by James Heaton
It was a Tuesday. I remember clearly because Tuesdays were our monthly board meetings. It was the most maddening thing about working for this company. It was always the same thing, the manager would spend ten minutes telling us how we needed to keep the numbers up, and then his boss would come into the board room and tell us how we need to do better than another branch that he was so proud of. He would spend five entire minutes telling everyone how good the other office was doing and that we should strive to be better than them.
Each time we had a meeting I struggled to keep my attentive face, to look as though any of this really mattered to me. When I started working for this company, ten long years ago, I was assured that I would be making six figures within five years. It’s been ten years and I still haven’t hit six figures. I live in a tiny apartment three bus stops away from the corporate office in this miserable city. Its always loud, nothing like the tiny town I grew up in. The streets are always filthy, and the homeless are everywhere. I pass by at least five of them on my way to the office, every day it’s the same thing. They are the only reason I keep cash in my wallet. I make it a point to always put a dollar or two in their cups or bring them snacks from the deli around the corner. Every Christmas and Thanksgiving I volunteered at the homeless shelter to give back, even if it was just serving food to those less fortunate.
Larry from accounting told me it was a waste of my time feeding the homeless, but I couldn’t live with myself if I stopped caring about others. But that’s what this company wants, cold hearted, ruthless salesman who tune out the world that they consider beneath themselves. When I call my customers, I make it a point to always make small talk with the owners, I keep a list of their names and their wives and kids, so I always remember to ask about their families. The problem is many of my customers are shutting down, their businesses are failing and that means my productivity is slipping. But my manager refuses to give me more areas, he saves those for Mike, his favorite salesman.
Mike is brilliant at his job because he doesn’t care about the customers, he never ask about their families or how their business is doing. He is calloused and cold, something I could never be. His desk is covered with pictures of his wife and their adopted daughter. They adopted her from China, and he never fails to mention how brilliant she is, how she excels at violin and how his wife is so beautiful. But me, I go home to a dog that could care less about my existence. As much as I try to show her affection she prefers to be left alone on her spot on the couch. I have no close circle of friends and I spend my free time reading books about other people’s adventures. To say my life is meaningless is an understatement.
But today when I got into work, five minutes early as always, there is a note on my desk to see my manager, Wallace, before the meeting. My first thought was that he was finally going to give me more territory for sales, finally give me the chance to really prove my worth to this company. But then the thought crossed my mind that my numbers were no where near Mikes. Was this why he wanted to see me? Was he going to move me to another department? The random thoughts flooded my mind, and I could feel the churning of my stomach as I ran through scenario after scenario in my head.
I made my way to Wallace’s office before the sales meeting. He told me to close the door and have a seat. His office was a beautiful corner office with windows that looked out over the city. A huge comparison from my tiny cubicle surrounded by other cubicles. It was a dreary place in cubicle city. But Wallace had an enormous oak desk with bookshelves to match, and tons of framed awards for best salesman every year for five years straight. That was how he got the corner office. And it wasn’t luck or skill, it was because he was given the best sales territories, while I got the worst.
He opened up the humidor on his desk and pulled out a cigar that probably cost more than my lunch and snipped the end off. He lit it with a gold Zippo lighter that sat on his desk. It amazed me how he got away with smoking in a smoke free building. And we could all smell it when he lit up a cigar in his office, but the big bosses didn’t have time to care, they were too caught up in their own affairs.
Wallace pulled out a folder and started rattling off my numbers. He then pulled out Mikes folder and rattled off his numbers.
“What’s the problem here?” He asked.
“I have lousy territories to sell too, that’s the problem. I’ve lost three companies in two months because the economy is tanking. Businesses are closing left and right, and my top three clients have all shut down. And you refuse to give me more territories, Mike gets every new territory that comes in.” I said with contempt and frustration.
“You do the best with what you have in this business. Mike pulls in a lot of money for this company, while you are barely making enough to pay your salary. Why would I give you more companies when you barely sell to the ones you have?” He said as he puffed on his cigar.
“It’s a moot point Wallace. I do the best with what you give me. If you cant give me more territories, then my numbers will always remain low. If you want better sells for me then give me the overflow from Mike. He has at least thirty clients, I have ten left. And every client he has is in a city with a huge need for product, my clients are in small towns where the need for our product is minimal at best.” I said in a tone that wasn’t necessarily the best for the situation. But I was angry, angry at my job and my life.
I haven’t been on a vacation in six years, and I live with a dog that shows no affection to me, my rent just went up and I eat the same sandwich for lunch every day. Of course, I’m miserable and unproductive. I don’t want to be this way, it’s the hand I was dealt and I’m doing the best I can with what little I have.
