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The million-dollar penny

A young boy was sitting on a bench, swinging his feet back and forth, waiting for his mother to finish her shift at the nearby clothing factory. As he was kicking small rocks to pass the time, he bent down when he saw something that did not look like a usual rock.

“It’s money!” he screamed.

It was, in fact, a dirty penny. The boy scratched a bit of the mud with his nails and decided to take it with him as he remained amazed at his discovery.

As his mother’s thin silhouette came out of the factory, the boy ran towards her and gave her a hug.

“Mommy, mommy, look what I found! It’s a million-dollar penny!”

His mother looked down at the young boy’s coin in the middle of his palms, laughed, and lightly coughed.

“Sure, where did you find it?” she replied.

“It was just there under the bench. I think someone hid it there. Just like a treasure to be found. I found it!”

“Congratulations,” said his mother, “I hope they won’t search for you to get back their treasure.”

“Well, it’s mine now, so I keep it,” replied the boy as he put the penny in his pocket. 

The mother and her son continued their walk towards their home, just a few miles away from the woman’s workplace.

“What did you learn in school today?” asked the mother.

“Not much. I think something about how the French lost the battle against the Germans.”

“Really? They start at such a young age,” replied his mother in a soft voice. She gently took her handkerchief from her bag and placed it over her mouth, lightly coughing.

As they turned the street corner, the young boy reached down his pocket to play with the penny through his fingers. Finally, the mother and his son stopped in front of an old rusty brownish building.

“Here’s the key,” said his mother, “can you go open the door, please? Mommy’s coming right back. I just need to stop downstairs to get something from our neighbor.”

“Okay, mom.”

The boy took the key and went upstairs to unlock the door. He could hear his mother coughing from downstairs as she knocked on the neighbor’s door. He opened the door to their apartment and tried to find the light switch in the dark as he entered. He finally touched it with his hand, but nothing happened as he turned it on. The boy came out and sat on the doorstep, waiting for his mom. At least there was some light on the floor.

After a couple of minutes, his mother arrived upstairs and saw her boy seated on the ground.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“The light doesn’t work, mommy. I was scared to stay alone in the dark, so I waited for you here.”

The saddened mother approached her son and took his hand. Then, as she opened the door, she reached the left at the wooden shelf where she would keep candles.

“I just came back from the neighbor and she had light,” said the mother while she lit two candles.

“Do you think you can make your way to your room alone without dropping the candle?”

“Sure, mom.”

“Good. I’m coming right now, and we will make more light. I just need to get all the candles from my room,” replied the woman.

The young boy went straight to his room and put his candle on the top of the drawer. He changed into pajamas and took the coin out of his pants pocket. He snuggled under his blanket and looked admirably at the coin between his little fingers, waiting for his mom. He thought his discovery was the answer to their prayers and held it tight in his fist. More light was making its way into the room as his mother gently pushed the door.

“Okay, here I am. I got us more candles to light. Here, give me yours,” said the mother to her son.

The boy reached the drawer and approached his candle from his mother’s, lighting up hers. He could see his mother’s smile through the growing flame.

“I’ll sleep here for tonight, so you are not alone, and tomorrow I am going to manage to get the electricity back so everything will go back to normal,” said the woman as she laid on the bed next to her son. She coughed as she raised her back up so she could put a pillow beneath her.

“Here,” said the boy, “take the million-dollar penny in your hand.”

His mother gently rolled her eyes and smiled at her son while taking the coin in her hand.

“Do you think we could buy a house with it?” asked the little boy.

“Well, it depends on what kind of house you are searching for.”

“A big one, with two floors, and a big backyard for our dogs.”

“What dogs?”

“The ones we are going to buy with the house.”

“Oh, and why two and not only one?”

“Because I think one would get bored. If they are two, they will have each other always. It’s like when you are at work, and I am here alone, well, I get bored.”

His mother laughed and coughed a bit more.

“We should sleep now, mommy’s tired and you should be too,” said the mother, kissing her son on the forehead.

“Good night mom, love you.”

“Love you too.”

The following day, the boy woke up with the sunlight coming through the naked window and shining on his face, blinding him as he tried to open his eyes. He hid back under the blanket, reaching out to his mother.

“What’s the trick you told me, mom, so I don’t get blinded by the light in the morning? Count to ten in my head before opening my eyes?”

The boy waited for his mother to reply with her usual “good morning to you too, sunshine,” but there was no answer. He got out of the blanket and looked at her.

“Mommy?”

He took the blanket off her and saw her thin arms lying beside her, with her right fist gently closed. He opened her hand and found the coin he had given her the night before. He took it in his hand and asked one last time, “Mommy?”

He cried back at the silence.

***

“Poor boy, really. An orphan at such a young age. And on top of that, he got to see his mother deteriorating each day.”

The little boy was seated at the kitchen table while his neighbor talked on the phone in the other room. The woman had always been there for the boy and his mother. She was a retired nurse, and she would give medications to the kid’s mother when she was feeling sick and couldn’t afford to go to the doctor. It was only normal for her to care for the boy after his mother passed away.

