A vendor made his living selling apples from his apple cart. He made a fair living and loved his work and the town in which he sold those apples. And every once in a while, he would notice that he had not taken in as many coins to account for the number of apples gone. Some of the apples he knew to be spoiled, and some he knew to have fallen and bruised–and these spoiled and bruised apples he all threw over the fence across the street–but others he assumed must be stolen.
One day the vendor caught a boy–a street urchin, really–stealing one of his apples. He turned and saw the boy with his hand on the apple. The boy’s face flushed red as the vendor reached out and grabbed him by the wrist. “Why are you stealing my apples?” the vendor asked. The boy denied it but the vendor did not believe him. The vendor chased him off down the street and in so doing, bumped the cart and caused several to fall into the street.
The next day, the vendor wheeled out his apple cart and as he set out his inventory, he applied a sticker to each apple. He had purchased the stickers for a penny each. When his regular customers came and saw the stickers, they frowned and asked: “Why have you placed stickers on all of your apples?” The vendor explained: “It is because I have caught street urchins stealing my apples. With the stickers, I will know for sure.” The customers still frowned: “What about us, your loyal customers?” The vendor reassured them: “You can easily peel them off. They should not interfere with the flavor.” Satisfied, his customers each selected an apple. When it came time to pay, his customers were shocked that the prices had gone up by a nickel. The vendor explained that it was because of the stickers. Some customers handed back their apples, but most paid and went about their days.
All that day, the vendor watched for street urchins. While he stood there that day with increased vigilance, he noticed flies and other bugs crawling on the apples. Surely, he reasoned, it had always been this way, and flies had always alighted on his apples. But today he could not shake that feeling. And still, apples continued to disappear when his back was turned.
The next day, in addition to applying stickers to each apple, the vendor also wrapped each one in plastic. He had picked up the plastic wrap for a penny per sheet. And again, when his customers came, they asked about the stickers, and about the plastic wrap. The vendor offerred his explanations for each. Once again, his customers agreed that this made sense, and they went to purchase them. And once again, his customers noticed that the price had increased by a nickel and though some turned away, most others still paid.
All the rest of that day, the vendor stood even more vigilant than before, watching his cart, and watching his apples. He also watched the street, and watched the people on the street as they strolled by. Some of them were eating apples. When he did not recognize their faces, he shouted at them and called them thieves. One such man came close enough that he even seized his arm and tried to wrench the apple from his mouth.
“What are you doing?” the man asked. “You have stolen that apple from me,” the vendor cried. The man on the street protested: “I purchased this apple from you this morning?” “Then where is the sticker?” the vendor demanded. “I peeled it off just as you instructed!” This did not satisfy the vendor and he continued to wrestle with him. The man insisted that he was innocent but it was too late, the half-eaten apple had already been knocked to the ground. The man whose apple had been knocked to the ground cried out for help and a constable came rushing over. He explained the situation to the constable who nodded and then asked the apple vendor for his version of the story. Again the constable nodded along. He sided with the vendor. “Where else could he have gotten the apple?” he asked.
The next day, the man wheeled his apple cart out to the street again. He applied the stickers and wrapped the apples in plastic and bundled them as pairs. He smiled at his cleverness and put his hands on his hips. Across the street, he noticed an orchard full of apple trees bursting with apples. Had it always been there? he wondered. Where could these trees have come from? The vendor pondered this as he waited for his customers. He saw one of his regular customers walk by. “Where are you going?” he asked, but he received no response. He asked another, and was similarly stonewalled. He asked a third, reaching out to grasp his arm, and the third answered: “I saw what happened yesterday. That man was loyal to you for many years and you rewarded him by calling the constable.” The customer jerked his arm free and crossed the street.
Just then, a red-faced street urchin hopped down out of one of the trees in the orchard, smiled, and took a bite of an apple.