“Look, I hate to do this, but I have to let you go. We need a salesman with energy, someone who will push the clients to buy more. You have two pictures on your desk, one of your dog and one of some beach. Two little frames, that’s not the desk of a man who longs to succeed. I’ve never met your wife at any of the Christmas parties or company events, you wear the same two suits every week and you exude depression. Nobody here enjoys your company. We just need to look out for our own asses here. You understand. There is a box at the door, pack your stuff and we will send you your last check. But I’ll do you one favor, I’ll be sure to give you a decent reference for whatever job you find. You understand, right? You just aren’t made for this type of work.” He said as he closed the folders and puffed on his cigar, blowing the smoke in my direction.
I had no reply, I just picked up my box and headed back to my desk to pack up everything. He didn’t even know I wasn’t married; he knew nothing about me. A security guard from downstairs walked me out of the building, as I could feel the stares coming from everyone around me. I was dying inside, there was no way I could find a new job quick enough to keep from losing my apartment, not in this city. I looked over at Mike as I was leaving, and he smiled and waved at me. One final fuck you from the worst human in the world. I hated Mike and I hated his life. This was pulling me down already and it had only been ten minutes since I was canned. I stopped by the employee dining room and grabbed my lunch as the guard led me out of the building.
I stood on the sidewalk looking up at the tall building, I could see the tenth floor where my office was. I imagined it exploding and fire engulfing the entire building. What was wrong with me? This wasn’t how I normally thought, but normally I didn’t worry about rent and food. Now I was no different than the homeless I gave money too every day. Maybe Larry was right, maybe I should have been more selfish and cold-hearted. Maybe I shouldn’t have been the guy who gave discounts to customers when they were struggling. Maybe I should have taken another job ten years ago, and maybe I should have just moved to the coast like I dreamed of every single day, instead of taking this horrible job that I no longer had.
I walked down the sidewalk, across the street was Lancing Park. It had a small pond, and I regularly took my lunch break sitting on a bench, watching the ducks and swans float across the water. It was the only joy I had all day long. So, I decided to take one last lunch break on my bench.
I walked down the sidewalk to the cross walk, a taxi beeped at me to hurry up at the cross walk. If anything, I could start sending out my resume to other companies, or maybe I could finally gather the strength and move to the beach like I dreamed every day. I walked down the path to my bench, carrying what little possessions I kept on my desk.
I sat down on the bench and began to eat my lunch for the final time. I was going to miss the ducks and the swans and the occasional squirrel that would come to my feet and wait for the crumbs I threw to the ground.
I had almost finished my sandwich when a tall man wearing an expensive suit sat down beside me. There were other benches, why was he sitting here? It was the final nail in my coffin, this lunch was the only peace I had everyday and now some flashy rich guy decided to sit next to me.
“Afternoon my friend, enjoying your lunch?” He asked with an accent that I couldn’t place. I studied his suit, it was custom tailored for him, I knew this because my cheap suits never fit my long arms and always made me look like a sloppy little kid going to church with his parents. Mike had nice suits, maybe that was the key to success? Maybe I should have splurged on a nice suit.
“Hi, just enjoying my lunch. There are a few open benches if you prefer privacy. I don’t mean to be rude, but I am having a really crappy day and it would be nice if I had a few moments of privacy.” I said with as much kindness as I could muster at the moment.
“Oh, I only need a few minutes my friend. It looks like you are having a less than perfect day. I noticed your box; did you just lose your job?” He asked in that brilliant accent. It was the accent that made his nosiness tolerable enough that I didn’t snap and say something rude. But that was never my way, I always held back what I wanted to really say, all for the sake of being nice.
“Yeah, ten long years and they just tossed me out like a bag of trash. This is my daily spot for lunch, and I wanted to have one last peaceful lunch before I move on to bigger and better things.” I said with a sprinkle of sarcasm.
“What if I could tell you that you could have everything you ever wanted? What if I could give you that dream home on the beach, that job that always celebrated you as an employee. Or what if I could give you any amount of money?” The man asked as he ran his fingers down his beard, pulling the end to a point. He had long beautiful hair that was neatly pulled back in a ponytail. His hair slicked back, smooth and dark. He had piercing blue eyes that just looked right through me.
“Then I would say, go for it. If your out here looking to give away wishes because you are super rich and can make a newly unemployed man happy, then go for it.” I said almost laughing, but still too broken to care, too melancholy to really give a damn.
“Jeffrey Williams, what if I gave you the choice to be rich or rid the world of poverty and sickness, which would you choose?” He said with a smile.
“How do you know my name?” I asked, suddenly as I grew very uncomfortable with this man.
“Its on your box, that is your name, isn’t it?” He said as I looked down at the box with my items collected in a neat pile.
“Oh, yeah, that’s me. And that’s really a strange thing to ask someone, don’t you think?” I said as I looked at the rest of my sandwich, wondering if I should toss it in the trash and leave.
