The Altruistic Man is a short story in a set of short stories I’m writing as a “First Draft Collection.” I’m writing them merely for the satisfying act of finishing something. There are a handful of short stories I’ve started over the years, and I am forcing myself to just complete them: beginning, middle, end. All of these stories need heavy rewrites and editing if I am ever to make them actually good. But the “First Draft Collection” is not about being good. It’s about being DONE.
In his own mind, he was a very good person, perfect even. Because he never deviated from his routine. He went to work every day without fail, every Monday to Friday. He never called in sick, not once. Sometimes he even worked on weekends if his boss really needed the extra help. Never on Sundays, though. That was the Lord’s day. If he wasn’t working on the weekend, he always made sure to spend his Saturday with his parents. (Honor thy mother and thy father.) Except for every third Saturday of the month. On that day, he volunteered his time at a local community center.
Those jobs always varied. Sometimes they needed him to drive a delivery truck around the neighborhood so that meals could be delivered to the needy. He especially loved taking on this job as that meant he could get on with serving others without having to get to know strangers. Logically, he reminded himself that they were volunteers just like him, trying to do their part to spread some good. But internally he heard the teachings of his church: Be in the world but not of it. He didn’t want to mingle in too closely with people he didn’t know. That was too risky. People can hide a lot behind a friendly smile.
He could barely handle his own church group and parents. They couldn’t see his heart racing when they got too close. They couldn’t feel the rise of anger in his blood when they spoke too openly and asked too many questions. They couldn’t sense the cold sweat on his temples or the tightness in his throat when they asked him for help so directly. For quite some time, the community center required him to work directly with people, like tutoring local kids in the neighborhood. After a few months of faking an illness when he got these types of assignments (Be in the world but not of it…by any means necessary.), they stopped trying altogether, assuming that it was best not to send someone so sickly to work in close contact with other people. So they gave into his general preference to work “behind the scenes.” It was a win-win: he felt much more accomplished and satisfied with his work when he could imagine all the people he was helping without ever having to actually interact with them, and they could avoid any complaints from the community about hazards to peoples’ health.
His work life followed the same principles. He worked in a small office, quite alone most of the time. He wasn’t a member of a working team or anything like that. His sole job was to edit and file various documents for the company that employed him. Sometimes he would have to work out itineraries and schedules for various company events. He never attended those unless they were mandatory. (Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.) He was quite happy to stick to his routine and stay away from attention’s gaze. He had job security for life since he was the only person to have that job and not quit after a few weeks’ time. The company had found their miracle employee in him and made sure to keep him happy with guaranteed job security and excellent benefits.
Overall, he was happy with how his life had turned out. There were no extreme highs or lows that ever happened to him, and he liked that very much. He had no one to answer to really (Except the Lord above.), and he could do exactly what he wanted, when he wanted and in the exact same way everyday, a practice which would drive most people to do crazy things like take long holidays, get a new haircut or have a mild mental breakdown. For him, his routine was almost as precious to him as his Savior. He worked. He visited his parents. He volunteered to help the needy on a regular basis. He was a good person. A very good person.
He walked the same route home every day after work. Another benefit of working for his company was that it was so close to his home. He generally didn’t like driving his car unless it was absolutely necessary. So walking to and from his workplace was probably one of the things he liked most about his job. There was something soothing about walking in straight lines and turning at ninety degree angles to walk along different straight lines to work. It was dependable and pure. It was predictable and almost god-like to him. To walk straight paths physically as much as he aimed to do spiritually. (Walk the straight and narrow.) This particular physical path was made up of a total of seven straight lines and took him exactly seventeen minutes to complete if he maintained a continuously brisk pace that was fast enough to make the calculated time but slow enough that he would not arrive at work in a red-faced, sweaty mess; something he would have greatly detested, showing up to work perspiring or dirty in any way. Cleanliness was next to godliness, after all.
