Mr. B was an old medallion maker who took great pride in his art and craftsmanship. He had been making medals since his youth and he never missed any opportunity to boast about his fine engravings and embellished handiwork. As he had indisputably proved his worth in the small city in which he lived, in these last years of his life he was enjoying the pleasure of choosing his own assignments. He would create medals only for the more glorious events in which many people had worked and struggled, in which more time and money had been spent: he would only make medals for occasions that influenced more lives.
The reason for his inclination to the more important jobs was not financial. While trying to find original designs for these medals, Mr. B often found himself imagining how the winner of the event wanted to have the medal, how this person had endlessly practiced, sacrificing emotional and carnal desires; and here, the medal maker was sitting above the entire crowd, designing and polishing that object which was the goal of all this effort. He almost saw himself as a mythical figure, a ring-giver, who with great ease was able to give all the contenders a motive to live, and one who would give immense happiness to a few.
In this way, Mr. B too gave a special meaning to his own life and he would perhaps have gone on living this way if it weren’t for that pesky invitation he had one day received. He read the whole letter in a single breath; at first he could not decide if he should be happy or worried. This was a summon to a competition between all the medal crafters throughout the country; once and for all it would establish the person who made the most handsome, most elaborate, most original medal designs. Mr. B didn’t even read the awards; he only glanced at the deadline and rules. At that very moment he instantly knew that he would join the contest, even though this could jeopardize his position in his small city. If he didn’t join, everybody would think that he had already accepted defeat. On the other hand, deep inside, he knew that winning this contest was extremely difficult. He had had the chance to see the medals prepared by other artists in other cities during his visits and he often found their work to be superior to his own in a way that is only evident to the eye of a professional. He found himself profoundly hating whoever had come up with the idea of this contest. For a few days he silently walked the streets of his small city. Then he closed himself in his workshop and didn’t come out for a whole week; this left him only enough time to pack up and travel to the capital city with the new medal he had made.
On the day of the contest all the best medal makers in the country filled the finest room of the palace in the capital city. The artists, one by one, came forward and presented the best work of their lives to the head of the committee. All of the medals were spectacular pieces of skill and artistry. However, Mr. B didn’t even peek at any of them: he had developed a series of superstitions while he was preparing for this competition. He had started to believe that seeing any other medal in this period might harm his belief in himself, and this would inevitably affect his chances of winning. Moreover, he never once looked at his own medal after he had put it in its container in his workshop. He somehow thought that the initial place it was made had a spirit and the medal should see the daylight again only here at the competition. Mr. B slowly walked through the crowd to the committee to present the greatest achievement of his life; his heart was pounding and his movements were almost rehearsed and automated. He briefly introduced himself and left the medal for the detailed examination of the shrewd and astute group of experts.
The results were to be announced the following day and until that time Mr. B couldn’t bring himself to think of anything but the contest, even though he genuinely tried to enjoy the many delights the capital city offered. The award ceremony was dazzling; at the end the three best medal makers of the country were to be declared. Just before the names were read, Mr. B finally made peace with himself and decided that even if he were awarded third place, he would still be content. However, his name wasn’t read for third best. All of this was happening too fast. He felt an instant joy that he wasn’t third and calmly realized if his name was going to be called now, it would mean that he is even better than what he had decided to settle for. At the same time, he intuitively knew that there were only two awards left and his chances were much less each time a name was read. While contemplating this fact, the second best medal maker was called: it wasn’t him. Mr. B wasn’t thinking anymore. He could only feel a certain pity for himself and a slight envy for the second best medal maker. He glanced at the entire room filled with best medal makers of the whole country. He should have worked harder, or he should have known his place; he shouldn’t have deluded himself with such pretense! He had a feeling that everybody was looking at him now; then his name was called, he stood up and among the tumultuous applause and cheers he walked up to the stage. There, Mr. B was given a golden medal for his achievement in medal making. The moment he saw the medal around his neck, he felt a funny understanding in his heart.
Years passed. As an ironical finale, the players, the medal makers, and the medal maker who made the medals for the medal makers ended up with the same fate; they were buried in the same row in the same cemetery. Their eyes opened to larger truths and their hearts constantly going over the lives they led, occasionally when they remembered the vainness of the games they had played, they couldn’t help bitterly smiling.