A Little Kindness

A short, short story
© 2013 Sam Lelliott

He looked about 12 or 13 years old. Jake had watched the boy walk to and from school every day for almost a year now. The boy always had his head down and looking as if he had the world on his shoulders. Rain or shine, Jake could have set his watch by the regularity of the boy's passing the front of Jakes small cottage.

Jake, himself, was quite a sad man. He wasn't always sad, but his life had taken a turn for the worse. First his son was killed in Iraq and a year later, his wife was taken from him with cancer of the liver. Both of these family members were the lights of his life. The sun shone when they were around. After their deaths, the light had gone out. Jake spent his days almost as a recluse. Folk locally were suspicious of him being a single man living his secretive life. Local gossips had a whale of a time making guesses what and who he was. The problem was that Jake wasn't an old man. He was only 49 years old and to be, what seemed to the village, introverted. He was often spoken of in unpleasant terms. A small village is not the place for a single man to live quietly and not mix. The truth was, Jake had been a very successful business man and sold up and hid away after the loss of his beloved wife.

Jake had heard the gossip and it had hurt, but he never let on. His mind now was centred on the sad looking boy and he wondered what could cause such sadness. A myriad of different reasons went through his mind. Being abused came first to his mind and finally, that was the reason that stuck. Determined to find out what was happening to the lad, he waited outside his cottage for the boy to return from school. The boy passed Jake and when he was a hundred yards in front of him, Jake began to follow the lad. They went out of the village into the countryside and then turned off into a narrow country lane. The boy walked up the lane to a lone house at the end of the long lane unlocked the door and went inside.

Jake having found out where the boy lived and walked back home to his cottage. The next morning, the boy passed Jakes cottage at same time as usual. Head still down and he looked today as if he was crying. Jake was determined to find out more about the boy today and after breakfast made his way to the house he had seen the boy go to the night before. He rang the door bell, but there wasn't any reply. He had a look around and found the house was part of a small holding. It had a couple of cows, chickens and goats. Alongside one side of the house, was a garden with produce growing, not a large variety, but plenty of what there was. Risking it, he looked in the front window. What he saw shocked him. Lying in a bed was a woman looking very emaciated. By the bed was an oxygen tank attached to which was a mask. This lady was obviously very sick. Jake felt bad now about spying, but then again, he was attempting to find out why a young boy should always look so sad.

Jake had seen enough for the moment and would get back to the small holding, ready for when the lad got home and would see what his life was like there.

At 2-30 PM, Jake set off for the lad's home and hid himself where he could see without being seen. At 3-35, the boy got home and went indoors. Within seconds, he was by the woman's side with pills and potions and administered them to her. He gave her a gentle cuddle and set about making her some tea. He sat her up and put pillows behind her back to prop her up safely. He washed her face and hands for her, got a bedpan and placed it for her to use. He cleared that away and cleaned up. Once he had her settled with food and drink he disappeared. Later he returned in work clothes and came outside and for the next 2 hours he tended the animals and the vegetable plot, and then went indoors again. By now it was 6-30 PM and Jake was getting hungry so he made his way home again.

Although Jake didn't see the boy after he went indoors and helped his mother to lie down again. The boy made himself something to eat and his sandwiches for the morning at school. He loved his mother dearly and since she got sick, he had to do everything around the house, inside and out. He sat down finally to do his homework and tired as he was, he made a good job of the task. He had to be up again at 5-30 AM for the animals, so he went to his mother who was sleeping, kissed her goodnight and made his way to bed. Once in bed, he cried and cried. Not because of his hard life, but because of his mother. She had little time to live now. The emphysema had taken its toll and she was in her last few months of life. The doctor came at times, but could not do much for her. The illness had gone too far. He fell asleep and in what seemed like seconds, the alarm went off. Unknown to him, Jake was waiting outside to see what the lad's morning routine was.

Jake saw the light come on and the boy went to the woman. Jake had guessed by now it must be the boy's mother. The lad gently woke her and went through the same routine as in the evening with her. Then he appeared outside again and sorted out the animals with milking and feed.

