It was the tingly glow of that December morning that awoke him from his daydream in his seat on a bus going to work. Oblivious to the others who were screaming from inside all this burden of getting to work on this chilling cold month as Old Man Winter knocks on its doors.
"When will I ever get to escape this horrible situation that I am in?" Joey asks himself. He was just remembering the last conversation he had with Erica last night. They had been dating for 2 years now. Although serious with their feelings to one another - they felt stuck in their relationship. Erica had been nagging him to find another work. At least, something related to the course he graduated in. But he insists to not liking the jobs available... Unending discussions on this always upset Joey, to Erica's annoyance.
"Maybe, Erica and I should get married! And break this monotonous life of a selfish single-man that I am." That got him occupied that whole Friday at work. His mind played around with a lot of "what-ifs," "how about," "maybe this - maybe that." On his way home - he made a decision - and a scary one, at that.
His bachelor apartment smelled musty, as it always had been since he moved in. But what can you do? I am a single-man, he argued. And he always wins. A microwave dinner it is tonight! Ah, well, it's always been like that anyway. And maybe an ice cream as dessert.
After cleaning up, he sits on an old couch and propped himself to make that special call to Erica. Maybe after getting married, they will have kids, move and... many interesting possibilities.
"I don't know, man! Am I really up to this? What if she said no? What if she had other plans? Maybe I need to call my parents first. Or I wonder how my brother, Rudy is doing in Louisiana. Is he enjoying his married life? Did he have a son or a daughter? You know what, I should just make the call!" he said to no one.
"Hello... Joey?" Erica answered. "Hey, how are you? How was your day?"
"Not too bad, Hon! Hey, I was just thinking if you and I can have a few drinks. It's Friday anyway... Good. I'll pick you up in thirty minutes. See ya." He was as excited as he had ever been in his life! He dressed up for his important date with the love of his life.
After a couple of drinks, he shared to Erica what was on his mind.
Erica asked, "What are you thinking, Joey? No way we would be able to build a household out of what you and I are earning, right now! Why don't you get a better job? One that will pay better. You can't even afford to buy me a ring!"
"Whoah! So, this is just about the ring for you? I can't believe you are even my girlfriend," he countered.
"That's not what I mean! I'm sorry," she cried. "I don't know what to tell you anymore..."
"You know what? Forget whatever I said. Actually, forget about everything! I think this is not going anywhere. I think this is goodbye, Erica!" And he left her crying in the bar.
He had never felt so alone in his life. With no one to run to. He can't call his parents at this point of his life. Not even his brother - after that falling-out with him on his wedding day. For Joey, there were only two words that would describe his life then - Life Sucks!
What a way to start the first weekend of December alone in my room. Not a religious person himself, he wondered what is he going to do this whole weekend. This looks like the longest weekend all his life!
That bright chilly Saturday morning wasn't helping either. It feels a bit cold for a jog. Maybe just walk for a bit and then have a brunch at a nearby restaurant and grab a 6-pack of beer on my way home. That looks like a plan, he said to himself softly.
After walking mindlessly for an hour, he traced his footsteps on the way to a restaurant. Suddenly, he was accosted by a homeless man asking for some change. He didn't say anything and avoided the homeless man's steps. Annoyed, he muttered to himself, "Go get a life, man! Do I look like I'm having a good day here?" And he continued along and went inside a restaurant he frequents on weekends. He took a seat by the window and ordered his favorite Roast Beef Sandwich and a Clam Chowder to go with it. He realized how hungry he was as he devoured his food. Feeling full, he shifted and look outside the window.
At his vantage point, he can still see the homeless man pestering the passersby. All the more irritated him. However, this time he got a clear view of his face. He looks dirty and needs washing but he was surprised to see some good features in his face. He looks familiar, though.
Finally, it looked like he got tired of his pestering people; he sat in a wooden crate. Then he saw him counting his money and some loose change.
"Maybe he will be using that money to buy booze or probably drugs," Joey said to himself. "What a loser!"
His gaze shifted to a woman who parked her car in front of the restaurant and was quizzily looking at the parking meter to put her coin. She looked frustrated having found only a few coins for the parking meter. At that same instant, he saw the homeless guy approached the lady.
"Oh, oh! Now what is he gonna do? This is not looking good!" quipped Joey with an excitement of someone catching somebody with one hand in a cookie jar.
