Morris sat at the bar, nursing his pint of bitter.
Every Saturday at 7pm sharp, 56-year-old Morris Mason pulled up a stool at the 'Roaring Donkey'. He always sat right in front of the cash register, so he could listen to its merry jingle. He loved the clinkety-clink of the coins dropping into the tray and the lovely, crisp rustle of the notes. After exactly one hour, and one pint only, he would head home alone to his little terraced house.
One Saturday as he prepared to leave, a stranger sat down next to him.
"Care for a drink, mate?" the young man said.
"Don't mind if I do," Morris said quickly. He never said "no" to a freebie!
"I'm Michael Ark, and I'm new in town. Hey, do you know of any good betting shops around here?"
"Certainly not! I donít gamble," Morris snapped indignantly, smoothing his sparse grey hair. "But I do know of an excellent hardware store, called Morris Mason Hardware."
Michael uncoiled his long limbs and offered Morris a firm handshake. The pair started chatting.
"So, what's your story, mate?" Michael asked amiably.
"My 'story'? You mean my philosophy? Well, I guess my motto in life is, 'Save your pennies and only look after yourself - because no one else will.í"
"Hmm, that's an interesting outlook. Sounds a little lonely though. My motto is - 'Share what you can and help others whenever you can.'"
"What?! Thatís a quick way to go broke, if you ask me. I really must be going now." Morris drained his glass.
"Wait! Let me buy you another drink." Morris reluctantly sat down.
"Tell you what - let's test our theories. I'm willing to bet £300 that you can't help three complete strangers during the course of one day."
"Pardon? Help them in what way? And how do I tell who even needs help?"
"Help them any way you can. And you'll know who needs assistance just by observing."
"For £300? Are you serious? Hey wait a minute - how do I know you even have that kind of money?"
Michael pulled out a chequebook from his coat and wrote a cheque for £300 cash, then slapped it onto the bar.
"There you go -- £300. And it's all yours if you succeed. You have until 5pm tomorrow, and I'll be watching. See you tomorrow - and good luck!"
As Morris walked home, he muttered: "He must be bonkers! But for £300, I'm willing to take the bet."
Next morning, Morris found a central spot on a bench in the heart of the high street. He soon saw an elderly lady struggling with two bags of shopping.
"May I be of assistance?" he asked politely, trying to wrestle the bags from her grasp.
"No thank you. My doctor advised me to strengthen my muscles with a good walk while carrying two equal weights. My shopping is just the thing," she replied.
Morris was crestfallen. This was not going to be so easy. He began to really study the passers-by -- a novel experience for him. A confirmed loner, he had very little interest in others - unless, of course, they were paying customers in his shop.
It started to rain heavily and a young boy shivered past, his thin shirt drenched. He clasped a guitar to his chest and looked cold and miserable.
"Are you alright, son? Can I help you with your guitar?" Morris asked eagerly.
"No thanks mister. But I could really use bus fare to get home. Spare me a pound?"
"ONE POUND?! Why, you little..!" Morris bristled, but then remembered the greater prize at stake.
"Sure, here you go sonny." He fished in his pocket for one of his precious pounds and grudgingly handed it over.
"Wow! Thanks!" Suddenly the boy's face, which had been so pinched with misery, was now lit up like sunshine. Morris was stunned. An unfamiliar warmth crept into his chest, despite the stinging needles of rain.
"Must be indigestion," he growled.
As the rain eased, he saw a mother, whose toddler was whimpering with hunger.
Morris reached into his rucksack for a banana. Eyeing it hungrily, he handed it to the boy.
He received a broad, toothy grin from the child and a very grateful smile from his harried mother.
Two down, one to go! But it was 4.30pm already, and the few shops previously open were now closing up.
Morris sat down glumly on the bench, beside an elderly man.
"Nasty weather, eh? Reminds me of that summer back in '58...or was it '59?"
As the older man reminisced, Morris became caught up in his tales of long ago. Finally, he looked at his
watch -- 5.10pm!
"I've lost!" he thought miserably. Waving goodbye, Morris noticed the manís face was creased in a nostalgic smile and his eyes had a gleaming, far-away look. That strange, warm feeling flooded back!
"Well, you won, Michael," he said sadly at the pub.
"Actually, you won the bet. Remember that elderly gentleman you were talking with? Well, you really made his day, just by listening to him -- I spoke to him after you left.
"Here's your cheque! Just tell me one thing, Morris. After our little bet, how do you feel about your motto now?"
Morris grasped the cheque tightly, staring at it longingly. Suddenly, he popped it into the children's charity box that always stood in front of the cash register.
"Let's just say that, somehow, that motto got lost in transit!" he smiled.