It wasn’t easy raising three children by herself, and suddenly, losing her job one day made things worse for Donna. Little did she know that her littlest one would turn things around.
‘My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles. I hope he remembers,” Donna sighed with concern, trying to rub off the words scribbled on her palm the previous night.
It was one of the busiest days of the month at the grocery store. And even though Donna was as swift and thorough at billing as always, her hands and feet moved mindlessly. She couldn’t stop thinking about her youngest child’s science exam.
Had she prepared him enough? Did she give him enough confidence?
‘I wouldn’t be worrying half as much if I had somehow managed to get back to school and finish my education. I could have gotten a job that pays a 6-figure salary and is easier on my heels.’
But when you are a woman whose husband left on the birth of your third child, and you’ve had to take care of three children all by yourself for six years, you are no longer the dreamer you used to be.
With real problems staring you in the face at every corner of your life, the dreams that you once had start to look fuzzy.
“Lee, do your best, sweetie. You got this, my boy!” Donna whispered under her breath as if she were sending a secret message to her son.
“Who’s that you are worried about?” The voice of an old man interrupted Donna’s prayer.
It was a wheelchair-bound man with silver hair, looking at her with a warm smile. The man had been observing Donna for a while, and she had accidentally billed his bag of potatoes twice.
“I’m so sorry, it’s nothing really. My youngest son Lee is taking an exam as we speak. I hope he’s not as nervous as I am!”
The two strangers chuckled, and Donna returned to billing the kind customer’s items.
Kindness is a virtue, not a weakness.
There was a lot of stuff. It looked like there was a big dinner to be made.
“Family’s coming over,” the man volunteered to share. “My three kids, their spouses, and six grandchildren. It happens once in a blue moon, so all this is an attempt to make it a perfect evening!”
“Oh, I’m sure it will be a lovely evening, sir!”
“Please, call me Ray.”
Donna and Ray continued talking until the bill was finally ready and paid.
Not many of the other customers were amused by this, especially the shift manager, Mr. Lambert.
‘Why can’t she talk less and work faster like the other staff?’
He watched as the old man started moving towards the exit with the groceries.
But Donna couldn’t bear to stand by as she saw Ray struggling to hold multiple grocery bags and move forward.
“Don’t even think about it. We’re short-staffed today,” Donna’s colleague warned her, knowing what she had in mind.
“I’ll just be back in a jiffy. He told me he lives right across the street at that grey house, right there.”
“Don’t. You know Lambert. He’s just looking for a reason for you to slip up. I can’t cover for you, even if I—”
Just then, one of the bags of groceries sitting on Ray’s lap tipped over, scattering the fruits and vegetables he had carefully picked earlier, rolling across the floor.
There was no stopping Donna. She ran to Ray and immediately picked up the fallen groceries and put them in a fresh new bag.
“Come on, Ray, I’ll help you get these home,” Donna smiled, holding the bags and pushing the wheelchair forward.
“Are you sure? I don’t want you to go through any trouble….”
“Not at all. You let me worry about that. Now, tell me more about your grandchildren…”
Mr. Lambert was seething with anger at the store, watching the duo leave.
It was a short walk to the house, refreshing in many ways. Donna had forgotten entirely to worry about Lambert or her son’s exam. But that free, happy state of mind only lasted a few minutes.
Just as she was about to cross the street back to the store, she got a call, and it was Lambert.
“Are you done helping that customer?”
“Yes!” Donna was pleasantly surprised that her boss seemed to care.
“Wonderful. Now don’t bother coming back. Go, do your social work elsewhere. You’re fired!”
Lambert hung up. He looked around and saw the other employees and customers look at him in shock. The sudden attention and the fear in the eyes of his team members felt electrifying to him. He did his best not to grin.
That evening, Donna’s house seemed more chaotic than usual. Her two elder kids, Nancy and Ronan, were having a shouting match about something. The television was on for some reason, dinner was taking too long to cook, and no solution had popped up in Donna’s head.
For the fifth time that evening, she called her friend from the store.
“You’re right. I have been thinking all night and have no option but to come back and beg for my job.”
