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Contemporary Drama Inspirational

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

When I opened my eyes this morning, the new day dawned in the same colourless and sombre hues as the preceding days, and the blanket pressed me with a weight as strong as the sadness I’ve been carrying. As I listlessly scrolled through social media, I came across something that caught my attention, an ad from the Mental Health Foundation. I must have googled how to kill myself a few times too many. ‘Five days, five ways!’ read the tagline. The simplicity of the idea appealed to me, although I doubted I had the luxury of five days to spare, so I decided to cram it into one day. If doing one thing each day was good for your mental health, doing all five in one should do wonders, right?

My plan was this: I would walk to the charity store to donate some old goods. This would enable me to accomplish three of the five ways in one go: Be Active, Give, and Take Notice (I was planning to be mindful on the walk). Later I will call my mother, thereby completing the Connect step, and I will finish off by Learning something (I hadn’t quite figured out what yet). 

As I opened the door of the apartment building leading to the street, a hefty southerly hit me in the face, forcing me to take a few steps back and redouble my efforts. It was colder than I anticipated, but lacking the energy to return, I put my hands in my pockets, lowered my head and briskly set off on my walk. There were many pōhutukawa trees in bloom, and they seemed somehow redder this year. It reminded me that Christmas was just around the corner. Which in turn brought to mind the fact that I hadn’t managed to find a job by the end of the year, as I had hoped. There should be more vacancies in the new year… or will there? Wait, no, I shouldn’t be thinking of these things now. I needed to take notice of everything around me. But my mind was like a bulldozer out of control, relentlessly crushing all my attempts at mindfulness. Before I knew it, I had already reached the thrift store, and it felt like I had failed at the first two steps – a too short, very unmindful walk. I was at least feeling warmer and excited at the prospect of successfully ticking off the Give step. But my enthusiasm was soon squashed. 

As I handed over the bag, the young man behind the counter frowned and said, “I’m sorry, we can’t accept donations today. Only Erica can do those, and she had to leave early today.”

“Please, can’t I just leave them here?” I pleaded. 

“Unfortunately not. Sorry, but it’s the policy.”

Dejected, I walked away. I decided to just throw the stuff away – I didn’t want the burden of returning home with my unwanted goods, my evident failure. Zero for three. 

It was time for the next step. I took out my phone, apprehensive at the prospect of calling my mother, another flop waiting to happen. 

It rang for a long time – no answer. I tried again. Eventually, she picked up. 

“Yes?”

“Hey, mom.”

“Yes, what do you want?”

“I just wanted to check how-”

“Why would you call now? You know my show is on. Fuck, you can be so selfish.”

I was speechless for a few seconds. “I’m sorry, I forgot. I just wanted to-”

“It’s a very important part coming up, call me later.”

Before I could respond, she had hung up. Zero for four. 

There was only one step left, learning something new. But what was the point – I had already failed at the other four. Should I just cut my losses and give up? I sat down on a bench and put my head in my hands. I had really hoped that trying these five things would somehow help to get me out of my rut, or spark some joy. But I was feeling more dejected now than before I started. 

Suddenly, a door opened nearby, bringing the smell of a hearty meal with it and causing my stomach to rumble. “Would you like to come in?” An elderly woman asked, smiling. Her gaze bore into me, her eyes expectant. I nodded slowly, as if in a trance, and followed her inside. 

“Would you like some soup?” She asked good-naturedly. My gaze swept the room, revealing five other people, all in ragged clothing, engrossed in their humble servings of soup. I wasn’t meant to be here, I had a home and money for food. For now, at least. 

When I didn’t answer, she took it as a yes and ladled a generous helping of the steaming soup into a simple, worn bowl. Its warmth seeped into my hands as she handed it to me. It would be rude to refuse now. 

I sat down to eat, watching the tendrils of steam rise from the bowl. I scooped up a big spoonful and brought it to my nose. The scent was a comforting blend of earthy vegetables, simmering broth, and a hint of spices I couldn’t pinpoint. I blew gently, watching ripples form on the surface. As I took the first sip, I was acutely aware of the nourishing liquid caressing my tongue and the flavours dancing on my palate. The warmth spread like a comforting quilt over my chest, filling an unspoken void with a reassuring embrace. 

When I was done I returned my bowl to to the woman. “This was… truly amazing. Thank you.”

A warm smile graced her lips as she replied, “You are very welcome, dear. Some more?”

I shook my head. “Actually, I was wondering, do you need any help?”

She seemed surprised. “You don’t have to, but… well, we are actually short on people today. It would be very kind if you could help me wash up. I’m Susan, by the way.”

“Olivia.” We walked to the kitchen area. I put on some gloves I found and started rinsing the bowls. “Have you worked here long?” 

“Oh, yes. Many years. Ever since I retired. I wanted to give back to the community. These last years have been particularly tough, what with all the cuts in government spending. Everyone deserves a warm meal and shelter. And a friendly face,” she said as she smiled once more. It seemed she was always smiling. 

I nodded in agreement and we continued cleaning in silence for a while. 

“What about you, Olivia? Do you have somewhere to stay?”

“Oh, yes,” I said quickly. “I, uh, really shouldn’t have eaten here today. I have money, a home.”

She looked at me without judgement, her warm smile still etched on her face. “Well, the shelter is always open for you if you need, whether that’s a hot meal or a friendly face or a chat.”

“Thank you,” I said, my voice cracking. 

Susan’s eyes seemed to hold a silent understanding. “Life can be tough sometimes,” she said softly. “We all have our moments when we could use a little extra kindness.”

Her words made me feel more seen than I had been in months. “You seem like a remarkable person, Susan. I wish there were more people like you.”

She blushed modestly, continuing to scrub the dishes. “He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!”

Now it was my turn to smile. She had quoted a beautiful Māori proverb. What is the most important thing in the world? It’s people, it’s people, it’s people! 

She continued. “It’s the people who come here that make it all worthwhile. They’re stronger and more resilient than they often realise. Just like you, Olivia. You’re stronger than you think.”

Her words had caused tears to form in my eyes, and I tried to wipe them away with my shoulder. She looked away discreetly. We finished up the rest of the cleaning mostly in silence, and then we said goodbye. 

December 26, 2023 08:51

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2 comments

J. D. Lair
19:03 Dec 27, 2023

A very sweet story about how a little kindness goes a long way. I hope Olivia learns the lesson well and pulls out of the slump. Often, it’s caring for others that brings us the most joy. ❤️

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21:22 Dec 28, 2023

Thank you very much, J.D. I agree! :)

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