“I’ve asked many people that question, and you probably guess the answer most people give me. Most are selfish and I have yet to meet anyone who chose the latter. Most people are just concerned with themselves. But I don’t judge, its not in my nature. I am simply asking a question; I assure you I will not judge you for your answer.” He said as he sat with his legs crossed and one hand pulling on his beard and the other hand across his leg. He was extremely elegant in his posture. I assumed he was just some rich man from the building across the street who was making small talk.
“Well, I assume I would prefer poverty and sickness to disappear around the world. I’m not a financially successful man, I never intended to get rich, just make enough to stick back and one day retire to a nice home on the beach with my dog.” I said as I finished my sandwich and thought about how maybe my dog would be more affectionate to me if he could run on the beach every day.
“Interesting Mr. Williams. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Tobias Elzene. I am interested in your true desire; would you take wealth or forsake personal gratification to allow the world to be rid of poverty and sickness. I want you to really think about it and tomorrow you can return to give me your answer.” He said as he stood and nodded his head and began to walk away.
“Hey look, I appreciate that you are interested in how people would answer the question, maybe you’re a writer or something but I really am not interested in playing some strange game with you or anyone else. I just lost my job and I just wanted to enjoy this little spot one last time. I don’t get over to this park often and now that I am no longer employed across the street, this is probably the last time I will be here. So, thanks but no thanks.” I said as I gathered my trash and stood to put it in the trashcan that was next to the bench.
He turned and smiled. “I assure you that you will be here tomorrow, Mr. Williams. I look forward to seeing you and hearing your true answer. I assure you that you will not regret it.” He said as I bent down to grab my box and give him a final “no thank you” but he was gone. I looked around and he was no where to be seen. As strange as that had been, I gave it little thought and went about my way back to my tiny apartment and my unfriendly dog.
That night I sat on my couch, wearing a t-shirt and a pair of jogging pants, my dog on the other end of the couch and my laptop sitting on the arm of the couch. I searched for the name, Tobias Elzene online. And the only mention I could find of that name was from an old article in a newspaper about a man who became rich overnight and he thanked Tobias Elzene in his speech before he donated a million dollars to a children’s hospital. But that article was from fifty years ago. And it was not easy to find, but it was the only thing when I searched that man’s name. Who was he? He obviously had money, the ring on his hand was obviously gold and his suit was custom tailored, people like that didn’t walk around in parks. They ran big businesses and fired people like me.
So, I thought about the question, more like I obsessed over it. It felt like it was the only thing I could think about, as if I had been hypnotized and forced to contemplate the outcome of each decision. I have always given to the poor on my way to work, and I had always donated each year to charities that helped not only people with cancer, but homeless children as well. I was diligent about this too, to a fault. But now I was jobless, and I needed help. I had enough in savings to survive maybe two or three months without a job, but I didn’t want to touch that. It was the money I put back in hopes of one day retiring to some small island in the Florida Keys. It had been my dream for as long as I could remember. So, the thought of being rich was enticing, but what would I do with all that money? I want very little, a small house near the ocean where I could spend everyday in a chair in the sand. I didn’t care about fancy cars, and in fact I would prefer to just own a bike and travel around a tiny town in the Florida Keys. I could ride down to the local store and get the things I needed to survive, I could ride the bike to a bar and have a few drinks and then ride my bike back home. I’m sure that most people would choose to be rich, but I could only imagine a world where poverty didn’t exist, and what if there was no disease or sickness that took peoples lives. That would be the right answer, that would be the answer that would show the world that someone cares. But how would any of this even work? The more I thought, the more I felt foolish even entertaining the notion that this man could make any of this happen. But what if he was some billionaire who gets off asking that question and then giving people money, maybe that was his thing. Maybe he was so rich that he had to entertain himself by getting in the head of an average Joe who would always answer selfishly.
But how could someone rid the world of poverty and sickness? I imagine a man with a few billion in his bank account could wipe out world poverty and donate millions to foundations that could eradicate disease. But why wouldn’t he just do that. If I had billions of dollars, I would feed all the hungry people, maybe buy them tiny houses to call home. I would make sure that none of the children in the world ever went without a meal or have to wear shoes that had been passed down from child to child. It was all those little details that perplexed me. How much money would it take to end world hunger, how much to fund medical research that could end cancer?
But who is to say this man was a fraud, surely it couldn’t be the same man from the story, he would be over a hundred years old? Maybe it was his father? I was never the type of man to have pride or care about myself. I felt good when I gave the homeless money, as if I was somehow saving the world. But a dollar here and a dollar there really helped no one. It wasn’t even enough to feed them. I relied on the thought that others would give like I did and those people on the streets could collect enough to eat a meal. I wasn’t ending poverty in any way, as much as I liked to think what I did helped a little.
