It was the best of times. I had never had it so good. Our property had recovered from my father’s foolish gift to my brother, and everything was thriving. We had more sheep, more cattle, more acres of land than ever before (because a prudent man re-invests by buying more good farmland with his profits, and the first thing I did when we could afford it was buy back the fields my father had sold to raise the money for my brother’s share of the inheritance – how I resented that!), and we were looking forward to record-breaking crops. True, we had heard rumours of a famine in faraway lands, but what was that to us? We can’t be responsible for other people’s misfortunes, if they squander their surplus in good years and keep nothing for the lean ones, well, they are to blame for their own troubles. A man must make his own wealth by his own hard work, or so I have always believed. And I certainly worked hard. From morning to night I was bustling about, organising this and fixing that, making sure none of our hired hands shirked in their labours. And in the busy periods I have never been above rolling up my sleeves and doing the work myself. Hard work is how a man earns respect in this world, and if you aren’t prepared to work you deserve to go without.
My father left more and more of the work to me, and that suited me fine. He would spend so much time gazing down the road as if he were expecting my brother to suddenly materialise on the road in front of him. Why, I don’t know, but old men have their fancies, and he must surely realise that I was worth a dozen of that idle scapegrace. A prosperous old age, and no lack of anything he might reasonably desire, that was my gift to him. I was a son any man could be proud of.
Then, one day, when the sun burned like a white flame, and the dust on the road was chokingly thick, my brother re-appeared. I was out in the fields, of course, and was only told later what had happened. My father saw him while he was still a long way off, and throwing aside every last vestige of the dignity belonging to our family, went running down the road to meet him. Only later did I learn that my brother had come back as a beggar and suppliant, as he should, in his disgrace, but my father would have none of it. Instead of sending him to work in the fields and sleep in the stables, he called for his robe and ring, and for the fatted calf to be killed for a feast of rejoicing.
It is beyond my understanding. Can’t he see that things were better without my brother? Can’t he see that my brother shouldn’t be rewarded for his behaviour? What will that teach him? The lazy boy has probably spent all his money on loose women and loaded dice. He is a disgrace! Somebody said, “look how much he loves him!” I don’t understand. He has done nothing to earn my father’s love! One bitter question rises in my throat like bile: whare is the fatted calf for me?