A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi
Jacob looked around in surprise. The walk from the train station at three in the morning was usually uneventful. The people of the neighborhood were all asleep by that time in their comfortable and cozy beds, and there was not a single soul in sight. The sound of someone secretly “psssting” made him uncomfortable. However, he followed the sound to a dark corner.
The homeless man had moved in next to the dumpster a few days ago, and it was he who was trying to get Jacob’s attention in a hushed whisper. People usually threw a coin or two at him, but no one ever actually talked to the man.
Even Jacob didn't know why he found himself standing in front of the guy, maybe he was too tired to think and acted on instinct, maybe he just missed human contact himself and the only kind of social interaction he would get away from work was with this man. Whatever the reason might be, there he was, standing in front of the homeless man who was weighing him with his eyes.
“What?” After what seemed like an eternity, Jacob broke the silence.
“I know you.” The homeless man smiled. He had most probably lost his teeth to a drug, and
most definitely had no access to dental hygiene products.
“You do?” Jacob didn’t know why he was entertaining the man, but he asked anyway.
“Yes I do. I know your type anyway. You are a lot like me.”
“And how is that?”
“I am homeless out here under the sky, and you are homeless inside your apartment.” The homeless man had probably seen Jacob walking in and out of the giant apartment complex daily, so he knew Jacob lived there.
Jacob was tired after working a double shift, but he was feeling a bit generous. He knew the homeless man was probably suffering from ten different kinds of mental disorders, so he just ignored his comment. He reached into his pocket for some spare change, but found a ten dollar bill instead; he took the bill out and raised his hand towards the homeless man. To his surprise, the homeless man just ignored the money and kept talking.
“I was like you. I wasn't thankful for the hand I had been dealt. I wasn't content with what I had, and always found an excuse to feel bad about myself…until someone slipped me the talisman.”
“Yes, the talisman. Here let me show you.” He took a strange dark object out of his pocket and showed it to Jacob. Jacob couldn't get a good look at the object, partly due to the darkness and partly due to the fact that he wasn't interested.
“I had a job.” The homeless man continued, “I had an apartment. I had a car. I even had a few friends. Yet I wasn't happy. I tried everything but I could never find true happiness. And what is life without happiness? Right?”
Jacob had no answer to that.
“So one day I ran into this old man, and he stopped me just like I stopped you, and he gave me the talisman, just like I am about to give it to you. This will help you find true happiness, here.” He tried to give Jacob the object.
Before Jacob could reach out and grab the talisman, the inner voice in his foggy mind protested loudly. What are you doing? You should know better than to accept strange objects from shady characters at three in the morning. Jacob stopped.
“What exactly is this and what does it do?” At this point Jacob didn't know why he just wasn't walking away. The building was just a few minutes away; all he had to do was start walking.
“It’s a magical talisman. It will stop you from going to the places that make you unhappy; it will help you find true happiness.”
Just like it worked out for you buddy. Jacob was not judgmental, he knew better than to look down upon those of a lower socio-economic stature, but he couldn't help but feel a little superior now. After all, standing in front of him was someone who believed that such a thing as a magical talisman existed. And that the talisman could help someone find true happiness.
He lives next to a dumpster for goodness sake, and he believes he has found true happiness, so now he is ready to pass it onto someone else…someone less fortunate…and he has selected you as that someone. Why are you wasting your time here? The voice inside his head screamed.
“What does this talisman do?” Jacob asked again.
“It physically stops you from going to places that make you unhappy. If you are not happy with your job, it will not allow you to go to work. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you will never reach your workplace. If you are unhappy at home, it will physically stop you from going home. How do you think I ended up on the streets?”
“So being homeless makes you happy?”
“No. But it’s better than being miserable at work or at home.”
“So why are you giving up the talisman?”
“What does it matter to you? Just take the damn thing.”
Jacob imagined giving up his job, and travelling the world on foot without any material possessions. The idea appealed to him a little bit, but he had bills to pay. He compared himself to the homeless man and imagined living his life next to a dumpster. His own crappy life suddenly looked better in comparison.
“I have to go home now.” He said in a decisive voice, and started walking towards his apartment building.