I had enough in my savings to move right now to the Keys and rent a small house. I could find a job easily with my degree, I could be happy for once in my life. And that was enough for me, I don’t think I would enjoy having millions to plunder and surround myself with expensive things. That never appealed to me. I knew my answer and I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to see Tobias again tomorrow, at least for the sake of proving that I wasn’t a selfish ass, to prove that I was truly the good man that I longed to be.
That night I had a difficult time sleeping, I kept dreaming weird and bizarre dreams. I could see Tobias in my dreams, and I could see the bench and the pond with the ducks and swans. But there were darker parts of my dream that forced me to wake up covered in sweat and fearful of falling back to sleep. It was only 4am, and I couldn’t fathom going back to sleep after those horrible images filled my head. I rarely had nightmares, but this was different, it was as if I travelled through time seeing all the horrors of the early days when humans killed each other for sport. A time when they burned the women that they thought were witches, and in those dreams, Tobias was in every era, every place I visited in my nightmare.
I got up and fixed some coffee, I opened up my computer and then started searching how much it would cost to rid the world of poverty. To my surprise it was only in the billions of dollars, and every person could have enough money to live a decent life. But that was the problem, that money could feed everyone and provide housing, but not sustain them. It would take trillions of dollars to sustain the entire worlds population. It was like the things I would see posted about all the billionaires in the world and how it would only take a portion to change people’s lives. But to sustain them, and to eradicate disease it would take more money than I could ever imagine.
And what if he was a billionaire who wanted to spread his wealth, I should have found something online that told about this man. I read through the Fortune 500 list and his name was nowhere to be found. I was obsessed with this man; he was haunting me, and I had other things to worry about. For starters, what was I going to do for a job? I had no time to meet a stranger in the park, I needed to be online looking for a new job or deciding to finally move out of this town, this state, this part of the world that awarded the calloused with success and discarded the meek. I thought about going back to bed, but every time I closed my eyes I could see Tobias, his piercing blue eyes that made him look exotic. Maybe it was then that he hypnotized me, forced me to have nightmares and obsess over a ridiculous question.
I pulled out my laptop and searched for how many people were on this planet. Almost eight billion people were living as of this moment. I searched for how many homeless were living on the streets, it was almost 155 million. So, if you gave every person in the world $50,000 that would come to over four hundred trillion dollars, and that doesn’t even include the amount needed for medical research to eradicate all disease and sickness. Nobody had that kind of money, and the more I read about how much money would be needed to fix the world, to allow every person a chance to mend their lives and sustain their income, it would be an unfathomable number that even I couldn’t comprehend.
I turned on some music, trying to stop the rapid thoughts that were buzzing around in my head. What if? What if this? What if that? I understood now why most people answered the question with an answer that appeared to be selfish, but in fact it was the only logical choice. Never in my entire life had someone gotten into my head like this, worked their way into my brain and caused such chaos. I was convinced at this point that he did in fact hypnotized me in some way. I kept replaying our short meeting, over and over in my head and nothing happened that I recall that would have been any form of hypnotizing. Did he slip something in my drink when I wasn’t looking? Surely not. But why was I obsessing over this, why had it awoken me at such an ungodly hour?
My dog, Socrates, was whining at the door, he wanted to go out. He must have been confused by me waking up so early, and to him it was time to go out. I slipped on some shoes, gathered his leash and left my apartment. We took the elevator down to the lobby and walked out the doors to the small courtyard that was at the entrance of the building.
I waited patiently for Socrates to do his business and then I scooped it up in a tiny green bag, then tossed it in the trashcan next to the entrance. Three times a day for the last 10 years, the same routine. I thought of the Keys, I could walk Socrates on the beach, let him do his business in the sand, and of course clean up behind him, but better there than here. I could leave next week, rent a truck and fill it up with what little furniture I owned and drive for fifteen hours to the Florida Keys. Away from this atrocious city, this pit of despair that I lived in. Who was I kidding? I didn’t live here, I existed here. All I did was exist. But what if I had money? What if I had so much money I could just leave and take Socrates with me, I could just buy a house outright. I could buy all new furniture, for once I could sleep on an expensive mattress that didn’t hurt my back. For once I could sit on a couch and watch a television that wasn’t so small that I couldn’t make out the details of my favorite movie. My entire life could change if I had money. I could buy a restaurant and sit back and let people run it while I just got richer. Why stop at the Keys? Why not buy an island in the Caribbean? I could live completely in peace, away from every other human in the world. I could sleep in everyday; I could go for a swim anytime I chose. I could buy a friend for Socrates, and they could explore the island every single damn day.
I knew my answer, I wanted the money, or did I. But I still didn’t believe that any of this was real. Nobody just walks up to a stranger and offers them money. And what if that was the trick? What if they chose wrong by his standards, would he just laugh and ridicule the person for being selfish?
