Near 500 words: The Birth of a Storyteller

Sikha sat on the roof of her father’s house. From here, she saw the whole neighborhood. She saw the roof of the house of her friend, Aditi. She saw her brother’s house and the houses of people she had known since she was a baby.

It was here she told herself stories. Stories she was beginning to write down. She had even sold one of the stories to a city magazine. It was a story about a Westerner with a hat. When she first wrote it down, it made her laugh. The more she wrote the more she laughed.

She told the story to her family and Aditi. They laughed too. They told her she should submit it to a magazine. At first, she said no. She knew they would hate the story but her family and friends kept insisting.

“It’s your way out,” her father reassured her. Her father was the one she trusted the most.

So she typed it up on her grandfather’s old Remington typewriter, put it in an envelope and sent it out into the world. Then she forgot it.

Two months later, she received an answer from the magazine. They were going to publish it. And there was two rupees’ payment with a letter written in neat English script that said, “Send more please.”

That evening, like usual, she went up to the roof. She began to think she was going to create another story. She thought and she thought and nothing. For the first time, she did not find a new story in her.

The only story that came to her was the story of the man with the hat. Only a new episode with him came to her. Night after night she threw it away like trash. Instead of flying off, the story kept returning. This was not good. Finally, she became curious and gave in to the story.

The man with the hat went to the bank. His name was Marvin. He went to the bank building and inside. The sign said, “No hats allowed. Please take your hat off your head.”

Marvin critiqued the sign. Didn’t the bank management know they had too many words?

The guard walked up to Marvin. “Take your hat off.”

“Say please,” Marvin said.

The bank guard blew his whistle. It was a loud whistle. Three other guards appeared. Now there were four men in uniform standing before him, demanding he remove his hat.

Marvin was a reasonable man. Since it didn’t seem reasonable to him, he did not remove it. It kept his bald head warm.

One of the guards knocked Marvin’s hat off his head. He should not have done that. A bright light shined from Marvin’s head. The guard backed away, holding his eyes.

“Put that thing back on,” a second guard shouted. “Put that thing back on.”

Marvin reached down for his hat. As he did, the light hit another guard’s eyes.

A third guard grabbed the hat. Keeping his eyes closed, he placed the hat on Marvin’s head. The light was gone.

The two guards, who could see, turned Marvin around and sent him back into the street.

“Now what?” Sikha on the roof asked herself. She laughed and said, “Isn’t that always the way of stories.” She looked up at the stars and whispered, “Okay, Marvin, I will return tomorrow night. Then you can finish this story.” She went to the stairs and looked one last time. “Or not.”

Zona’s Choice

Zona worked in a jewelry store. In her long dresses and her long hair braided all the way to her feet, she had a soft way about her. Each customer she treated like they were the only person alive. When she was asked about this, how she managed to focus on that person, she said, “Meditation. I meditate for sixty minutes each day.”

Zona had worked in the shop for ten years. She was always the first there and the last to leave. The owner was amazed at her commitment. He had never seen another who had that kind of commitment to anything. It just wasn’t done.

After thirty years of marriage, the owner’s wife died. He loved her deeply but she left him no children. The two of them had wanted children, but, after ten years, they quit trying. It was the gods’ plan for them and they accepted it. Although begrudgingly.

After a year’s time after her death, Mr. Kelps, the owner, began to think about Zona. She too had lost her husband. She and Min had only been married a year. Then she had gone to work for Mr. Kelp to support herself. His wife had liked Zona.

One night, Mr. Kelp closed the shop early. He asked Zona into his office after the other three workers left. Looking across from his desk, he said, “Zona?” He smiled. He liked the sound of her name. “I have a request.”

Zona’s response was yes, she would be willing to work a sixth day.

“That’s not what I am going to ask. You work hard five days a week and that is enough.”

Zona listened, thinking maybe a raise. She was happy with her salary. It provided for all her needs. And she had enough left over to save for her old age.

Then he asked, “Zona, would you be my wife?”

Never in a thousand years had she suspected such a thing. Mr. Kelps could have any of a number of young women in the city he wanted. Their fathers would gladly agree. Why her? In all the ten years she had worked at the shop, she had not imagined marriage. Through the years, she had come to love the kind man she sat across from. But she thought it was the love of a sister she had for him.

He continued, “I have realized over the last year how much you mean to me. You are not just an employee. Of all those I know, you are the one I trust most. And how much affection I have for you. This past week, I realized that it is more than affection. It is love. I have fallen in love with you.”

Zona listened as she listened to each person who was speaking to her.

He continued, “Have no fear. If you say no, you will not have to worry about losing your work here. And I will never speak of this again. Only you and I will know. But if you say yes, I will be happier than the gods.”

“May I think about your request?” she asked. “I will give you an answer at the end of six days.”

“Of course,” Mr. Kelps said. “Take your time. I only want your happiness. And consult any one you need.” As he watched the woman leave, he knew his wife would have been pleased with his choice.

