Early morning sunlight filtered through the leaves. The rumble of traffic drowned out the cadence of cicadas. A gentle breeze pushed twigs and leaves along the sidewalk where Billy’s footsteps silently plodded. He threw out newspapers with mechanical precision.
He had delivered newspapers on the same route for twenty-five years, since he was twelve years old. He was a fixture in the small town of Appleby – so much so that most people couldn’t remember when he wasn’t there.
His mother, Alice, had moved to Appleby, hoping a small town would be kinder to her son. When she was told he would always have the mind of a child, Billy’s dad packed up and left.
Alice struggled to make Billy’s life as normal as possible. One of the first things she did was badger Mr. Andrews, who owned Appleby’s newspaper, to give Billy a paper route.
“Well, I don’t know. He’s kinda small, and well, uh, you know,” Mr. Andrews mumbled.
“Give him a chance. Please!”
Mr. Andrews gave Billy a route in his neighborhood, fifty houses total, then trained Billy himself. Every morning Billy could be seen sauntering along with a determined look on his face. He waved and smiled at people. Some responded with a smile while some looked at his awkward gait and clownish grin with curiosity.
He bounded out of bed each morning, excited to do his paper route. He preferred to not ride his bicycle because walking gave him a chance to smile and talk to people. Despite being bullied and ridiculed on occasion, or when he got a bloody nose, broken wrist, sprained ankle, chicken pox, or a cold, he kept smiling and delivering newspapers.
When he asked his mother why some people didn’t like him, she replied, “Good people love you, and God loves you. Pay no mind to mean people. They’ll always be around. God’s given you a gift, Billy. You’re like a Timex watch. You take a licking and keep on ticking.”
She was right. No matter what happened, nothing kept him from grinning and delivering newspapers.
He was sixteen when he fell and broke his leg. Even with a cast, he insisted on delivering newspapers. He loaded newspapers in a wagon along with his injured leg. With his other leg, he pushed along the sidewalks, throwing newspapers.
“Get your mama to help you,” old man Taylor hollered, smiling as Billy scooted along.
“Naw, I can do it. Mama’s at her job. This my job.” Billy flashed his lopsided grin.
If new people complained about Billy, Mr. Andrews told them, “There’s not a kinder, more responsible person than Billy. Give him time, he’ll grow on you.”
Billy was thirty when he got pneumonia. On rainy days, Alice drove Billy on his route. “Don’t wanna drive. Wanna walk so I can say hi,” he’d complain. But this time Alice was in the hospital for surgery. Mr. Andrews was the one who found Billy trudging along his route, sick with a fever.
“Stay in bed and take your medication, Billy. I can get someone to deliver your papers,” Mr. Andrews told him, but Billy insisted it was his job. For a week Billy delivered newspapers from inside Mr. Andrews’s car, smiling and waving out the window.
As time progressed, people began cancelling their newspaper subscriptions. “Is it cause people don’t like me?”
“Of course not, Billy,” his mother assured him. “Things have changed. People get their news from the internet.”
“Some boys told me that men don’t do paper routes, and they laughed at me.”
“Well, then see how special you are. Not many men can do what you do.”
When Mrs. Andrews, a widower, started dating Alice and married her a year later, Billy finally had a daddy who loved him.
It was Billy’s thirty-seventh year that his body began to slow down. He tried to hide the fact that it was hard to get out of bed in the mornings and walk his route. Then one day a neighbor found him lying on a sidewalk.
“Congestive heart failure,” Dr. Michaels said. “His heart’s been failing for awhile. He won’t bounce back from this, Alice. I’m sorry.”
Over the next several days, Billy’s hospital room was flooded with flowers, cards and visitors. “Why?” he asked his mother.
“Because people love you, Billy,” Alice said, tears streaming down her face. She felt as overwhelmed as her son.
When Billy passed away, his picture made the front page of the newspaper he loved to deliver.
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