The Beggar and the Keys.
March 16th 2013
The beggar had saved up enough for his first good meal in a fashionable restaurant in a long long long time. He entered the cultured establishment in his untidy clothes.
Immediate disapproval was murmured by the guests near the door. Several guests motioned to a waiter with nods that he should leave. The usher asked to see his available cash to save the embarrassment of all at the conclusion.
Assured the beggar had sufficient money, he was shown to a single seater table in the corner at the back in the shadows. Quite close by was another single seater table also in the shadows and seated there an equally shabby but older man.
“What are you having?” the beggar asked the older man.
The older man replied, “Haven’t decided yet. The prices are pretty high, don’t you think?”
The beggar looked at the menu and gasped. Prices had gone up since he looked at the outdoor menu some months earlier and he didn’t know about the surcharge for weekends. He privately counted his cash again. He could still afford the steak but not the dessert.
“Yes, a little high,” he finally replied. As the older man looked away, the beggar looked at the man and imagined the man had even less cash than he. The waiter duly arrived and the older man selected chicken wings and baked potatoes, one of the cheapest dishes on the menu.
“Anything else, sir?” asked the waiter.
“No, that’s all, thank you,” the older man replied.
The beggar looked at the steak price again, then back at the older man, then back at the menu. The waiter approached him. A wrestle went on inside him. Finally he said to the waiter, “Same as the gentleman on my right” and whispering he added quietly, “and I’ll pay for his meal.”
When their humble meals arrived, both men ate them happily without a word spoken. When the older man called for his bill, he was told that the beggar had paid it. The older man stood to leave and, turning to the beggar, bowed slightly and nodded with a broad smile of thanks. The beggar nodded back as warmly.
The beggar took twice as long to finish his meal because he sucked every last piece of chicken off the wings. He then left the restaurant and made his way home. The beggar eventually reached the alley where he would turn off the street. Up that alley and crossing behind some disused buildings, he would reach the overpass and his makeshift cardboard home beneath, alongside one of the tall supporting columns. But just as he reached the corner, he heard a polite cough behind him and turned, astonished to see the older man standing there.
“I’m sorry to bother you, sir,” the older man began, “but you left something behind.”
“I would be very surprised if I left anything behind for I own nothing, sir. It must belong to someone else,” and the beggar turned to go.
“I believe they are yours. Won’t you look?” said the man.
The beggar was always polite. He turned back and looked at some keys the older man was holding out. “Keys?” the beggar asked.
“Your keys, sir,” said the older man.
“Oh no, not my keys. I don’t have any keys. I own nothing to warrant having keys. What are they keys for?” the beggar asked.
The older man continued. “This is a car key. This is a house key. And this is an office key.”
“There you go. They can’t be mine for I own neither car nor house, nor do I have a job,” the beggar replied. “Perhaps if you hurry back you will find the person who dropped them.”
“Actually I’ve met the owner of the keys. And I forgot to ask your name, sir? Mine is Tom.”
“Ralph,” the beggar replied courteously, shaking the man’s hand.
“Ralph, you have the same name as the man who owns the keys. See the name Ralph imprinted on each key.”
“Well, that’s a coincidence! But they’re not my keys and Ralph must be missing them. Perhaps we look alike and you have mistaken me for him.”
Tom appreciated the honesty of the beggar. “May I ask your surname, Ralph?”
“Ralph Jones. That’s the name of the man who owns the keys!” Tom exclaimed.
“Oh no. That means there are two Ralph Jones’ in this vicinity. He must be quite worried by now. Perhaps we could look together and try and find him,” the beggar suggested.
“Ralph, I know where the car is. Would you mind coming with me to the car?” Tom asked.
“Well, I guess so. Perhaps you’ll spot the other Ralph Jones on the way. What does he look like?” asked the beggar.
“He looks like you, Ralph,” said Tom.
Ralph laughed even more when Tom pointed out the grey Mercedes. “Well, Mr Ralph Jones definitely won’t be dressed like me if he owns that!” said the beggar.
“Let’s open the door and see what ID there is in the glove compartment,” Tom suggested.
“Do you think you should?” Ralph asked.
“I think Ralph will let me once he knows what has happened,” said Tom.
Tom opened the passenger door with the key. He opened the glove compartment and took out the car registration license. He handed the licence to Ralph. “Can you check the car does belong to Ralph Jones?” Tom suggested.
