The doorbell rang just as she was about to take the first bite of the succulent chicken breast. Irritated, she stood up, grabbed her cane and made her way to the door. Opening it, she saw a small girl dressed in dirty clothes.
“Do you have a cent to spare?” said the child, rubbing her stomach. “I haven’t eaten in three days.”
“Be gone with you, child! There is no money in this house,” replied the old woman slamming the door.
Making her way back to the dining room, she sat down and devoured the plate of food before her.
An hour later, as the old woman eased herself onto the couch for her afternoon nap, a niggling worry began to take hold. Was her money safe? Was it still where she had left it? Grabbing her cane, she limped to the sitting room. Pulling back the old tapestry that hung on the dilapidated wall, she saw a hole the size of her fist. Leaning in close, she felt her nose twitch as she inhaled the smell of old money. Reaching inside, she felt the familiar feel of the bills and cackled as she grabbed a fistful.
Time and time again, the old woman reached into the hole until it was empty. The worn wooden coffee table, littered with the bills, creaked under their weight. To look at the threadbare furnishings, no one would suspect the fortune that lay hidden in the wall.
As the old woman counted her money, she thought of the beggar child. Not because she felt pity, but instead, because she feared her secret hiding place was no longer a secret. Carefully pushing the bills back into the hole, she once again inhaled their aroma. It hung in the air–a cross between damp grass and chicory wood. Smiling to herself, the old woman thought nothing had ever smelled sweeter.
Later that evening, as she lay her head on the pillow, she pondered how she needed to move her money to a safer place. One could never be too trusting, especially since her house stood in a neighborhood where poverty abounded. Angrily punching the pillow she muttered, “Gypsies, the whole lot of them.” Closing her eyes, she again thought of the beggar girl. Insolent imp. Just another piece of worthless filth sent out to beg and irritate decent folk who worked to earn their keep. No, she refused to give a second thought to the dirty ragamuffin who had interrupted her lunch. She had no intention of losing sleep over someone who was worth less than the mangy cat which slept at the foot of her bed.
The next day, just as she was about to sit on the worn leather couch, the doorbell rang. Grabbing her cane, she hobbled to the door. Briskly throwing it open, she saw what was soon becoming a familiar face.
“Do you have a cent to spare?” the little girl whispered as she tugged on her matted hair.
“Are you deaf, child? I told you yesterday I had no money. Go away and don’t come back!” the old woman screamed, waving her cane menacingly.
Minutes later, as the old woman peered out the window, the niggling worry once again unsettled her. Had she covered the hole with the tapestry? Had she drawn the curtains tightly? Limping back to the room, she went through the ritual of removing the tapestry to feel inside the hole. The scent of damp grass and chicory reassured her all was well.
The ticking of the clock kept her awake that night. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Much as she tried, she could not fall asleep. Tomorrow, she would move the money to a different hiding place. Trying to squelch her fears, she squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself to sleep.
The little girl felt faint as she walked back to the old woman’s house that night. Her belly rumbled loudly. Tripping on the cobblestones, she almost dropped the dingy sack she was carrying. In the dead of night, the strange sounds coming from the bag sounded ominous. Trying hard not to stumble, the girl carefully placed one foot in front of the other. Reaching the drain pipe that stuck out from one of the walls of the old woman’s house, the girl carefully untied the sack. Placing the sack over the pipe, she heard the rats claw their way into their new home. Turning to go, the little girl whispered, “Now you will truly not have a cent to spare.”
The sun’s rays shone through the crack where the dark curtains had separated. Placing the kettle on the fire, the old woman looked at the clock. Angry at herself for having slept so late, she sat down and buttered a crusty piece of bread. And then she heard it. Soft at first and then louder. The scratching sound seemed to come from the sitting room. Grabbing her cane, she dragged herself to the room. Limping as fast as she could, she felt the adrenaline cursing through her body. Finally reaching the hole, she forcefully pulled back the tapestry and felt it tear.
This time, the scent of money did not assault her senses. Her breath caught in her throat. Her heart thundered in her chest and her hands started to tremble. And then she saw it. A loud piecing scream interrupted the morning’s silence. The old woman grabbed her chest and staggered backwards. There, nestled comfortably in a pile of shredded money, sat three huge rats. Scream after scream filled the house. The little girl, standing in the street below, laughed heartily as she walked away.