A reluctant act of kindness

I was leaving the post office and in a bit of a hurry since I was late to a phone call and I still had one more errand to run. I was just slipping my bike helmet on for the ride to my next destination when I heard someone say: “Excuse me sir. Excuse me, sir?”

I turned around to see a young woman, mid-20s probably, on the platform of a U-Haul moving truck, the metal ramp extended to the pavement of the parking lot.

She jumped down and jogged over to me. “Do you think you could help me?”

“What do you need?” I asked, reticently, all the while thinking that I had better things to do.

“I need to move a table. I’m donating it to the Cancer Society Thrift Store,” she said, pointing to the back door of the shop.

I spied a little end table on the back of the truck.

“That?” I inquired, hopefully.

“No, it’s over here,” she said, waving me on in an attempt to secure some level of commitment for her moving project. “It’s too big for me and there’s just three little old ladies working in the thrift store today.”

“But I’m a little old man,” I said.

She laughed, and nervously flitted her straight, bright red hair. I’m pretty sure she was thinking that I sounded just like her dad, and dads always tell lame jokes.

“You look pretty fit to me,” she said. She regained her composure and persisted with her mission. “Can you help?”

Apparently there was no way of getting out of this. I parked my bike along side the truck and looked inside. The piece of furniture in question was an antique, round pedestal dining table. It was solid oak. It was big. It was, no doubt, heavy.

Reluctantly, I agreed to help and climbed into the moving van. We dragged the table toward the back of the truck and more or less slid it down the ramp. It was unwieldy, at best. We each took a side and lugged it across the parking lot to the back of the thrift store, only to discover that there was no way it was fitting through the door at any angle.

I was hoping this would be the extent of my generosity for the morning. Perhaps we could just leave it on the sidewalk. But then one of the three aforementioned ladies came out of the store.

“Oh, so you found this nice man to help you!”

Clearly my exit strategy was not going to work. Discussions about geometry ensued. But there was simply no way the round object was fitting through the rectangular space. I looked underneath the table. Only six screws held the top to the base.

“Do you have a Philips head screwdriver?” I asked.

The Cancer Society volunteer enthusiastically replied in the affirmative and went to retrieve the tool.

To pass the time, I asked the young woman about the piece of antique furniture that was now at the center of my morning. She explained that it was her ex-boyfriend’s grandparent’s table, which he had somehow inherited. I did not ask for any more information as to what happened to the boyfriend or how the table was bequeathed to her. She was here making a donation for a good cause and that was all I needed or for that matter wanted to know.

The volunteer returned with the tool and I went to work. As anyone who has ever tried disassembling any antique knows, it’s a huge gamble. The screws are usually entombed in the wood, the wood having swelled and then dried repeatedly over years of fluctuation in humidity. And the screws can rust and become brittle with age, snapping at the first suggestion of movement. Remarkably, maybe even miraculously, the six screws complied with the twisting effort with only a slight squeaking complaint now and then.

While I was toiling away at manual labor, I attempted another “dad” joke along the lines of my hourly rate. But the comment went unnoticed as the young woman and the elderly lady engaged in a discussion regarding the need for more acts of kindness in the world. This was a subject of which the more senior of the two felt quite passionate. She relayed that she had called the local newspaper to do articles in an effort to raise awareness for this just cause.

“Really,” she said, “the world just needs more people to do things like this.”

I let my joke slide and agreed with the two of them, making the sentiment unanimous.

With the table top off, the rest of the move was quite easy. I grabbed the base and the two women rolled the top in to the store.

“Is this the man on the bike?” I heard. It was one of the other three Little Old Ladies, apparently, and she was referring to me. In the span of a few minutes, I had gone from an anonymous cyclist just minding his own business to the most famous person in the thrift store.

I reassembled the table and, as I was putting in the last screw, a couple walked in through the front door. The man was looking at the table.

“You want to buy it?” I asked. “Because if you do, maybe I shouldn’t put it all together so you can move it.”

He laughed. “No, just admiring your work.” He helped me flip the table upright and as he did, the Little Old Ladies brought him up to speed on the now famous cyclist’s act of kindness. I considered basking in the glory of the rest of my 15 minutes of fame, but remembered my more pressing engagements.

I shook hands with the young woman and the Little Old Lady № 1. I did not get their names nor did they get mine. But as I was walking out the door, I heard a snippet of conversation between another of the volunteers and a customer.

“How’s Sarah doing?” said one.

“Fingers crossed. In remission,” said the other.

And it was then that it hit me. Yes, I was late to my phone call. But an act of kindness, even one administered begrudgingly, was time better spent.

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