Back in the bad old days of the World Economic Disaster of 2008-14, hundreds of millions of people around the world had their financial holdings significantly reduced. Millions more were affected even worse. Indeed, more than a hundred thousand people in the United States alone were completely wiped out. One person in the last category, who was ineligible for any government handouts, turned to begging.
Now, becoming a beggar is not as easy as it might seem. Asking someone to give you something for nothing goes against nearly all social training. Further, successful begging requires initiative, the ability to quickly adapt to new situations, and considerable strength to maintain an optimistic outlook. Even then, when those skills are present and applied, they don't always work.
One morning, when the beggar had eaten someone's unfinished sandwich for breakfast and nothing on the day before, the shabbily-dressed man roamed an outdoor marketplace. He looked for a food stall where there were things that could be eaten without being cooked and which might be stolen from behind the back of an unsuspecting merchant. When the beggar found such a stall, which had different kinds of apples for sale, he didn't stop to look around and insure his safety, but immediately tried to steal an apple. That's how hungry he was.
When the beggar reached out and snatched an apple, he discovered that the merchant who was facing the wrong direction had a big and strong brother who was not. The brother was looking straight at the beggar. The brother leaped forward and wrapped fingers and a thumb around the beggar's wrist. The brother yanked the beggar's wrist to the brother's chest and yelled. "I got him! A thief!"
The shout drew the attention of a policeman, into whose custody the beggar was transferred. This was done without further struggle. The beggar only sighed and appeared to accept his fate
The policeman took the beggar to the marketplace court and explained to a judge the circumstances of the beggar's presence. The judge asked if the beggar had an explanation that might allow the judge to be merciful. Alas, there was none. The beggar had not eaten and was very hungry. Rather than walk the long distance to the nearest soup kitchen and stand in its long line for a meal, he had chosen to steal. The judge duly found the beggar guilty of interfering with the local operation of commerce.
"I cannot sentence you to jail," said the judge, "for all of the jails are full and there is no room. Officer, take the prisoner out back and shoot him."
"Your Honor," said the beggar, "I understand the whys and wherefores of my fate, but must this be? Cannot something else be worked out?"
"No," answered the judge. "The law is very clear. This is what must be."
"Well, I guess I understand," said the beggar, seizing the initiative. "But if you have me killed, I will not be able to teach your horse to sing."
"Yes, Your Worthiness. If you have me killed, your horse will never learn to sing opera or popular songs."
The judge in the marketplace court hadn't started yesterday or the day before that. In fact, the judge had been sitting on that bench for years. However, in all of that time handling local market matters, the judge had never before heard a defendant claim the ability to teach a horse to sing.
"You can do this, teach my horse to sing?"
"Most assuredly, Your Mightiness."
If the beggar truly could teach the judge's horse to sing, then the beggar would qualify for special circumstances known only to judges, unpublished clauses that allow any judge to turn a law on its ear and free a guilty person. The judge peered over the top rim of his glasses and looked the beggar in the eye. "It will go hard on you if you are lying to me. You will be tortured before you are killed."
"Neither will happen, Your Greatness, for I will teach your horse to sing."
"All right. Officer, the prisoner's sentence will be stayed."
"Your Sublimity," interrupted the beggar, "I cannot do this overnight."
"Aha," declared the judge. "You cannot do what you have claimed."
"But I can Your Nobility, only it will take some time."
"I see." The judge thought for a moment, and then he pounded a gavel on the top of the judge's desk. "I suspend your sentence. You have one year to teach my horse to sing. Sentence is postponed until then."
The policeman led the beggar out of the courtroom. On the other side of the doorway, the policeman snorted in derision. "You can't teach a horse to sing."
"You know that and so do I. In all likelihood, the judge knows it, as well. However, I have a year in which to try."
"And fail," said the policeman, with sarcasm.
"While I try to teach the judge's horse to sing, though" said the beggar, "do you suppose the judge will want me to roam the marketplace and steal food? No, he will have me fed. Do you suppose the judge will want me to wear these rags as I serve him? No, he will have me dressed in better clothes."
"Yeah," said the policeman, "but it's only for a year. Then what are you going to do?" The policeman pointed a finger at the beggar and pulled the trigger of an imaginary pistol.
"You're right, of course. But I have another year of life ahead of me, three hundred and sixty-five days of being well-fed and well-clothed."
The beggar paused to smile. He showed optimism on his face. "In the meantime, who knows what will happen. The horse may learn to sing."