William’s curiosity was piqued. “Please share this version of the story.” The request delighted the owner and he sat a little straighter as he told it.
The story he told was indeed very different from the one William had grown up hearing. It was more complex and relied a great deal on dire consequences. The entire tale could be looked at as either a breach of one’s destiny or a series of ill-fated coincidences. When the owner finished, William smiled. He told the man he was a fine storyteller and thanked him for the telling.
A comfortable moment passed, and William realised his senses were well attuned to his setting. He heard the shop owner’s steady, deep breathing, the sounds of people reclaiming the marketplace as the winds died, and he smelled the distinct scent of cloves in the room. William thought, This is a moment to savour. Then, he let loose a light chuckle, realizing the humour in his choice of words.
The owner smiled inquisitively at William, and William made a motion to suggest it was nothing. Instead he stood, thanked the owner for the tea and his time. He offered to pay a small sum but the man put his hand up. “I enjoyed this time together. I will not accept money. It was Fate that brought you here. Not a desire for tea.”
The soldier in William spoke out. “Actually, friend, it was a bad run of cards and a strong wind that cast me here.” He offered his hand in gratitude to the owner’s hospitality.
For a second time, the owner’s countenance turned from peaceful to something other than; as quickly as it happened, it ended. The owner spoke, “You do not believe in Fate?” His tone was probing, a suggestion of incredulity. There was also a dark edge to it that gave William pause. William worried he’d offended the man.
He spoke carefully but truthfully, “Well, no. I guess I don’t. I mean to say that I’d like to believe that each man controls his destiny to some point. Otherwise, what’s the point to taking action in life?”
Again, the kindly composure of the owner disappeared. His black eyes peered at William from under bushy brows, opening a chasm of differences between them. “Now, young friend, it is one thing to speak such words and another to lead a life based on them.” He inclined his head in a gesture of invitation for William to take and agree with him.
William was slightly unnerved. He thought, Just agree and be gone. No harm done in that. Again, it was the soldier within William that acted. He stood a little straighter, his chin made harder, and let his unwillingness to capitulate be his answer.
The owner did not break his gaze for some time. Then he sighed, looking beaten, and spoke. “My friend, we cannot agree.” Saddened, he said, “Wait here one moment.” He shuffled behind his counter and ducked behind a red curtain serving as a doorway between this place and another. He came back holding an object, which he placed on the counter indicating William should come forward to see it. It was wrapped in many cloths and the owner used both hands to carefully unwrap it.
William was growing uncomfortable with this turn of events, but his curiosity commanded his feet to stand firm. When the cloths were completely unwrapped, the owner stepped back, allowing William to investigate.
It was a hand! The greyish nails, sharp, stood in high contrast to the still shiny black hair of the paw. No, it wasn’t a hand. It was a paw. A small, black, monkey’s paw dried to a mummy. William reached for it, wishing to inspect it with his hands.
His reach was severed by the impish man’s surprisingly powerful voice-
He will happily trade his tomorrow
For whatever it is that waits
To wrest today in borrow
From the Hand of Fate.
His currency, his grim sorrow.
Then, without further flourish, he quietly wrapped the monkey’s paw and proffered it with two hands to William. “This is for you.”
William grasped the poem on some level, figuring it for a warning but the paw fascinated him immensely. “This is kind of you to be sure. What am I to do with it?”
“This paw is very old. The poem I spoke to you was told to me by my father and his father before him. We have been custodians of the paw and its secrets for many years. We are compelled to tell the one who accepts it, you, that it is a talisman imbued with the ability to grant men’s desires. Know this: the paw has been enchanted so that three separate men will be granted three wishes each from it. The wishes will happen in such a way as to have you believe they were mere coincidence. Will you accept this item?”
-excerpted from Ralph Lagana’s The Monkey’s Tale