One day when I was seven years old, I woke up with a strange thought in my head. I wonder if you know what that feels like? To me it felt a little green, and a little old, but still quite fun, sort of like my grandpa. This particular strange thought liked chocolate. I knew because my tummy was telling me it did.
So I got it some chocolate, and then it went from being just a thought to being something I decided I would do for fun.
I would tell you what it was, but if you are like my sister you probably want to know my name. She can’t read anything, not even something like “It was a bright fine sunset evening” without crying out, “I don’t understand this story! Who is the main character? What’s his name? If he doesn’t have a name than that means he’s not real!” So I will tell you my name, so you know I am real.
My name is Abernathy Benjamin Hanks. I’m American but my daddy is French.
My mother died in a building. She was building, I mean. It was a barn, I think. She was real smart, so’s my dad, but he didn’t let a barn fall on top of him, so he was still around when I was seven to tell me he was. I was seven once you know, as truly as you were. I can say that because most six year olds can’t read very well, and stopped reading this story when they got to the word particular.
The thought I woke up with when I was seven was pretty simple, like most the thoughts you have at that age are. It didn’t have any reason to be in my head, but it was there anyway. Maybe it was a left-over from one of my dreams.
It was just this. That I would answer every question I got with more or less the same answer all day long. So I picked any old basic sentence from the room in my mind where I stored the words and phrases I liked (and used over and over again too, some of them) and got dressed. When I was older I got out of the habit of storing my favorite words and phrases all in the same room. But seems to me some people never get out of the habit. You know those people too? They’re not all bad, but sometimes they get annoying.
I threw the pink shirt my aunt had given me for my birthday in the trash, and put on a nice blue one, while smiling at my kitten as he made a flying jump for the dresser and fell floundering into the laundry basket.
I scooped Jickitey out and patted his dull skull.
He was seven too, and we had been friends for as long as I had fed him.
I opened my door and breathed in the dust from the hallway that my daddy never swept. He said brooms were for witches.
I guess he was right, but it would have been nice if we had had a witch in our hallway sometimes. I saw one asking for candy at our door the night of Halloween, but she didn’t offer to come in and sweep our hall. Besides, she didn’t have a broom anyway.
When I got to the breakfast table my dad said hello and my sister said I looked like a cold had knocked me in the face and ran me over a couple of times.
I guess I thought she did too, but I didn’t say anything.
“Hey son, do you want any pancakes?” asked my dad, flipping one onto my plate good-naturedly.
I swallowed my hunger and said cheerfully, “Not ‘til I’m sixty.”
“Oh, goody!” cried Susie with about the callous-est smile I’d ever seen, “I’ll take his pancakes, daddy.”
Really, you wouldn’t have thought a five year old could be so cruel. I wouldn’t anyway, if I hadn’t had a sister to let me know.
Going without my breakfast and having only one thing to say didn’t exactly put me in the right mood for talking to the bus driver when I hopped in the front seat for school.
He was my uncle, so I always got to ride in the front seat. Normally I liked it, but I guess today I told myself avoiding conversation would be a good idea. I didn’t even say hi.
“Hey kid. How’s dad?”
“Sixty,” I replied miserably, slouching further into my seat as we sped forward. I had forgotten it was the first day of school. Why couldn’t I have chosen yesterday to do it?
“Wow kid, I know he’s old, but it’s not necessary to bring up his age like that,” commented my uncle, stopping to pick up another kid, and looking at me sideways. After a short pause he added in unease, “Is Ben really sixty already?”
I didn’t reply, and he dropped me off in silence.
I jerked my backpack higher up on my shoulders and wondered what had made me pick the word “sixty”.
What if the teacher asked me what two plus two is? What was I going to say to that?
Not that four would really have been a better word to pick.
Oh well, it was too late anyway, now I just had to hope she stuck to questions like how many seconds there were in a minute.
I walked into the school building and nodded to a classmate as we passed each other.