“Harsh pneumonia,” continued the woman, “she lasted longer than I thought. I just hope the kid will have a normal life; I can’t imagine his pain. Right now, he’s obsessed with a dirty coin he found on the streets. I take it’s his way of grieving, and soon he will get rid of it. Anyway, I got to go check that he has eaten his meal.”

The boy hadn’t touched his plate. He was holding tight onto his penny with his eyes closed. Each day, he would do it repeatedly. At night, he would fall asleep with the coin closely trapped in his fist.

“You got to eat something at least, kid,” said the woman when she arrived in the kitchen, sitting next to the boy.

“I’m not hungry tonight,” he replied, opening his eyes from his daydream. “Can I go to bed?”

“If you eat two Brussel sprouts, you can go to bed, is that a deal?” replied the woman.

The boy grimaced at the smell, but he managed to eat slowly as told so he could go to his room.

“Good kid. You can go get some rest now. I will call the school in the morning to let them know we will continue homeschooling for a while. Tomorrow you can wake up when you want, but then we’re going to have to set a schedule, just like at school, alright?”

“Alright.”

“Good night, kid.”

“Good night.”

The boy stood up and walked to his room. He placed the penny on the drawer to his right as he got in bed. He looked at the ceiling and sighed.

“Mommy, I wish you were here,” he said.

He took back the penny from the top of the drawer and held it in his hand, softly closing his eyes.

The boy woke up about three hours later, lying in bed with his eyes wide open. He had a dream so vivid that he remained in this position, wondering if it was real or not. He noticed his right hand was empty, although he remembered falling asleep with the coin. As he looked over to the drawer to his right, he saw the penny.

He got out of his room and walked towards the living room. On the burgundy armchair was sitting the woman, reading a book.

“Good morning young man. You’re up early,” she said.

“I had a dream,” replied the boy.

“Was it a bad dream?”

“I don’t know. But I can’t sleep again. What are you doing up?”

“At my age, we don’t really sleep that much,” laughed the woman. “Come here. We will read a book until the morning light shows itself.”

And so the woman started reading out loud while the boy laid his head on her shoulder.

The sun was shining early through the window, only about an hour later, when the phone suddenly rang and surprised both the woman and the kid.

“I wonder who can call this early,” said the woman, standing up to get to the phone in the other room.

The boy remained there, still thinking about the dream he had. He slid his hand down his pajama pocket and noticed he had forgotten the penny in his room. He went back to get it while the woman was still speaking on the phone.

It was there, lying on the top of the drawer. The boy took it and kept it in his right hand.

As he went back to the living room, he came face to face with the woman who looked at him with an incredulous smile.

“You won’t believe it,” said the woman.

The boy waited curiously to know what was happening.

“It was an old friend of mine on the phone. He’s living in the Netherlands now, but he still has a residence here. A beautiful house on the upper side of the city. He was thinking about selling it since he doesn’t come as often in the country anymore. When he heard your story, he told me he didn’t bother selling it anymore. He wants you to take it so you can start fresh! Isn’t that incredible!”

The young boy was stunned.

“Of course, I can move with you until you are old enough to take care of yourself, and then it’s all yours,” continued the woman.

The boy was still speechless.

“Oh, don’t look at me that way. I know you are shocked, but you will really like the house. We will visit it later this afternoon once my friend’s sister has passed by to give me the keys. Now, go get dressed, so we are ready when she comes. School can wait.”

The boy still didn’t know how to react to what he had just heard. He went back silently to his room and changed clothes. As he took care to bring the penny with him, he looked at it and lightly smiled.

“Mom, did you hear that?” he said before sliding the coin in his left pocket.

It was about 2:00 p.m. when a car horn outside startled the boy who was still daydreaming.

“Ready to see your new home, young man?” asked the woman.

The kid nodded silently.

On their way to the house, they passed by a dog shelter. As the car drove past it, the boy looked back at it in the rear window.

“Here we are,” said the woman while entering a vast garage a few miles later.

The boy had never seen a car parked inside of a house. As they took the stairs leading to the first floor, the kid noticed the shiny black marble under his feet. They went through every room to admire the beauty and the modern look. As they arrived in the kitchen, the boy saw two large glass doors. He got closer and remained amazed at the big and bright backyard.

“Is there a second floor?” he asked the woman.

“Sure, come with me. We can go outside in the backyard later.”

The young boy discovered three large rooms and a luxurious bathroom upstairs. He smiled and put his hand into his left pocket.

“I told you you would love it!” said the woman when she caught him smiling.

The boy walked towards the biggest room and looked back at the courtyard through the window. He took the coin from his pocket and looked at it in the middle of his palm.

“I knew it was a million-dollar penny,” he said.

“Did you say something?” asked the woman from behind.

“Nothing,” replied the boy, “can we go see the dogs at the shelter now, please?”

©2021 Teodora D.

Image by ZSun Fu from Unsplash
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