Foreword: This is Hard to Be an Artist‘s twin story. I wrote those in a week for my second creative writing class. The instructions were to create two very different characters and to insert them in the same given scenario, which I won’t reveal so as not to spoil the fun.
Truth Be Told
The sky had cleared when the church gates opened and Nadège didn’t feel like going back home right away. She went to her favourite bistro for lunch, then decided a long walk in the neighbourhood was in order. There were yard sales everywhere and she liked to use this opportunity to find little treats for her grandchildren.
She came upon a booth manned by a scrawny, brown boy who appeared to be drawing in a sketchbook. On the table were various toys and comic books, as well as housewares.
“Good afternoon, young man,” she said.
The boy gave her a long, hard look, then flashed a big smile and stood up. He left his sketch pad on the chair.
“Good afternoon, ma’am.”
“What’s your name?”
“It’s very sensible of you to sell your old toys and comic books, Jacob.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Nadège picked up a sealed bag of building brick toys and examined it carefully.
“There are two sets in there,” said Jacob, taking the instruction booklets to show the images to his prospective client.
Nadège smiled and pulled her wallet from her purse.
“My daughter loves those,” she said pulling a twenty-dollar bill and handing it to the boy.
Nadège laughed at his surprise. He blushed and ruffled through a tin box for change.
“Yes, my daughter. She even exhibits her creations, you know? Wait I have pictures.”
Nadège pulled her smart phone and showed him a photograph of a brick-built castle attacked by an army of fantastic creatures, including a flying dragon.
“Woah! That’s a lot of bricks.”
When he turned his attention back to the tin box, Nadège slipped her phone back into her purse.
“Are you having trouble finding change, sweetheart?”
“Wait, I’ll give you a two-dollar coin so you can give me a five.”
He took it, and gave her a five-dollar bill.
“Oh, there’s ten dollars missing.”
“Hm? No, that’s the ten you just gave me.”
Nadège was quiet for a moment, wondering whether the kid might not be right.
“No no, it’s impossible. I gave you a twenty and I know that for a fact because I gave my last ten-dollar bill at Mass this morning.”
“Maybe you stopped elsewhere before coming here. Mass was hours ago.”
She clearly remembered using her credit card at the bistro to make sure she had enough cash for the yard sales without having to go all the way to the bank.
“No no no,” she said. “This is the first place I’ve stopped by after lunch. I gave you a twenty, I’m sure of it. You must have gotten distracted, I’m always talking so much. It’s fine to make mistakes you know? But you need to be able to acknowledge them.”
“I know, but I don’t think I’m the one making the mistake here.”
Nadège clenched her jaw and sighed. She knew she was right, but she was not going to pick a fight with a teenager to prove it.
“Very well. I hope you are speaking the truth, because ten dollars really isn’t worth a guilty conscience.”
She left Jacob to reflect on his actions and he did reflect on them. Her words had the impact of a curse.
“She looked upset,” said his mother, back from the bathroom. “Why?”
“She says she gave me a twenty, but I think she gave me a ten,” he said.
“Well, there’s an easy way to find out.”
She took the lined sheet on which they’d written all the day’s sales and started counting the total. Jacob bit his lip.
“You know what, she was probably right and I just got distracted,” said Jacob before she could finish. “I’ll give her back her ten dollars.”
He took the money from the tin box and hurried after the lady.
“Ma’am… in the end… I think it was my mistake.”
She smiled gently and took the bill from him.
“It’s alright dear.”
“Noooo, it’s a lie. I’m sorry. I knew from the start you were right, but I thought… I thought you wouldn’t miss ten bucks, what with the Gucci purse and all. I’m so sorry.”
His eyes watered and he lowered his head in an attempt to hide under his longish blond hair. Nadège smiled brightly and put her bony hand on his shoulder.
“Thank you for being honest. As a reward, I’ll be equally honest with you: seven dollars for this is too little—it barely covers the price of the smaller set. Discontinued sets in good condition are sought-after by collectors like my daughter and can sell for their original retail price and up. This bag right here is worth at least 27 dollars.
Jacob’s shoulders dropped, disgusted that he’d lost twenty bucks in the bargain.
“Oh, don’t be sad, dear. I admire honesty even more than I hate lies.”
She put the ten-dollar bill back in her purse and took out a twenty instead.
Jacob blinked and a tear fell on his cheek.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. You deserve it and you need it more than I do.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Go on now, don’t make your mother wait.”
Jacob went back with a light heart, happy to be 20 dollars closer to his dream, but even happier to have resisted the temptation of the dark side of the force.
If you haven’t already, read this story’s twin, Hard to Be an Artist. Though the scenario is the same, it deals with different themes. It’s my favourite of the two.
Afterword: The assignment was to create two characters with near-opposite background and personalities: a female in her fifties and a male in his twenties. Then, we had to insert them in the following scenario: “A person has found something they wish to buy at a yard sale. They pay with a twenty, but the vendor only gives them change for a ten.” In both scenarios, the vendor had to be a clever and obstinate 13-year-old boy whose mother has gone inside to use the bathroom.
This exercise was really interesting, do try this at home!