The he saw the kind-faced homeless guy giving coins to the lady for her parking. He seemed polite about it. The woman was speechless! Especially, since he was already walking back to his wooden crate as his makeshift chair. And then he nod and waved to the lady. The lady smiled awkwardly and put the coins to the parking meter, locked her car and approached the restaurant, with a smile in her face.
Joey was amused. This is too good to be true! Maybe he will ask for his money when she comes back; and probably asks for more than he gave. You know, you've see that in the movies and then it gets worse. Joey was still on his thought when the lady sat beside the table adjacent to his. She still had the same smile that he saw outside. And he can't help himself not to start a conversation.
"Ma'm, I saw you and the dirty guy at the parking meter. Did he just give you those coins for your parking? What did he say?" Joey asked.
"Oh, you saw that! Well, he gave me enough coins for 2 hours parking and said 'Have a nice day, Madam' and then he went back to his chair. Didn't have a chance to thank him or something... But it was kinda cool! Don't you think so?" replied the woman.
"Wow! The first thought that I had when I saw that is: was he was going to attack you or something? He almost did that to me when I was coming here. I don't know that there are still people who do good things to strangers," Joey said.
"I know what you mean. But he was very polite. He has this kind eyes - I felt different when it was happening. I was speechless! But it sure made my day, if I may say so," she said. Then she seemed lost in thought for a moment. "I guess I better order or I'll starve. It was great talking to you, sir!"
"Yes! Thank you and enjoy your lunch," Joey quickly replied. At about the same time, he saw the 'kind-faced' homeless guy stood and left his makeshift chair and walked the other way. "Interesting! What a day!" Something intrigued him on this whole incident. He ordered another drink and decided to wait and see what will unfold out of this whole Good Samaritan act he is witnessing.
After about 30 minutes, the lady finished with her meal, paid her bill and said goodbye to Joey. His turn his attention back to the homeless guy. He saw him on the other side of the street pushing what looks like a metal shopping cart with all his belongings in it. When he saw the woman get on her car, Joey saw him waved to the lady. And the lady waved back and then she drove and was gone.
Again, he was surprised that none of the things he was thinking the homeless man might do happened. When he looked back at the homeless man at the other side of the road - he was gone. He stood up by the window of the restaurant but there were no trace of the homeless guy. Joey thought: He can't be that quick to turn the other side street or whichever direction he was going. Where did he go? Then he saw a reflection of himself in a mirror inside the restaurant - he looked shocked and pale, almost. "Am I getting crazy?" he asked himself...
He paid his bill and takes home the half of his sandwich, which he forgot to eat because of this whole thing unfolding in front of him. He went to grab his beer and then he was home. It was starting to get dark and it feels like a storm is coming - although it was only 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon.
His place is still the musty placed that he left this morning. No calls from Erica. Actually, there were no calls from anybody. It feels like he is alone in this world. The world is passing by oblivious to anything that pertains to Joey Bond.
Just six months ago, he was feeling on top of the world. A blooming romance with Erica, he received a little pay increase at work and got the news that he is now an uncle. His parents left him a voice message then, about Rudy having a new baby girl. Oh yeah, now he remembered, it's a baby girl!
With his pay increase, he got a reason to buy a new pair of tuxedo for special occasions. For his wedding, probably. Who knows? He remembers trying it on for the first time and showing it off to Erica. He goes, "My name is Bond. Joey Bond!" to the amusement of Erica. They spent that whole weekend laughing and goofing around. It was a blast!
Remembering the past all the more, makes him felt so alone.
Since it's too early to sleep, so he turned on the television. After thirty minutes of flipping channels without seeing anything particularly interesting, he turned on his computer. Even the web is acceding to his sadness - mostly bad news on the headlines. He went to YouTube and watched some videos that amused him; but only for awhile...
The rain had poured perilously in the last hour or so. No point in going out to get a DVD for something to watch later. He went back to his computer. He realized he hasn't checked his emails. Again, nothing much new in his Inbox. There are at least five emails that says: Your Email address has won a Million dollars. Congratulation! Place Reply! Ha ha ha. At least, that gives him a chuckle. Where is the Grammar Police?
Then he saw an old email from Erica. He felt sad! He will surely miss the old times. And it was not even more than 24 hours ago since the break-up at the bar last night. But he sure was sorry for what he said. But what can he do? Past is past. Maybe I'll call her next weekend and see what happens, he said to himself.
