A homeless older man comes to the rescue of a little girl lost in a snowstorm, and his compassion and quick thinking in saving her transform his life magically.
Life had always been unfair to Toby. When he thought he had had enough, fate struck him with another painful blow. Toby lost his home and wife to a catastrophic flood, and none of his relatives stepped forward to help him. As a result, the 74-year-old became homeless and took refuge in bus stations and parking lots.
Toby did not want to live in a shelter for homeless people and chose to wander the streets, living with what fate gave him every day. He slept under a bridge alongside an interstate highway most of the time. He called it his ‘home,’ and it was all he had for the last five years.
Sometimes, the bridge would leak during heavy rains, forcing Toby to move somewhere safe for a night’s rest. He kept migrating from one side of the street to another before finally settling down in his makeshift tarp tent under another bridge not far from an elementary school…
One afternoon, Toby decided to go down to the square near the school to take a look at the dumpster. Staff from nearby hotels often left leftovers in sealed bags for the homeless, an act of kindness that often saved folks like Toby from starvation.
The leftovers were already taken that day, perhaps by other homeless people. Toby sighed disappointedly and looked at the one last dumpster left to check outside the school gate. As he approached it, the kids playing on the ground behind the gate started screaming.
A little act of kindness can change the course of your life in unexpected ways.
“Boogeyman! He’s coming to get us! Run… Run…”
Years of homelessness and street-dwelling had made Toby skinny and menacing. His unkempt grey beard and ragged clothes, paired with a long, smelly overcoat, frightened the kids.
Whenever the children misbehaved or threw tantrums, their parents would scare them, saying: “If you don’t obey, that boogeyman will take you!” pointing to a helpless Toby who would be rummaging through the trashcans for leftovers. Like the other kids, little Heidi was also scared of Toby.
The six-year-old girl recently moved to the city after her father got transferred to a logistics company. Heidi had everything that could make her childhood one of a kind. But nothing made her happy, not even her little pink bedroom stuffed with toys and dolls. It was because Heidi missed her old school friends, and none of the kids in her new school were kind or welcoming.
“Nobody is talking to me, mommy,” she cried to her mother one day before leaving for school. “They are making fun of me. They call me ‘shorty with pigtails,’ and nobody eats with me. They run away when they see me. I don’t want to go to school, mommy. Please, can I stay at home?”
Her mother, Diana, was upset but knew Heidi would soon make a bunch of friends. “Sweetie, it’s going to be alright. Kids take time to make new friends. I’m sure they’ll talk to you if you treat them with some candies today! How about some lollies and gummy bears?!”
Heidi shyly nodded and thought it was a great idea. “Bye, mommy!!” she happily got onto the school bus with a box of candies and waved at Diana, blowing flying kisses from the window.
If Heidi only knew that she would not come home that evening.
When the bell rang for the lunch break, all the kids ran out to their spots on the playground. Heidi was left alone in class, and she was hurt. “If I give them some candies, they will make friends with me,” she thought and marched out to meet her classmates.
“Hey, Roger! Want some candies?” Heidi first offered some sweet treats to Roger, the main bully in class. Although the boy did not like Heidi, he could not deny the pleasure of free candies.
When the kids saw Roger grabbing a handful of sweets, they came running and flocked around Heidi as she distributed the candies. She was so delighted and sat with them for lunch.
“Why are you sitting with us, shorty??” Roger mocked Heidi in front of everyone. She was shocked when all the kids burst into laughter and started teasing her again. This was not what she had wanted.
“I-I was just…” she gulped.
The kids stopped eating and fled from their spots after seeing Toby rummaging through the dumpsters outside the gate.
“Boogeyman is here! Run! He’ll come and take us.”
Heidi ran after the kids and seeing her panic struck Roger with a wicked idea. He and his gang approached her and asked her to stay back after school so that they could visit an old, abandoned house near the campus.
“We only talk and play with brave kids. If you want to be our friend, you must show us how brave you are. Meet us here after school,” he told Heidi. “And don’t go anywhere until we get there, alright?”
“Okay, I’ll wait here,” said Heidi.
Although she was scared, she thought it was her only chance to mingle with everyone in the class. After the last bell rung, Roger reminded Heidi again. “Wait near the ground. We will be there in five minutes, don’t go anywhere.”
Heidi confidently nodded and grabbed her bag. She missed her school bus and waited at the spot, but nobody showed up. Roger and his friends had already gone home. It was just another wicked prank he had pulled on poor Heidi.
When she realized she had been tricked, she burst into tears. She looked around, but nobody was there, and it was getting late. Heidi was new to the place, and when she walked outside the gate, she saw the huge dumpsters that immediately reminded her of Toby. She was terrified.
“Boogeyman will take me if he sees me alone. I have to go home. Mommy… daddy… where are you? Please come and take me home. I’m scared!” she cried and marched onto the street. To make things worse, it started snowing heavily, and Heidi lost her way.
The girl did not know where to go. She vaguely remembered the bus route but was not sure. She wanted to run back to her school, but when she turned around, she could not determine which of the three roads led to her school.
Heidi panted as she continued running. She looked around for help but found nothing as far as her eyes could see. Her little legs were stiff and feeble. The zombie-white snow and whining winds scared her as her body shivered and teeth chattered to the skin-seeping cold.