Jake had seen enough. No wonder the boy looked so sad all the time. Something had to be done, and soon, before the boy got so burdened that he would not recover from it. Jake still didn't know the boys name or how old he was. It was time for some more sleuthing. The time for being a recluse was over. Later that morning, Jake was at the post office, asking the postmistress if she knew the family. As ever, she knew all the answers. The family name was Smith. The boy's name was Edward, Ted for short. There wasn't a father. He deserted the wife 10 years ago when Ted was 4 years old. Mrs. Rose Smith had made her illness worse trying to keep the small holding going. Rose was well known in the village and a regular visitor when she was well. 3 years ago, her illness took hold and despite requests for her to go to hospital, she wouldn't because of Ted. For the last two years Ted had been looking after everything. Social services seemed uninterested in the family and were only seen once. The postmistress' son had told her that Ted was a brilliant scholar, but very withdrawn.

Armed with this knowledge, Jake went off to the Smith house to see the mother.

The door was open and he called out, "Rose?"

A faint voice answered "Yes".

Jake introduced himself from afar and asked to talk with her.
"Yes, come in Jake." She replied.

Jake made his way to the room where Rose lay. Her breathing was so laboured, that it rasped with each inward breath. Jake introduced himself properly and offered to make a cup of tea. Rose thanked him and told him, "Yes, please".

Jake made the tea and gave Rose a cup. Finally, Jake got round to telling Rose what he had come to see her about. That he was worried about both her and Ted. How he had seen Ted every day looking so sad. How he had come to the small holding and found out how they were struggling.

It took Rose no time at all to tell Jake her son's name was Edward, not Ted. It took an age to tell Jake about herself and Edward and how he had struggled to help after his father disappeared. She told about the tears that had been shed by both of them when the Social Services despots poked their noses in. How they had wanted to put Edward in a children's home for his own good.

Jake saw the tears in Rose's eyes as she spoke. Jake asked just how bad her illness was now. Crying profusely now, she told him. She had been told that it was likely she would be dead in less that a year, there wasn't any treatment.

Jake held her frail hands and promised he would help where he could and she should not worry any more. He told her that he would make sure that Ted got the life he should have.

Rose sensed that Jake was a good man and taking as deep a breath as she could and asked him. "My only real worry is Edward. I don't have a single living relative. This disease took them all at a young age. It's like a family curse handed down from my father. I want to make sure he is looked after I die. I want you to look after him if you will."

Jake was taken aback by what Rose had just said. Taking care of a teenager was a different matter. All he could say, was that he would think about it.

Rose's breathing got worse and she had to take oxygen. Jake decided to leave her then, to go home and think. He thought he should go and bade Rose goodbye, reiterating he would help where he could. Rose just about managed a wave goodbye.

Jake had a lot of hard thinking to do when he got home. After a while, he picked up the phone and made some calls to old friends from his business days. All were pleased to hear from him and gave him their best wishes. Jake was a bit taken aback, as he had not been in touch with any of them for some years. He arranged to meet them all the next day for lunch in Bournemouth at the Grand Hotel on Bath Hill. By the time he had finished his calls, it was 3 PM and not long before Ted would be passing by. He needed to talk to the boy and get to know him better.

He waited outside and soon enough he saw Ted coming. He waved and said "Hello Ted. My name is Jake. I went to see your Mum today." Ted almost jumped out of his skin. His mother and school had warned him not to talk to strangers, but then he knew the old bloke, well old to him. Jake saw his hesitation and said. "I know you are wary of me and that is a good thing. How about I walk home with you and we can chat. Then I can help you with mum and the work around the place. Ted decided he would accept the offer, but he wanted just one check.

"What did mum say my name was?"

Jake smiled and said, "She insisted your name was Edward and not Ted."

"OK, I trust you now. Mum would never have bothered to say that unless she trusted you."

"So what do I call you, Ted or Edward?"

"Ted is just fine thanks, Jake. I have seen you around sometimes, but didn't know you."

"There is a reason for that Ted and I will tell you one day. Let's get going to your place before your mum worries. I have decided Ted, that with the agreement of your mum and yourself, that I will get you some help around the place. There will be two people to care for your mum when you're at school. A live in nurse and a handyman to look after the garden and animals. You have been doing far too much. More than is good for your health and well being. I know of a good handyman locally, so he can come in twice a day, six days a week. That will leave you just one day to have to work. You need the energy to grow up into a young man. The nurse will do all the other duties around the house, but you will still be able to do some things for mum. Like making her a nice cup of tea when you come home and comforting her when she is down."

Ted thought hard about the offer and then broke into a smile. "Jake you don't know what that will mean to me. I love my mum with all my heart, but I was starting to think she was becoming a burden. She isn't really, as I will do anything for her. I just feel so tired all the time."

