The People's Friend

A Quiet Weekend

That was all Bella wanted. Then she saw the crowd of people outside her house . .

- by Ewan Smith

BELLA pedalled her way wearily through the traffic. It was Friday night, her work was finished for the week and all she wanted to do was to get home and put her feet up.

She’d been on the go at the bakery since six-thirty that morning and she was exhausted. The thought of the quiet weekend ahead of her was sheer bliss.

But then, as she turned the final corner, she suddenly jammed on her brakes.

She lived in a small terraced house near the centre of town. Her front door opened straight on to the pavement and there was a bus stop nearby.

There was rarely more than a handful of passengers waiting at it. But tonight a milling crowd of about 20 or 30 people had gathered there.

In puzzlement, Bella wheeled her bike towards her front door.

“What’s going on?” she asked a young man with his phone clamped to his ear.

He glanced at her. His expression was a mixture of frustratio­n and irritation.

“A landslide has closed the main rail line,” he muttered. “Most of the trains have been cancelled. We’re all having to find other ways of getting home.”

“Oh, goodness, I’m sorry,” Bella said.

Now that she thought about it, there had seemed to be a lot of people about on the streets as she’d cycled home.

“When a bus does arrive, it’s already packed.” He sighed. “It’ll probably be midnight before I get home.” He glanced at her bike and his eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t sell me your bike, would you?”

She blinked. “You’re not serious?” A rueful smile crossed his face.

“No, I don’t suppose I am.”

Bella looked around. The weariness and frustratio­n of the crowd was obvious.

“Good luck,” she murmured and he nodded, clamping his phone back to his ear.

Bella pushed her bike into the hallway and closed the door behind her.

Arriving home from work on a Friday night was her favourite moment of the week. The weekend stretched ahead with nothing to do but relax.

She would stick a pizza in the oven, eat it in front of the telly and then have a long bath with a glass of wine to accompany it.

“But first, a cup of tea,” she murmured.

As she leaned on the kitchen counter waiting for the kettle to boil, her mind drifted back to the people outside. Some of them had looked so tired. She found her heart going out to them.

They’d probably had a long, hard week just like her. But they still had a miserable, uncertain journey ahead of them before they got home.

Five minutes later, she appeared out of her front door carrying a loaded tray.

“Who would like a cuppa?” she said, moving into the crowd. “Teas on the left, coffees on the right, and there’s some sugar in the bowl.”

“Oh, how lovely, dear,” an elderly lady said with a weary smile. She took one of the cups. “I would usually be at home having tea in my own sitting-room by now.”

“Help yourself to a biscuit,” Bella urged. “Only digestives, I’m afraid, and there’s only half a packet. That’s all I’ve got in the house.”

The teas and coffees went quickly.

“I’m sorry there isn’t more,” she apologised, “but I live on my own and I’ve only got a few cups and mugs.”

“It was good of you to think of us,” the elderly lady replied.

There were murmurs of agreement and, to Bella’s embarrassm­ent, a ripple of applause went round the crowd.

“That was a kind thought,” the young man she had spoken to earlier murmured.

“I’ll do some more when I get the cups back,” Bella replied. “I’m afraid that’s all my biscuits gone, though.” He glanced around.

“Is there a shop nearby?” “Well, there’s the corner shop,” she replied. “Where’s that?” he asked. Bella looked at him with a quizzical expression.

“On the corner.”

He caught her eye and then burst out laughing.

“I might have thought of that.” He grinned. “My name’s Frank.”

“I’m Bella.”

He winked.

“I’ll be back soon,” he said, striding off.

Bella watched him for a moment then turned as someone handed

back an empty cup.

Her teas and coffees seemed to have animated the crowd. People had started talking together, sympathisi­ng with each other and sharing their stories.

Three of the passengers discovered that they lived quite close to one another and began discussing whether they should pay for a taxi home together.

A teenage boy mentioned that his phone was out of charge and he wanted to let his mum and dad know that he was all right. Immediatel­y, he was offered a selection of other phones to use instead.

It seemed to Bella that people’s spirits were beginning to rise.

“Now, that’s a proper corner shop,” Frank said, appearing beside her. “It has everything.” He opened the bag he was carrying. “Tea, coffee, sugar, biscuits, plastic cups. Now we can get properly organised.”

Bella looked at the bulging bag in amazement.

“You shouldn’t have bought all that!” she exclaimed.

He frowned.

“You intending to carry on offering drinks, weren’t you?”

“Well, yes. Whatever makes things easier for the people here.”

“Right,” he said. “Let’s get this show on the road. Why don’t you take the bag and stick the kettle on and I’ll collect orders.”

Bella shook her head in bemusement. “You’re the boss.”

As she headed back indoors, she heard Frank clapping his hands for attention.

“Right, everyone. Bella’s Catering Company is back in business. Hands up if you want a cup of tea!”

