Taste of an Apple in a Dream
On the steep road between the small town and the nearest assembly point, I picked up an apple.
It was bigger than my hands could hold comfortably. The skin shone the gentle, pure colors of golden afterglow under the sun. It weighed down my hand, as if it were worth more than a light snack. It was akin to the fruit carted through the desert in the eastern tribes’ carriages to be sold at the dry mountain ranges this side of the world. I looked at it and thought, Kids going to the market with their parents would want you so.
But then we marched on, and I stopped paying mind to that apple. I dropped it in the sack with my belongings; it didn’t go away by itself. It’d laid there at the dark bottom of the sack, and I only bothered to know that much, that I had gotten it within my reach, and it wouldn’t just up and disappear from my life.
That was but a meagle memory that should have sunken down below the losses and victory cheers I had bathed in since my departure; but then the feeling of rotten apple skin in my hand and the dead weight of something different from the promise of a good snack returned to me every night as I closed my eyes. I guess the only reason why that disappointment ate up so much of my thoughts was that it was different from the silence of the deads, or from the worries, the plans and calculations of a general at wars.
I kept thinking that; the truth was that I didn’t know the real reason. And I kept staying up a few minutes more every night, empty hands palm up on my thighs, measuring the weight of what-ifs surrounding the never-commited act of eating an apple found along the road.
I am a stubborn piece of work living a bitter life.
My grandfather did more than he talked. He sometimes didn’t think beyond what he did. That was the lifestyle parents chose when they had to raise a horde of children into grown adults - or, in our case, into powerful nations. But my grandfather did know the worth of ambition, of dreams out of reach, so he told us tales of heroes, of grand peoples and lands. He told us tales of losses and sacrifices, of prizes for the winners, of forgiveness and of steely determination. We grew up with those special treats, each of us keeping a dream or two.
Among the grandchildren once upon a time, I am the openly stubborn one. Some of my brothers are ancients, some are nitpicky, some have accepted to settle, some are arrogant to the point of suicidal, but stubbornness is a family trait. I’m just the best example for that trait. I grew up from an unstable state, have witnessed civil wars happen one after another, have felt the land tearing itself apart constantly; because of that my health has never been good. But so what? I asked myself. Health isn’t the be all, end all of life. So I do everything other people do. I choose to live beyond my capacities.
But my life is bitter; and I’m too stubborn to give up on it.
During the three hundred years in my hometown, I’ve dreamt a lot. My hometown’s sky was wide, nights brought moon and stars to pour their light onto the quiet meadow; sleep during those three hundred years was never disturbed. I’ve dreamt plenty. I’ve dreamt of being tall and strong as the heroes in my grandfather’s tales, holding a sword over my head, looking down at the world. I’ve dreamt of life tasting like soothing sweet ripe fruit, and I’ve dreamt of mornings when I walked and walked, to faraway lands, without having to stop even once to catch my breath--
I’ve also dreamt of never waking up. Of sitting up to see that the world had moved on without me, and then laying back down and closing my eyes, continuing the interrupted dream.
My grandfather’s never taught us that dreams could be as dangerous as a spear. We were taught that by pushing our steps we would arrive to a beautiful place; I’ve never heard words of the quitter’s happiness. I can only guess: this is because I’m a stubborn piece of work living a bitter life, and I will get bored of staying back, and I will walk again. One shouldn’t believe in things one can never achieve.
I am but a child to the surrounding nations. I’m not as tall as the elbow of some of my brothers. Some can even hold me up with one arm.
Whether it’s true or not, what people say about children growing up surrounded by too many adults, I don’t know. What I can feel, what I assume that I know, is that I don’t think like a child. I’ve never wished to run free in the field or for a new toy. I don’t love and hate or forget easily like a child. I have authority over cranky adults instead of fearing them. I earn my respect. I know the consequences of my actions, on myself as well as on my peers. That’s not how a child think.
It’s likely that the reason doesn’t concern my status as a nation. I’ve met the proof of that logic back when my grandfather and the mighty nation that has succumbed under his feet were still living together. I’ve met another nation, a child of my age, with a vain passion for fine arts and music. We couldn’t be more different from each other, and soon after we parted way on two different journeys in history; but the flow of time has filed us into two pieces that fitted together the next times we met. That was the result of collisions and unpredictable falls, I know that; and right at that moment when we first met I’ve learned the ragged face of that person’s being by heart without ever meaning to do so, so as to trim and reshape myself in life, until I realised that that person’s hand fitted perfectly in mine, the chipped delicateness of a worker-artist’s hand a comforting weight in the roughness of scars on a hand that has had to hold sword from the moment it saw the light of day.
