He sits in the chair. For a moment I think he’s made of wax, but on closer inspection I realize he’s real. Wow. What an amazing thing to do. He’s not moving, not twitching, not blinking. How does he do that? I can’t even stay still for a couple of seconds, unless I’m asleep. But even then I don’t know what happens, I think I’m quite still but I’m sure something is moving.
He’s painted gold from head to toe, from his skin to his clothes and down to his shoes and laces. The chair is also gold. It’s almost as if King Midas had come along and touched his head at lunchtime and converted him into a perfect gold statue. Into gold in the middle of Lintot Square.
I wonder how long he’s been there? Does it hurt? What does he think about when he’s sitting there? Do people touch him? I guess not, but then you never know with people, right? What if he gets an itch or if something bites him? What about when he wants to go to the bathroom?
I stare at him and wait. He’s got to move sometime, I watch and watch but I honestly can’t see anything move. I’m beginning to think he’s fake, that I made a mistake and he’s really is just a gold statue. A very clever gold statue.
Until the little twins come along with their parents. They too are drawn to stare, just like me. Only the twins – aged about four – are far less cautious than I. They look American.
“Hey, don’t touch, guys,” says the father as the twins march up closer and closer. They are American.
By the foot of the chair is a gold bowl with money in it. Gold coins.
“Aw Dad, can we give him some money?” says the left twin.
“Yeah, we want to give him some coins, Dad, Mom?” says the right twin pulling on his mother’s skirt.
Dad looks at Mom who smiles and nods.
“Sure kids, here you are,” says Dad fishing out some loose change.
The twins inspect the coins, “No, Dad, it’s go to be gold coins … see?” the left twin points to the bowl, “they’re all gold, we’d spoil the picture.”
“Yeah,” says the right twin, “gold coins only, Dad. Look again.”
“Honey, I haven’t got any pound coins, do you?” Dad says emptying his pockets.
“Let me see,” says the mother. Oh my goodness, she’s got the sweetest voice I’ve ever heard, it’s like musical honey, like warm hands on my heart, I take a small step closer hoping she’ll speak again. “Ah ha! Look at what I have here,” she says with a smile. A smile to melt a thousand angry men, a smile to wake a city of sleeping soldiers.
She puts her hand out to the twins and in it is a little pile of one and two pounds gold coins, “how many would you like?”
“Honey, one each should be enough,” says Dad.
“Oh, but darling, I’d like them to decide. Maybe they have some wishes they want to make? Maybe there’s a magic number they like better than one. Eric? John?”
The twins look at their mother’s hand and then up at their father. They confer in silence, like only twins can, and then Eric steps up,
“I’d like to have two Mom, because I have two wishes to make.” He carefully picks out two chubby one pound coins.
John steps up, looks at the coins again and looks at his mother. He sighs the sigh of a very old man, “Mom, I have so many wishes, so many, many wishes, I think I need more than two.” Typical American, greedy, greedy.
“Oh no you don’t young man,” says Dad.
“Hush, Bill, let John make up his own mind,” says Mom in her nectar colored voice and fills his cheek with kisses. Bill flushes and shoves his hands in his pockets, entranced.
“Well, John darling, just how many wishes do you have?” she asks, now crouching to look at her son eye to eye.
John’s pupils dilate, as he looks into his mother’s, “a lots.”
“Very well then, take what you need.”
John plucks the coins from his mother’s hand one by one. His lips move every time he takes a coin as if murmuring what the next wish is. When there are only two coins left, he looks at his mother again,
“What about you and Dad? Do you have wishes?”
Mom thinks for a minute, shakes her head and then looks up at her husband, “Bill? Do you have a wish to make?”
“Um, no, I’m good.” He says staring at the man in the chair. Dad seems to be just a curious as me.
“Can I have them all then?” says John looking at his mother.
“Of course John darling, of course you can.”
John takes the last two coins in exactly the same way he took the others, only now his pudgy little hands can barely manage the load.
“C’mon J” says his twin getting impatient, “let’s make our wishes already.”
One step at a time, they creep up towards the gold man in the chair. The closer they get, the smaller their steps. The closer they get, the closer I watch. There! I see the eyes, with every little step the boys take, the eyes move. Just a tiny fraction, but they move, following the progress of these little boys. What’s he thinking now? Is he willing them to hurry up? Or is he enjoying the avid attention? There’s probably about twenty pounds coming his way.
“Eric,” whispers John. “You go first.”
“OK,” says Eric as John stops. Eric’s two paces away from the bowl. He looks back at his parents. Dad urges him on with a hand gesture, his mother, now arm in arm with Bill, just smiles. Her smile would encourage a man to step back from a ledge.
Emboldened, Eric takes the last step, stretches his hand out and drops the two coins in the bowl.
“I wish I get a new bike for Christmas!” he says in a loud voice.
It seemed like everything happened at once.
The coins clanged.
“Wheeeeeee!” screamed a strident whistle.
John dropped his coins.
The gold statue came to life in a sweeping bow.
“Wheeeeeee!” screamed the whistle again.
Then there was total silence.
Eric’s face was scarlet. John’s face puckered. My heart was in my mouth. Mom and Dad were gaping, Mom clutching Dad’s arm.
Other people were staring at the man in the chair. Eric was the first to do what I felt like doing, he rubbed his eyes with his fists and stared again at the gold man already back in the chair.
It was the soft little sob that broke the tension. John stood there empty handed, two fat tears running down his cheeks.
“I dropped all my coins …” he whispered. Mom ran up and hugged him.
“Wow,” said Eric, “That was cool. C’mon John, you do your coins. Here,” Eric started picking up his brother’s coins.
“It’s OK, son, I guess that’s his way of saying thank you,” said Bill putting the last coins into his son’s hands.
“Eric, you do it for me,” John said extending his trembling, coin-filled hands to his brother.
“No, you do it. It’s cool,” said Eric to his twin.
John looked back at his parents who both nodded. Mom smiled. Eric cheered. So John took a step towards the man in the chair.
“That’s good, John,” whispered Mom.
John took another step staring at the gold man.
The coins clinked. He stopped, cupping them with care.
“Go on!” hissed Eric.
His eyes locked with Goldman’s.
We all held our breath.
His little knees shivered.
The last step.
When he was level with the bowl, he crouched, inch by inch, never losing eye contact with Goldman as he placed the handful of coins into the bowl whispering:
“These coins are for my all wishes. All my wishes are that my Mom gets better from her Cancer.”
I hated myself instantly. Why was I so quick to judge?