Act of Kindness

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash
She's filthy dirty, sniffs inhalants and begs you for help. What do you do? What can you do?
Available as an audio version with an exclusive introduction to HJ Furl online by 'DJ' on Talking Stories No. 25.
First published in Scribble Magazine December 2018.
from the forthcoming anthology: Is It Today?

Submitted: March 01, 2019

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Submitted: March 01, 2019

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Act of Kindness

The girl appears at dusk on platform one, slumped on a black bench. It is bitterly cold in early March. She is wearing a short, shiny leather zip-up jacket over a clingy cream dress. Covered in grime. Shivering with cold. The teenager wrings her hands and tries to stay warm. A blast of icy air chills your face. You smell a sweet aroma,pear drops. You don't understand. Until she waves a cannister of hairspray, sprays it in her face and inhales it. There is little that you can do to help her. Her eyes are glazed. She acts disorientated. High. But, deep in your heart, you know you must.

The station is deserted. The home signal changes to green. You perch on the edge of the wet seat in your warm winter coat and search the curve of the line for the train. An empty cup sits on the bench between you. She can’t bring herself to say the words. How must she look? A dirty urchin in a clean, modern world. How can she stare you in the face and beg of you?

There is an announcement. You sigh with relief as the train appears like a phantom out of the freezing fog. You think of your husband waiting for you in the West End. Your romantic candlelit theatre supper in Covent Garden followed by the hit show. Your 46th birthday treat.

Feeling sorry for her, you plunge a hand in your bucket bag and draw out your purse. Only to find you have no loose change. In a moment of madness, you extract a crisp twenty-pound note, fold it in four, and drop it in the girl’s cup. You shake your head. It breaks your heart to see her like this. So sad, cold and lonely. Out on the streets. Out of luck. Out of love.

She stares at you in disbelief, her voice nigh inaudible. ‘Thank you, you’re very kind.’

‘Don’t mention it, take care of yourself,’ you mumble feeling awkward.

The train glides to a halt. You walk as far as the yellow safety line. A freight train rumbles past on the opposite platform. You watch her slip the note inside her pocket. Your eyes meet. She yearns for you. Love in the mist. The girl clutches her chest then slides down the smooth bench, breathing in short sharp breaths. She is clearly in pain. You stare at her, frightened for her, filled with dread. Your heart is in your mouth. You avert your eyes. The train doors slide open. A blast of warmth hits your face.

She is desperate. She calls after you. ‘Wait!’

You bite your lip. Watch her face strain.

She tries to shape words in her clumsy mouth. ‘Excuse me. Sorry to bother you.’ Her speech is slurred. ‘Don’t I know you?

You tell her she’s mistaken. Tell her you’ve never seen her before in your life.  Her teak pupils dilate, occupying the whites of her eyes.

Her voice floats and flits, word to word, ‘There’s something about you. Haven’t we met?’

What can you do? Your toes go numb in your smart sling-back shoes. You stamp your feet and wiggle your toes. Board the train, muttering a heartfelt apology. Her pain grips your heart like a vice.

She hollers at you. ‘We’ve been in love, forever?’

You stop dead in your tracks. She tumbles off the bench. The doors close. You didn’t help her because you were not prepared to miss this train. You enter coach Q, for Quiet Zone. The train is held at a red signal. Straining in your reserved seat, you scan the platform. Search for her. Overwhelmed with guilt. Ashamed of yourself.

You travel on the sleek, new, green bullet train, slouched in the forward-facing seat, half-asleep. You can’t stop thinking about the girl. What on earth possessed you to leave her like that? What if she was seriously ill? What if she died? What if someone saw you? The guard, the driver, a railwayman, the Police? You wonder what to do. What can you do? You decide not to tell a living soul what just happened. Not even your husband. No, definitely not him!

You dream you feel her holding your hand, even smell her chemical breath in your nostrils. The train skips some points. You wake up with a jolt, stare down the aisle. Your heart skips a beat as the girl staggers towards you.

The train pulls past a station and gathers speed. She topples into the seat opposite you. The girl is an emaciated, malnourished waif who deliberately inhales solvents to get high. She has these mood swings. Her nose is running. So, she licks her upper lip with the tip of her tongue and swallows the snot. The girl changes personality. Lifting her aching head out of her hands, she eyes you. Your heart sinks when you see the sore scarlet rash bloom around her nose and mouth, her bloodshot eyes, her tangled knots of dirty hair. She’ll kill herself if she carries on huffing like this. You know she will. She needs your compassion. Not your rejection.

She needs you. One act of kindness. That’s all it takes. To show how much you love her. 

You sit there dressed to kill in the chic navy blazer, satin blouse and pencil skirt you wore for today’s board meeting. Wondering what to do. As she unzips her pockets. As she empties the contents on the table in front of you: the blue cannister of hairspray, a butane lighter fuel refill, an open bottle of nail varnish remover. That aroma of pear drops. Her lips quiver. Her eyes mist over and she bursts into tears.

‘Please help me Mum,’ she says, ‘I’m sorry. I love you.’

*****

Alison admires herself in the bedroom mirror. How lovely she looks in her wedding dress. A healthy glow lights up her tanned skin. She feels rejuvenated: a confident young woman who battled her solvent addiction and won. She smiles wistfully. You stand behind her and lift her veil. Her eyes are sparkling with happiness.

She whispers to herself, nigh inaudible, ‘Excuse me! Don’t I know you?’

You are so proud of her. She makes you go all teary.

You are about to lose the girl you found at dusk on platform one.


© Copyright 2019 HJFurl. All rights reserved.

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