Ralph took the license book, opened it and read the name, “Ralph Jones.” His eyes looked across to the photo on the other side. He peered more closely.
Tom asked, “Do you recognise the man?”
“He looks like me!” Ralph replied astonished and handed it to Tom.
Tom looked. “He looks exactly like you. Do you have a twin brother?”
“I don’t have any brothers or sisters,” Tom replied. “This is amazing that someone in this city looks like me. I’ve sometimes thought about what would happen if I met my twin.”
“And what would you do if you met your twin?” Tom asked.
“I’d show him round town and introduce him to all my beggar friends and treat him to breakfast at Sam’s Breakfast Cafe.”
“Sam’s Breakfast Café? I don’t know it.”
“Oh I’d love you to meet Sam. A warm hearted Lebanese who makes great pizzas.”
“I thought I knew all the pizza houses this side of town.”
“This one is pretty hard to find. Confidentially, Sam only runs it for the down and outs. He’s got a business somewhere else so he just does it for the fun. And we really appreciate having one good meal a day. You should come by sometime.”
“How much are the pizzas?”
“There’s no set price. We give Sam whatever we can afford that day. He trusts us and we trust him so you can’t go wrong with Sam.”
“The registration book says the house is located at 215 Westinghouse Road. Perhaps if we drive there we can leave the keys in his house,” Tom suggested. “I would prefer you to come with me Ralph so we can explain what has happened if we find Ralph there.”
“Ok but do you know how to drive?” Ralph asked, “because I don’t.”
“Yes, I can drive,” Tom assured him.
Arriving at 215 Westinghouse Road, the lights were on. A good sign, thought the beggar. They knocked on the front door. A butler opened the door.
“Good evening gentlemen. Won’t you step into the foyer?” he asked graciously and took their coats, escorting them into a spacious marble floored waiting area. A sweeping staircase swept away opposite them, a small pool and fountain on either side of the steps.
“Is this the home of Ralph Jones?” Tom asked. The butler nodded in the affirmative. “And is he in?” Tom continued.
“Yes, he is, sir. Would you both like to come into the lounge?”
They wandered along an ornate red-carpeted corridor with walls covered in famous paintings, and were ushered into an expansive lounge with a veritable library of books lining the walls.
“This man reads a lot,” Ralph commented.
On the far side of the room were photos. Ralph carefully picked up one. His eyes weren’t too good and the butler offered him some glasses. “Thanks,” he said to the butler, putting them on. He peered at the photo. “It’s incredible that this Ralph Jones looks so much like me. Even this childhood photo looks like mine. Here look! He went to the same beach on holiday as me as a youngster. It’s a great wonder we didn’t run into each other! There are no photos of his parents or extended family. I wonder why? Mind you I don’t have any of mine either, having been fostered all my life. ”
Tom called the butler over. “I need to go now. I’d like to talk to Ralph Jones at his office tomorrow if possible,” he remarked to the butler. “Here are his keys.”
“Actually sir, he’s going to his office right now. Should be there in 10 minutes” said the butler helpfully.
“Fantastic. Ralph, let’s go.” Then turning to the butler, Tom asked, “Can we use Ralph’s car?”.
“By all means sir,” the butler replied graciously. “The address is 10 Falcon Street, 47th floor.”
Tom drove them to 10 Falcoln Street. Leaving the car, Ralph looked up at the skyscraper above him. He had never been higher than a 1st floor.
“We’re here to see Ralph Jones,” Tom said to the duty guard. “Has he arrived?”
“He has sir. You are right on time.”
“May we go up now?” Tom asked.
“Yes, you may, sir.” The guard swiped his card to allow them to exit on the 47th floor. Ralph had to hold the rail on the way up, unaccustomed to vertical velocity.
They stepped out into the vestibule of the 47th floor. An oak-panelled door faced them and on the door was written in clear lettering, “Ralph Jones.” The door was slightly ajar and despite calling out, no-one came.
“The guard will have phoned ahead so he is expecting us,” Tom reassured Ralph as they entered the plush office suite.
“I will be glad when we can finally give him his keys,” Ralph said a little nervously.
Tom walked to the desk. He picked up an envelope. “You might find this of interest, Ralph. It’s an envelope addressed to you.”