They arrived at Ted's home and went indoors. Ted immediately went to his mother and found her collapsed, hardly breathing. "Jake! Mum's really sick; she needs to go to hospital."

Jake rushed in, saw Rose and straight away called for an ambulance. It arrived quickly and checked Rose out.

"She needs to go in for a while." The paramedic said. "We will get her there quickly."

Ted looked worried. "I can't go, the animals need looking after."

"You go with mum, Ted. I will sort out the animals. Don't you worry."

In no time the ambulance was on its way to the hospital.

Jake set to work feeding the animals. It had been some time since his childhood on the family farm in Kent, but the memories remained of what to do. He thoroughly enjoyed himself with the livestock, specially throwing wheat for the chickens and watching them chase after it.

He finished the task in just over the hour and made a cup of tea settling down on a log to drink it. Looking round, Jake could see the place had not been well kept, which was understandable considering the problems Rose and her son were going through. A little after six, the phone in the house rang. He thought he had better answer it in case it was Ted from the hospital. He picked up the receiver and said. "Hello."

The voice the other end said. "Is that you Jake?"

Jake recognised Ted's voice and said, "Yes son it is. How is mum?"

"She is on oxygen and is breathing better. She will have to stay a while and the Doctor said I should go home, but I don't have any money."

"OK Ted, stay there and I will come and pick you up. Wait in the front of the main entrance."

Jake phoned for a taxi and it arrived in 5 minutes and 10 minutes later, Jake arrived at the hospital. Ted was waiting as asked and got into the taxi. As they set off, Ted leaned against Jake and started to cry. Jake let him cry himself out, by which time they had arrived back at Ted's home. Jake asked the taxi to wait while he went with Ted into the house. He gave Jake his phone number and told him to phone if he needed him, and that he would come out in the morning to help with the animals. Ted thanked Jake and hugged him before he left. Jake returned to the taxi and went home.

The next morning, feeling good inside, Jake got a taxi over to Ted's place. He dismissed the taxi and knocked at the door. Ted opened it quickly, dressed ready for school. They greeted each other and Ted gave an update on his mum. She was on high strength antibiotic and would be in hospital for at least a week. Jake said to Ted that he hoped his mother would get better and come home after that. They set about the chores and were soon finished. Jake had to make his excuses and head home ready to go to the meeting, but first he needed to see Rose. He walked briskly home and got a taxi to the hospital and found the ward that Rose was in. He asked for special permission to see her. The ward sister was a sensible woman and not a jobsworth type and allowed him five minutes. Rose looked really ill, but Jake remained upbeat and after some small talk, asked just two questions. He got the answer he'd hoped for. He gave Rose a gentle kiss and went back home in the same taxi.

Jake got dressed up as a business man for the first time for ages and got another cab to the station. He bought a day economy return ticket and ended up in a carriage with a school party. He was so happy that their noise and antics cheered him up even more. He remembered when his son was a young boy and at school. He remembered also, the school trip he helped with to France and the antics the kids got up to. As the train swept through the New Forest, Jake's thoughts turned again to the camping holidays with his wife and son here in the Forest campsites. The long hikes and bike rides around the huge amount of tracks. The children all got out at Brockenhurst and the carriage became almost silent. Half and hour later the train pulled into Bournemouth station, Jakes destination. He found a taxi and headed off to The Bath Hotel. He entered the main doors and into the restaurant, where already waiting, were his bank manager, solicitor and property manager. They all greeted each other as if they had last met last week instead of nearly 3 years ago. Each, in his turn, greeted Jake, glad to see him after such a long time. When Jake's wife had passed on he had sold his business and bought property all over the Dorset area. His wealth since then had grown hugely. Jake was now worth just over £12 million. He spent an enjoyable lunch discussing all his plans with his old friend and got just a little tipsy with fine wine. By 3 PM, everyone broke up and with handshakes all round, they all went their separate ways planning to meet again in 4 weeks time.

Jake got home at 5 PM and quickly showered and changed. He decided to jog to the Smith house to clear his head from the lunch. When he got there, he saw Ted feeding the animals. Ted saw Jake and waved. Jake waved back.

The first thing Jake asked was how Rose was.
"She is improving." Ted replied. "She may be home earlier than they first said. How was your day, Jake?"

"Let's finish with the animals first and then we can sit down and have a chat before we go and visit your mum."

Looking a bit confused, Ted said. "Ok Jake. Let's get going then."

