The Man Who Taught Me about Wealth and Poverty

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” –Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

At a cafe in the Marais section of Paris, I ordered too much food.

I started out with a salad, because I was hungry. And then I couldn’t help myself—I ordered cheese. Some kind of circular thick round of goat cheese that was filled with honey, and a small bowl of sliced baguette.

As soon as the waiter brought the food, I realized I didn’t need it. I was full. I shouldn’t have ordered it.

So I sat and continued to study French words on the computer, hoping I’d eventually work up an appetite.

A few minutes later a man approached the cafe, moving toward the diners outside, asking for food. Everyone turned him down. At first he didn’t see me, but I waved him over and pointed at my food.

You want this? My eyebrows said.

He shook his head no, squinting his eyebrows, his palms pushing toward me. No, that’s yours. I realized he didn’t speak English, so I didn’t know how we were going to communicate.

The diners started to look over. The women in front of me. The waiter. Everyone was watching.

What can I get you? I said out loud, even though I knew he couldn’t understand. I looked back into the cafe to see if there was prepared food I could order for him, but there wasn’t.

Finally I looked back to my plate and motioned to the cheese again. I put my hands on the plate and lifted it toward him.You sure? My eyes said.

He shrugged and nodded reluctantly, and I began to remove the cheese brick.

That’s when he put his palms up again and shook his head. He motioned with his fingers, Just a little.

So I would cut into the cheese, but there was no knife. I looked to the women in front of me, whose eyes were wide.  “Do you have a knife?” I asked.

They shook their heads.

But I saw that I did have a spoon.

I picked it up and sliced into the round of cheese. It was gooey inside, full of honey. I scooped a slab onto a slice of toasted baguette and spread it around. Then I handed it to the man.

He took a bite. Cheese dripped down his chin. He held the bread up toward me in thanks, in cheers, and went on his way.

I ate the rest, each dollop soaking through the baguette, until I was full once again.

It was very good.

“le cafe”by lightcomposer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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