Dear Friends, this is David Telbat with another unique short story for you in Holy Prompt, Christian fiction. When we hear of a bus crash, blame seems to erupt before there has even been an investigation. I’d like to think that Christians can bring balance to those who make hasty judgements, and by balance I mean grace. When we remember that Christ showed us compassion when we were at our worst, we may be inspired to show others compassion even when their worst is so public. What a difference we can make if we listen to God’s holy prompt to step out and show concern for the condemned!
by D.I. Telbat
Ben Goodman Sr. climbed out of his car in the grocery store parking lot. His wife, Othelia, stood at the passenger car door.
“Ben!” she called and waved him closer so she could speak to him quietly. “Invite him for dinner. Remember?”
“You’re sure?” Ben thought for a moment, then smiled sadly. Everything he did nowadays seemed to be done with sadness. “Okay. That’s a good idea.”
He continued away from the car to intercept a man crossing the lot, a man they’d been waiting for. The man’s name was Hector Irving, a heavyset, balding man with darting eyes. When he reached Ben, he veered away, but Ben turned and fell in step beside Hector, whose arms were full of grocery bags.
“You’re a hard man to pin down, Mr. Irving.” Ben glanced at his wife. They were actually doing this, after three months of praying about it! “We’ve tried calling you a few times, but I guess you always let it go to voicemail, huh?”
“Are you a reporter?” Hector looked straight ahead and walked faster. “I don’t want any problems.”
“No problems from me, Mr. Irving. Can I call you Hector? My name’s Ben.”
“Please leave me alone.” Hector turned sharply onto the sidewalk. “I need to get home.”
Ben looked back at Othelia, who urged him onward. She moved into the driver’s seat of their car and drove slowly out of the parking lot, keeping pace behind them from the street.
“Look, Hector, please.” Ben hustled to catch up. “Can I at least carry one of your bags for you? I know you have about a mile to walk to your house.”
“You know where I live?” The man walked even faster. “Are you from the school board? Or a lawyer? I don’t have any money, so you can sue me all you want.”
“I don’t want to sue you.” Ben jogged to keep up with the man, then settled into the same pace. He’d played football in junior college; Hector wasn’t getting away! “I just want to talk to you. How about this: I’ll just walk beside you.”
“Suit yourself. I have nothing to say.”
“That’s okay. I’m the one who needs to do the talking, anyway.”
“I’ll tell you what I told all the others.” Hector slowed his pace, breathing heavily. Ben knew he’d been hiding inside his house, coming out only every few weeks to buy groceries. “I wasn’t drinking. I don’t do drugs. I had a good night’s sleep. There’s nothing I could’ve done, but I wish every day there was. Ice is ice. The bus just . . . went over the railing.”
“I know, Hector.” Ben reached for the man’s shoulder, but pulled back before touching him. “I know it wasn’t your fault.”
Hector took two more steps, then halted abruptly. Slowly, he turned toward Ben. Drops of sweat began running down Hector’s forehead and blotchy cheeks.
“You do?” Hector’s voice came out as a squeak. “You know it wasn’t my fault?”
“Yeah, I know.” Ben flapped his hands against his sides. “I’ve driven on winter roads my whole adult life, and I know how slippery they can get on a bridge, even during the daytime. Witnesses said you weren’t even going that fast. We understand.”
“My wife and I.” Ben gestured to where she was now parked at the curb. She waved sheepishly. “Her name is Othelia. We like it here. I work at the print shop across from the theater.”
“Oh.” Hector nodded. “I guess I don’t understand what you want to talk to me about. Is that it?”
“No, Hector.” Ben smiled. “We just wanted to thank you.”
“Thank me?” Hector took a step back. “For what?”
“Well, you drove the school bus all those years. You kept the kids safe day after day. You know, we’re thankful for that.”
“Nobody ever talks about all the good years. No incidents. I used to get those kids singing these ridiculous songs I made up. Kept them calm.”
“I know. Ben Jr. used to tell me about them.” Ben laughed at the memory. “He’d sing them at home and try to teach them to me.”
“Ben Jr.?” Hector frowned. “Not . . . Ben Goodman?”
“My son. He never knew any other bus driver in his seven years, but he assured me that you were the best and his favorite.”
“You’re his dad!” Hector looked around nervously. “Wasn’t he on the bus?”
“He was.” Ben watched Hector as the man suddenly seemed more edgy than before. “Just knowing that they were probably all singing together right before the accident, probably some song that you made up to keep them settled down—well, it’s not a bad thought. They were happy. Ben was happy.”
“Yeah. We were singing.” Hector wiped at his cheek, his shoulders slumping. “Nobody ever asked me about that. Maybe everyone just figures it was a noisy bus ride with a bunch of troublemakers. They weren’t like that, though. They were good kids. I knew them all.”
“We should’ve talked about this earlier. Othelia and I don’t want you hiding in your house any longer, not when you have friends out here who want to get to know you.”
“That’s right. Friends. Oh, and Othelia makes some amazing enchiladas. You like enchiladas?”
“I . . . haven’t had them in a long time.”
“Then tomorrow night, I’m picking you up, okay? You, us, and a couple church friends who know you’re a decent guy.”
“More people?” Hector frowned. “But, I killed all those kids.”
“No, you didn’t, Hector. We’re not listening to what people say about the incident anymore.” Ben held out his hand. “We know it was an accident. So, tomorrow night. Deal? I’ll pick you up about six o’clock, okay?”
The man hesitated, suddenly uncertain how he was going to shake Ben’s hand while holding groceries in his arms. In an awkward moment, Hector shifted one bag into Ben’s left arm so they could shake on it.
“Hey, why don’t I walk you the rest of the way home,” Ben offered, and started down the sidewalk. He turned and waved at his wife with a smile and a thumbs-up sign. “Come on. We can get to know one another better.”
“You’re not afraid to be seen with me?”
“On the contrary, Hector. I need to be seen with you. A little forgiveness and understanding would do this town some good!”
With Othelia following behind them in the car, Ben thanked God that they had listened to His holy prompting.
Prayer Prompt: From the 1/20/17 VBB Newsletter: “Due to strict government restrictions on Christian non-profits, Compassion International is unfortunately being forced to close its doors in India and will no longer be able to serve the hundreds of children they currently support. Please pray that the children will not lose the sense of safety and protection they found through Compassion’s local partners. In addition, please pray for our local contact serving women who have been sold into slavery as well as their children. Government restrictions have made her work difficult as well.”