A Meeting with Kindness (Part 1 of 2)
It had happened again.
Terror had struck these lands.
Again, those who would take as their privilege had committed heinous acts. People lay hurt or dead, a nation mourned. And, at 22 Acacia Avenue, a small, nondescript piece of paper dropped through the letterbox of one Mavis Smith. Hearing the letterbox clatter shut, she turned off the upsetting news report on the television and went out into the hall. She picked up the piece of paper, wincing as she did so – Mavis had arthritis – and read. It said:
TOWN MEETING TONIGHT
That was it. There were no other details on the glossy paper. No indication of who had arranged this meeting, no phone number, e-mail address, anything. Frowning, Mavis was about to crumple the seeming piece of junk mail up and throw it into the waste paper basket when her phone started to ring. Still with the flyer in hand, she picked up the phone.
‘Hello? Smith residence.’
‘Mavis, it’s Dotty.’
‘Hello, Dotty, love. What can I do for you?’
‘Did you get a funny bit of post just now?’ Mavis’ grip on the flyer and the receiver both tightened.
‘Yes,’ said Mavis, uncertainly.
‘Me too.’ Mavis felt an odd sensation run through her. She wasn’t sure what was going on, and she didn’t like it.
‘What does yours say?’ asked Mavis, holding her flyer up so she could look at it again.
‘It says “Town meeting tonight. Town hall. 7pm start.”’
‘That’s what mine says,’ said Mavis.
‘I thought it would,’ said Dotty. ‘I checked with Reg next door to me and he’s got one, too.’
‘Dotty, what’s going on?’ Mavis’ voice was almost pleading.
‘I don’t know, Mavis. Do you reckon it’s got anything to do with that nasty business on the news about them people getting killed in the city?’ Mavis hadn’t thought about that, but now that Dotty had suggested it she found the idea hard to shake.
‘I don’t know,’ was all she could manage to say.
‘Are you going to go?’ asked Dotty.
‘I’m not sure. Are you?’
‘I wasn’t going to, as I thought it was someone playing silly buggers, but our Shaun said he’ll come with me. Said he doesn’t want me going out alone, what with what happened in the city and all.’
‘Shall we pick you up on the way?’ Mavis thought for a second. She too thought that someone was having a laugh at her expense, but if Dotty and her neighbour had both received the exact same flyer then either it was a very elaborate laugh, or there was something to it. She reached a decision and agreed to attend whatever this meeting was with Dotty and her son. As she hung up the phone there was a knock at her door. It was one of her own neighbours, and in their hand was the same flyer she had in hers.
Something was definitely going on.
* * *
The town hall bustled with activity as Mavis, Dotty and Shaun entered later that day. It seemed that everyone in town had received the same strange invitation, and the hall was packed to capacity. Amid the hubbub, Mavis saw a podium and microphone set up on the stage. There was still no indication as to who had set this all up. There were no logos or banners to be seen, so she didn’t know if this was the doing of the local Police, the Council, or the Neighbourhood Watch. Whatever it was it had piqued everyone’s curiosity.
Meanwhile, as the assembled crowd took to their seats and talked about the day’s sad events and the questions surrounding this meeting, a figure out in the street approached the town hall. The relative quietness of the evening was punctuated by the steady clock of the figures’ shoes on the pavement. It nimbly ascended the steps of the hall and paused to drop coins into the various charity collection boxes on the unmanned Reception desk. There were no staff working the town hall that night, as they were all inside with everyone else, wondering who had called this meeting, and why.
The figure stopped at the main doors to the hall proper and adjusted its tie.
The doors opened and the figure walked in.
‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,’ said the figure. He was a smartly-dressed young man in a crisp dark blue pinstripe suit and tie with gleaming black shoes. Silver cufflinks and tiepin glinted in the hall’s lights as he made his way confidently to the front of the hall. Everybody present craned to get a look at the immaculate stranger. No one seemed to know who he was, but he had an odd and vague familiarity about him that permeated the room. People frowned slightly as they tried to recall his face, with its neat and trim hair and disarming smile.
