avoided symmetry

Nephogram Label via Creative Commons

The pedestrians scowled to look busy beyond the usual realm of preoccupation. Their expressions were deliberately set in a way that was supposed to read, “the person behind this expression is extremely busy and very important.” The old woman ignored these airs of feigned dignity; suits or sportswear or filthy rags, she knew no one of any real import would be walking the street at nine-thirty in the morning. Her clever eyes picked out a reedy looking woman with an upturned nose and a slouching gait.

“Could you let an orphan boy starve this afternoon?” the crone asked, her voice gravel-soaked.

The reedy woman stopped. “Beg pardon?”

“Could you let a starving orphan die today?”

“I—“ the woman stopped. “How am I supposed to answer that question?”

“It’s a yes or no—“

She interrupted, “—If I answer ‘yes’ then I’m saying, ‘Yes, I’ll let a starving orphan die.’”

“So I guess—“

“—But if I say ‘no’ that implies I’m willing to give you money.”

The old woman waited for a beat, not wanting to be interrupted again. “I didn’t ask for money.”

“Here,” the younger woman spat, thrusting out twenty dollar bill. The old woman snatched it up.