for what reason, cause or purpose?
The woman from the Kentucky Lottery put two healthy scoops of sugar into her tea and slowly began to stir. There was a complete lack of tension in the air.
The mid-aged man sat down at the table and asked why he was being paid this visit. His body language made it clear that the question came from simple curiosity and he in no way felt that the woman was intruding.
Why else would he have offered to make her tea?
“Last Monday evening you bought a lottery ticket from a Circle K in Covington correct?” the tea-stirrer began.
“That’s right. But why are you here? I didn’t win did I?”
“No” the woman replied, making sure to nip any feelings of optimism in the bud. “You did not.”
“That’s what I thought. In fact, I don’t think I got a single number correct. I checked the morning after the results were announced. Not one number” he said with a small chuckle.
“The reason I’m here is to ask you why you picked those particular numbers instead of just having the computer randomly select them for you.”
The non-tea-stirrer chuckled again. “Why do you want to know?”
“Humor me. I’d just like to know.”
“Ok. Well… I chose 4 because in Germany they believe that to be a lucky number. Because of the four-leaf clover.” The man waited for the woman from the lottery to produce a notepad and start scribbling down his answers but no notepad materialized. The woman simply sat looking at him.
“Next I went with 7 because God made the universe in 7 days. It’s considered lucky in a number of countries. England, the Netherlands… truth is I would have picked it a couple times if the rules allowed me to. Once more for the 7 Wonders of the World and again for the 7 planets of the ancient world.”
He paused briefly to allow the woman without a notepad to react. Eventually she let loose with an “I see”, titled her head and raised an eyebrow ever so slightly to indicate that she was ready for him to proceed.
“It surprises some folks, but in Italy the number 13 is considered lucky. The number represents St. Anthony, the patron saint of finding things or lost people. I thought that it made it a great addition to the ticket given that playing the lottery harbors similar aspirations.”
The woman sans-notepad suddenly wished she had one. She was not expecting the reasons behind the man’s choices to be so profound. She’d been expecting birthdays or anniversaries. She also knew that the number 13, statistically speaking, was the least frequently drawn number in lotteries around the world. She didn’t want to break the man’s momentum so she kept that information to herself.
As if to reward that decision, the man barreled on. “I picked the number 8 for the same reason. In both Chinese and Japanese the word for 8 sounds very similar to “Make money.” In Chinese for example the number translates to bā, which sounds like the word fā, which means to generate wealth.”
The woman from the lottery looked around longingly for a notepad and pen. Seeing this, and quite understandably misinterpreting it, the man asked her if she was interested in having a biscuit with her tea and she declined the offer.
“15 was up next. For reasons that I couldn’t find at the library or online, a number of Spanish-speaking countries believe 15 to be a lucky number.”
The still-notepadless and now-biscuitless woman leaned forward and asked “And the Powerball number? Why did you select that one?”
“Well”, again with the chuckle, “Because all of my numbers were so low I thought of just going for 69. For obvious reasons.” He’d meant that 69 was the highest number allowed by the lottery but when he realized the implications of the double-entendre a quick blush appeared on his cheeks. Recovering quickly he continued, “But instead a decided to find my personal lucky number using the sieve of Eratosthenes.”
Assuming that the woman from the lottery wasn’t aware of what the sieve of Eratosthenes was, he paused and watched for signs of confusion to creep across her face.
He was not disappointed. It ran wildly from one end of her face to the other. He jumped in the rescue.
“The sieve of Eratosthenes is an algorithm for finding all prime numbers up to any given limit. In this case 69. There’s a website that tells you which one is your personal lucky number. Mine was 53. So 53 was my Powerball pick.”
The man leaned back as if just finishing up explaining why it clearly had to be Mr. Mustard in the den with a knife.
The woman from the lottery, the tea-stirrer and the biscuitless-woman-without-a-notepad-but-no-shortage-of-hyphens got a very strange look on her face. A pained look.
The ticket-buyer began his closing arguments. “4. 7. 8. 13. 15 and 53. Now my question is “Why are you really here?” I think you owe me that much.”
The woman mulled it over and finally replied, “I had to meet you. I hadn’t planned on telling you this. Telling you why I’m here. I didn’t see the point, but somehow I just needed to know for myself. Are you sure you want to know?”
The man nodded in the affirmative.
The woman’s voice suddenly took on a tone that made it clear that it was anyone but Mr. Mustard in the den with a knife. “A few years back we developed the ability to track every random number that would have been selected if a customer had chosen to allow the computer to pick for them instead of selecting the numbers themselves. Do you understand?”
The man once again opted for nodding over vocalization.
“Yours was the first time that the winning numbers would have been selected.”
It took a few seconds for it to sink in. When it did and all the color had finished draining out of the man’s face he was finally able to say “Why did you tell me? What was it you needed to know?”
The woman from the lottery’s face was just as pale and the two of them sat looking at each other for a long time. Finally they both spoke at the same time. The same word.