I sat on the bench outside while Socrates ran around the gated courtyard. My mind was elsewhere, far away. I found it funny that I was obsessing about a random encounter with a stranger when I should be focused on getting fired, I should be mad. I should be furious at them for letting me go, but I wasn’t. I just didn’t care, and more than that, I was happy that I would never have to spend another day in that forest of cubicles. I would never again have to listen to the woman to the right of me filing her nails all day long, or the disgusting coughing spells the person on my left had daily. I would never regret losing that job, it was the definition of Hell to me. Honestly, when I pictured Hell in my mind, I pictured being chained to that desk every day for all eternity.
I felt strange for being happy, but I was. I was going to spend the rest of the day online, looking for a home in the Keys and applying for jobs on the island. And I needed to rent a truck too, no I wasn’t going to meet Tobias on the bench at lunchtime, or ever for that matter. I was tired of being told what to do and when to do it. I have been trapped for ten long years, and miserable for most of them. I needed to be selfish and do what I wanted for a change. My mind was made up, no meeting a strange man on a park bench and not another week in this dystopian city that has sucked every ounce of life out of me.
Empowered with my new goals, I wrangled up Socrates and headed back to my dreary apartment. Today was the first day of the rest of my life. I read that on a poster once and thought it crass and idiotic. But now I believed it. Finally, I had the will power to follow my dreams. I took the elevator up to the sixth floor, exited and walked down the hallway to my apartment. I noticed when I exited the elevator that it was noticeably colder than earlier. It was so cold that I could see my breath. But I just focused on finding my key in my pocket to unlock my door.
As I fumbled with the key, putting it in the lock, I noticed a card stuck in between the door and the door frame. It was a black business card. I reached and removed it and turned it over, printed on the card was the time, Noon, and the location, the park bench. The card had a name on the back, printed in gold ink. It was Tobias’ name. How did he know where I lived? Could he have seen it on a page in my box yesterday? This was eerie and I was genuinely concerned at this moment. I looked up and down the hallway, nothing. But it was freezing cold in the hallway and Socrates was pulling me into the apartment. He wanted to lay on the couch. As he curled up into his favorite spot, I studied the business card closely. It was raised print. This wasn’t just printed on somebody’s computer printer; this was an actual printed business card. How did he have time to print a card, sneak into my building and leave it. I was outside maybe fifteen minutes at most, nobody came or went into the apartment the entire time I was outside. Should I call the cops? Or should I show up at the bench at noon?
I stood in my kitchen staring at the card, he wasn’t going to leave me alone until I gave him the answer. But to hell with him, I’ll show up and give him the answer that he wants. He wants me to say that I don’t want the money and that he should end poverty and disease. And once again I was stuck trying to make someone else happy. But to Hell with it all, I’m going to pull my money out of my retirement account and head to the Keys. I’ll meet Tobias and then in the next couple of days I can be packed and ready to leave.
At 11am my phone buzzed; I had a new text message. Nobody ever texted me except work, I had no friends in this city. My family only called, never text, so who could it be? I opened my phone and the message said simply, Noon. It wasn’t a number that I recognized, but I knew it was Tobias. He wasn’t going to let me be until I met him. So, I put on some clothes and headed down to the bus stop. I had to make three transfers on this bus route to get to the park and then I could move on with my life. Maybe I should send a box of cigars to Wallace, as a thank you for setting me free. I didn’t like how this hatred for my former employee was making me feel. I wasn’t that type of person to think violent thoughts or ways to get back at people. I didn’t like the person I was at this moment, and I needed to do better, try harder.
Walking down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street from the park, I saw my homeless friend, Woody. He was sitting in his same spot with his cardboard sign, which read – please help. I pulled out my wallet and all I had was a ten-dollar bill. What the hell, he can buy lunch and dinner with this, so I dropped the ten spot in his cup, and he was so thankful. I loved that feeling more than anything, that little serotonin dump that I got from helping others. I was lost in thought as I crossed the street, barely missing a taxi that sped through the crosswalk. That was the way it was in this city, and how I longed to leave all this hate and selfishness behind.
As I made my way down the path to my favorite bench, I could see Tobias sitting, waiting patiently for me. What would he have done if I hadn’t shown? Would he come to my apartment? I wasn’t going to find out, I was going to deal with this immediately. I walked past him and took the seat beside him. He was wearing a different fitted suit, with a red silk tie. His hair pulled tightly back in a pony tail and his brilliant beard that he was pulling to a point with his fingers.
“I was beginning to think you had forgotten about our meeting. I am very thankful that you showed.” He said with that unrecognizable accent. Was it middle eastern? Or something from Europe? I couldn’t place it, but it was intoxicating.