That night, Zona went home. She prepared and ate her dinner of rice and vegetables. Then she cleaned up and sat for her evening’s meditation. Sitting on the floor before her mandala, she meditated longer than usual. She turned to her husband’s ashes. “Min, what do you think? Is this what I should do?”

Anytime Zona had a question or just wanted to bear her soul to someone, she addressed her husband’s ashes as they sat in the urn by her mandala. Even if she did not have an answer, she always felt comforted that her Min was close by. This time she was very concerned. If she married Mr. Kelp, Min would no longer be the one she shared thoughts and concerns with. She was not sure she could live without Min in her life.

She crawled into her bed and pulled the large blanket over her body. And she cried. She had not cried this way since her husband’s funeral. After the funeral, she had wanted to end her days. But she held back. It was a great sin she would be doing. Her people believed that. No matter what happened. One did not take fate into one’s hands. One struggled and lived with their destiny. Was Mr. Kelp her destiny? Only Min and the gods could tell her.

For four nights, she sat before the mandala and Min’s ashes. She had spoken her mind and she waited on Min and the gods. Only they would present a way forward. If they were silent, that also was her answer. She would not marry her employer.

On the fifth night, Zona had a dream. She walked along a pathway. On each side of the path were lovely trees and the most beautiful flowers. The path was wide enough for three. On her right side walked Min. On her left was one of the gods. They held her hands and they walked for what must have been hours until they came to a gate. Min and the god let go of her hands. Min gently pushed her forward through the gate.

Zona did not hold back but she did not go forward willingly. That was her way. Min and the god knew that.

She went through the gate, then turned and saw that Min was giving her his blessing. He leaned through the gate and kissed her cheek. So did the god. Then they were gone.

Zona turned to see a garden filled with flowers. She had never smelled such fragrance from flowers before. Then a rooster outside crowed and she woke up. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

She dressed the way she always did. She had her morning rice. Then she gathered up the urn and went to the temple.

A priest met the woman. She passed him the urn. Neither spoke a word. The priest knew what he was to do.

Zona left the temple. There wasn’t a smile or a frown on her face. There was only the peace she always wore.

The priest took the urn and scattered the ashes onto the fire lit for the gods. He said a prayer, then handed the urn to an assistant. Then he turned back to the fire and said, “Goodbye, Min. Your time on this earth is done.”

Min’s ashes gathered into what had once been Min and he flew away to join the gods.

The flower seller

The old lady sat by the flowers. She knitted while she waited for the passers-by to stop and buy some flowers. Through the years, she had managed to knit a whole wardrobe. It was her way not to become impatient. To trust that the customers would come. And they did. While she knitted and waited, she prayed for each of the passers-by. “God is good,” she told the troubled souls who came her way. And she believed it. She believed that each of her prayers was a seed.

One sunny spring afternoon, she sat in her usual place. She had just put away her lunch of a baguette, some cheese and a glass of red wine, then she went back to her knitting. This one was a blanket for her great-grandbaby. Michel was six months old with the most beautiful of smiles. Every time she looked at him, he smiled. His smile seemed to fill not just the room but the whole world. How could anyone be sad after seeing a smile like that?

A woman in her early forties, tall, long black hair, approached her. “Margarette?” she said.

Margarette looked up at the woman. She remembered the woman. She never forgot a face. Twenty years ago, the woman stopped and shared her story. She had no one else to share with, she said. She had been abandoned by her lover. He had brought her all the way from the United States to France and left her for another woman. She was afraid to contact her family. They would reject her and she would soon be on the street, a foreigner. Margarette took her hands, held them, and prayed for the woman.

“Margarette,” the woman said as she kneeled before the old woman. “You saved my life. You won’t believe what happened after I left.”

Hamlet and the Man Who Could Be Trusted

I would not wish
Any companion in the world but you.
(The Tempest 3.1

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Act 4 Scene 6. Horatio found himself a corner to be alone with his thoughts. For an orphan, he had come a long way. First, adopted by King Hamlet to be his squire. Such an honor but he always wondered why him. “Because I can trust you,” the king said when Horatio asked.

It had been that trust that had earned Horatio a scholarship for Wittenberg University. “Go away and become a scholar. Then return and you will be my trusted adviser,” King Hamlet told Horatio. “And watch out for my son. I know I can trust you to do that.”

That same trust earned Horatio a friendship with the prince. It was that same trust that Gertrude found so appealing. And Claudius too.

If someone had asked Horatio why he could be trusted, Horatio would simply have told them the story of a man who could not be trusted. Judas Iscariot. The orphan once heard a priest tell the story of Iscariot. Horatio knew he did not want to be a Judas. So he made sure that he said nothing that would reveal the confidence others had in him. He knew secrets and he kept them.

One minute he was alone, the next a servant stood before him. “Sir, two sailors want to speak to you. They have a letter.”

