Years ago, when I was very young, I heard a story about a beggar and a rich man. I’ve been trying to find that story everywhere and haven’t had any luck over the years, leaving me wondering where exactly I heard it in the first place.
Few things stick with you prominently from childhood and usually it’s random and probably useless. But this story is one of the few that echoes very loudly and to this day I find it oddly interesting, with new interpretations manifesting as I grow older and understand the story differently.
So, I’ve decided to write what I remember being told back then.
A beggar, a rich man, and a golden cat:
One day a rich man was walking down a busy street, mind fixated on his own thoughts, oblivious to the world around him. A beggar was sitting on a derelict corner, completely overlooked by the hundreds of passing faces. He saw the rich man, dressed in what was clearly very expensive clothing, rushing towards him and as he approached, the beggar called to him. The rich man blew him off and began to walk past him, then dead halted when the beggar said these words: “Sir. What if I told you I have something of extreme value to offer you?”
The rich man stopped, turned around and looked the beggar up and down with a cynical expression on his face. “What could you possibly have to offer me?”, he asked. The beggar smiled. “Not everything you see is as it truly is, sir.”, he replied. The rich man frowned as the beggar continued.
“What if I told you I had a statue of a cat, beautiful and made of pure gold? Like nothing you have ever seen before.”
The rich man scoffed in disbelief, but his interest was piqued. Looking down at the beggar, he replied. “I highly doubt you possess anything like that. But if you did, I’d be interested in hearing more about this supposed golden cat.”
The beggar shrugged and said, “You look like a smart and capable man, I’m sure you understand that there is investment potential in the most unlikely places at times.” Flattered, the rich man nodded slowly. “Yes, this is true.” Something about the elusive smile on the beggar’s face made the rich man wonder if he was passing up an opportunity by walking away. “Let me buy you lunch. I want to hear more about this statue.”, he said.
They went off to a local restaurant and ordered food as the beggar continued to tell the rich man more about the golden cat. “What if I told you it was a relic from ancient Egypt, stolen from the tombs of Tut Ankh Amun shortly after its discovery? What if I told you the person who stole it was my grandfather and it’s been passed down to me?” Enthralled, the rich man leaned forward and asked the beggar to continue. The beggar carried on giving more details, painting a vivid picture as he swung his wine glass around in the midst of explaining. “What if I told you it has large sapphires for eyes and a necklace made of pure rubies and emeralds, unlike anything you’ve seen?”
The rich man’s eyes widened, his face in an expression of total captivation and fascination. “Tell me more!”, he exclaimed as he ordered more wine and food. The beggar feasted as he continued. “What if I told you it glistens with precious stones and has a large. perfectly flawless diamond hanging from the collar? Easily the size of half your palm!” By now the rich man was completely taken by the story and ready to offer the beggar a sizeable amount for the statue, knowing full well that he would get tenfold that amount upon selling it himself.
They finished their wine and food, and walked out of the restaurant. “I think I’ve heard enough.”, the rich man said. “Take me to this statue of yours. I want to see it.” The beggar paused for a second, then shook his head. “Sir, I don’t possess such a thing.”, he replied. The rich man frowned. “What do you mean? You just told me all about this statue you have. You told me all about how it looks. The diamonds! The precious stones!” His confusion quickly turned into anger. “You told me you had this statue! You lied to me?”
The beggar raised his hands in defence. “Sir, I never told you I have a golden cat. I merely said ‘What if’ I had one. You made all the assumptions yourself.” He smiled softly. “But thank you for the delicious lunch. I haven’t eaten that well in ages!” The rich man stood there, stunned, as he watched the beggar walk away and disappear into the crowd.
To this day I can’t quite decide what the lesson is in this story. Is it that greedy people are blinded by their greed? Or that you shouldn’t underestimate someone’s intelligence based on their appearance? Maybe it’s that you shouldn’t believe what people promise you, because they could just be taking you for a ride at your own expense and their pleasure. Whatever it was, this story comes to mind time and again, at random, throughout my life.
What brought it to mind this time was a statement I read that got me thinking: “Not everyone who smiles at you, is your friend.”
I guess the moral of the story, or at least one of them, is never stick your neck out too far for something you’re not sure of, and never paint images of your future based on the promises of those around you – their words may never manifest in actions and you’ll be the one struggling as a result, not them.