Who was this man?
He nodded warmly at anyone he caught eyes with as he approached the stage. Trotting lightly up the side steps, he took to the podium and turned on the microphone.
‘Thank you all for coming,’ he said. His voice was pleasant and easy-going. A certain tension seemed to ease in the room as he spoke. It was as if he was soothing the collective worry of the crowd. He smiled at the people staring back at him. ‘It does my heart good to see so many of you here.’
Someone in the crowd coughed politely and raised their hand. The mysterious stranger caught sight of them and beamed at them.
‘Yes? Feel free to speak up. I want this to be an open dialogue.’ The person who had raised their hand looked a little embarrassed, but continued all the same.
‘Erm, yes. So was it you who put those leaflets through all our doors this morning?’
‘It certainly was.’
‘To ask you all here, of course.’ The stranger smiled again and noticed another person with their hand raised. ‘Yes, you towards the front.’
‘But how did you do it? I live across town from my brother and we both got our leaflets at the same time.’ At this a number of people started nodding and murmuring to each other. Amongst the various topics of conversation before the meeting had started one thing that was puzzling a lot of people was the seeming fact that everyone got their leaflets at exactly the same time. There were even some of the local Postal workers present at the meeting, and they were as baffled as everyone else. The question, however, did not faze the stranger. He simply cocked his head slightly to the side and smiled.
‘Ah, I’m a man of many talents,’ he said.
‘But who are you?’ asked the man with the brother across town.
‘Kindness, sir. I am Kindness.’ A hush fell over the hall as the stranger’s answer was absorbed by the assembled crowd. There were confused frowns, and a few people were shaking their heads in disbelief. Another member of the crowd spoke up.
‘No, really. Who are you?’ The stranger seemed to be expecting this reaction. He reached down and unbuttoned his suit jacket. Removing it, he walked to the side of the stage and slung it over the back of a chair. Returning to the podium, he was still smiling in the same hearty way.
‘I assure you, Sam Denny, that I am genuinely Kindness. Kindness personified.’ The man addressed as Sam Denny looked taken aback.
‘How did you know my name?’
‘My dear Sam. I know everything.’ Sam looked uncomfortable, and others in the crowd started to shift uneasily in their seats. This was starting to feel like a hoax or a trick, and after what had happened in the city that morning no one was in the mood to be messed about in this way. The stranger looked at the growing number of worried faces and plucked the microphone from its cradle and moved away from the podium.
‘I understand completely how this must look. None of you have met me in this guise before. But rest assured I have been with you all for a very long time.’ Even though people in the crowd were feeling uneasy at this stranger’s seemingly uncanny knowledge and odd statement about his identity, there was something about him that stopped them from standing and leaving. There was no trace of malice in his words, and his presence and body language spoke of confidence and assuredness.
So they continued to listen.
‘No doubt you’ll all be aware of the tragic events that took place not far from here this morning.’ The stranger allowed a moment to pass as he briefly hung his head in silent prayer for the fallen, and he then continued. ‘It is at times like these that I am summoned in this form. I am here, ladies and gentlemen, to remind you all that we still live in a beautiful world and that kindness exists within us all.’
A woman in the crowd raised her hand.
‘Is this some kind of joke?’
Again that smile.
‘Ah, Lucy. Far from it. Although, I do enjoy a good joke.’ Kindness chuckled and the woman he had identified as Lucy looked shocked.
‘How…?’ she began.
‘’Let me put it this way, Lucy,’ said Kindness, fixing her with his cool blue eyes that radiated compassion and understanding. ‘I was there last night when you fed not only your own cat, Heathcliff, but that poor little stray that comes by from time to time.’ The crowd looked from Kindness to Lucy, and Lucy sat silent for a moment.
‘You were watching me?’ The accusatory tone of Lucy’s voice made the people in the crowd look back to Kindness and fix with him questioning glares.