“Or what? Would you come back to my apartment? How did you even know where I lived, and how did you even get into the building?” I snapped, angry at his audacity to seek me out and demand that I show up. “And how did you get my phone number? That was you that texted me, right?” I said with a breath of anger.
“Mr. Williams, I have offended you. I apologize. But you perplexed me yesterday, you see usually I can guess what answer a person will give me regardless of the question. And even though I have asked that question before, I always felt that the person would choose to be wealthy over helping others. But I just saw you give a homeless man money. This is rare. I’m enthralled with what your answer will be.” He said in a voice that left me calm, much calmer than when I sat down.
“Before I answer your question, who are you? I searched your name, but the only thing that came up was an aged article, which couldn’t have been you. And why me? Why pick out me out of all the people in this city.” I asked, and I could see his irritation at my questioning.
“I am not from your city, nor am I even a citizen of this country. Have you ever heard the stories about genies in bottles?” He asked, yet another question for me.
“Of course, everyone has seen the movies and tv shows. Hollywood used to love the idea of a genie in a bottle. What does that have to do with you?” I asked.
“I am, what was once referred to as, a Jinn. I cant grant wishes to any human I desire. Those silly stories of a bottle and three wishes is nothing but nonsense for children. I am very old, older than you could imagine. But I enjoy a game of chance with people. Its not the question that I judge you by, I grant a wish to those who are pure of heart.” He explained.
“Are you serious. I took three buses, walked two blocks to have you tell me you’re a genie. And that you want to judge me and grant me a wish? Seriously. And you expect me to believe this?” I said with frustration. More frustration than when my boss told me I was fired.
“I have no reason to lie. As a show of good faith let me give you a gift.” He said as he held out his hand with the palm facing up. He then closed his hand and blew on his fingers. Opening his hand, he revealed a gold coin. Not just any gold coin but a piece of Roman gold, with Caesar’s face. I picked up the coin and examined it. It looked authentic, it felt like real gold, and it was tarnished like it had been hidden for a thousand years.
“Nice trick. Seriously, you should be on tv. You’re much better at slight of hand that anyone I have ever seen. I couldn’t even see you pull it out of your pocket or anything.” I said as I could see his frustration.
“Its no trick, I’ll show you once more, if you will allow me. And that is real Roman gold, not a fake.” He said as he grabbed my hand gently and had me hold it palm up.
“Now close your hand, count to three and open your hand.” He said as he released my hand and sat back against the bench.
I counted to three and opened my hand, another coin. How had he pulled this off? I could actually feel the moment the coin appeared in my hand.
“You’re serious. You are a Jinn? You can just make things appear? Why not use that magic to fix everything wrong with the world? Why not give one of those coins to the homeless man across the street? And why leave it up to me to decide the fate of the world?” I asked, the thoughts were spinning around in my head. I was overwhelmed with all of this. Just this morning I was walking my dog and now I’m sitting across from a freaking Genie.
“I have spanned the course of time, and I have given thousands of wishes to people for longer than you can imagine. But everything comes at a price. I give you something and you give me something.” He explained further.
“What do you want, my soul? I don’t really believe in that religious stuff. So, if you want my soul, I don’t suppose there is much I can do about it. But honestly, I just don’t believe in God and the Devil, so how do you even exist, how are you as old as you say and look like your only fifty?” I asked.
“Time has very little meaning to me. I can move back and forth through whatever time I desire. I can change things on the other side of the planet without being there. I can alter time and matter. We are all made of matter, and now I would like to know your true answer to my question. If you had the opportunity, would you choose to end poverty and sickness or would you prefer to be richer than you can imagine. Whatever you choose, I can make happen.” He asked as he explained the way things work.
“I’ve considered this question. It has flooded my mind with even more questions than answers. If you end poverty is that for a single moment? Or does that mean for all time? And if you have had that power, why have you not done it on your own?” I questioned.
“The movies and the television shows got one thing right, I don’t have the power to do my own bidding. As much as I would love to fix the world, as you said, I am limited to giving others what they desire. I’ve tried, many times, to fix the world. I’ve tried to coheres others into making the choice, but there are rules. Just like gravity, it has rules. You can only jump so high. Is that magic? No, its just the way it works. And the way my abilities work, is that you have to request your desire. And then I make it happen.” He explained as he reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out a cigar. He bit the tip off and spit it into the grass, pulled out a gold lighter and lit the cigar.
“Nasty habit, but we all have our vices. I could offer you one, if you like?” He offered.
“No thanks, my boss use to smoke them and the smell just brings back bad memories. But back to the question, I need specifics. If I choose to end poverty and sickness, is that for right this moment or for all time?” I asked.