An hour later after having had the chat together, Jake saw Ted's head lift higher than he had ever seen it. The taxi came and they headed to the hospital. Rose was sitting up looking so much better compared to the day before. Jake didn't let that fool him as he knew the truth. Ted and his mother hugged gently, as tears flowed from both of them. Jake left them to their privacy and went and got some teas from the vending machine. When he returned, it was obvious that Ted and his mother had quickly discussed the day's events. They were both smiling. As Jake put the teas down, Rose mouthed 'thank you'. To which Jake just smiled and winked. Jake decided a better part of valour was to leave mother and son to talk alone. He gave Ted his cab fare and went home.
The next morning, Jake was at the small holding to help Ted, but was too late. He had already finished and was eating breakfast.

"Sorry Ted, I must be late."

"No you're not Jake. I had a great night's sleep and woke early and got on with the work."

"In that case, young Mr. Smith, I shall go home again and get some of my own work done. There will be someone you know here when you get home from school. He is going to look after the place, so that you can concentrate on school. You will still be the boss around here, as he works for you. His name is Todd Allen. His son, also Todd, is in your class at school I believe."

"Yes I know him. Thanks Jake."

Jake arrived home after another jog and showered, changed, and set about some breakfast.

He looked out the window at 8-15 AM and along came Ted. No longer head down, but held high and striding out, looking full of confidence. Jake smiled to himself and thought, 'What a difference a day can make.'

Four weeks later, Jake was back in Bournemouth with his old colleagues.

Over lunch Jake was given all the information.

The Smith small holding had been bought in Jakes name and put into trust for Ted when he reached 20 years old.
Planning permission had been granted to alter the use of the small holding to a children's farm and for another 2 houses to be built on some of the land, one for Jake and one for Todd and his family.

Three school-leavers had been employed to help Todd run the farm. Contracts had been given out to builders to complete all the changes. Three care nurses had been employed to look after Ted's mother, Rose, now back home. Power of attorney had been given to Jake with the permission of both Rose and Ted so that when Rose died, Ted would still have someone to look after him.

A fund had been set up for Ted's further education.

The lunch meeting closed with everyone, especially Jake, happy with the results of the four weeks hard work. Jake thanked everyone involved and arranged for them all to come down to the farm on Ted's 16th birthday in 18 months time.

Jake had one more stop before going home. The shop was more a warehouse, but Jake knew what he wanted. Within half an hour, he was on the train back home.

Ted was 15 years old today and a secret party had been arranged at Jake's cottage. Jake sent a large taxi for the disabled to Ted's home for both he and his mother to come and supposedly talk about the changes. Everyone was in place, school friends, Todd, and a nurse.

Ted arrived with Rose and he knocked at the door. He had never been in Jake's home and when Jake opened the door everyone shouted ' Happy birthday Ted.'

Ted recognised all his school pals and let out an uncustomary 'WOW!'

The party went with a swing for all involved. Jake gave Ted his present. A top of the range laptop with Internet paid for three years. Jake thought he would get squeezed to death by the hug he got from Ted.

Jake sat with Rose and as they chatted, Jake said. "I never thought I would ever be happy again, Rose, until you both came into my life. If I hadn't seen Ted each morning looking how I felt, I would likely still be a recluse in this cottage, alone and sad."

"True, Jake, but what a difference a few weeks make, eh?"

Todd hearing the conversation butted in and said. "A little kindness goes a long way."

The end.


Rose died six months later. The funeral was a quiet affair with just the two mourners, Ted and Jake.

Ted reached sixteen and a special party was held not only to celebrate his birthday, but also his 8 GCSE's passes with equal A & B marks.

Aged 18 Ted got the same number of 'A' level passes.

At aged 23, Ted left university with a 'BSC' honours degree in agriculture.

At aged 29, he had a Masters degree in agriculture.

At aged 31, he was appointed professor of Agriculture at a top university in America.

Jake? Well Jake lived a good life, mentoring Ted towards his successes in life.

He died at age 89, just before he was due to fly out and see Ted and his extended family again, a happy and fulfilled man.

Ted and his family came over to England to say goodbye to his old friend. Ted, his wife, three children and nine grandchildren and the whole village turned out for Jake. His good works around the village being remembered. After the funeral, Ted and his wife stood looking at the headstone, it read, 'Goodbye Jake. Home with your wife and son at last.'

In larger letters was inscribed, 'A LITTLE KINDNESS GOES A LONG WAY'

Spread a little cheer.

Sam Lelliott