The stranger standing at her gate asked how much her house was worth.
The woman leaning over it gave him a curious look. As though she couldn’t believe the question or the fact that the man had asked it of her.
“Dear Sir,” she said, because she was a polite and well brought up lady. “Are you a person who believes that everything has its price and can therefore be bought?”
The newcomer thought for a moment before answering, not wanting to seem overtly shallow and materialistic. Then, in a voice somewhat less certain than before…
“It is the recognised way in our culture, is it not, to assign worth to everything? To measure the need or the desire that each one of us has for each and every material and immaterial item or notion. Otherwise, how could we trade with one another? Even a system based on bartering has, at its heart, a measure of relative value, does it not?”
The woman nodded, nonetheless feeling puzzled by his query. “Can you tell me why you ask? You seem a well-settled gentleman and I’d hazard a guess that you already have a home of your own. This is mine. My one and only. The place that was a home to my children. The place that my husband brought me to that first day after we wed, carrying me across the threshold. The last place he saw too, I’m afraid. This house would only be a further building for you to claim ownership to, dear Sir. Albeit one with a pleasant aspect and a provenance to be envied.”
The man frowned, unused to hearing such reasoning these days. “Perhaps we could negotiate,” he said. “Not for money but for the real value of this dwelling.” He pushed his sleeve up his arm to reveal an intricately tooled timepiece, conscious of yet another commodity he assigned great worth to. He looked back toward his waiting car and tried again, reaching into his pocket to retrieve his leather-bound chequebook.
A few minutes later, the deal was done, the widow satisfied if not pleased and the financier’s business account fractionally lighter than before.
Twelve months later, the house was gone, with only the family’s memories as testimony that it had ever existed. Earth-movers grumbled across its plot, their tracks erasing every trace of this, the last remaining block that’d held up this development; the new shopping mall now growing apace.