My Weekly

Going The Extra Mile

Coffee Break Tales

- By Jo Styles

People around Lizzie leaned over their handlebars in eager anticipati­on. The town’s charity cycle ride was a yearly event.

Four miles isn’t far. It’ll do me good, she thought. Get fit and all that. Put down those cream cakes, girl. Pickup your bike clips and do something special.

She frowned. Wasn’t that Mr Parker, her new manager at Field’s Home Furnishing­s? She’d never expected him to be so brusque and bossy. He had the shop’s logo emblazoned on his shirt. Doing a little PR, is he? The starting horn honked. Away they all went, wheels turning, pedals spinning. Such a shame a very steep hill greeted their efforts. As Lizzie started to puff and pant a group of fitter riders in yellow and black shirts streamed by. They looked like bees swarming towards a summer meadow.

“Well done,” Lizzie panted. “Well done,” she wheezed to Mr Parker as he edged by her in a fury of grunts and groans. “Hard work, isn’t it? You’re doing really well.”

“Thanks.” He sounded so dour as he shot away in a rush.

A lovely steep dip awaited on the other side of the hill. Over she went. Wheeeeeeee! As the road levelled again she pedalled away, all her new-found speed sending her careering unexpected­ly past her new manager.

“Keep it up!” she called back with a beaming smile.

She’d have loved to receive some encouragem­ent in return but that didn’t seem to be his style.

Another hill loomed. Why did she live in such a hilly town? This one reared over the riders ahead like an incoming tsunami wave.

A red-cheeked lady battled the slope, gasping, “I don’t think I’ll make it.”

“This is too hard.” An elderly gentleman on the oldest cycle Lizzie had ever seen bobbed from side to side as he fought his way forever upwards.

“Keep going,” Lizzie panted. “You’re both doing brilliantl­y.” Graham Parker edged past them all. “I see you’ve got your wind back!” Lizzie called out to him. “Good for you!” He gave a curt little wave in reply. He’sjustthesa­meatwork, Lizzie thought as he disappeare­d over the brow of the hill. Rushingabo­ut, grumblingt­ohimself,peeringatt­he shelvesasi­ftocheckth­egirlshave stackedthe­cushionsne­atlyenough.

Eventually she reached the crest of the hill herself. There Graham stood helpless, looking as if he’d taken a bath in a vat of oil as he nursed his stricken cycle. His chain had come off. Lizzie pulled over and reached into her bicycle bag.

“I bought along some cloths for emergencie­s.”

She helped him with his chain, smiling and waving as other cyclists whizzed by. “You’re doing great!”

Finally, Graham stood with his oily hands on his hips. “I do get the point.” “Sorry?” Lizzie said innocently. “The hints you’ve been dropping all afternoon. I know I can be a little abrupt at work but I’m not an ogre, I’m just trying to get everything done. I will from now on make more effort to preserve morale and encourage the staff.”

Lizzie frowned. “Well, I’m glad to hear it, Mr Parker,” she said. “But to be perfectly honest, all I’ve been doing is being my usual self. I’m not sure being positive and encouragin­g needs to be ticked off a spreadshee­t. It really ought to be instinctiv­e, don’t you think?”

“Yes… yes… well, of course,” he stammered as if the thought hadn’t crossed his mind.

After that, he smiled and waved to everyone like a madman, making a lot of effort to be pleasant to everyone.

Finally they both crossed the finishing line in a flurry of applause.

“Excellent work, Mrs Smith!” he gushed. “Excellent.” Lizzie beamed. “You too, Mr Parker.” Yes,welldone, she thought. Being niceshould­n’tbeasharda­spedalling uphill.Itreallysh­ouldbeasea­syas coastingdo­wntheother­side. She stayed at the finishing line. “Well done,” she called to the next cyclists to complete the course. “Well done, everybody! Haven’t we had a wonderful day?”

It was all very typical of her. She’d always vowed that one particular aspect of her business empire, now spanning fifty home furnishing stores, would never change.

I’llalwaysgo­theextrami­le. She smiled. That’swhatbeing­agoodleade­r isallabout.

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