Wall Street. It's the centre of the universe, or at least it is to men like Andrew Bergen.
The day was over, the trades had all been made, and once that final bell sounded, the universe slept once more until Andrew, and his ilk prodded it into life anew.
He loved the thrill of the trade, the rush having millions of dollars pass through his fingers. A buy here, a sell there, dispensed with a flick of his pen. Whenever he was tossing in the maelstrom of the trading floor, he felt truly alive. His blood surged, his mind hummed with electrical current fizzing from his nerve endings as he calculated each possible outcome. A rush like that can only last for so long, and like every high, the accompanying low is devastating. It was the end of the day that killed him, the tumble from such a lofty realm sucked the marrow from his bones. Drained, deflated and dejected he filled out his returns, dotted his I's and crossed his t's, before joining the thousands of faceless drones leaving the city.
As he was spat out onto the street by the revolving door of his office, his end of day doom seemed even worse than usual. Was this all there was to it? Was this what life was? An endless series of days chasing wisps of greatness? Why did winning feel so hollow? He felt smothered and looked around for somewhere to catch his breath.
While Wall Street is synonymous with wealth and success, the actual street fails to impress. It is narrow, overcast, without a tree or a blade of grass to be seen. The real display of power sits at its confluence with the mighty Broadway. Trinity Church. Andrew looked at the spire rising high above him and felt in need of enlightenment. He trudged toward it, carrying his seven hundred dollar briefcase, and wearing a thousand dollar suit, but he was lost in a vast sea of similar men. He mounted the steps and paused just shy of the top. As his foot hovered over the threshold he felt like a fraud, it had been years since he'd been to a service and in the end, he contented himself with sitting on the top step.
City life is strange. Everyone always has someplace to go, always in a rush. Andrew became acutely aware he had abandoned the herd as soon as his keister touched the cold stone. In the city that never sleeps, he dared stop for no reason at all. He could sense others veer away as they passed this strange seated man in a suit, afraid whatever aliment afflicted him might jump their way.
"I'm Sophie, what's your name?" a high confident voice floated in the air. He looked around and standing behind him was a little girl dressed in dungarees, with ruby red shoes, and blond hair falling over her shoulder in a ponytail. She may have been five or even six, but her words were as well formed as any he'd heard while working. A lady stood beside the tiny girl having one of those New York phone conversations, loud and unabashed because she was as good as alone among a sea of strangers. The lady held the little girl's hand firmly, but that was where her attention finished.
Sophie extended her chubby little hand and smiled. She held it there, undaunted, as Andrew wondered what he should do. In the end, social compunction drove him forward. He gripped her tiny fingers softly and gave the hand two good shakes and said "Andrew." It was his boardroom handshake. Why had he given this little girl his boardroom hand shake?
"Why are you sitting down? Are you tired?" she asked simply and regarded him with incredibly old eyes.
"Yes, a bit. It's been a long day."
"Me too. I go to school, over there," she said pointing toward some point that made sense in her mind.
"Excellent," said Andrew hoping this kid would leave it at that.
"Where do you go to school?"
"I don't, I work," said Andrew feeling compelled to answer.
"Down there," he said pointing along the winding length of Wall Street.
"What do you do?" she asked and tilted her head to one side.
"It's hard to explain," he said not wanting to try and dumb down his job for some kid he didn't even know.
"Do you make something?"
This kid wasn't going to give up. "I make money, sweetie." As soon as the words were out of his mouth he knew the answer was far too glib for a five-year-old, it had gotten him plenty of attention from tanked up twenty-five-year-olds, but for Sophie, the answer seemed too childish.
"Wow, you're the man who makes Dollars!" her tiny face exploding with excitement.
"I don't actually make them, I sell things and buy things."
Sophie’s smile slipped a bit, "You work in a store?"
"Not a store, it’s complicated."
"Why?" she asked her smile vanishing and her look becoming serious. Andrew turned slightly on his step to face the little girl.
"It's like this. People give people like me money. I take that money, and I buy stock, and when I think the time is right, I sell that stock to somebody else and I make money."
"Sure does, but it’s hard to do right."
"What do people do with stock?"
"They don't do anything, they sell it to someone else."
"Everyone is buying and selling the same stuff all the time? Stuff you don't do anything with?"
"That's silly," she said smiling.
"It's not silly, it's called commerce, it's what keeps the world working. You will learn about it one day."
"But nobody makes anything, how do you get stuff?"
"I buy things with the money I make, lots of stuff."
"Like in a store?"
"It's making my head hurt," said Sophie with a sad smile.
"Mine too sometimes. Commerce is just math really."
"I'm good at math, but my teacher is terrible," said Sophie sticking out her bottom lip a little bit.
"Why do you think that?"
"Yesterday she asked me if I had three apples and I got two more at the store, how many apples would I have? I told her three, but she said I was wrong."
"The answer is five apples," said Andrew helpfully.
"No, the answer is, I don't like apples, so I'd buy oranges in the store. I'd still have three apples, but I'd eat the oranges because they are yummy!" said Sophie rubbing her belly and licking her lips.
Andrew's face cracked wide open with a laugh, and he slapped his knee. "You're one clever girl."
She leaned in conspiratorially and cupped her hand over her mouth as she whispered, "I know."
She looked at him seriously and said, "I have an idea."
"What is it?" he asked charmed an intrigued by this little creature.
"You should build a machine that makes hours. Mom says there's never enough hours. You could sell them to the stock people."
"That is a great idea, you could help me build it."
"I can't, silly," she giggled.
"I'm only five," she laughed and smiled her knowing smile.
At that moment Sophie's Mom finished her call and tugged on the girl's arm without even looking at who she was talking too. "Come on Sophie, we're late."
"See," called the little girl happily as she was hauled down the steps and into the flow of people, "told ya!"
Andrew watched the little blond head bob away into the distance, skipping by her mother's side and he realised that his cloud of doom was gone. He began the walk to the subway with a grin a mile wide. Step by step he replayed the conversation in his mind. The more he thought about what she had said, the more sense it made. Layer on layer of truth began to appear in such simple questions. Was this the reason for his unending conflict of emotions? He scratched his head in wonder and as insane as it seemed, he was sure he'd just bumped into one of the most incredible people on the planet.
With his whole life laid bare on a slab before him, there seemed to be only one question that needed answering.