Diurna: an Anthology of Short Stories and Poems

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The Archer (1)

My father once told me a story about an archer. Once upon a time, he said, lived a master of archery, the one who was in command of his bow and arrows. His life was a devotion to practice, and he survived one battlefield to the other. He always survived. No target he can miss.

One day someone came to learn from him. The master archer did not expect to have a pupil, but he received the young one in his care. So started the learning process of the young one. The master taught only three things: An archer must understand the perfect stance, an archer must know how to aim at his target, and an archer, above all, must know how and when to let go.

The first lesson was to understand the bow and arrows. The master asked the pupil the length of his bow and how much the arrow weight. He questioned the type of wood that made the bow and which that made the arrow. The master even asked how to build a bow and how to make an arrow. The pupil did not know. The master said the lesson would continue when his student knows the answer to these things.

To answer his master’s questions, the pupil went to the village and looked for a blacksmith. “The blacksmith also makes bows and arrows, he should know the answers to the questions,” he thought. Arriving at the blacksmith’s workshop, he asked the blacksmith about the questions. The blacksmith answered these questions and showed the pupil how he makes such instrument.

“I never knew that it is this fascinating to make arrows and bows. May I learn here a little more and help you at your work?” the pupil asked the Blacksmith. The Blacksmith allowed it. For some time he became a disciple of the blacksmith and building his bow, preparing his arrows. His instruments were not perfect, but it worked. The Blacksmith gave one of his bow and a set of arrows he made himself to the pupil. This is a gift for his disciple’s hard work. He also received a decent amount of money from the blacksmith as his wage. Knowing the answers he sought, he packed his things and headed to the master of archery again.

The master found that his pupil had arrived. He looked at the two bows he was carrying and the sets of arrows he had. He showed confident in his eyes and his hand looks tempered by skill. As the pupil saw his master, he wanted to answers his master’s question, but his teacher asked him to follow to the backyard instead. There was no question. The pupil followed.

In the backyard, the master showed his student the stance of an archer. He said to have a good look. The pupil did. “Now show me!” said the master. It was the student’s turn to show his stance to his teacher. After some time and various corrections, the master asked the pupil to hold his position. The pupil never had such training before. Not long after holding the bow with the string stretched, his hands started to shake. As his trembling hands became uncontrollable, an arrow flew to the bush in front of him. The master said, “Practice to hold the bow and ready to release the arrow! After that, we can continue.”

The pupil always failed to hold the stance. The boy realized he lacks the muscles needed to keep that position. So whenever he practiced the archer stance, he paid attention to which part of the muscle was functioning. After making sure which muscle needs training, he focused on practicing those muscles. But still, this alone was not enough. Because after some time he still trembled. It ended either by putting his bow down or the arrow flew aimlessly.

One day he decided to have a break from his training. He asked for his master permission and went to the nearby city. It was very crowded, and a lot of things attracted his attention. As he still had some payment from the blacksmith, he decided to watch a performance. He went to the theater. A dance performance was about to take place.

He enjoyed the performance. Looking at the dancer moved in a graceful manner, soft and effortless, he wondered, “How can they move like that?” When the performance ended, he asked the theater manager whether he could have an audience with one of the dancer. The manager was about to say no when a dancer looked on the pupil and said he could ask her anything. The eager student asked the dancer, “How one learn to dance like what you just did?”

The dancer realized the eyes of the boy was pure and found the question to be honest: this young boy makes one humble student, she thought. She said to the pupil to come tomorrow afternoon to meet her again. Her new student said he did not have enough money to stay in the city. The dancer told him to wait, then she went to the manager’s office and came moments later. She said she talked to the manager about the pupil willing to work on theater as a caretaker. He could stay at one corner of the warehouse and also earn a little money during the work. But as a condition, he must join the practice session of the dance company.

So he worked as a caretaker at the theater and attending the dance rehearsal every day. The dancer taught him the fundamental of dance. The dancer said to the pupil, “Be conscious of your body. Be aware of the shifting of the weight. Start slow for every movement and make sure to have the right posture.” She taught him how the body move in sequence, and how to train his mind following each sequence. His body could not stand his bodyweight sometime. He often fell on the ground with trembling legs or hands. No one was laughing, though, even when he was the only one learning the basic. All dancer there were professional, but they appeared to practice as hard as the pupil, perhaps even more.

The dancer also said, “What I’m about to teach you now is a traditional dance from our region. People who want to join our company have to perform this dance in front of us. Do not underestimate its simplicity. That dance contains all the fundamental you can use to dance in a more complex work. In a couple of months, a city festival will be held. There we always have a public stage. I want you to prepare this dance and perform it there.”

The pupil agreed. This dancer’s apprentice trained the same dance for months, tiring his body and his mind. When the time of the festival came, he danced on the event as how the dancer wanted him to. He was very nervous. He never danced before, let alone to dance in front of an audience. The pupil heard the musician played the accompanying folk song. People sang along and clapped their hand. It was time to dance. Though a bit rough in form, he did his best. The crowd was happy and enjoyed his performance. No one laughed at him as he imagined at the beginning. People laugh, but that is because they enjoy the good time they shared together. The pupil found that the dancers from the company were cheering on him. He humbly bowed to those dancers.

The pupil one day realized, he spent so much time in the city already. He remembered about his master. He came to meet the dancer and the manager and thanked them. He said he must back to his master, although learning to dance was interesting for him. He said he wanted to be a good archer, so he must back on his training. They understood. The manager gave the boy his final salary as the caretaker of theater. The pupil shook the manager’s hand and went out to the road.

Before leaving on his journey back, the dancer gave him a present. It was a long colorful cloth that dancer uses to dance. “When you are in the region and dance our traditional work, put that around your waist, let the long tail hang and grip them with your palms. Then you will be considered one of us and they will recognize your dance movement to be the one from the region.” He was grateful for the gift, bowed to the dancer, and took the road home.

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