The first straight line started on his walk from his apartment building. He would exit the building facing north which, according to him, was a wonderful way to start a journey as he felt north or up or above were all directions that moved towards God. He would turn right, which was also wonderful for obvious reasons, and walk for exactly three blocks to start his next straight line. Three, the holy trinity. A left turn taking him onwards and upwards for two blocks before turning right again and walking the third straight line for five blocks. The next two straight lines happened in much the same way, onwards and upwards for a few blocks and right for another few. The sixth line he detested most because it took him south, the equivalent to walking downwards towards fiery depths. Only adding to this feeling was the path itself and the scenery and people who populated it. It was not the brightest of places and was often polluted with all of the homeless riff raff that he did not like to come into close contact with. In his head, it was fitting that they were on the sixth straight line as the number six was an evil one. He walked more briskly on this path, and relief would swell over him as he made his seventh and last turn to the left (The only left he liked.) to reach the building where he worked.
He could have walked many different paths to work in any number of combinations. But this particular path seemed the most perfect. For one, it included the number seven which every godly person knew was Biblically significant; most of the paths led to the right or upwards; and the one dark path, though daunting, made him feel closer to God as he walked through the shadows of life poorly lived on the downward path of the sixth straight line. (He would fear no evil.) That straight line down was his daily tribulation, his test. Though surrounded by death and fear and sin, he never succumbed, and that made him feel good. God was testing him with that path, and he always did what he knew God wanted him to do. He never gave into temptation and he always trusted God would get him through. And He always did. So despite how disgusted he felt with all of the temptation and sin surrounding him on that sixth straight line, he would continue walking it, knowing that he was fulfilling his spiritual duty. He was resisting temptation.
Every day was perfection in every week of normality he was blessed with. He had a job. He had a routine. He had a wonderful, quiet life where nothing bad ever happened. And he credited that to his spiritual purity. As long as he kept up his existence in the exact same way, he knew he would continue to live this good life where nothing bad ever happened. After all, that’s how everyone could tell whether you were good or not. Good things happened to the good and bad things happened to the bad. That was how the world worked, and if you didn’t believe it, watch the news. Or better yet, read the Good Book.
There was nothing about this work day that was different from the expected. He arrived at work that morning at the same time. He had his short coffee break somewhere around mid-morning; black, with no sugar or cream. He went back to his desk promptly after this five-minute break and began reading, editing and filing every document given to him, just like every other day. He had his lunch at the exact same time: an inconsequential salad, unpleasant on the tongue but good for the body. (Your body is a temple.) Back to the desk until the clock ran out. Then home.
He left work at exactly five minutes after five and walked down the stairs to the ground floor of the building, pausing briefly at the exit doors to sigh, just slightly. This was the only complaint he ever allowed himself to express outwardly. He would have to turn right out of the building, and he knew that the first line back home, the ominous sixth path leading to work, would be the toughest road to walk to get back home to safety. The second and final trial of his workday.
“Just keep your eyes forward,” he reminded himself. “Do not look to the left or right on your path home and you’ll be just fine. You will resist temptation.”
And he walked along that line, passing by dirty tents, dirty sleeping bags…dirty people. Beggars. Alcoholics. Drug-addicts. Physical manifestations of sin and what justice comes to you when you don’t follow rules, obey the laws and love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And they begged. They pleaded with him for money with outstretched, dirty hands. He knew what they would do with that money. They looked at him with deceitful eyes. Or, because they so openly refused God and reviled Him, they mocked and yelled at the altruistic man. For being clean, for not being like them. They tried to arouse his anger, to get him to behave poorly and ungodly like them. (Hate begets hate. Anger begets anger.) He knew none of them could be of God, not the beggars pleading gently or the aggressors showing their true hatred for purity. They had to be of the world, these beggars, these miscreants. Why else would they be on that dirty street in the land of wealth and opportunity?
And the altruistic man, who gave his Saturdays to his parents and his boss, who volunteered at his community center every month, who never called in sick, who always went to Church on Sundays, who ate food that would nourish his body, God’s temple, walked his straight and narrow, purposefully onward and felt like Jesus must have felt battling the Devil for forty days in the desert. And he felt pride and joy for being such a good Christian man. For being blessed by God because he was humble and deserving. And through the trials of this row of beggars, he clinged to the words of Psalm 23 (as he always did in trials such as these):
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (He braces himself for the walk to begin.), I shall fear no evil (He quickly walks past the bum who always asks him for change.): for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies (He ignores the jeers of the gang of kids.): thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (And after he passes by the old woman on the corner, who kind of reminds him of his mother — a devil’s ruse — he smiles and whispers to himself in triumph:) Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!