He had been a successful businessman with several stores in the city and shares in the local bank. He had owned a big house in an exclusive quarter with stunning views to the river and the Cathedral, next to the park, with a big garden. He had been known and respected.
Once he went to Monaco to a congress. His colleagues teased him because they said he was too conservative and stingy. And they challenged him publicly to gamble.
He was ashamed, and didn’t dare to upset his new “friends”. So he went to the roulette. He began betting small amounts and quickly earned a lot of tokens. The gambler hidden in him emerged, and he began to bet more and more money. He met beautiful women. He drank a lot. He felt extremely lucky. Unforgettable nights!
He never worked again in his life. Back home, he used to stay for hours sitting in a bench at the park, next to the stump of a beech they had cut off some years before. He liked to listen to the birds chirping from the branches of the other trees and watch the squirrels stop for an instant on the stump sniffing and looking curiously around before jumping and climbing another tree.
His face, usually clean shaved, was now covered by a grey beard. No more office hours, no more business meetings.
He looked up at the sun with his green eyes hidden behind his dark sunglasses and sighed. A tear rolled down his cheek.
An old woman approached quietly to the stump and left into the shoe box he had put there to collect alms, a big ham and cheese sandwich. She pretended she didn’t recognize him, like every day. He did the same, to hide his shame. She had been for many years his neighbour. The beard, the rags, the sunglasses hadn’t deceived her. From the moment she saw the new beggar in the park, she knew who he really was.
The story was very well known in the city. His lawyers had had to sell the stores, the shares and the house to pay the debts of that foolish outing to Monaco . His “friends” had abandoned him. He had disgraced his family. But he couldn’t leave his hometown. Where would he possible go? His roots were there in that park with sights to the river and the Cathedral. Now he only had a bench, a stump and an old neighbour who silently was helping him every day calm his hunger with her sandwiches.