Everybody in the village knew Pawlu. Not because he held any esteemed position in the community, nor because he ever did anything exceptional to be remembered for, nor because he liked to mingle freely among the different folk of the village. However Pawlu was the church warden. It was always he who at every mass, be it on weekdays or on Sundays, with collection box in hand, went around the congregation collecting money for the church. And it was often he who led the faithful to recite the rosary before the first evening mass.
Pawlu was 51 years old, still as light and agile as a cat, a good soul and a loving family man. But he had one obsession which only his wife knew about. He was a gambler. Not a heavy one mind you, but a gambler all the same. A man of very modest means, he always thought that one day he would be rich.
All throughout his adult life, every week without fail, he staked a few euros either on a ‘lotto’ or a ‘super five’ or a ‘lottery’ ticket. With his optimistic nature he always expected that he would win, always thought that, this time, his numbers would come out of the large rotating urn holding all the issued tickets. But they never did and he never won.
His wife Marie had a different character altogether. She was mild-mannered, of a calm nature and satisfied with her position in life. Unlike her husband, she did not crave for more money and the modest wage Pawlu brought home each week was enough to make her life comfortable and enjoyable.
Marie repeatedly admonished Pawlu for throwing away money over his weekly stakes. “A gambler”, she used to tell him, “is always a loser, never a winner!” If he had saved the money he had paid for the stake tickets he had bought these last thirty years, she always told him, they would have had a good sum of money in the bank, not nothing.
But Pawlu was certain that one day his numbers, which he never changed, would make him rich. “You’ll see Marie, you’ll see. When I win the one million euros, I’ll buy you a nice house in the new part of the village. And we’ll go for a long holiday. You’ll be so happy that I persisted in playing these blessed numbers”, he told her.
He continued with his mission in life, week in week out, always the same numbers, all signifying some dates or ages close to his heart. He did not trust his short-sighted wife to get him the tickets, being afraid that she would mess up his numbers. “Some day I‘ll become rich” he would often say to himself. And while in church, he would pray to his favourite saints to intercede on his behalf so that his wish would be granted. For thirty years he kept faith. “One day,” he always thought, “one day my luck will turn.”
He would buy his weekly tickets, kiss them tenderly, put them in the jar on the top of the kitchen side-board and wait for the draw on the Wednesday. It was a ritual. Sometimes, out of the same five numbers on which he put his stakes, he would get one number right, or two, or on rare occasions, three numbers. But no wins.
One evening Marie was following the draw on television. The numbers were being extracted from the rotating urn. One, two, three, four, five numbers! Pawlu’s numbers! She could not believe it. She opened the jar, took out the tickets and WOW, they had won it, over one million euros. She just could not believe it!
Pawlu was still at the church, assisting the parish priest at evening mass, after which he made preparations for the morrow’s early mass. Then he bid good bye to the parish priest and left for home. As soon as he entered the house Marie, tears in her eyes, shouted at him –“Pawlu, you’ve won, your five numbers have been drawn, and we’re rich Pawlu, rich!!”
Pawlu stood motionless, at first not realizing what Marie was telling him. Then, still not sure, he told her. “Is it true Marie, this is no joke is it? How do you know?” “I am sure Pawlu. I just heard and saw the numbers on television. I checked with your ticket. Here see for yourself. They’re your five numbers!” she answered breathlessly.
The impact of this news then struck Pawlu. His thirty-year long cherished dream of becoming rich had finally come true. He was now the happiest man on earth. As this realization sunk in, his face became as white as a sheet; sweat seeped down from his face and a stabbing pain run across his chest.
As he clutched his chest with both his hands, he fell on the floor right in front of Marie. She uttered a scream and ran out for help. When the doctor came and examined him, he pronounced him dead. After Marie recounted the events as they had happened, the doctor certified that death was caused by a heart attack, probably following strong, emotional joy on hearing the news of his substantial win.
But the story did not end there. It had another twist. After the funeral, Marie went to the Lotto Receiver with Pawlu’s ticket. He checked the numbers, looked at Marie and told her – “You have a winning ticket with four numbers, not five. The prize is 200 euros!” In her excitement Marie had made a mistake of the last number.
Pawlu, poor soul, had died in vain after all!