Claudius Barnum Grabit
He smiled. “One day, a co-worker of mine, James, more the dreamer than I was, said this building we’re building - a massive complex, apartments, offices, even a mall annexed - is owned by a company which will soon be a conglomerate, how he knew this I don’t know, but he said, ‘If ya buy this company’s stocks now there’s no knowing how much ya can make in a couple of years.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you buy the stocks?’ He said, ‘I have seven mouths to feed, my mother-in-law’s including, I get adventurous with my paycheck and we’ll starve with nothing left for a tombstone.’”
He might as well be talking about me, except I have five mouths to feed, including mine.
Mr. Barnum continued. “I had no family, that was my advantage. My parents were long passed, and no spouse, no children. No siblings that I knew of. No one I can spend on made me save. That’s what they say, don’t they, one of the secrets to wealth? I saved because I had no one to spend on except myself.”
“You used your savings to buy that stock?”
“Well, yes, but not because James told me to. Why would a toiler trust another to make him rich?”
“You didn’t believe him?”
“He said he didn’t want to get adventurous with his paycheck; that meant he wasn’t so sure himself now, was he?”
“Like I said he was a toiler like I was, but only one of us got lucky. Freaking lucky, as you termed it.”
“So your friend by the pond…”
“Yes, it was him. Sitting majestically on a rock. Gazing at me, as if making sure I was looking back. I was thinking about that stock at the time, maybe it was time to make fantasy a dream, do something about it. And that was when he said it.”
Mr. Barnum then looked at me. “Grab it.”
“That’s what he said. Grab it.”
“Grab the stock?”
“You’d rather listen to a stranger than your co-worker the dreamer?”
“If there’s one trait I’d like to attribute to myself for my riches, it’d be the instinct to listen to the right source.”
“I can’t argue there.”
“So I bought the stock, with all my savings except some for food and rent to last me a year. In six months, it skyrocketed two-fold, but I wasn’t sure if I should sell; maybe it could go three-fold, four. I didn’t know about buying, I certainly didn’t know about selling. So I went back to my favourite spot, the bench by the edge of the pond that I found my big-eyed friend. I didn’t expect him to be there, to be honest, what good was I for him? But by golly, he was. I spoke this time: ‘Should I sell?’
He stared at me. I asked again: ‘Should I sell?’ He blinked. I asked the third time. He stared at me like he hadn’t got a brain. But then, maybe I was the idiot. I waited without asking, just sat on the bench staring at him, and him at me. After an hour, I gave up and went home.
I left my investment untouched. By then my savings had accumulated again; I was not worried about losses. After a year and a half or so, the stock’s price rose 300% from my initial investment. James was ecstatic. ‘What did I tell ya, what did I tell ya,’ he said like a frog rejoicing after rain. ‘What ya waiting for, sell sell sell, then buy me a good lunch.’ I said, ‘Not yet.’
A month later it rose another 15%, an all-time high. I went back to my friendly pond, and my empty bench and waited for my friend on his pedestal rock. I waited and waited until the clouds moved and darkened and poured water from their pots; still I waited, pulling my jacket over my head, drenched to my underpants. ‘What ya waiting for, sell sell sell.’ James’s words kept playing in my head, and the same head said, ‘Not yet.’ The rain stopped. The pond smelled like it’d been cleaned and then frogs and toads, I couldn’t tell the difference, started croaking, peeping. Far away and near, dragonflies buzzed. Then he stood there on his pedestal, looking at nothing else but me. ‘You ready to tell me now?’ I asked. His throat ballooned, and when it shrank back, the sound he produced was magnificent. ‘Grab it.’
I sold the stock the next day.”
Mr. Barnum smiled like a man remembering his child's first steps.
“I could understand then why my friend had remained silent on that second visit. The stock still had room to rise. The day I sold it, it had reached its plateau, never to see that peak again until years later. My timing was perfect, my profit-taking optimum. It was exhilarating. I bought James his lunch, bought him a week’s worth of groceries, and toys for his children. I asked him: ‘You’ve got any more tips for me, James?’ He grinned that chip-toothed grin of his. ‘Our employer’s the only company I know about,’ he said. Know your stuff, they say, and save. James and I put that to work. But he knew nothing else. Me either, but I had my Grabit.
So I started buying the paper; before, I couldn’t bother to read. Still can’t if you ask me, the world’s only full of sad news. I only bought it to look at the stocks. Then I consulted my friend, paper in hand, announced them one by one until he sounded one off, or two, or three, sometimes more. I’d just choose the cheapest of them all, more bang for your buck, as they say. Optimum profits every time. This went on until I could afford a house.”
“Yes. I quit my job too.”
“You didn’t need it anymore.”
Mr. Barnum sighed. “But I had a problem. This house was too far from the pond.”
“What did you do?”
“I took him home, put him in an aquarium. But he wasn’t happy. It was the environment, of course. For a month, he kept silence. When I looked at him, he looked away. I didn’t think that was possible, but he looked away. So I built him a pond here, equipped with a rock he could sit on. Beautiful isn’t it?”
“Three months to build it, four months of no investing. People just thought there were no stocks good enough for me.”
“People the fools,” I said.
He grinned. “Let’s forgive people for the things they don’t know, and never imagined.”
“Yes, let’s be generous.”
“The first morning he stood on his new rock in his new pond, he gave and gave. Fifteen stocks I read from the paper, ten signals. Took five of them, cheapest of them all. Claudius Barnum was on a roll again.” Mr. Barnum soft-punched the air, grinning. “And he kept on giving…
Until the day he disappeared.”
Mr. Barnum turned, his whole body this time, palm under his cheek. “For days. For months. For years. I’ve made a fool of myself, of course, in that time, thinking others’ perception of me as reality. Claudius Barnum the great investor, they said, the god of money, and I believed it. And lost. Every time.
Mr. Barnum’s eyes closed, his voice sleepy.
“If only they knew. I was no god but mere follower of a croaking toad."
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