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It began with a smile.

There was a woman on the street corner that morning, selling the Big Issue. She smiled brightly at a man walking past her, even though he didn’t buy the magazine.

The man walked on, but that smile stayed with him. In the car park, he saw an older lady struggling with her shopping.

“Can I help you with that?”

Surprised, she accepted. He carried the heavy bags to her car, then said goodbye with a wave. He got into his car and drove away.

Later that day, the lady went to a coffee shop. As she waited for the barista to take her order, she remembered the helpful young man that morning, and was struck with the urge to do something nice.

She leaned forward to speak quietly to the barista. “Please take this,” she said, handing over a five pound note over and above her bill. “Take the next person’s coffee out of that and keep the change for yourself.”

The barista took the money, and watched the lady leave with her takeaway coffee. When the next customer made her order, she was surprised to be told that it was free.

“A lady who left a few minutes ago just asked to pay for the next coffee,” she told the customer. “You got lucky.”

As she left with her free coffee, the customer smiled to herself. She wondered what inspired somebody to something like that for a complete stranger.

As she turned the corner, she saw a young girl sitting on the side of the pavement, crying. People were walking past her, some looking the other way, others looking at her with vague concern, but nobody was doing anything.

She knelt next to the girl, putting her coffee on the floor. “Are you okay?”

The girl wiped away tears and explained. She had just been dumped, publicly, by her boyfriend. The lady sat there with her, on the pavement, and shared the girl’s woes until she felt better.

They stood up, and the lady gave the girl a hug before they went their separate ways.

The girl, her tears dried, began to make her way home. She was waiting for the bus when it started to rain heavily, and she stood in the shelter as people ran indoors for cover and umbrellas popped up like flowers blooming.

A tall man in a business suit ran into the bus shelter, looking at his watch.

“Damn rain,” he muttered. “I’m going to be late.”

The girl looked over at him. He had no coat and no umbrella with him. He looked like he’d just stepped out of the office.

“Here,” she said, holding out her own umbrella. “You can take this.”

He looked at her blankly for a moment.

“Seriously,” she said. “It’s only cheap, but I don’t need it. I’m getting on a bus in a minute.”

She refused his offer to pay for it with a gentle laugh, so he smiled and thanked her before rushing off through the wet streets in the shelter of the girl’s umbrella.

In his office, the businessman sat behind his desk and gazed at the girl’s umbrella standing in the corner of the room. A simple gift, given for no reason, he thought. It was good to see such things in the world.

With a smile, he signed a cheque and slipped it into an envelope addressed to the local homeless shelter.

It began with just one smile, and the kindness spread.

© Kari Fay