I’ve fallen in love with that person since when I do not know. Is it that only when I’ve seen how well we fitted together did the sentiments bloom? Or is it real, the poetics spouted by the musician on the other side of the hill, the idea of people born to be together? I don’t know the answer to this either, I only know that since I’m feeling these sentiments they must be real. Whether they’re the cause, the result, or the side effect of a whole random process that is my life in history, they’re still here as a gift given by fate. I’ve chosen to pick it up and drop it in my sack, as a fruit and a dream of life.
They’re among the things I contemplate before sleep. I’m but a child in other nations’ eye, but I’m a stubborn one. My life is made up of challenges and detours, I know that - what I can do is facing towards the goal so as to not get lost. Love can be an agonizing trap in a painful life, it can be a reward for incredible efforts. I choose to consider it a promise. A snack after a tiring morning.
I’ve hoped that, if I was unfortunate enough to fall in the middle of a battle, I would remember love as an incomplete good happenstance. A meal I miss because of this reason or another. But in the end maybe I’m still but a child: I still crave the sweet treat I’ve had the chance to taste once upon a time.
There are three things I risk everything to try to conquer during these hundreds of years.
The first thing is health. War is like opium to nations: moderate use can lessen illness, but greedy abuse can kill. I know that by accepting to go to wars in my fragile state I’ve hung up my future as a wager for a too risky bet. Either I go out of these wars with a steady, strong pulse, or I lose what I already have in battles, under the blood colored sky.
The second thing is that person. I used to consider having that person next to me to be merely conquering a southern land, but as time went by the reasonings concerning that person becomes more and more complicated, and by the point when I went to wars, the only clear part left of them is my desire. I want to return to my hometown, to continue living the dreamlike three hundred years on the meadow, under the clear sky of a seemingly neverending morning. That desire is somewhat selfish, but I’ve survived countless battles thanks to it, and so I stubbornly keep it at the bottom of my sack. I keeps me grounded in waking hours, save me as frequently as it endangers me.
The last thing I actually can’t name. It seems like it doesn’t have one; it might even be too mundane to stay on my mind. But among the few things I do know (comparing to what I don’t know) there is its existence. It keeps me up at night as much as the other two things, but as it’s nameless I never pay it any mind. Its existence is at the bottom of the sack along with the other two, but I never touch it. It hasn’t caused any more damage than the other two, so I let it be.
But in the dreams I don’t want to let go of, I have the first two things in my reach, but I can never have the last. I once had a dream about a brightly lit city with stars perched at the top of trees and warmly dressed people on flat roads. In that dream I saw myself reflected on the surface of a glass panel: tall and strong, walking steady steps, next to that person smiling brilliantly. We were having a free evening in the middle of a busy week, and we were invited to a small party at another nation’s place. I was ready to stay in that dream forever, but then I did wake up, and what surprised me most was that I don’t feel the regret as strongly as the emptiness. As if I’d forgotten something. What that “something” is, I have no idea.
I only know that dreams are to be realised, not to be admired. I’ve had a lesson about saving ambitions for later. That lesson still haunts me every night before sleep. I don’t need to learn it again.
I’ve never knew one could influence the dreams of people around them. Until I met the proof of that influence.
I am not one with an imagination. I don’t draw, I don’t sing or play an instrument, I don’t like storytelling that much. I prefer simple things with simple consequences. I used to be scared of the dark, but I prefer to explore it with a sword than to guess what it holds. That is why I dream of what I haven’t yet conquered, what I’m not satisfied about myself, what I want to have.
Maybe love can be classified as “what I want to have”, I think. I used to avoid sentimental matters, but a promise with another person has helped me move forward more than anything else. I accept that love is desirable. However, to be able to tell a small portion of what love brings, I have to temporarily let go of it. During nights I spend remembering the meadow, I recall too the peace I felt in my guts, a smile in sleep.
But then from whence came things that don’t belong in my memories, I can’t tell. I dream of a morning I wake up in a place where there’s the sea and a clear sky, the feeling of smooth sand under my back, that person waiting in a small boat about to set sail. I dream of a far future where war is but a noise on the other side of the brightly lit kitchen’s wall. Of a final fight, the outcome of which I do not know, but in which I participate with all my might nonetheless. In the end those are not made up entirely by me: I am not one with an imagination. Those are glimpses of paintings I’ve seen, of faces I’ve known, of wants I’ve saved up for some people, spiraling into worries and calculations only to resurface at night.
Only by having those dreams can I barely know the taste of imagination. Having tasted it, I start to want more, and that scares me. In the end I wrap that taste up in that packet labeled “love” at the bottom of my sack. It keeps coming back, but I know I can’t do much more than admiring it. It’s part of a dream, but it can’t be a dream by itself.
I took a long nap during a midday stop at a small inn.
I closed my eyes as the Holy Roman Empire and opened them as the Federal Republic of Germany. I was standing on a balcony looking out to a bright city under a cold sun. I felt my hand on warm metal of the handrail; I’d been standing here for some ten minutes.
