(Condensed version. From the Collection of Short Stories: Children of the Slums)
Charlie removed the sheet of paper from a book he borrowed from school. Aged 12, he was a better reader than the rest of the class. Impoverished and malnourished, his stomach might be empty but his mind was fed daily by various stories from any reading material he could lay his hands on.
Other children in the neighborhood teased him constantly for his passion to be educated. They always discouraged him that he could not leave the world he inhabited. Their collective hopelessness would not stop him, he swore to himself.
“What is it, son?” his mother asked, momentarily standing up, further away from the hill of clothes she was about to wash. Being a paid laundywoman, she could only take pauses to eat or go to the comfort room. Her waking hours were always in front of a round metal basin, manually washing other people’s clothes.
“Nothing, Ma. It just another story.”
“You looked troubled,” she observed. “I might not have finished elementary but I could understand things and explain them.”
“Can I read it to you?” he asked, believing every word she said.
“Let’s get over there first,” she pointed to the small chair in front of the basin. “Read it to me while I work, okay?”
Follow Your Dream, Not A Dream
When I was a young child, I wanted to become a millionaire by the age of 15. I dreamed then that I would skip college and journey around the world.
When I reached the age of 15, approximately 999,995 short of my expectation, I adjusted my estimate and thought that age 25 was a more realistic goal to possess that kind of money.
A quarter of a century of my life passed and I added a measly few thousands in my pocket. That million mark was a bit too high to reach as if I needed to climb Mount Everest without the proper gear.
Not wanting to surrender because of setbacks, I pointed to 40 as the magic number. Life begins at that age, so they say, that I definitely felt I could do it. Another fifteen years was a lot of time to give me that chance.
Believe it or not, I got my million. I stared at it with awe and wonder. I could not imagine it was that simple.
I picked up the scrap of paper where I wrote the figure. It looked real to me.
Charlie placed the paper back in between the pages of the book while he waited for his mother’s reaction.
“Hmmm, I think I know why you are confused,” his mother said, smiling generously.
“He got his million but it was only in paper.”
“You see, getting that million was only part of his dream. He was actually looking for a happy life.”
“I don’t get it,” Charlie shook his head repeatedly, rereading part of the story.
“He believed that money could make him happy,” she explained. “He realized later that even without it, he could still be happy.”
Charlie thought for a while, digesting the simple wisdom he heard.
“Son, happiness is what you make of it. Keep that in mind.”