Horatio gave a deep sigh. It was back to work for him. “I’ll see them.”

The servant left.

Horatio asked himself, “Who would want to send me a letter. Certainly not that girl I fell in love with at Wittenberg. She dumped me for a senior, and a football player at that. Then again, maybe she needs me.”

Before Horatio stood two sailors. Each wore sailor’s boots and sailor’s pants and a sailor’s shirt and a sailor’s hat. The tall one had a white beard that once was red. The short one wore an earring. Yep, they were sailors alright.

“We have a letter for your eyes only,” the tall one said. “But first you must pay the postage due of two gold ducats.”

In those days, there was no Pony Express. There was no carrier pigeons. There was no United States Postal Service. There was no email and there was no text. The only way you could get a letter out of your part of the world was to catch someone on the way to the letter’s destination. Or hire someone to carry your message.

“Who would be sending me a letter?”

“My lord, Hamlet.”

Horatio pulled out two gold ducats from his pocket and handed them to the sailor. The sailor handed him his letter.

Horatio read:
“Horatio, 
When thou shalt have overlooked this, give these fellows some means to the king. They have letters for him. Ere we were two days old at sea, a pirate of very warlike appointment gave us chase. Finding ourselves too slow of sail, we put on a compelled valor, and in the grapple I boarded them. On the instant, they got clear of our ship, so I alone became their prisoner. They have dealt with me like thieves of mercy, but they knew what they did; I am to do a good turn for them. 
Let the king have the letters I have sent, and repair thou to me with as much speed as thou wouldst fly death. I have words to speak in thine ear will make thee dumb, yet are they much too light for the bore of the matter. These good fellows will bring thee where I am. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hold their course for England. Of them I have much to tell thee. Fare-well. 
He that thou knowest thine, 
Hamlet.” 

There was something about the letter that made Horatio think this wasn’t Hamlet, and yet it was Hamlet. It wasn’t the doubting Hamlet, but a confident Hamlet. The prince had changed. He had gained what had for some time seemed lost. The writer of this letter seemed lighter than air. It was the Hamlet he had once known.

“Wow,” Horatio said. “That is some story.”

“And all true, sir. Never have we witnessed a braver man.”

“Well, follow me. I will take you to the king to deliver his letters. Then you can take me to the man who sent you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And remember, not a word to the king about this other matter. Understood?”

“We understand.”

So, dear Reader, aren’t you surprised? Bet you thought Hamlet was in England, doing the pubs and catching the Bard’s latest play. Looks like he isn’t. Very interesting. Bet Claudius will be surprised too.

Hamlet: Spies, Spies and More Spies

It is a wise father that knows his own child.
(The Merchant of Venice Act 2. Scene 2.)

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

And now on to Act 2. Here a spy. There a spy. Everywhere a spy spy. R&G spy. Ophelia spies. Gertrude spies. Claudius spies. Polonius spies, and we know how that turned out. Not good. Even Hamlet does a bit of spying.

Hamlet should get used to it. He’s a royal, the son and the nephew of aking. Royals are always spied upon. Just ask Elizabeth I. But she, like most rulers, is both the spyee as well as the spyer. She may not do it herself. She has minions whose business it is to spy.

Why do I bring up all this spy business up? Act 2 opens with Polonius asking a servant, Reynaldo, to take off for Paris and spy on Laertes. Either Polonius knows his son well or he doesn’t know his son well. It must be important for him to find out. Otherwise he wouldn’t spend a pretty penny to spy on Laertes.

Perhaps Laertes will spend all his money gambling and whoring and getting himself in a real pickle. It will cost Polonius all the money and goodwill he can muster, money and goodwill he has spent a lifetime collecting. Polonius wasn’t always an important official. He was born a poor farm boy who had ambition. He was a regular Danish Horatio Alger.

Polonius wants to make sure that his boy is worthy to be his heir. Otherwise he will have to do the unthinkable and will his fortune to Ophelia.

Just as Act 1 established that there was something rotten in Denmark, Act 2 establishes that nobody trusts anybody. Soon we will see that suspicion turns into suspicion run amok..

“So, Reynaldo,” Polonius stands above Reynaldo. “You go off to Paris. Check out what my son is doing. Then come back and let his father know what dynamite he is playing with.”

“But, Sir,” Reynaldo always calls Polonius Sir, “Laertes is a good kid. He’ll sow his wild oats, then come back home and be your loyal son.”

“The kid wants to be the next Van Gogh. That’s all he talks about.”

“Yes, Sir. But what’s wrong with that?”

“You know how Van Gogh turned out. A missing ear he cut off his own self and poorer than a church mouse.”

“He might turn out to be the next Hans Holbein. Then he could paint the king’s portrait and the queen’s too. And even the prince’s.”

“Not him,” Polonius says.

“Sir?”

“Just take my word for it. The prince isn’t going to be around long enough to have his portrait painted.”