Heidi kept running toward an unknown destination when she suddenly stopped at seeing a silhouette of an older man in rags approaching her.
“BOOGEYMAN??” she gasped in fear.
Heidi ran in the opposite direction and blacked out after tripping on the snow.
Several minutes later, she could feel her stiff limbs getting defrosted as the lambent light of the bonfire heated her. Heidi gently opened her eyes and saw an older man with a scruffy gray beard and big baggy eyes staring at her. It was Toby.
“Don’t take me… please leave me… Boogeyman, let me go…” she cried and curled up in a corner in Toby’s shabby tarp tent. He looked at the helpless little girl and laughed.
“Boogeyman??Ha-ha-ha… Who told you that, child?” he asked.
“All my friends told me you take naughty kids,” Heidi answered, still panicking. After hearing her out, Toby could not help but laugh out loud again.
“Well, I’m not the boogeyman, and I don’t take kids anywhere! But I’m glad I was frightening enough to scare naughty little ones away!”
Toby saw Heidi was shivering despite the hearth heating every nook and corner of his tent. He then took off his overcoat and wrapped it around her. “Don’t mind the smell, child. But you need to stay warm. It’s already dark, and I’m sure your parents must be looking for you. I’ll leave you at the police station in the morning. The weather is rough, and we can’t go out now. Get some sleep.”
“Aren’t you feeling cold?” she worried after seeing Toby chattering his teeth and shivering.
“Child, this old man has seen rougher days! This is nothing! I’d rather be cold and hungry and know you are warm and safe.”
“Now close those eyes and get some rest. And there’s a pack of biscuits in my pocket. Don’t be shy to eat it if you are hungry, alright?”
Heidi smiled and nodded as she grew to trust Toby. She realized he was not scary after all. She dug into his coat pocket and found a biscuit packet. Toby always had a packet with him to feed stray cats. That evening, he had gotten a pack of biscuits from the alms he collected but couldn’t feed the cats due to the snowstorm. Luckily, it kept Heidi from starving that night.
The girl slept in the tent while Toby watched over her. He did not sleep a wink that night and wanted to be sure she was safe and sound. He kept the bonfire alight the whole night and stayed awake on several mugs of coffee brewing in the kettle atop the fire. When the first streaks of daylight strayed across the tattered edges of the tent, Toby awakened Heidi and took her to the police station.
“Officer, I couldn’t call because I don’t have a phone. And the weather was rough last evening, so I couldn’t let the girl out on her own,” he told the officer.
Heidi’s parents had lodged a missing report the previous evening and were immediately called to take her home. Toby left the girl at the station, assured she was safe to go home. He turned around to look at her one last time when she was talking to her parents on the phone.
“Goodbye, child! Glad boogeyman was able to help you!” Toby grinned and left without a trace. Nobody knew where he came from.
Heidi’s parents wanted to thank him for running to her aid when she was lost, but nobody could trace Toby’s whereabouts, and Heidi could not remember where he lived.
“Sweetie, do you know his name at least?” Diana asked Heidi. Sadly, the girl knew nothing about Toby except that he lived in a tent. Several weeks passed as her parents searched for Toby everywhere in the city, but in vain. And then, one day, while driving home on a secluded route due to traffic, Heidi screamed in tears.
“Stop!! Daddy, stop! This is where he took me. This is where the wood was burning to keep me warm! He lives here!!”
“Here??” Heidi’s parents were alarmed when they looked under the bridge.
When Heidi and her parents got there, they saw Toby shivering and curled up in his old tarp tent.
“Wake up! Look who’s here… daddy and mommy. We came to see you. Wake up,” she jolted Toby. He opened his eyes slowly to a blurry vision of three people surrounding him, and it didn’t take him too long to recognize little Heidi.
“You?!! How are you? I’m so glad to see you!” he exclaimed. “Are they your parents?”
“Yes! And what’s your name?” Heidi asked.
“My name is Toby! And what’s your name?”
Toby could not hold back his tears because he had thought humanity had forgotten the idea of gratitude. Though he had distant relatives, nobody had shown up to see him after he became homeless. He lost faith in people until Heidi told him she and her parents had been looking for him to thank him.
“We didn’t know your name, and our daughter couldn’t remember your place,” Mr. Douglas, Heidi’s father, revealed. “We kept looking for you, and I’m glad we finally found you!”
Mr. Douglas could quickly tell Toby was struggling by just looking at his living conditions. “Hey, there’s a free spot for guards in the logistics company I work. Do you mind moving in there? I’ll talk to my manager and get you a job. What do you think?”
“Say yes, Toby! Say yes!” Heidi exclaimed.
Toby could not believe his eyes at the sudden twist of fate in his life.
“I feel very humbled and special that you would go out of your way for me. Thanks!” he cried and agreed.
Toby ultimately started working as a security guard at the truck parking lot. He was no longer homeless, and his life improved in a flash, thanks to his own kindness and selflessness.
What can we learn from this story?
A true hero is not one who wears a cape and mask but one who tries to make the world a better place with kindness. Despite not having anything warm for himself to beat the cold, Toby gave his coat to keep Heidi warm on a snowy evening she was lost.
A little act of kindness can change the course of your life in unexpected ways. When a homeless Toby sheltered a lost little Heidi and safely handed her over to the cops the next day, he knew little about how his kindness would soon change his life.
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