratched the leg of a man who was standing alone, staring out the window.
“Hello,” said the man, as Max trotted off to meet his next new friend.
“That was pretty miraculous,” said a passing nurse. “John hasn’t spoken for about a year.”
One resident after another scratched and cuddled Max until both he and Trudy were as drained as dishwater from a kitchen sink. Trudy’s heart stabbed her as she said, “Okay Max, I think it’s time to go back.”
The big metal door creaked as Trudy opened it and stepped inside. Her stomach lurched. Max, realizing where he was, stiffened his legs and pushed against the floor so as not to move forward.
“Hello Max,” said the attendant. “Did you have a good day? Come on then,” she said as she put him in his cage, shut the door, and locked it. Trudy knelt in front of the cage. Hot tears streamed down her cheeks. “I would take you home in a minute, but I’m not allowed pets in our apartment. I’m so sorry Maxie.” Trudy stood to leave. Max howled a mournful, lonesome cry that seemed to come from the bowels of the earth. Trudy shuddered and bolted out of the kennel and ran all the way home until her heart pounded like a broken drum. She scrambled inside, fell onto her bed, and sobbed herself to sleep.
The rude alarm clock buzzed at 5 a.m. A sickening dread flooded Trudy’s core as she recalled that Max would be put down today. Hesitatingly, she opened the little black book.
This is your final day. We’ve arranged for you to have the afternoon off work. Put your black book in a large brown envelope and write MOLESKINE #10 on the front. Go to the corner of Fifth and Devine at 2 p.m. Someone will be there to give you your final instructions.
Trudy glanced at her watch – 1:30. Quickly she grabbed the envelope and tucked it under her arm.
The city streets bustled with throngs of people hurrying back to work. Someone bumped her from behind and shouted, “Move! Move!” as he snatched the manila envelope and sped through the parting crowds.
“Wait!” shrieked Trudy. “Come back here! Help, somebody, please…stop that man!” She struggled to free herself from the hordes pressing in on her but it was too late. The snatcher was gone. Trudy’s shoulders slumped in defeat. Her legs stopped moving as she stood motionless until the swarm propelled her forward and she was fairly carried along until she arrived at her designated corner. There stood Anna – holding a brown envelope that had the words MOLESKINE #10 on it.
“I, I don’t understand,” said Trudy.
Anna opened the manila and took out the little black book. She turned to the back page. There it was – an unbroken wax seal, stamped with the letter “P” on it. “You followed the instructions diligently,” said Anna. She put the black book back in the envelope and handed it to Trudy. “Take this to your bank. Go to the business wicket. There all of your questions will be answered.”
Trudy nervously shuffled from one foot to the next as she waited her turn. She fingered the guidepost, noticing that the coldness of the smooth metal relieved her sweaty palms. She stepped up to the teller and handed the young woman the envelope.
“MOLESKINE #10…so you’re the last one.”
“The last one?” asked Trudy.
“Yes. Mr. P. is your benefactor. He is a wealthy businessman. He doesn’t have any family. When he became sick with terminal cancer, he wanted to anonymously share his wealth with deserving people. You are the last one to receive one of his little black books.”
“But, why me? How did he find me?”
“His assistant, Anna checks with the hospital to see if anyone needs financial aid. Mr. P. is especially partial to those with children who have cancer. He sends Anna out in the field to watch people in their everyday lives. If they are good people, he makes them an offer, with the prospect of giving them a gift. This is yours. Here is a receipt for $20,000.00 that Mr. P. has deposited into your account. Here is your black book. Turn to the last page and check inside the pocket.”
Trudy’s frenetic elation at the monetary inheritance made her want to jump and yell, but instead, she hurried out the door to a nearby bench and flipped open her little black book. She pressed on the wax seal, broke it, and reached inside the paper pocket. The letter read:
I pledge to gift you $20,000.00 every month for the rest of your life. I want you to buy a house and get your daughter the treatments she needs. I’m hopeful that you will share your good fortune with others in need, but I trust your judgement. Mr. P.
Suddenly her heart jumped – what time is it? Her watch said 2:50. If I run, maybe I can make it. Trudy took flight, willing her legs to move forward. Panting and gasping, she yanked open the shelter door. Five minutes late.
“Maxie!” she yelled, as she dashed to his empty cage. Tears welled up and spilled onto the floor. She flung open the “STAFF ONLY” door, and shouted, “Where’s Max?”
The attendant pivoted. Max jumped out of her arms and bounded towards Trudy…jumping, barking, whining, crying, and licking her frantically.
“Maxie!” she said, “I’ve come to take you with me! You’ll have to stay with friends until we get our new house, but I’ll come and see you every day. First, though, I’ve got a special little girl I want you to meet. She is going to love you, and you are going to be her best friend.”
Trudy clipped Max’s leash on, and as the attendant turned away, her lips curved into a secret smile.