Then out of curiosity, he typed her name on Search Mail on his email account: Erica Henderson. Then popped-up all the emails from/to Erica. He noticed one email sent in April that has not been opened yet. He was surprised to have missed that - but that was 8 months ago. He opened the email dated April 14. That was their anniversary! Oh, now he realized that he forgot their anniversary this year, too. Shame!
The email was a love poem she did for him and a note that she left him a DVD inserted on his bookshelf. He didn't know about that! He quickly stood up and went to the bookshelves. There he found a wrapped gift for him dated April 14! "I am such an insensitive son-of-a-gun! Maybe, I don't really deserve her love, after all. I am such a loser!" he mumbled.
He quickly rips open the wrappings and found a DVD inside. It was the movie Pay It Forward. "Oh, well, at least I have something to watch now! Never heard of this movie before," he uttered.
So, for the next two hours, he was mesmerized by the movie. Although the movie had a sad ending, Joey was intrigued most especially with the movies premise of: When someone does you a big favor, don't pay it back, pay it forward. "That's kinda neat, if you really think about it," he said to himself. Then he looked outside his window in a deep thought. He noticed that the rain had stopped and he can smell the wet earth pouring in from the slightly opened window of his apartment. He smiled and just remembered the kind-eyed homeless man outside of the restaurant today.
He thought: In the movie, someone does a big favor to someone - not to pay it back - but to pay it forward. What if (here I come again!) nobody started the favor? What if it is not a big favor? What if having received a favor you don't do anything about it? What if nobody started it?... That's a thought: What if nobody started it? Someone has got to start the ball rolling.
And that homeless man outside the restaurant - he started it! He didn't ask to be paid back or whatever. He just said 'Have a nice day' and even waved 'bye' to the woman. Oh, then I hoped that woman pay it forward. She will - if she saw the movie. But how will I know that? What if she didn't... and the kindness just stopped there! Wow, that is sad...indeed!
But wait a minute, I saw it! I saw the favor that was done; maybe I have to do it! I have to pay it forward! God or the Universe or Something knew that I saw it; or maybe Someone made sure that I saw it. To give me the opportunity to complete the cycle myself! This is insane!
What do I do? Maybe it doesn't matter whether it is Pay It Forward or Pay It Back... That won't matter. But wait a minute, last night I said "Life Sucks." I am the one who is needing something! I am the one who lost a girlfriend!...
He went to the fridge for a beer and decided to finish his left-over sandwich as his dinner. He ate in front of the television and wandered through the channels. His mind was playing on what happened today - how that homeless man suddenly slipped away in that crowded place. He could not have run with all his stuffed stowed in that metal shopping cart?
He continued drinking his beer and finished his sandwich. Then his attention suddenly was grabbed by a commercial and the words ring to his ear: Things are not the way it seems. You have to look for it, to know!
After a few more sip, he started to doze off. He slept like a baby and woke up Sunday morning feeling surprisingly good. He made his coffee and finished the old donuts which were in the fridge for many days now. But he thought, this will do as a breakfast, I guess. He started thinking about last night's movie... and the thought of doing a favor to someone.
He headed to a supermarket and bought some toiletries. Paid the cashier and asked for a cashback of $100 in $5-dollar denominations. Although there is still a cool breeze oozing from the lake, the sun matched its golden rays for a prospect of a good walk through Main Street that day. He headed south determined to accomplish whatever is brewing in his mind from last night.
He knew that there would be a lot of them here. What, with this gorgeous weather!
He approached one of them. He is a bald looking guy with a worn-out toque, a tattered leather jacket and layers of pants to keep the cold out. He showed a missing tooth when he smiled, bowing slightly and stretched his arms for what was coming. Joey's hand slipped a $5 bill to him. The bald guy's eyes glowed - and Joey's knees almost buckled. A tear slowly fell on his cheek as he pretended walking along so that people won't notice them rushing out of his eyes. He can't believe what was happening!
He had to turn on the curb to compose himself. It was an epiphany! He never felt so much joy before! It was indescribable! The glow on their face! Yes, it was just $5, but to them it was FIVE DOLLARS! Or maybe it was just that guy. Maybe he has not had his breakfast yet or maybe that was his meal for the day. I wouldn't know, perhaps...
He brushed off his face and determined to push-through with his plan for that day, he continued down Main Street. Then he saw a woman with his little boy in front of a closed-down store. They were almost hiding in what used to be a scaffold to repair the dilapidated walkway to an old store. She was clutching an old comforter to cover herself and her son - you almost only see their faces visible in the light. He stretched out two $5 bill to the woman and there again he saw it. The look on their faces! He muttered: WTF! As in, Watch The Face!
