One evening, Wimsie came trotting home from Hala's place. "Kanive was at Hala's," she said, cocking her head at me.
"Hala's?" I said. "That's the last place I would expect to see him. What did he want?"
"He wants to learn math," she said, "so he's going to be one of her students."
I had to laugh. "What in the world is Kanive going to do with math? Count his fish?" Kanive spent a lot of time fishing, although he never seemed to catch very many.
"Maybe he's going to count his crystals," she said, "but I don't know why he wants a whole bag of them. I only need one, because I can only look at one, and so can he."
I perked up my ears at that tidbit of information. "He showed Hala his crystals?"
"He dumped them out on the table, and he said . . . " She frowned, trying to remember what she had heard. "He said he wanted to do something with them, something that will help the whole village, but he wants to learn about math first."
I didn't like the sound of that. Tricky Kanive, plus Math, equaled Trouble. "When is his first lesson?"
Wimsie yawned. "Tomorrow evening, after dinner."
"Well, I plan to be there," I said. "If Kanive wants to 'help the whole village,' then we have to find out how. Maybe we can warn everyone."
Wimsie thought I was joking, but I wasn't. And the next day, after dinner, both of us went over to Hala's. The door was open to let the cool evening air in, and we wandered in and curled up in a corner on one of her rugs. Like any other guests, we got a snack and something to drink.
Kanive strolled in not long after we did. Hala gave him coffee and donuts, and then she said, "So, Kanive, what are these big plans you have?"
"I was hoping to keep it a secret until I had it all figured out," he said, trying to be evasive.
Hala laughed merrily. It was the kind of laugh that always made me feel like wagging, and I did. So did Wimsie. "I'll keep your secret, Kanive," Hala reassured him, "but I can teach you better if I know what you want to do with the math. Is it something to do with fishing?"
I snorted, because that had been my first guess, too. But I suspected that it was wrong, because it was too obvious.
"Not fishing, exactly," Kanive said. "I mean, not just fishing, but a lot of other stuff, too. It's a way to keep track of trades, without having to trade both things right away."
"Are you talking about the crystals?" Hala asked him. "It's a shame that such pretty things caused all that trouble."
Kanive leaned back and crossed his arms. "It wasn't the crystals that caused the trouble, it was Skeem."
Hala didn't put up with anyone's bullshit. "Do you want to discuss Skeem, or do you want to discuss your idea?" she said sternly.
"Okay, okay," he said. "Look, here's an example. Suppose I do something for you, like, oh, chop some firewood." He pointed at the wood that was neatly stacked in one corner of the room. "What would you give me for that much wood?"
"Well, that would depend on what you asked for," Hala said. "Maybe you would want soup, or lemonade, or some jerky."
Kanive held up a finger. "But what if I didn't want or need anything right at that moment?"
Hala didn't see a problem. "Then you could come back later, and we would settle up then."
"But I might forget to come back," Kanive said. "Or you might forget that you owed me something . . . "
"I've never forgotten that I owed someone!" Hala said indignantly. "I always write it down, so I won't forget!"
"Everyone knows that!" Kanive quickly said, trying to placate her. "I'm just saying that I thought of a better way to keep track of debts, especially for busy people who might forget."
Hala was skeptical. "Better than writing them down?"
"Most people can't write," Kanive pointed out. "But I thought of a way that's easier than writing. It would make all trades fair, all the time, and keep people from arguing about what things are worth. I call it . . . money." He put his crystals on the table and began to explain his idea. "Suppose that we gave everything a certain "price," and that the price was always the same for everyone."
Hala raised her eyebrows. "Such as?"
"Such as that stack of wood," Kanive said. "Every time someone chops wood for someone, they haggle over how much the pile of wood is worth -- how many sticks of jerky, or how much cloth, or whatever. But if a stack of wood of a certain size," he emphasized, "always had the same price, there wouldn't be any need to argue."
"There's nothing wrong with a little friendly haggling," Hala said.
"Yes, but sometimes it stops being friendly," Kanive pointed out. "I know a couple of people who aren't speaking to each other because of an argument over a chicken."
Hala rolled her eyes. "I think I know who you're talking about, and I do see your point. But who is going to decide what the price of, for example, a stack of wood, is going to be? We'll have an endless argument over that, and it's just one thing!"
"One person should decide what all the prices are going to be," Kanive said, "but then everyone else would have to agree to follow those prices and not argue."
"And how is this person going to be chosen?" Hala said, smiling at him. "There's another argument I can see coming. Unless, of course, you wanted to set all the prices, and good luck with that."
