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The Kindness

of Strangers

Jane Flood

The rustic bench sagged awkwardly against the sidewalk; a sad

comparison to the modernised world around it. The clock above the

square ticked rhythmically, and one person remained a fixed presence

in the ever changing world that surrounded him. The clock struck

twelve, and still the old man sat; his weathered face shaped by tired

lines and a wealth of wisdom. Slender fingers fluttered up to close

around the blemished pendant encircling his throat. As with most of

the things he owned, this heirloom had been passed down through

the generations until it came to reside with him. The beggar looked

up eagerly as people gathered in the square. These were the ‘social

butterflies’ of society; the people who stayed out until the early hours

of the morning. Slim hands reached out, palms turned towards the

skies in a soundless plea. The smell of food was tantalizing; an

insatiable desire so close, yet just out of reach. His stomach rumbled;

a constant ache he couldn’t satisfy. He closed his eyes in denial;

desperately clinging to his perception of reality, even through the

truth was so painfully obvious.

Mahogany eyes glittered in the half-light of dawn. A pale frost crept across the

land, enveloping the leaves in a fine crust of ice. A hyena slunk close to the ground,

belly fur brushing the dry earth as he stole towards his prey. Sleek muscles rippled

beneath a smooth expanse of golden fur, and dark spots marred his silky hairs;

contorting and shifting as the hyena moved ever closer to his unsuspecting victim.

For years it had hunted alongside others of his kind. In the prime of his life he had

been a handsome brute, with little to fear. Now, aging bones creaked in faint

protest as he prowled forward. The rabbit, mere metres away, suddenly became

aware of the immense beast stalking it. The elderly hyena made a fruitless grab for

the fleeing animal, but the quick creature slipped past him and darted away.

Lifting himself from the gnarled chair, the aged man meandered

slowly down the worn path ahead. In his youth he had worked

tirelessly to build up a business that ensured he was financially stable.

He was a leader, well respected amongst his peers and employees.

But as appliances became modern he fell behind and eventually his

business began to crumple. Money that had taken years to build up

took mere months to disappear. He had struggled unsuccessfully to

revive his company, but it was too far gone for any real restoration.

The money had dwindled away, and now he was a beggar; a scavenger.

His head jerked up, narrow eyes penetrating the dark night. An

unfamiliar man stood before him. In his hand he clutched a small

parcel. The beggar reached out tentatively, as though afraid the food