The boy shyly buried his head in the comforter and the woman's face lights up with gratefulness. She continued to bow repeatedly as Joey continued on. He can't contain what he was feeling.
"Oh, man, WTF! Really, WTF! I mean, Watch Their Face! They are giving me more here (pointing to his heart) than I am actually giving them," Joey said softly. It felt really good deep inside. For the first time, he kinda thought that Life Doesn't Sucked, after all.
He spent the rest of his way feeling great as he continued giving away most of what was in his pocket. At the end, he was exhausted but feeling amazed for all that experience he had. Doing what he calls the WTF Project.
He was not feeling the loss of Erica as his girlfriend, anymore. No more pity-party anymore, ha. It made him realized that happiness is not what you get but what you give to others. He was ecstatic and spent the rest of the day in front of the lake, with a great smile on his face. This is great, he thought to himself.
The following weekend, he did the same thing in another town - giving away cash in that town's Main Street. He thought that his WTF Project is really a worthwhile activity. On his way home, he stopped by a Chinese Restaurant so he doesn't have to prepare his dinner because he was really felling tired with all the walking. Especially now, he has become casual with people that he get to talked with the them who were recipient of his benevolence. He was amazed to learn about their lives, and finding out that they are not much different from him, after all. They actually find them happier compared to 'normal people' he knew.
At the Chinese Restaurant, he was given a fortune cookie with his bill at the end of his meal. Inside the fortune cookie is a quotation that says: The measure of your life will not be in what you accumulate, but what you gave away - Dr. Wayne Dyer. That is another serendipitous moment! "What is happening?" he asked himself.
He slept peacefully that night.
At work, he decided to research about volunteering. He inquired one organization that feeds the homeless. He signed up to volunteer in their lunch program for the next weekend. Through the week, he found out about the organization's services and outreach to the needy. He spent the whole week in anticipation for Saturday.
On Saturday morning, he was introduced to other volunteers for the lunch program. He was impressed by their enthusiasm to serve the needy of the city. Some were assigned in the kitchen; others were distributing food on people's plate; and the rest were providing drinks and cleaning tables. The long-time volunteers were the ones who are welcoming the people and some sit with them to talk and offer some counselling.
Joey was assigned at the food distribution. He scoops the chicken casserole to their plates. Again, he saw the expressions on their faces - thankful for the meal they are being served. For some of them, it might be the only meal that they will have for the day. The whole lunch program was done in an orderly fashion. There were some hitches along the way but nothing to take out the fun in the experience.
As the crowd started to dwindle down, some volunteers were snacking at the tables and at the same time talking to whoever they are seated with. Joey joined a table where a volunteer was conversing with a homeless guy who was a little agitated because he came in late and felt left out. The volunteer was a tall guy who has that fatherly countenance about him. He was neat and conservatively dressed and quietly assuring Edward, the latecomer that everything is going to be alright.
Joey was amazed at how the volunteer turned a situation that could have gone wrong into a win-win situation for all. Later on, Edward started to behave normally and quite having a good time as he finish his meal. Edward had been homeless for more than a year, having squandered all his money to gambling and booze after losing his wife and son in a drunken driving accident. When he departed, Joey was left with the volunteer at the table.
"Hey, I think we haven't been formally introduced. My name is Daniel Hanson. I assume this is your first time to volunteer with us, Mr..."
"Joey. My name is Joey Bond. And yes, this is my first time. I know it's odd, but I didn't really see myself doing something like this until 10 days ago," Joey answered.
"Oh, I would love to hear your story, Joey! Would you mind sharing it to me?" Daniel Hanson asked.
"Do you have time?" asked Joey.
"Sure! I am staying until the supper program later. We have so much time till then. Well, not unless you are in a hurry yourself," said Daniel. "C'mon let's talk while we clean up some tables."
So while cleaning, Joey and Daniel had a good talk and got to know each other well. Joey told him about his break-up with Erica, the homeless guy incident in the parking meter, the movie, his "WTF program" and the coincidences that had been happening.
Daniel Hanson, on the other hand, has been a long-time supporter of this organization. An only child of foster parents who endowed him with a big amount of inheritance when they passed away 19 years ago. He is the CEO of his own communications company. He has adopted a son who served the military in Afghanistan but has died 4 years ago.