“Oh! We have a thinker, a ponderer, a seeker of details. Its up to you, but my payment, your sacrifice is directly related to your answer. You see, life is about balance. But those that are truly selfless, they offset the balance in their favor. And out of the thousands of people I have posed that particular question too have always chosen selfishness.” Tobias proposed, but at the same time he was vague and refused to elaborate on the details. What exactly would I be sacrificing? But I knew my answer regardless.
I had put a lot of thought into this, and one thing that kept popping up in my mind was Mike, and how he was extremely egotistical and greedy with his work. He could have shared some of his accounts with me at any time, but he chose to be that way. He was what was wrong with the world. He was consumed with only furthering his wealth, his life and making it known to everyone that he was successful. I resented him and I never saw him as a role model, I only despised him more and more.
“Time is up Mr. Williams; you need to give me your answer. Or you can walk away and for the rest of your life live with the consequences of your decision. On one hand, you can save the world and never be able to take credit for it as a sacrifice, or you can choose wealth for yourself and forsake the needs of others and live with that for the rest of your life. How will you choose?” Tobias said, giving me no choice but to follow my heart.
Six Months Later…
I sit on the beach looking out over the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. There is a particular peace that comes from staring out into the vastness of the ocean. Watching as the tide comes and goes, watching as the water is always moving, as if it was alive. This island is small, but large enough that I am never bored with exploring its beaches. I live alone with Socrates and his new friend, Plato. They spend their days roaming the island, searching every inch. At night they return to my house, a small but well-built home that has everything I desire. I have no expenses except for the occasional trip to the small supply store that is housed on another island an hour boat ride to and from, my home is equipped with solar panels, so I never have to pay for power. My mail is delivered to the island where the supply store is, so if I need anything I can order it and have it delivered there. I have a satellite for my internet, so I have contact with anyone I choose, but the only people I care to talk to are my family. I truly have everything I need and desire, for the first time in my entire life I am truly happy.
As I sit here enjoying a nice cigar and a margarita made with fresh limes from my key lime tree, I am at peace with myself. I feel like I made the right decision, the decision to be happy. But it wasn’t the decision that you think I made, looking at all that I have; my own island, bought and paid for, food and electricity to power my home, two wonderful and happy dogs, and not a single bill, one would suspect and conclude that I chose personal wealth.
But you would be wrong. When Tobias Elzene proposed the question, I knew immediately that I would always put others above myself. That was never really a question, sure I had my moments of doubt and focused more on the details of the deal. But I never, for a single moment actually thought about taking the wealth for myself. I wasn’t Mike, I wasn’t a cold-hearted man like him. In my heart I felt we become better people when we sacrifice our happiness and needs over others. I always made it a point to give to others, even when I had little for myself. I gave to the homeless, I worked at the soup kitchen and when my parent’s needed money, I sent it to them.
My answer that day came easy, I chose to eliminate poverty and disease for the world. I didn’t care that I would never be allowed to take credit for it, that meant nothing to me. I was fully prepared to make that decision the entire time and I wanted nothing in return. I was planning on meeting Tobias and giving him my answer and then packing up and moving to the Keys the next week, just me and my dog living on a happy little island, riding my bike everywhere and working whatever job that would pay me enough to survive. I had prepared myself for a life of little income, to the point of eating ramen everyday if needed. My sanity and my happiness were directly connected to my decision.
When I told Tobias that I absolutely wanted the world to be free of poverty and disease, he actually seemed shocked. Two times he asked me if I was sure, if I was ready to accept the sacrifice needed to fulfill my wish, my decision to forsake personal wealth for the well being of the entire world. My answer each time was a resounding yes. Tobias snapped his fingers and I watched as the people in the park, the people on the sidewalks all stopped and looked at their phones. Each and every person on the planet was given $100,000.00. I looked behind me to the homeless man and saw that he had a box in front of him, surprised at how it had suddenly appeared in front of him. I stood to get a better view as he opened it and gasped at the money that filled the box. Tobias smiled and explained that every person in the world received money, enough to pull them out of poverty and follow a path of success if they chose. He told me how every charity had been given large sums of money, enough to pay for more scientist to devote time to curing cancer and eradicating every disease on Earth. The news reports suddenly began broadcasting how every person in the world had received money, and at that moment poverty had been eliminated. There wasn’t a single hungry person in the world, and soon there would be cures for every ailment that millions suffered from. As I sat on the bench, I felt a wave of happiness unlike anything I had ever felt. There was no pride in my decision only a sense of satisfaction that people all over the world could finally experience relief, feel happiness and soon all diseases would be eliminated.
I looked at my phone and the news stories were pouring in, was this real? Was this some sort of hoax? Story after story, report after report all detailing how every country was declaring the end of all poverty. Then came the reports that foundations and research centers had been bombarded with all the money they needed to cure every disease known to man. For the first time in the history of the world everyone would have the opportunity to be satisfied and truly happy. I thought about the old saying, money cant buy happiness, but it was only the rich that said that. The poverty stricken prayed daily for just enough money to pay their bills or buy food. So that old saying was wrong, money can buy happiness. With the overwhelming sense of self-respect, I told Tobias, thank you. And as I stood to leave, he stopped me.
