Two beggars were sitting on a busy street corner in the downtown section of the city. It was quite clear for a night in December, but the cold wind made them huddle together for heat and comfort. They watched helplessly as scores of people walked by, some purposely ignoring them and others too caught up in their own cares to even notice their existence. Every so often, a kind-hearted woman or a small child would drop a few coins in the hats which lay in front of them on the icy sidewalk. Some people, feeling particularly generous, would even pull out a bill or two from their wallets and stuff them into the beggars' hats, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Today was not a bad day for begging. The men were able to collect enough for a decent meal at the coffee shop down the street and a few candles to light up their lean-to shacks in the alley behind the train station. As the crowd began to die down, they started to pack up their bundles and head for their evening shelter.
Just as they were getting ready to leave the street corner, they noticed a man walking toward them. He was obviously a wealthy man--they could tell that from the finely tailored business suit he was wearing and the gold watch chain that adorned his left pocket.
The two tried not to look directly at the man as he stepped closer to them, but they couldn't help gazing up with anticipation as he reached into his pocket and took something out.
"Thunk" was the only sound they heard as what looked like a piece of hard candy, wrapped doubly in tissue paper and cellophane hit each of their waiting hats. The rich man turned and continued on his way, not making a backward glance.
"How insulting!" said the first beggar, as soon as the rich man was out of sound range. "He could have easily left us a few coins or a spare bill, but he mocks us with a piece of rock candy."
He looked at the wrapped offering with disgust. "Who does he think we are--children? There's no way we can even eat this--we have no teeth."
The beggar picked up the object with the very tips of his fingers and flicked it into the gutter. He watched as it floated a few yards in the stream of muddy water and disappeared into the drain at the end of the street. Then, he gathered up his things and walked away.
The second beggar looked down at the morsel in his hat, then at his departing friend. His first impulse was to toss the donation in the trash can under the street light. But his second thought made him change his mind.
"I haven't had anything like this for ages," he thought. "I can't chew it, but I can suck on it for awhile, and the sugary juices will stay in my mouth for a long time. How nice of that man to offer me something so sweet."
He opened the cellophane eagerly, then paused as his hands touched the white tissue paper inside. "Maybe I should save it for another time," he thought. "It won't spoil, and I could eat it later when I'm really hungry."
The beggar debated for a moment, then exclaimed aloud, "What the heck. He wanted me to have it anyway. I might as well enjoy it now."
With that, he unfolded the white tissue paper, but to his surprise, there was no hard rock candy inside. Instead, into his fingers fell a shiny white pearl worth thousands of dollars.
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