It is under the greatest of tribulations that a man shapes into the self he ends at. I say ends ‘at’, because as long as he lives, he is on trial, and at times he may grow or shrink, but he is never the same.
The question is, then, which trials should be for whom? Why is it that grown men do not know the pain that an eight-year-old shrugs off? Why is it that someone is oblivious to a growth that someone has outgrown? Why is it that someone is sleepless and many others are weaving dreams? Why is it that for some, their gods are sleeping with their eyes open? And why do people without gods must look for salvation in people who escape from them in the name of god?
A little boy, too young to know but old enough to question; walks around the streets looking for someone. He may be very small for travel, but was bold enough to explore. He was probably naive for trying to poke his nose, but was brave enough to prod his finger.
On his way, he walks past tens and thousands of people who from afar looked like they were coming towards him, but as they came closer he realised they had eyes for the horizon. Everyone seemed like going away from him if he looked back, and while the opposite view presented a momentary spark of hope, the thousands who walked past him made him understand no one was going to stay.
The boy had questions, which only multiplied every second. He had no ways of research except asking, for he was poor. He had no wise old man to ask to because he was alone. And he had no time to contemplate his loneliness because he didn’t have a roof.
Within that bustling street, he saw a man standing nearby, with his shoulder resting on a pole. The man looked brusque – bare-chested and well cut, his torso gave him away as someone not to be meddled with. His loose lower garment was wrapped around his waist. While it looked a little odd, the boy presumed that it was pretty expensive – not by price but by value. The man had a strange greyish layer on his body like a baby rubbed with talcum powder. The man’s long, bony face had a look of no-nonsense. His eyes had a flame of anger, which could fire up any second. His long, thick hair was plaited and mounted on his head like an inverted cone, with celestial ornaments decorating it. He looked like he was idly playing with a black rope in his hands. A triple spiked rod rested beside him.
The boy, apprehensive as he was, decided to approach him. He came closer and before he could call him, the man said aloud, “Yes?”
Startled, the boy asked warily, “Um, how did you know..”
“That you were coming? I’ve been keeping an eye on you since long, boy.”
“I have ways,” the man said, without looking up from his toy. “Anyway, what do you want?” he asked.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Is it something foolish?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then ask away.”
The boy took some time to frame it properly. Despite all that commotion around him, he found himself alone with the man, as if they were on a mountain top – away from all things worrisome. The man had still not looked up from his past-time towards him, but the boy could somehow feel his gaze on him. The boy felt a pressure unlike any he ever knew. He felt like his question could be the most important words to ever come out of his mouth. Out of a thousand things in his mind, he ended up with something he didn’t perceive to be that important. He gulped, and said, “Who are these people, and why don’t they stop?”
The man stopped fiddling with his toy. Scared, the boy hastily stepped back and was about to apologize when the man spoke.
“They’re a herd,” he said with disdain. “Dolts who think they’re each the sayers of right things. Each believes that their judgement is impeccable, and their decisions are flawless.”
“But, if they say the right things, their judgement is impeccable, and their decisions are flawless, how can they be the part of a herd?” The boy asked.
“That’s because what they say, judge and decide aren’t their thoughts, judgements and decisions.”
The boy looked about. None of the walking folk cared to even look at them – a shabby man and mere child was nothing to waste time on. They all looked focused, and while some did frown, none betrayed any steps they were taking.
“Whose orders are they following?”
“They may not be orders boy. There are many different ways to get people to do your bidding,” the man said with a tone of knowingness.
“Then? What are they following?”
“Some are following rituals. Some norms. Some are following trends while some are just following the guy in front.”
“Where are they going?”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t bother myself with where they want to go. For me, they are all going to one place.”
The boy frowned. “And that place is?”
“Death and destruction.”
“Oh,” the boy paused. “But isn’t that an obvious end? Like, everyone is going there isn’t it?”
The man looked at the boy for the first time.
“Perhaps you only heard half of what I said. Yes, everyone is going to die, but not everyone will be destroyed.”
“But why destroy them? Who will destroy them?”
“Not who will – what will.”
“What..will?” The boy asked hesitatingly.
“Let’s see.. that man in the suit will be destroyed by his arrogance. That lady will be destroyed by vanity. That old lady over there will be destroyed by regret, and that child – poor one – will be destroyed by his parents. The parents, in turn, will be destroyed by ignorance. That restless runner will be destroyed by greed, and that girl will be destroyed by ego. Some will perish to lust, while some will perish to rage. Some will succumb to revenge and many will be shredded by envy.”
Stunned, the boy looked back in horror. “H-how do you know? And will each be destroyed due to this?”
The man ignored the first question. “No, these people getting destroyed don’t concern me much. It’s folks like that one..” he looked far into the crowd, beyond what was visible to the boy. “It’s idiots like him that lead to bigger, much bigger destruction.” The man seemed like he was talking to himself. “Not only destroying himself, but others around him. In the hundreds. Thousands.” The man’s eyes had a fire raging, as he gripped his toy tighter than ever.
The boy was genuinely terrified now, but the incoming education kept him going. “W-hat will happen to him? And to those who are destroyed?”
The man seemed to pop out of his reverie. “If you destroy yourself, then it’s a simple thing. You die knowing what you’ve done. Your death, along with your life, will be a waste. If you are destroyed by someone, then it’s difficult, for your death will still be an incomplete end, something among the realms of could have beens and should have beens. In that case your death is futile, but your life, unfortunately, is still a waste. But if you destroy other’s lives before-” the man looked directly into the boys eyes, “let’s say someone catches up, then your death will be a spectacle and your life will be a lesson.”
The man’s toy suddenly sprang into life, and slithered onto the boy’s feet. The boy, captivated by the man’s eyes, had no idea about it. He still had the courage to prod further.
“So there’s a lesson in death?” he asked meekly.
“Depends on what you do.”
“But what if I am not destroyed before I die?”
The man’s eyes softened – they were almost kind now. “Then we will meet again, as friends.” He extended his hand and the snake slithered onto his hand, and slowly wrung around his neck. “Now run along, little boy. My job here is done, and so is your time.”
As he started walking away with the triple spiked rod, the boy’s eyes followed his footsteps, until he realised he had one last question, which he shouted out loud, “At least tell me who are you?”
The man turned, and smiled. It was the most beautiful smile the boy had ever seen. The man did not answer, but kept on walking, slowly fading away into the horizon.