The voice came from behind him, though he'd been sure no one was standing there only moments before.
"Um, what?" Joey asked, a little bewildered. He could have sworn this strange man, clad in what appeared to be an entire outfit made of old quilts, complete with quite an impressive cape (if Joey were the type of person to be impressed by capes, which he wasn't) had just asked something about walnuts.
The strange man drew near, his old and wrinkled face mere inches away from Joey's, which frankly, made Joey a little uncomfortable. "I was wondering," the man repeated, "if I might interest you in a walnut."
Ah. So he had made an offer of walnuts. Frankly, Joey just wanted to get home, sans-walnut, if at all possible. He decided that trying to take a short cut through this particular back alley had turned out to be a tremendously stupid idea, and if he could make it home with both of his arms still attached and one hundred percent walnut-free, he would consider it a successful outing.
"No thanks," he said, maneuvering deftly around the old man, and continuing the walk home.
Somehow, the man materialized in front of him once more, this time holding out the aforementioned walnut. "I'm sorry," the man said kindly, "but perhaps you misunderstood me. I am offering you a walnut."
Joey sighed. "Yes, it's just that, you see, I don't particularly like nuts, in general, as a rule. In fact, I suspect I might be a little allergic."
The old man nodded, considering Joey's words, as if Joey had just imparted to the man some deep, ancient knowledge about walnut allergies that, given the proper amount of consideration, may prove life-altering. This considering, however, kept the man stagnant, planted less than a foot in front of Joey, fixing him with a mildly disconcerting stare. Joey wondered how long it would take the old man to respond, if he responded at all.
Finally, with a jolt of energy, the old man shuddered and shook his head, whispering something to himself. Joey started to grow a bit frightened at this point, and made to step around the man once more. Unfortunately, the man flung his bony arm out to stop Joey, hitting him square in the chest.
"Um, ouch," Joey said, quite convincingly.
"Listen," the old man said. "I realize my mistake. You do not want a whole walnut."
Joey nodded, but had no idea what was going on anymore. "I don't?"
The quilted man shook his head, blubbered a bit, and very possibly spat imperceptibly into the corner. "No. You are a man of discerning taste. You only want half a walnut."
Joey thought back through his week, trying to discern if any particular action of his might have karmically blessed him with a crazy old man in a cape trying to sell him half a walnut. He'd filed his taxes on time. He'd tipped all of his waiters, even that one who'd sneered snidely when he'd asked for his burger to be taken back because it wasn't quite done. He'd bought his girlfriend a nice bouquet of flowers, for no other reason than he'd been thinking of her. And he had ordered a subscription for a local newspaper, even though he already had one, because some nice young neighbor of his might win a trip to Europe if she sold enough papers, and Joey had always wanted to go to Europe, but couldn't for one reason or another, and he saw a bit of himself in this newspaper saleswoman, so he had acquiesced and purchased the new subscription.
And all of this good doing and kind-heartedness had gotten him nothing but an offer of a walnut. Of half a walnut.
"Here!" The would-be walnut salesman shouted boldly, waving his hand in the air with dramatic aplomb. He brought it down on the walnut and twisted it firmly, cracking it in half. Then, he delicately plucked one of the halves from his hand and showed it to Joey. "This is the better half," he whispered, a hint of a smile playing across his lips.
Joey didn't know what to do. "Is it?" He asked, though quite frankly, and just between us, he really didn't care.
"Oh, it is indeed, and I will tell you why," the old man wheezed, chucking away the decidedly less impressive half of the walnut. "This half contains a dream." The old man grinned widely at Joey, daring him to question this assessment.
"It might be your dream," the man continued, pressing the walnut half into Joey's hand and closing his unwilling fingers around it.
Joey stood, walnut half in hand, staring at the old man, begging for this moment to end so he could just go home and watch Family Feud. The old man held Joey's gaze for several moments too many, before finally releasing his grip on Joey's hand, smiling, and carrying on down the alley.
Joey stood for a few moments, blinking, trying to process what had just happened. He walked the rest of the way home, fingers closed around the walnut (pardon me, walnut half). He considered tossing it aside, but for some reason, he couldn't make himself. He held onto it, realizing that for some reason, the old man really wanted him to have it. Who knows what that reason was. Maybe he was just crazy.
Or maybe he knew something Joey didn't know. He stuck the walnut half under his pillow that night, just in case. One could always do with an extra dream or two.