A Very Short Story of The Catholic Boy and the Five Dollar Bill
An afternoon shower had left the streets and sidewalks of Charleston, West Virginia wet, but had passed on by. The now-blue sky above Leon Sullivan Drive was flecked with powdery clouds. It was 3 p.m. and I’d just come from a session with a friend I see weekly, sorting through some flotsam and jetsam in my life. I was pondering the stars, my fate, the future, his take on things, head down as I headed toward the corner of Leon Sullivan and Virginia Street. That’s where Charleston Catholic High School sits and school had just let out. Scores of Catholic students in white shirts and navy blue pants and skirts clumped in knots on the corner, chatting or waiting for the light to change to cross the street.
A pudgy Catholic boy with pale skin and blonde-red hair stood alone beside the wall of the school. He peered into his cellphone, the land where 50 percent of his generation’s attention now lives. Maybe more. Absorbed in my ratiocination, likely a hopeless attempt to reason through things better left to intuition if not meditation, my attention was downward-trained, not upward. So it was that I espied sitting there on the sidewalk beside the Catholic school what one does not often see sitting on the ground: a half-folded five-dollar bill.
The pudgy Catholic boy plumbed his own depths, inside of his phone. I strolled up to him, slowed as a I passed. Pointed to the ground.
“There’s a five-dollar bill,” I said.
He looked up out of the phone at me, looked at my finger and then down to the bill. Five dollars, after all, is still an amount of money worth noticing if it’s on the ground. You might not stop and pay attention to a penny, but a randomly dropped five dollar bill laying on the pavement is something of an event.
The boy hardly missed a beat, before his eyes returned to his phone.
“It’s not mine,” he said.
In a moment’s notice, I am flooded with a weird, but pleasing rush of pheromes. Here is Diogenes of Sinope’s search for an honest man, with his philosophical stunt of seeking one by carrying a lamp in daytime. Without a flicker of hesitation, the boy declares that the five dollar bill is not only not his, but never will be his.
I find myself not only admiring him, but for some odd reason I love him for his five-dollars-worth of genuine instant honesty. He could just as easily have said, “Cool!” And scooped it up. It’s the little things that make a day better or best.
I bend over, take out my own phone. I snap a close-up of Abraham Lincoln laying there beside the Catholic kid’s beat-up leather shoes. The president’s bearded, impassive face stares upward, ready to confront another passerby with the philosophical conundrum posed by a lost five-dollar bill.
CLICK! says my iPhone 5. I pass on by the bill and the boy. He has taught me a lesson.
It’s not mine, either.