The Man Who Was Always

Once upon a time there was a man who was always wishing for things.

He'd wish for things like there'd be no more wars, or people everywhere wouldn't starve anymore, and then sometimes he'd wish he had a million dollars or magical powers, so he could change all the misery around.

But he didn't do anything except wish for things.

He was a bum.

Once day a bartender asked him, he said, "Look here, why do you make all these fantastic wishes? I mean if you want to end wars, why don't you go into politics and so something about it! Or if you want a million dollars, why, man, go out and earn it! Or at least, if you have to wish for things, why don't you wish for something you can possibly get? You know these fantastic wishes are never going to come true."

And the bum explained himself this way, he said, "Look here, a man goes through life wishing for many things, and some of our wishes come true, and some don't - but no man lives his whole life without ever having a wish come true. I mean God must grant every man at least one wish during his lifetime. But you ordinary people! You make so many petty wishes. You wish you had five dollars to buy this or that, or you wish you had this girl or that one, why, it's easy for God to grant one of your wishes. But look at me on the other hand. I have never made an ordinary wish!

"Do you understand?

"When God gets around to answering one of my wishes, he's going to have some trouble. You're going to see a lot of changes around here when God gets around to answering one of my wishes, because do you understand? I have never made an ordinary wish!"


The bum grew older, forty, fifty, and sickly and skinny because of the way he was living, and still none of his fantastic wishes had come true.

One day he happened to wander into the zoo.

And he began watching the giraffes, which were in a large cage by themselves near the edge of the zoo, so they had a lot of room.

He watched them galloping around swinging their big necks to and fro like ponderous dancing.

He realized that this was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

But something was wrong.

He couldn't figure out what it was. At first he thought it was the fact that the animals were caged that somehow spoiled this almost perfect scene, but the cage was landscaped just like a regular jungle scene with rocks and little trees and things, so he decided this couldn't be it.

Then it hit him!

It was the fact that the giraffes were so big, they were out of proportion to everything else.

They seemed out of place.

He noticed some flowers growing in the cage, and he thought - wouldn't it be great if the flowers were giant. He wished that the flowers were tall.

Then he got dizzy, and he put his hand over his eyes, and the dizziness went away, and then he looked and -

There they were!

The flowers were tremendous - eighteen feet tall! - and the giraffes were running around among them, batting the big flowers with their necks, sticking their noses into the morning-glories, and the perfume! the perfume filled the air; and colors! the great green stalks, purples, reds, oranges of the blossoms sprung around the brown and yellow spotted careening giants, stunned him; and then all the giraffes began to lick the flowers from which they seemed to get some substance, their tongues flickering like pink fish, and he watched them one by one drop to the ground, their eyes drooping, and closing, until they all lay asleep. It was even more beautiful than he'd imagined.

His wish had been answered.

His wish had been answered!

And - I mean - well - the giraffes and the flowers were nice, they were really very pretty, but - this was nothing like no more war, or people everywhere never having to starve anymore, or Christ! he didn't even get a million dollars.

And he wondered what to do now. He'd never learned a trade or made any real friends, and he realized there was nothing he could do. His life had no meaning now.

He was drinking a bottle of orange pop, and he broke it against the bars of the cage like he'd seen someone do it in a Hollywood movie, and very methodically he cut his wrists.

And then for some reason he kneeled down and slashed his ankles and lay down on the grass with his arms stretched out like a man on a cross, to die.

As he lay there dying, he reflected that God had been rather mean. Here he'd been so faithful to his belief, never wished for food when he was starving, or a lover when he was lonely - and he'd been so lonely. He felt cheated, as if God had taken advantage of him. He felt somehow that God hadn't been a very good sport.

But a few minutes before he died he happened to glance back at the rest of the zoo, at the rest of the world.

He leaped to his feet, shocked at what he saw.

For he saw that God hadn't answered his wish at all.

And he realized that had he not taken his own life, God would have granted one of his great wishes, because He hadn't made the flowers giant. He'd merely made the cage, the giraffes - and the man, very small.