I’d forgotten all about this short story that I wrote a few weeks ago, using this prompt from the Writers Digest website: Write a short story, of 700 words or fewer, that begins with the following line of dialogue: “You don’t have enough points, sir.”
“You don’t have enough points, sir.” I apologized to the small boy who had tried to buy a bottle of cheap perfume with the points on a store loyalty card. He looked around ten years old and I couldn’t help being reminded of Oliver Twist, by the boy’s skinny frame, tatty old clothes and timid expression.
“You need 480 points to buy this, but you only have 120.” I explained sympathetically.
“That’s ok,” the boy replied, looking disappointedly at the floor. “I guess I’ll just leave it then.” He took back the card with a small hand, left the perfume bottle at the counter and reluctantly trudged out of the shop.
The shop was quiet, so my boss agreed to let me take my break. I needed to go to the bank, which was only across the street, so I stepped out of the pleasantly warm shop into the freezing February air, without going first to get my jacket. I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the small boy crying on the doorstep. My heart filled with pity and I gently approached him.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He looked at me with his large, brown eyes and replied that he had wanted to buy the perfume for his mother.
“That’s alright,” I replied soothingly. “You can come back another time, when you have more money.”
“But my mum is really sick and may die soon!” he wailed mournfully. “That’s her favourite perfume and I know it will cheer her up.”
I froze on the spot, shivering with the cold and shock of the child’s sorrowful tale. I wanted to do something to help him, and not knowing what words of condolence to give, decided to hasten back into the shop, to retrieve the perfume and some sweets and toys to cheer the boy up. I knew the small treats would be nothing compared to the loss of a parent, but I had to do something.
The boy smiled weakly and thanked me, wiping his tears on his ragged sleeve and clutching the bag of gifts tightly. I hurried over to the bank, knowing that my gesture had been feeble, but unsure of what else I could do for the poor child.
By the time I returned to the shop, the boy had already left the doorstep. I resumed my shift, using my card to pay for the items I had given to the boy. I was happy to have done a good deed, the child had deserved some cheering up, and it had only cost me a few pounds.
At the end of my shift, I was surprised to see a large group of ten or eleven year olds, gathered around a bench at the very end of the high street. These kids seemed to be haggling over prices with one particular child, as if at a market stall. When I came closer to the group, I realized that the child at the centre of all of this activity was the same boy from the shop that morning. To my dismay, he was selling the items that I had given him, along with a vast quantity of other toys, snacks and inexpensive jewelry, that he had undoubtedly collected from other unsuspecting shop workers that day.
“I thought that perfume was for your mother!” I exclaimed.
“Oh, she got better, so I decided she didn’t need it after all!” he replied mischievously, as he stuffed his wares into a large bag and sprinted away with his companions, before I had a chance to do or say anything else.
Unbelievable! So it had turned out that I had not done a good deed at all that day. I had merely been conned by the next Artful Dodger and assisted him in this small business venture. I wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or amused. But then the thought came to me, that even Donald Trump had to start somewhere! Perhaps this kid would also become a multi-millionaire one day, and have me to thank for the beginning of his career. I laughed at this thought and continued to walk home.