“How you feeling?” he asked, with a friendly smile. He was walking past me as he said it, but people talk really fast, and I had just enough time to say “Sixty,” and see him look back at me mystified in return before I was past him and feeling really stupid.
“Okay children,” began the teacher. “How many colors do we know in Spanish so far? Abernathy? Can you tell us?”
She had such an annoying voice. I was actually pleased when I yelled out vindictively, “Sixty!”
She looked hurt because it made it look like she hadn’t taught us very much (the principle was supervising in a corner of that day, I remember) and she said with a nervous laugh that got progressively sterner as it faded away, “No not sixty. We don’t know that much Spanish yet. It is your second language. Ahem. Abigail? Do you know?”
During lunch hour I decided to sit across from Hem. Hem didn’t normally talk much, or if he did it was in bizarre questions, so I figured it would be easiest to have to talk with him, if anyone.
I had forgotten that the lady who serves the soup in our school always asks how many spoonfuls you want when I picked the word sixty.
I should have picked the word zero.
As I labored back into my seat with the odious sixty spoonfuls of soup on my plate, Caty, my best friend, said to me tauntingly, “Professor Spenser said you got all the questions in your math test wrong today. I’m still your friend but… if you ever try buying five hundred watermelons when the market is at five dollars each for sixty bucks from me… forget it bro. We’re not going to be friends no more.”
I smiled at Caty for a reply, but I didn’t think she was quite as funny as I remembered her being last year. All I really wanted to tell her was that her grammar hadn’t gotten any better over vacations.
The only thing Hem asked me during lunch was “How tall do you think you’re going to be when you grow up?”
Still, I guess he looked a little flabbergasted when looking up from my soup I said, “Sixty feet tall, Hem. What about you?”
He said he’d be more comfortable with sixty inches, personally. He’s weird.
Anyway, at least in recess I had a break. But unfortunately the first thing the teacher had us do when we got back to the classroom was stand up and talk about all the pets we had at home.
I had to spend five minutes talking about my sixty-year-old cat, my sixty pet fishes, my sixty-eyed camel, and my horse with sixty hairs in his tail.
I don’t know if anyone believed any of it, but I had a sort of inkling my teacher wasn’t paying much attention, so I didn’t care that much.
Then, right after class was over Martin asked me if I would give him some chocolate.
I nodded generously and held it out to him.
He started to break a piece off and stopped to ask, “Can I have one, or two, Abernathy?”
I groaned and threw the chocolate bar at him. I wasn’t that generous.
“You can have sixty, Martin,” said Caty, who was sitting right next to me, sweetly. “He’ll bring the other four chocolate bars tomorrow. Wasn’t that what you were going to say, Abernathy?” she inquired, turning to me innocently.
I couldn’t really reply, but I frowned at her until she felt some pity for me and patted me on the back.
“I’ll forgive you when I’m sixty,” I said darkly.
She laughed until her milk ran down her nose. She was always drinking milk.
I hated it.
“Would you like a glass of milk?” she choked out, when she got her breath back.
“Sixty cups of it,” I growled out heatedly, following her with revengeful eyes as she stumbled off dying of laughter.
The worst was when I got home, and heard Susie telling my daddy I’d failed some exams as I went through the door.
“I passed all of mine,” she added importantly, as I paused to listen. “But I’m sure Abernathy has some good reason for failing his tests. He always does. He’s smart too, so maybe next time he’ll do better,” she added.
I thanked her sourly in my heart for having a little milk of human kindness in hers.
Then I did my best to steal past them quietly, so I could creep up into my room and tell my daddy all about it tomorrow, but just as I was reaching for the stair railing my daddy said, (and I could tell by the loudness of his voice he was right next to me all the time without my having noticed it) “Well, son, how many bad grades did you get?”
“Sixty,” I said bravely, trying not to jump.
“It was a rhetorical question, son!” he shouted back at me.
It was in that moment, as a seven-year-old, that I decided never to do something without thinking twice again.
I never did. I always thought twice about everything, from that day out.
And that is the story of how I became a business man worth sixty million dollars.
If you want to become one too, just you do the same.