Three Copper Coins

Chiang was a tobacco seller. He was too poor to own a shop, so he pedalled his wares in the streets. He would put his tobacco into two wicker baskets slung on either side of a pole. Then placing the bar across his shoulders, he would set out from home early every morning.

One morning, Chiang was wending through a crowded street when an older man dressed in rags patted him on the back. Chiang stopped and turned round to see who had tapped him, and on seeing the old man, he asked, “What do you want, old man?”

“Young fellow, will you sell me enough tobacco to fill my pipe?” Saying this, the older man took a clay pipe with a narrow mouth out of his pocket. Chiang nodded his consent and looked for a spot to put his baskets. But the street was so crowded with people, vehicles and animals that he couldn’t put his baskets down anywhere. So he asked the older man to help himself to the tobacco.

The older man took a pinch of tobacco from one of Chiang’s baskets and put it into his pipe. Then he took another and another; still, his line was not filled. Chiang watched saucer-eyed with amazement and wondered as the older man took pinch after pinch of tobacco from his baskets until both were quite empty. Then pressing three coppers into Chiang’s hand, the older man leisurely lit his pipe and disappeared into the crowd smiling contentedly.

Chiang was very angry with himself for allowing the older man to empty his baskets and accepting only three coppers in return. He threw the three coppers into the rear basket and went home severely.

“Not only have I made a bad bargain, but now my empty basket weighs more than it did before,” he muttered as the rear basket began to weigh him down. Soon it became SO heavy that he could not carry it any longer and had to put it down on the road. Looking inside, he found that the basket was almost full of copper, and the pile of coins kept growing be- fore his very eyes. It took every ounce of his strength to put the full and empty baskets on his head and stagger home with them. When he arrived home, he stumbled across his doorstep and scattered the copper all over the room. He picked up all the coins one by one and put them into a chest, in which he kept the few treasures he possessed.

Then Chiang went out into his backyard and, lighting his pipe, began planning for the future. He was pleased now that he had allowed the older man to empty his tobacco baskets without saying a harsh word to him. The coins the older man had paid him were magic. After some time, he heard strange clinking noises coming from his house. Imagine his surprise when he hurried inside and found that the pile of coppers had grown so much that they had forced open the chest lid and spilt onto the floor. Chiang spent the rest of the day collecting the coins and filling every bin and tin he owned.

Chiang was now a happy man. But the more his coppers multiplied, the more avaricious and money-crazy he became. So he decided to make more money easily by becoming a pawnbroker.

Chiang’s new business flourished as time passed, and his coppers kept increasing. Chiang was a changed man. He became more and more ruthless. He took advantage of poor people, who were in dire need of money, by lending them money and charging them very high interest, so much that he became one of the rich- est men in the land.

One morning, his first customer of the day was a significantly older man who brought a bag with him containing some silver ornaments for sale.

Chiang examined the ornaments and, in the ingratiating manner that pawnbrokers have, said, “These ornaments have more copper than silver in them. How much were you expecting for them?”

“Three coppers,” replied the customer.

Chiang could not believe his ears. The ornaments were of pure silver and were worth quite a substantial amount. Hurrying to his vault, Chiang quickly locked the silver ornaments in a safe. Then going to his chest, he took out three cops- pers wondering all the time if the older man would change his mind by the time he got back. But Chiang’s fears were groundless because the older man still patiently awaited the three coppers. Chiang gave the three coppers to the older man, who smiled and, putting them in his pocket, walked away.

The following day when Chiang went into his vault, he was surprised and shocked to find that his pile of coppers and the silver ornaments had vanished.

Chiang realized how foolish. He had been. He had become so greedy for money that he had not recognized the older man who had visited him yesterday. He was the same older man who had given him his first three coppers. Chiang learnt his lesson a bit late-that when God has provided in plenty; one should not attach too much importance to money and should never resort to mean ways of making more.

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