The Guardian

April 28, 2011
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Benjamin Dolliver was not the kind of guy to elicit many second glances. In fact, he was rarely ever noticed at all. Often times, while walking down the street, the eyes of civilians moving in the opposite direction would subconsciously shift from the person before him straight to the one behind without paying Ben the slightest bit of attention. Maybe this had something to do with his ordinary and rather plain physical appearance. After all, being relatively short, middle aged, balding, and forced out of necessity to wear a pair of thick spectacles upon his nose, Ben was incredibly unremarkable. And yet, it was something a bit more than just his features which caused him to be overlooked. Something about Ben gave him the ability to fade into the shadows on even the most brightly lit of street corners. Most people would have been greatly discouraged by this unfortunate characteristic, but never Ben. He didn’t mind at all. Besides, it made him especially adept at the side job he had been practicing for many years.

From seven to five on weekdays Ben worked for the bank, but each and every evening (as his social calendar remained suspiciously devoid of any sort of scheduled activities), he was free to do what he really loved and what he did exceptionally well. Each day after he was released from the confines of the drab bank, Ben would walk the four blocks to the bus station. There, he would find an empty bench and sit reading the newspaper completely unnoticed by passersby thanks to his unique ability. For hours and hours, until it got much too dark and the bus stop gradually emptied and became deserted, Ben would listen and watch. He watched as frantic mothers pulled their small children by the hand and as businessmen impatiently checked their watches. He listened to teenagers complain about their parents and the general unfairness of the world and he heard friendly pleasantries exchanged between acquaintances. These scenes and sounds were all very interesting to an avid people watcher like Ben, but were not the sole reason he spent hours in overcrowded bus stops, watching and listening to the normal and to the average.

Sometimes, he found no one who required him and he would return home unfulfilled, but other times he would take on three or four cases in a single night. Once Ben had identified a person of interest, he would inconspicuously fold up his newspaper and step unobserved onto the bus behind them, all the while watching and listening for more clues.

One brisk day in mid November, Benjamin Dolliver left work as usual, his newspaper tucked under his arm and his briefcase grasped firmly in his hand. He walked into the grocery store in search of something he could eat at the bus station later on. He was perusing the selection of readymade sandwiches when he heard the beginnings of an anxious conversation somewhere nearby. He snatched up a sandwich at random and walked towards the end of the aisle in order to better hear the discussion.

“The landlord called today,” a woman whispered into her cell phone. Ben peered around the corner and saw a weary looking woman cover her face with her hand. “Peter, he’s going to kick us out if we can’t make rent this month. I don’t know how on earth we’re going to come up with the $500 in two weeks, we can barely afford the groceries,” she paused then, looking strained as she listened to the voice coming out of the phone. “I know, I know, it’s just that this month with Sophie being so sick and Daniel having his tonsils removed, I don’t know how we’re going to do it. We’ll probably have to cancel the cell phone, but I don’t see what good can come of that this month,” she sighed and then listened intently a moment longer. “Alright, well we’ll discuss this when you get home, I’m at the store,” and with that note, she hung up and hurriedly pushed her cart down the aisle. She passed right by the spot where Ben stood and didn’t notice him at all, but in the next aisle, she stopped briefly to assist an elderly woman in plucking a can of soup off of the highest shelf.
Ben paid for his sandwich and walked out of the grocery store, but didn’t start for the bus station just yet. He waited by the door, unnoticed by all who passed, for the woman to finish with her shopping. When she did, he waited until she was almost around the corner before pursuing her on foot. With surprising agility, he wove gracefully around slower moving pedestrians, all the while keeping his eye on the woman ahead of him. She was moving quite fast, considering the bulging grocery bags she held. After fifteen minutes of traveling in this way, she turned down a side street and Ben slowed his pace. It was slightly harder to move undetected without the jostling crowds of the busier streets, even for Ben Dolliver. He watched as she walked up to a brick building and let herself into the first floor apartment. He waited on the sidewalk, keeping a close watch out for the man called Peter who could be arriving home shortly. When he was satisfied that he had waited long enough, he opened up his briefcase and expertly pulled on his work gloves. He then extracted an envelope from a side pocket and slid the usual typed note, along with $1000 cash in a variety of different bill amounts into the envelope. Ben sealed it shut and walked with purpose up to the same door which the woman had disappeared into ten minutes earlier. Mounted on the wall beside the door was a tired looking gold mailbox, bursting with the day’s mail which the woman had ignored as she had entered the apartment. He slid the envelope inconspicuously into place between a bill and a Land’s End Catalogue and walked back out toward the crowded street, stuffing his gloves untidily back into his briefcase as he stepped back out into the swift torrent of people. He never stuck around to see the reaction of the people whom he had helped. Ben wasn’t the type of person to expect a reward or praise for his work, he liked being invisible. He went through great lengths to ensure that no one would ever begin to suspect him.
Ben could already tell it was going to be a productive day, one person assisted and it wasn’t even six o’clock. It was going to be a busy night.
Madeline St Clair opened her front door and scooped the mail out of her mailbox. It had been a trying day. Sophie hadn’t been able to go to school again and she was awfully close to having her entire family evicted from their apartment. She was going to have to come up with some ingenious plan soon in order to pay the month’s rent and avoid having her family unceremoniously dumped out onto the street corner. She sighed and flipped through the mail, more bills she couldn’t pay and several catalogues that she could no longer afford to buy from. Madeline was about to abandon the mail on the side table and forget about it for as long as possible when a nondescript envelope caught her eye. The front of it was a smooth, clean white, entirely unspoiled by ink of any color and very noticeably lacking a stamp. This peaked her interest. How can a mail carrier deliver an envelope if it is not marked with an address? She opened it cautiously and gasped when she unearthed the bills inside. “Oh my,” She said aloud. She pulled out the contents of the envelope with wide eyes and counted out $1000 cash. Madeline gripped the end table in order to steady herself. Things like this just didn’t happen in real life, there had to be some catch or mistake. She picked up the typed note and read with ever widening eyes:
There was no signature on the note and she regarded the money distrustfully. She couldn’t figure out how anyone would know about her current financial situation. She was a proud woman and was entirely sure that none of her friends knew how desperate her monetary standing had become in recent months. She was also unconvinced about the legality of an anonymous donation of $1000. And yet, at the same time, hopeful thoughts began to bloom like spring flowers in her mind. She needed the money, really needed the money. But surely, if she were to turn it over to the police they would confiscate it until it could be proved as a legal donation. She would just have to talk with Peter about this when he arrived home. The contents were slid back into the envelope and she smiled slightly as she looked down at the gift she had been given. Perhaps this meant her family’s financial problems were solved. Well, for this month anyway.

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