“Wait Mr. Williams, I told you that life was filled with balance. Every energy in the universe required balance. Your decision was selfless, it was without desire for personal gratification. You were fully prepared to give to the world and ask nothing in exchange for what you have just done. And I would bet that you have no desire to take credit for this, now or ever. Am I correct in that assumption?” He asked, but he knew the answer, it was a resounding yes. Yes, he was correct that I desired no thanks or praise. I simply wanted to move to the Keys and settle down with my only true friend, Socrates.
“I explained to you that their had to be a sacrifice. But you are choosing to sacrifice public acclaim, you have no desire to take credit for this. I feel this from you and for the first time in thousands of years I am actually standing in the presence of a truly altruistic man. You sir are an anomaly in the world of humanity. Anyone else would have chosen to be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. I am truly humbled at your decision.” Tobias explained.
“I want for very little. But each day I saw people that had so much less than me. Losing my job because I chose to help out my clients instead of taking advantage of them pushed me into a sadness. All I desire now is to pack my things and head to the islands, live my life with the bare minimum needed to survive and make my dog happy, to make him finally feel like he can be happy. I want so much to see him run up and down the beach and experience freedom. I would even like to give him a companion so that he isn’t lonely anymore. You’re correct that I don’t want credit for this. That would be the farthest thing from my mind. Thank you for allowing me to do this, to help others.” I said as I stood to walk away, satisfied and fulfilled.
“Not so fast, remember there is a price that must be paid for your decision. Had you chosen personal wealth the price for that would be that you would never be allowed to leave this city. Had you been selfish and took the money for yourself I would have made it impossible for you to ever travel to the Keys and live out your life with your wealth, instead you would be forced to remain here, and the only difference would be the amount of money at your disposal. But because of your decision I get to reward you with what you truly desire, what fills the deepest part of your heart. I want to give you everything you have ever desired.” And before I could say another word, he snapped his fingers, and we were both instantly transported through time and space to this island.
Stunned and disoriented I struggled to balance myself. I looked around and, in every direction, I was surrounded by the crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic Ocean. I could see a modest house at the highest point of the island, surrounded by beautiful fruit trees. There was a walkway that led from the house down to the beach. And Socrates was running with another dog up and down the white sands of the island. I had never seen him so happy. And before I could ask any questions, Tobias began to explain.
“For your sacrifice, your selfless nature I present you with your new home. This island belongs to you. It is self-sustaining, powered by solar panels on the top of your new home, you have a second dog to bring joy to Socrates. Your bank account will always have the same amount, regardless of how much you spend. I added a substantial amount to the meager amount that was in there. There is a boat for you to travel to a small island directly south of us. There is a supply store on the island that will have everything you need to survive. You have unlimited access to the internet at no cost to you, so you can always be in contact with your family. Everything you see on this island is yours. Everything you ever desired for yourself is here, you my friend will never have to long for anything. I have granted this to you, and it can never be reversed.” He explained as I stood in amazement at my surroundings.
“And because you were the first person to choose the selfless path, I have been released from my enslavement. I have been a Jinn for thousands of years, always offering the same choice. But the balance never shifted, it always fell to the side of greed. And now I am free. I can live out the rest of my life as a mere mortal.” He explained.
Astonished at all that I was given, I felt a sense of guilt for receiving so much for simply choosing the needs of others over my own. I asked Tobias what he planned to do for the rest of his life.
“I have always sought a simple life in France. To live out my days pursuing the streets of Paris, tasting the wine and spending my days in a small café, watching the people going about their lives. Like you I do not wish for the materialistic life, I simply want to sip a cup of tea and watch the world pass by and enjoy the simple act of existing. I look forward to my old age, maybe I’ll meet someone special and have children. And when my time comes to an end, I want to be surrounded by the people I love. And then finally after thousands of years of roaming this earth, granting wishes to egocentric people, I can die and truly find relief from the atrocities I have witnessed over the ages.” He said, and for the first time since our first encounter, I saw a man who was truly happy and relieved to finally have a real life.
“That is truly beautiful, and I wish you the best in your journey.” I said with the gratitude of unmeasurable appreciation.
And with that, he simply disappeared. And here I sit watching the ripples in the ocean and my mind is at ease. Each day I awake and enjoy this life, this life that I felt I was never worthy of. This life that I adore so much.
A warm breeze blows across the shore, Socrates and Plato splash in the shallows of the ocean and chase one another in my little paradise. I am genuinely happy for the first time in my entire life.
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