Ralph smiled. “All the mail will be addressed to me because he’s my namesake!”
“But in this case, the envelope IS addressed to you.” Tom said.
“It can’t be. I don’t live at 215 Westinghouse Road or work at 10 Falcon Street 47th floor,” said the beggar.
“Yet this envelope is addressed to you,” said Tom adamantly.
“I don’t understand,” Ralph replied puzzled. “What does the address read?”
“Here, it’s for you. Have a look,” and Tom held the envelope out for Ralph.
Ralph received the envelope and read it aloud. “Ralph Jones, Overpass 17, Foundation column 63.” Ralph looked up at Tom and screwed up his face in unusual shapes trying to fathom why he would be holding this envelope here and now, on the 47th floor of 10 Falcon Street. He didn’t know how to proceed.
“It appears to be for you, Ralph. Why don’t you see what’s inside?” Tom suggested.
“But how can it be for me? Yes, I live at column 63 but …” He sat down in the director’s chair without realising where he was seated. Slowly he opened the envelope. A small piece of paper was inside and one sentence..
“Read it to me, Ralph,” said Tom.
Ralph read. “You gave me half of what you had saved so I’m giving you half of what I have saved. T.” Ralph read the words several times but they meant nothing. “Who is T?”
Tom was smiling. He said nothing. Just kept smiling.
“Are you T, Tom? Ralph asked.
Tom smiled some more.
“I’m not quick at picking things up, Tom. Please explain it to me,” asked Ralph.
“Tonight in the restaurant you gave me half of what you had saved. I read that in your eyes as you struggled with yourself. So I’m giving you half of what I have saved.” Tom explained.
“That’s very kind of you but you don’t have much Tom,” said the beggar.
“Actually Ralph, I have a great deal,” Tom answered. “But there is a catch.”
“I still don’t understand what you want to give me,” said Ralph.
“The keys. The keys are yours, Ralph.”
“No, no. We’ve covered this already. The keys belong to the other Ralph Jones who is here somewhere…” and he looked round desperately to find him.
“You are Ralph Jones, Ralph. There is no other Ralph Jones. You are the director and rightly seated in your own chair.”
Ralph leapt up, suddenly realising where he was seated and walked to the far side of the room next to a sofa and turned to face Tom. Tom smiled and said to the beggar, “Ralph Jones is not coming because he is here already, Ralph. You are he.”
Ralph was shaking his head. “But the guard said he had arrived.”
“Yes he had because you were standing in front of him, Ralph.”
“But… but the butler said he was home!” said the beggar confused.
“Yes he did because you were home, Ralph.”
“But… the photographs in the car and in the lounge?”
“There I must apologise for taking some liberties,” Tom began. “After you very kindly paid my bill, I began a course of action I had planned for some months. You see, Ralph, I had been waiting to find someone just like you. I knew such a person would eventually come across my path. I took a photo of you with my cell-phone hidden in the folds of my coat as I bowed and nodded thanks. Outside the restaurant I alerted company friends in the neighbourhood whom I had asked to stand by for such a scenario as this.” Tom paused to make sure Ralph was keeping up.
Tom continued, “One friend received your photo by phone and immediately had my car re-registered online in your name with your photo. Another friend asked about Sam’s Café and managed to quickly find out exactly where you lived. A third went to your home at column 63 and I hope you will forgive me, but he took the photo of your childhood and framed it immediately and delivered it at once to 215 Westinghouse Rd. The house and butler had been in place for some months. All the house butler and the guard downstairs needed was a name – on this case Ralph Jones and they knew you would be travelling with me.”
Tom paused again. “Ralph, you are an extremely honest man and I need an honest man directing this company. I am offering you directorship. I said there was a catch. There is no salary. Instead I am giving you the home we visited, the car, travelling expenses, health insurance, membership at every club you want to join, unlimited meals at every restaurant this half of town, and ownership of this building. The last thing I am offering you is my friendship. I hope you will accept,” Tom said.
Ralph sank down onto the sofa near him. “But my half was so little. Your half is so big!”
“You gave out of your poverty, Ralph and I happily give out of my riches.”
Ralph accepted, astonished beyond belief. Tom and he became good friends. Sam joined Ralph’s team with the proviso he continue to run Sam’s Breakfast Café where Tom and Ralph often breakfasted in their suitably attired unkempt clothes.
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