“I mean, I thought he should understand that I was only trying to be a decent human being by helping an old customer. But who am I kidding? Lambert only understands money and power. I can’t fight this. I have to get this job back.”
Unaware that her boy Lee was eavesdropping, Donna let her bottled-up feelings out on that call.
Lee listened carefully, and though he did not understand many of the grown-up phrases about work and emotions, he knew that his mother was heartbroken. Wiping his tears with his sleeve, he quietly snuck back into his room.
The next day, Donna nervously waited in the manager’s office at the store. Every employee looked at her through the glass door, hoping the manager would go easy on her.
Maybe the fact that her son Lee had come with her would help.
Donna didn’t understand why Lee was so adamant about wanting to visit the store with her. She didn’t have the heart to tell him what had happened the previous day. And right now, she was worried that Lee would be a distraction to the meeting she was about to have.
“Mom, can I go pick some fresh fruits? They look delicious! Maybe I’ll make all of us a fruit salad tonight.”
Donna agreed quickly, and Lee skipped his way to the fresh produce section.
Alone in the manager’s office, Donna began to worry again.
‘Should I just get up and leave? Maybe I will find something else. It may take a few weeks, but maybe I can manage… Of course, I can’t. Not when my salary is due next week, and there are piled-up bills I have to pay in a matter of days. Maybe I’ll quit next month,’ she reassured herself, knowing deep down that it was the same story every month.
It had been 30 minutes, and there was no sign of Mr. Lambert. ‘Something’s off. Where’s Lee?’
Donna stepped out of the office and combed the entire store with her eyes. ‘There he is! Who is he talking to? Oh, God, please tell me he isn’t talking to—
“Mr. Burton, good morning! It’s nice to see you here after…”
“Two months! It took a while for the new Pittsburgh branch to kick things off, but it’s doing well now. I thought things were going well here, but your little boy tells me otherwise.”
“Oh, don’t listen to him…” Donna pulled Lee by the sleeve and hid him behind her.
“No, he’s a smart kid, this one. I caught him smiling at employees and secretly reading their name tags.”
Mr. Burton was right. Lee wanted to find his mother’s former manager before he went to her. His plan was to stop the manager and convince him to hire her back.
‘Just like mom always says,’ Lee thought ‘I can be very convincing!’
And when he saw Mr. Burton with the tag ‘General Manager’ on his uniform, he was thrilled.
“Hello, Mr. General Manager. There’s something we need to discuss, please.”
The employees chuckled at Mr. Burton’s impression of the little boy.
“In all seriousness, he told me what you went through yesterday. Only Lambert can punish someone for an act of kindness that he would call ‘unproductive.’ You’re not the first to bear the brunt of his lust for power in my absence. I’m sorry, Donna.”
Donna couldn’t believe that Mr. Burton was standing before her, apologizing. She would have never had the courage to talk to him directly.
‘So my suspicions were right. Lee did overhear my phone call last night. That’s why he was so stubborn about coming with me today!’
Donna caught Lee looking nervously at her, worrying if his little plan had angered his mother. She pulled him into a warm hug.
“You’re right, Mr. Burton; I do have quite an incredible boy.”
Mr. Burton took a few seconds to witness the beautiful mother-son moment and said, “Donna, needless to say, you have your job back. Well, not the old one. I’m about to fire Lambert, so the store will need a new experienced, dedicated manager. Would you be interested?”
The disbelief and joy on Donna’s face was a clear answer. Her youngest son had helped her in a way she couldn’t have imagined.
“I’ll have the paperwork ready for you when you come in tomorrow,” Mr. Burton said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a tyrannical manager to fire.”
What can we learn from this story?
The universe has a way of taking care of its kind-hearted. Donna had only tried to help Ray when she got fired. However, both her son Lee and the general manager Mr. Burton happened to be at the right place at the right time and turned the whole situation around.
Kindness is a virtue, not a weakness. It took courage on Donna’s part to go out of her way to help Ray, despite knowing that she would have to face the consequences.
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This piece is inspired by stories from the everyday lives of our readers and written by a professional writer. Any resemblance to actual names or locations is purely coincidental. All images are for illustration purposes only.