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The Boy under the Table: a short story

The Boy under the Table: a short story

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Published by tony
After forty years, a wealthy entrepreneur pays off a small loan, but not everyone is impressed by his generosity.
After forty years, a wealthy entrepreneur pays off a small loan, but not everyone is impressed by his generosity.

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Published by: tony on May 28, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/28/2011

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The Boy underthe Table
In the evenings, about half an hour before bedtime, the boy would come down thestairs and sit quietly in his favourite spot, which was under the dining table. He usedit as a den where he could read books, draw sketches, or just listen to the grown ups.Though his foster parents were amused by his behaviour, it certainly didn’t causethem any concern. He was quite unlike the last boy they had fostered; a strange ladwho would sit rocking backwards and forwards in the cupboard under the stairs.The new boy was a bit of a loner, and occasionally given to some rather uncouthlanguage, but reasonably well-behaved.With no television, the grown ups would listen to several radio programmes and thenchat about the news or the events of the day. The boy under the table always lookedforward to friends or relatives calling by for the evening. It gave him the chance toplace a face to some of the people his foster parents had mentioned. When he heardnames like ‘Our Harry’, ‘Charlie Sideways’, or ‘Vera from work’, he would sketchthem in his pad, and later see if they matched his illustrations. Most of all, he enjoyedlistening when the visitors exchanged stories and memories from the past.Sometimes, the grown ups would lower their voices to a whisper, or even spell outcertain words, but the boy under the table missed nothing.The stories he heard were not always new. In a year, some might be repeated severaltimes. They were taken out like family heirlooms, polished up, adjusted, admired andthen stored away for another occasion or a different visitor. But there was oneparticular story which always fascinated him, and he knew it by memory. It was onewhich was often told whenever the conversation turned to money, wealth or success.The story was interesting enough, but it was the listeners’ reaction to its ending thatpuzzled him. They never laughed and he couldn’t fathom it out, because he alwaysfound it hilarious. Sometimes, he had to bury his face in his sleeve to stifle thegiggles.
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The story took place many years before the boy under the table was born. Itconcerned a young man making his way in life in a northern city where there wasmuch unemployment and fierce competition for jobs. He was called Edwin and was adistant relative of the family. Unable to find work, he borrowed a handcart and wentaround the local tailoring and dressmaking firms buying up, or scrounging, unwantedmaterial. He then pushed the handcart to market and sold the material to passingcustomers. After a few months, he had started to make a reasonable living. Then, oneafternoon, while he was having a cup of tea at the market cafe, someone stole hisentire stock. He had spent all his money that morning buying the material and wasdistraught. Fortunately, a young butcher working in the market took pity on him andgave him a shilling (15c) which, in those days, was enough to get him back on hisfeet again.Years later, Edwin would point to that single act of generosity and declare that it wasthe moment his fortunes changed for the better. Some weeks later, he left the marketand started to buy and sell scrap metal. One success led to another and, movingfurther north, he gradually built up a successful scrap metal empire. His name and hisyards were clearly visible from trains approaching several large cities. With theprofits, he bought a large country mansion to match his rather large wife, took hisfamily abroad on holidays, and sent his children to the finest public schools. Havingentered politics with the right party, he became chairman of the city council and evenserved a term as mayor. A knighthood was sure to follow. Needless to say, when heretired, Edwin was a millionaire, and, in those days, that really meant something.One day, dressed in an expensive camel hair coat, he went to visit his variousrelatives and passed the market where his working life began. Ensuring that hischauffeur driven limousine was parked where it wouldn’t be vandalised, he made hisway into the building. He had to return there for one last time. To his delight, hediscovered that his benefactor, the butcher, was still running a meat stall. He askedthe old butcher if he could remember him, but the man just looked puzzled and shookhis head.‘Well, my name is Edwin. Forty years ago, I worked here selling material from ahandcart. One day, you helped me out when my stock was stolen. You gave me ashilling.’The butcher then remembered and said he believed that Edwin had done quite wellfor himself in the intervening years. Edwin agreed, but admitted that he had failed toreturn the shilling to the butcher before leaving the market for a new life.
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