Joey ended up serving the dinner program, as well. He and Daniel went to a coffee shop for a nightcap. One can't deny that they instantly enjoy each other's company from the beginning. Daniel gave Joey a ride home. Before Joey alighted from the car, Daniel said, "I would like to invite you and Erica for a dinner, say on Friday night. I will call you the details on Monday."
On Friday night, a limousine driver picked-up Joey and Erica from his apartment. They were ushered in to an exclusive restaurant near the dock of the lake. Daniel was with his secretary who greeted them at the lobby. It was a sumptuous dinner and everyone had a laugh and a lively conversation through the evening. As they were enjoying their desserts and coffee, Daniel said, "Other than volunteering on the weekends, there is this yearly project that I do with the less fortunate during the week before Christmas. I would like for you, Joey, to come and help me out."
"Sure. Can you tell me more about it?" Daniel answered.
"Oh, for sure! Here is the plan: for 5 nights, that is, December 20 to 24, we will..." It took only 5 minutes for Joey to say yes to Daniel's idea. Erica was impressed with Joey's newfound friend. As well, Erica became fond of his secretary who made sure that they were having a great time. Joey smiled secretly and happy that Erica was there to share the night with him. Erica and Joey were driven home by the same limousine driver.
Erica noticed the change in Joey since the last time they saw each other. He seemed to be full of life. The days ahead saw a Joey with enthusiasm about what life has to offer. Joey was looking forward to Daniel's Christmas project in the week ahead.
On December 20, Tuesday, Daniel and Joey started to prepare themselves for their tasks in the afternoon. They donned their uniform as delivery men. Their truck was loaded with food and Christmas gifts. The outskirts of the city where the poorest of the poor lived was their destination. They delivered these goods from house to house, by telling them it was an outreach program sponsored by a communications company in town, and they were just delivery guys wanting to earn their daily wages.
Daniel Hanson had explained it to Joey and Erica over dinner that night, that he wants to do this anonymously. When Joey mentioned about his "Watch The Face project" that Daniel decided to have Joey come along and share the delight of looking at people eyes when they received their Christmas gifts.
By 9 o'clock all their Delivery was gone and they headed back home. This went on for five nights at five different places. Then at the end of the fifth night, December 24, they were both exhausted, but knowing in their hearts that many families will be having a joyous Christmas.
That night, after their last delivery, Daniel said, "Joey, I would like to thank you for sharing the Delivery this year with me. And for teaching me to have the delight of seeing someone's eyes as you give them gifts. Unbeknownst to them, they gave me more than what I gave them. And you, young man, taught me that!"
Joey felt a tear ran down his cheek, "No, you taught me to give until there is no more to give. To stop thinking about my troubles first but think that there are people less fortunate than I am. Thank you, Mr. Daniel Hanson! ...and Merry Christmas, too."
"Thank you! Mr. Joel Bond!...and Merry Christmas, as well. I sure can see myself in you," interjected Daniel. "I know that you will be a good husband to Erica. Don't ever lose her again, young man. I'm happy for both of you."
"By the way, here's a gift for both of you. I want you to open it on Christmas day together. Not tonight, but tomorrow morning..." Daniel said, as he hand him small gift-wrapped box.
"I didn't even thought about giving you something," Joey said shyly.
"Oh, no, no, no! You have given me more than enough, Joey. Merry Christmas again, my son!" Daniel said, as Joey alighted from the truck. Daniel waved goodbye with the small box in his hand.
It was the loveliest Christmas that Erica and Joey ever shared together. On Christmas morning, they excitedly open the small box that Daniel gave them. Inside was a ring for Erica and an envelope for both of them.
In the ring was a note, To Erica: will you marry me? Love - Joey. Erica cried in Joey's arms. She whispered softly, "Yes, I do."
The envelope contained a certified cheque for Mr. Joey Bond in the amount of One Million Dollars. There was a card attached that says:
Dear Joey and Erica,
I want you to use the money for whatever amount for yourselves...
And the rest, to continue on with your Watch The Face (WTF) Project,
like the one we did this Christmas. You are an inspiration to them.
Joey and Erica spent the Christmas day together in his apartment. They talked about their plan for the wedding and other stuff...
The following day, Joey called Daniel on his cell phone, but there was no answer. He went to the volunteer organization and asked if somebody seen Daniel - nobody seems to know who he is referring to. He checked the address in Daniel's business card, but the building owner said that it used to be the office of Daniel Hanson, yes, until four years ago...