‘Nothing as sordid as you imply, but I was there.’ The crowd sat silent, growing more confused by the moment. Kindness surveyed the crowd and continued. ‘You see, with that small act of kindness I was there, with you and those darling little cats. I am not here to trick you, ladies and gentlemen. I am not here to bamboozle, to sham, or to hoodwink. I am sure it is difficult to comprehend, but this truly wonderful world of ours holds many things that are hard to explain. But I assure you when I say that I am the very spirit of Kindness, made flesh.’
No one in the crowd knew what to say, and several heavy seconds passed before someone found their voice.
‘Prove it,’ said an elderly man somewhere in the middle of the hall. He crossed his arms defiantly, challenging Kindness to show that he wasn’t lying. Kindness didn’t bat an eyelid, but pointed a manicured finger at the old man and grinned.
‘Always the pragmatist, eh, Ray Baker? I like that.’ The crowd looked at Ray who remained sat, arms crossed and unimpressed.
‘So you know my name,’ he said with a slight scoff. ‘All that proves is that you know how to look folk up on the Internet.’
‘Ah, the Internet,’ said Kindness, maintaining his smile. ‘Isn’t it great?’
‘But that doesn’t prove your claim to be…Kindness,’ said Ray dismissively. ‘You drag us all out here and expect us to believe you’re some kind of…pixie or something.’
‘Oh no, Ray,’ said Kindness, sounding serious for a moment. ‘I’m no pixie. Dreadfully vicious little creatures they are. As I say, I am Kindness.’
‘Yes, but…’ began Ray.
‘Prove it, yes,’ said Kindness, becoming more animated. ‘How do I show that I am Kindness?’ He walked down the central aisle of the hall, turning on his heel when he reached the end of the seating. ‘Well, the most obvious choice would be an act of kindness on my part, don’t you think? Everyone, please raise your left hands.’
People looked at Kindness and at each other, unsure as to whether to follow this odd man’s instructions or not.
‘Come along now, I mean none of you any harm. Ray has quite rightly asked me to prove myself, and I shall. So, please, raise your left hands ever so slightly.’ Reluctantly at first, the people in the crowd raised their left hands until, one by one; everyone in the hall had done so. Kindness looked at them all and smiled.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘Now, promise me you won’t freak out.’
He clicked his fingers.
Into everyone’s left hand a flower suddenly materialised out of nowhere.
There were sharp inhalations of breath and the scraping of chairs on the floor as people jolted in their seats. Several people dropped the flowers instantly, as if they were hot to the touch.
But they weren’t.
In fact, they were the most beautifully simple and perfect flowers any of the crowd had ever seen. It took a moment or two for the initial panic to die down, and many people were looking wide-eyed at Kindness, who stood stock still with his hands placed calmly behind his back, an interested expression on his face. Shaun, Dotty’s son, had stood quickly from his chair when his flower appeared in his hand, and he fixed Kindness with a glare and pushed his way from his seat into the aisle.
‘What’s your game, eh?’ he said, jabbing a shaking finger at Kindness.
‘My dear Shaun, I have no game.’ Kindness placed a tender arm around one of Shaun’s shoulders and patted him warmly on the other with his free hand. ‘Just as you have no game in the kindness you show your dear mother, Dotty. It speaks of your fine character the way you look after her.’ Feeling totally disarmed, Shaun was lost for words for a moment.
‘I…I do what I can,’ he said, eventually.
‘And I’m sure it’s greatly appreciated by dear old Mum, eh?’ Kindness looked up and out into the crowd, zeroing in straight away on Dotty. She was smiling proudly, despite the strangeness of the situation; her flower still in her hand.
‘And that is just what I am talking about, ladies and gentlemen,’ said Kindness, as he gently led the now unresisting Shaun back to his seat. Dotty patted her son warmly on the leg once he was sat, and Kindness continued to speak as he made his way back to the stage. ‘You don’t have to be a great philanthropist for me to be present in your daily lives. Even the smallest act of kindness, like Shaun here picking up his mother’s shopping for her every week, makes this world a brighter and better place.’ Kindness smiled some more as he noticed Shaun sitting more upright in his chair, pride showing on his features. Back on the stage, Kindness made a sweeping gesture with his arm, indicating the entire hall.