The Soapbox: A Way Out 1
The Merchant And The Crook
A Man Of His Own Meddle
There was once a merchant who lived in a small village nestled between two mountains. He made an earnest living, providing the best life he could for his wife and children. His wife, a seamstress, made her living crafting all kinds of goods for the villagers; bed sheets, blankets, shoes and hats; anything fabric-based that could be hemmed was crafted under the needle of her sewing machine. Their children were both healthy and bright, both becoming the heads of their respective classes in school. The eldest son is about to move on to a platform of higher education whilst the younger is learning the ways of a tradesman, putting his education into improving his own craft.
Today, life is splendid, but things were not always so good for the merchant. He was born into a poor family when the village was but a collection of huts. There was no heat during the winter and the summers were absolutely sweltering, but the family made their way. His mother was a housewife and a midwife, and his father a builder, constructing homes and other buildings for the folks who wandered into the little patch of heaven between the mountains. As time went on and more humans moved into the village, the merchant’s family got richer and the father stayed busy and profitable. However, the son knew that this could not last; eventually there would be no more houses to build. This is why the merchant became a merchant; when that day would come, he would save his family from slipping back into the clutches of poverty.
And so that day came, and so the merchant did; the merchant’s parents retired before dying and he sold goods all over the village.
All flavors of folks populated the village. At first it was mostly farmers, then more skilled craftsman and their families came to settle. Then the educator types helped spawn the educated types who would move on to different villages in far off lands to spread the knowledge they received. For every influx of good, though, there must be a matching influx of bad: eventually the shadier type of humans began to move into the village, humans who take what they want when they want, always avoiding the consequences of their actions. At least, this is how it seemed to the merchant.
The merchant was not only a wealthy man, but a charitable one as well. Every Sunday he would have his wife bake plump loaves of bread, and he would sell them for a dollar a piece, a price he knew anyone and everyone could afford. Folks from every corner of the village would come out and fill the merchant’s thatch basket with dollar bills, leaving with freshly baked loaves of the most delicious bread they have ever eaten. Everyone, that is, except the crook.
The crook rarely showed up in the village during the week, but on Sundays he would hang out around the merchant’s bread stand. Leaning against the corner of a nearby building, the crook would lay in wait until the perfect opportunity presented itself. When it did, as it always did, in a flash of carefully calculated movement he would grab as many loaves as he could carry and then disappear into the forest, stealing not only the merchant’s potential money, but also his wife’s hard work. The merchant was not a fan of this crook.
The crook’s scheme went off without a hitch week after week. Every Sunday the merchant would set up his bread stand, and every Sunday the crook would steal his bread. Many villagers were aware of the crook’s mischief and fear began to spread across the town.
The merchant, being a man of his own meddle, eventually grew tired of this blatant disrespect. So tired, in fact, that one day he had a couple of police officers lay in wait for the crook. When the crook made his move, the officers jumped, arresting him and locking him in a cage. A few days later he was hung at the gallows for thievery, and that was that. Justice had been served, balance had been brought to the world, and the merchant’s charitable profits were saved.
The Sunday after the hanging, three dirty children appeared in the village. Nobody had seen these children before, they wore rags rather than clothing made by the merchant’s wife and their smell would curl the hairs on an elephant’s head. The merchant noticed them hanging around his bread stand and was all too familiar with their kind. He was sure that they were going to steal from him.
Just as he predicted, two of the children made a distraction and the third, much smaller and nimbler than the others, rushed in and stole a loaf of bread. This child was not as seasoned as the late crook, however, and the merchant was able to catch him and his no-good brothers before they disappeared into the forest.
The merchant was angry. Angry that these grifters were stealing from him, taking advantage of not only his kindness, but also his wife’s hard work. All day she would slave over the hot oven, and for what? So some kids could get a free paycheck? Absolutely not.
When he questioned the young thief, the boy started to weep. He told the merchant of how his father would always bring them fresh bread to eat each and every Sunday, how it was the only real food their motherless family would get all week. One day, however, their father never came back, and they were left to fend for themselves.
The merchant, heart heavy with the realization of what he had done, let the boy go and gave him an entire basket full of loaves of bread. From then on, every Sunday he would set up his bread stand but require no payment, instead accepting donations that would fund a construction project. When the funding was complete the merchant strapped on a tool belt, just like his father, and he built a home for the crook’s boys inside of the village.
In the end, the boys had a home to live in and good food to fill their bellies while the merchant still made his profits. But at what cost? The boys lost their father, who would do anything for them, even knowingly commit crime to feed his family, and the merchant was morally responsible for the murder of a man guilty of nothing more than adapting to a sticky situation.
Reality truly is defined by perception, unless one is perceiving it wrong.