The next hour or so was hectic. Bella and Frank soon had regular supplies of tea and coffee going out to the crowd, along with a selection of the rather fancy biscuits Frank had bought.

Although buses turned up, there were few spaces on them and it looked like some people were going to have quite a wait.

So they manhandled Bella’s garden bench through the house and on to the pavement so that folk could have a seat.

She made sure everyone knew that her toilet was available for their use, and she brought out a bowl of water for the little chihuahua that one person had with them.

As the evening went on, the crowd gradually reduced in size. But it was almost nine o’clock before a bus arrived with space to take everyone who was left.

They all got on apart from Frank.

“Aren’t you going?” Bella asked.

He shook his head.

“I’ll help you clear up.” They returned the garden bench, collected the rubbish and finished with the washing-up.

“This has been fun,” Frank said as he wielded the dish towel. “I work in an investment bank and I spend my days gazing at a computer screen. It’s been nice to be with some real people for a change.” Bella smiled.

“We had a good laugh.” He looked at her. “I’ve enjoyed spending time with you, Bella.” She gazed back at him. “Me, too.” “Perhaps we could get together some time,” he said lightly. “For a meal, maybe, or the cinema?” She nodded decisively. “I’d like that.”

As they waited together on the pavement, they swapped numbers and chatted together. He was easy to talk to.

“Here’s my bus,” he said. The doors opened and he climbed on. “I’ll be in touch soon.”

“Night, Frank.”

She watched until the bus had gone. It wasn’t the way she had expected her evening to go, but it hadn’t turned out too badly after all.

She let herself into the house with a happy sigh. Now she could get back to enjoying the rest of her quiet weekend.

Bella always had a long lie-in on Saturday mornings and it took three rings on the doorbell to rouse her from her sleep.

Blearily, she peered at her watch and groaned.

“Who’s calling at this time of day?”

She staggered downstairs and opened the door. “Frank!”

There was an apologetic look on his face.

“I’m sorry for disturbing you, but have you looked at the internet this morning?” he asked.

“I haven’t looked at anything,” she muttered. “I was fast asleep.”

“Well, you need to look at this.” He pressed some keys on his phone and handed it to her. “Someone in the crowd last night took a few video clips of you handing out the teas and coffees and they’ve been posted on Youtube.”

“What?” Bella said in confusion.

She looked at his phone. There on the screen were clips of her with the tray of cups, her and Frank bringing the bench out, her giving the little dog a bowl of water.

“Not just that,” Frank said. “They added a message calling you the Friday Night Angel, and the whole thing has gone viral. Even people from other countries have responded.”

“I don’t believe it,” Bella murmured.

According to the phone, the clips had been viewed by thousands of people already.

“Come in. I need a coffee.”

Just as she and Frank got to the kitchen, the doorbell rang again.

With a sigh, Bella turned back and opened the door. An elegant woman who looked vaguely familiar was standing there. She had a large, fluffy microphone in her hand and there was a cameraman behind her.

“There she is – the Friday Night Angel!” the woman cried with a smile. “Hi, I’m Molly Fernanda from ‘The Sunrise Show’ . . .”

Bella shook her hand limply, recognitio­n dawning. She occasional­ly watched ‘The Sunrise Show’ on TV in the morning. Molly Fernanda was one of their best-known reporters.

“I don’t understand,” Bella said.

“We’d like to interview you about the amazing thing you did for those poor bus passengers last night. It’s caught everyone’s imaginatio­n!”

Bella’s eyes widened in horror.

“I can’t appear on TV looking like this!”

“Don’t worry.” Molly laughed. “We’ll give you time to get dressed.”

Bella sighed.

“You’d better come in. Frank, stick on the kettle!” Molly’s eyes lit up. “Hello, Frank. I recognise you from the video clips.” She looked at Bella with lively curiosity. “So you and Frank live together, do you?”

“Gosh, no,” Bella said firmly, ushering them through to the kitchen. “Let me explain . . .”

Just then the phone rang. Frank picked it up.

“Bella Ramsden, TV star,” he said with a wink at Bella. “How can I help?”

As he listened, his eyes narrowed with interest. He turned to Bella.

“It’s one of the national newspapers. They’d like to do a piece on you for their Sunday edition.”

“Newspapers!” Molly snorted. “They’re always late for the big stories.”

“They’re asking for an exclusive interview,” Frank murmured. He raised an eyebrow at Bella. “And they’re willing to pay.”

Molly looked at him in outrage.

“Those tabloid hacks! They can’t do that – this is my story!” She turned to Bella. “Don’t listen to them. Newspaper journalist­s are appalling people. They can’t be trusted!”

Bella gazed around the kitchen in bemusement: at Molly explaining how newspaper journalist­s were devils incarnate; at the cameraman pointing his lens at her and frowning; and at Frank holding out the phone with a grin on his face.

Then the doorbell rang again.

“Oh, well.” Bella sighed. “Maybe I can have a quiet weekend next week instead.” n

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