Kanive leaned forward. "I thought maybe you would figure it out for us. Everyone respects you, and I thought maybe you could bring up the subject at the next Elders' Meeting."
When Hala didn't answer right away, Kanive smiled and said, "I'll bet your smart young students would really go for it."
I didn't like that. Hala doted on her students, and Kanive had known exactly what vine to pull so she would stay interested.
Finally, Hala said, "Well, okay. Explain about the 'money.'"
Kanive grinned at her, and then he took his bag of crystals out of his pocket and put a handful of them on the table. I really wanted to see what he was doing with those crystals. It would have been rude for me to jump up onto one of the benches, so I got up and moved further from the table. That gave me a somewhat better view of the activity on the tabletop.
"It's almost like a game," Kanive said, "and here's how it goes. Say you decide that a stack of wood, the size of the one over there, is worth two crystals." He picked up what I assumed were two crystals, and put them in the middle of the table. "So every time someone chops a stack that big, its price is two crystals."
"Why crystals?" Hala wondered.
"I thought it would be a good idea to use something as 'money' that doesn't have any other use," he explained. "Otherwise, people will use it for something besides money, and that would mess up the system." He glanced over at her counter, and pointed at the Spanish box that was sitting there. "If we try to use Pink and White Coconut-looking Balls on Crackers as money, people will eat them, and there goes the money! Especially if Skeem is around!" He laughed at his own little joke.
Hala shook her head in puzzlement. "But if the Pink and White Coconut-looking Balls on Crackers are used as a payment, then why does it matter if the person to whom they are given eats them? That would be their right, wouldn't it?"
"Well, yes, but the idea is to use one thing, the same kind of thing, as payment for all trades." He indicated the two crystals in the center of the table. "If I chop wood for you, you give me two crystals. If someone else chops wood for you, he gets two crystals, too. It's always the same, see?"
"But why would anyone want crystals in trade for work, if they aren't good for anything?" Hala wondered. "They can't eat them, or wear them. I don't get it."
"But they are good for something!" Kanive insisted. "They can trade those crystals for other things. Take these and I'll show you." He picked up the two crystals and gave them to Hala. "Say you have two crystals. Now, pretend I just chopped all that wood for you, and it's worth two crystals. I give you the wood, and you give me the crystals." He held out his hand, and she dropped the crystals into his palm. "Okay, now I have the crystals. They won't spoil or go stale, like Pink and White Coconut-looking Balls on Crackers in a Spanish Box would, so I don't have to trade them right away. I can hold on to them until there's something that I want or need. Say, a cup of Marta's coffee. Pretend that Marta is sitting here." He indicated an empty bench at one side of the table. "If a cup of coffee is worth one crystal, then I can get two cups of coffee from Marta in exchange for the two crystals that you gave me for the wood." He put the two crystals down on Marta's side of the table. "Now Marta has two crystals, and she can trade them for something else that she wants or needs. See?"
"I think I do," Hala said thoughtfully. "But there would have to be enough crystals for everyone, or they'd go right back to haggling."
"Oh, they'll have enough crystals," Kanive said, in a tone of voice that put me immediately on the alert for bullshit. "There are a lot more crystals than what I have here. A lot more. I had to do all the digging, because Skeem forgot to bring his shovel along. That wasn't fair, and I know he did it on purpose, so I hid most of the crystals and showed him just enough to make him happy and shut him up. I can make a quick trip to the beach, without him to slow me down, and then we'll have all the crystals we need to make the money work."
Hala frowned, and I could see that she didn't approve of Kanive's dishonesty, even though Skeem had brought it on himself by being lazy. And she wasn't stupid, either. She knew that Kanive was up to something. "Right now, you have all but a few of the crystals. So how are the other people in the village going to get them so they can use them?" She looked him straight in the eyes and waited for him to answer.
Of course, Kanive had an answer all ready. "Well, I'm the one who dug them up, so it wouldn't be fair if I just gave them away, would it?"
"No, of course not," Hala said wryly. "So how is that going to work?"
"It works like this," Kanive said. "When you, or whoever the Elders pick, figure out all the prices for everything, and everyone in the village agrees to start using money, then they can come to me, and I will give them crystals in exchange for things, and then they can start passing the crystals around."
"And you are the only one who knows where the rest of the crystals are," Hala commented. "That's convenient."
Kanive shrugged. "I'm not very good at fishing, so I found something else to do. And other people have their specialties, like Spanish and his boxes, so why can't I have one?"
Hala laughed. "Of course you can. And it is a long way to the beach, from what I've heard."
"It sure is!" Kanive said. Hala poured him another mug of coffee, and then she gave him his first lesson in math.
To be continued...