That person, now named the Italian Republic, came to stand next to me and smiled. “Do you want some cake?”, he asked, handing me a piece of cake on a small plate. I took it with a nod and a thank-you, but didn’t eat it right then. Prussia loved these stuffs, if there wasn’t any left for him a while later he would sulk for Lord knew how long.
Italy looked at me, then at the city in front of us. “This place is nice,” he said. “Getting some cool air once in a while is refreshing. If you want some sun, feel free to come by my place.”
I crossed my arms on the handrail, holding tight on the plate. “When I have enough free time.”
He smiled a brilliant smile, then went back inside for more cake and left me to myself.
I looked behind me, suddenly thinking of how bizarre this dream was, and then I saw the smiles on the other side of the window pane. They were cutting the rest of the cake, happiness apparent in every gestures. I wanted to come inside with the plate I was holding, to participate in the conversation going on there, to give and get back slaps and banters. But for some reasons I knew that when I walked inside the room would be empty. I hadn’t had these things yet. This was but a dream, a too heavy dream in the hands of a sickly but stubborn child.
When I looked back to the city, I was once again the Holy Roman Empire, on the roadside in a late sunset. The afterglow-colored apple weighed down in my hand. I stared at it.
“You should take a bite,” someone said to me. I looked back to see Germany standing face to face with me across the handrail. I’d always found him to be tall, but as I stood in front of him as myself, I finally realised how tall he really was. His calm eyes looked at me with patience.
I pursed my lips, “What would it taste like?”, to which he shrugged, face not revealing any impression.
“Only one way to know.”
I looked again at the apple in my hand. The last time I picked it up, I’d dropped it in my sack without thinking much about it, and had missed the chance to know its real taste. This seemed to be the second chance I’d desired.
But I looked up into the eyes of the man across the handrail, and I thought. Regret welled up once again, brought a gloom to my spirit, and I couldn’t hold myself back.
“You don’t know,” I scolded. He was silent for a long while.
In the end he said, “You can dream about it.”
I thought about his words. It was true that I could dream about it. This apple could taste like the best pies of the upcoming town. I could taste like the golden skinned, crunchy fruit brought here by the Easterners. It could taste like anything I wanted it to in this place.
I thought, and then I threw the apple to the man in front of me. He caught it with one hand. “You take a bite,” I challenged him, “then tell me what it tastes like.”
He looked at me for a moment. Bringing the apple to his mouth, he took a small bite. My empty hand balled up into a fist.
Then he smiled, and threw the apple back to me. I stood there with a bitten apple in my hand, looked at him as he turned his back and went inside the apartment, closing the door to the balcony, and his world faded into the scenery I remembered. Memories faded into a colorless dream, and I dropped the apple into the bottom of my sack, back to where it had been before.
I’m a sickly child with a sack too full of dreams, I know that. A stubborn brat living a bitter life. Those two things fit together entirely by coincidence to create me, so as to never let me let go of my sack of dreams, or stand back to admire it.
That day, in my dream, I lay down on the floor of the colorless domain. My hand was incomprehensibly empty, and I felt the loneliness in a place where echoed worries and calculations and memories of hundreds of years. I didn’t achieve anything in that dream, but I didn’t hesitate anymore to wake up from it anymore.
The soldier found the child in the room.
He had served under this child’s command for a long while, but his identity remained a mystery to him. A personification of your homeland, or so people had told him. He didn’t understand, but he wasn’t terribly curious either; the child did his share of work admirably and earned the respect his soldiers paid him.
That mysterious child was now lying under the woolen blanket, eyes closed, taking thready but regular breath. The soldier observed him from the doorframe, the letter he was asked to deliver held tight in his grip. Maybe I should just leave it on the table, he thought, he’ll see it when he wakes up.
“What’re ya lurking around for?” Someone asked from behind him, making he jump in surprise. He looked back to find himself facing his other, silver-haired commander. The man’s red eyes bore into his, his hand already around his sword hilt. The soldier held up the letter hurriedly.
“He’s sleeping,” he said.
The beastly rage in the red eyes vanished. The man let go of his sword and stepped up next to the soldier, perched forward to look inside. “Good,” he exhaled his seemingly long-held breath. “’S been running around the whole morning now.”
The soldier pursed his lips. “I never understand how he can keep that up.”
He received an apathetic smirk from the man still looking inside the room. “People dare to do many things when they have a goal. The younger they’re, the more they dream, the more they dare to risk… Ah?”
The soldier looked to his commander to see an amused smile on his face. He looked back into the room: there was also a dreamy smile on the child’s lips. It made him realised how young this child really was.
“Must be a really good dream,” he said to himself.
The commander heard it. His smile dimmed a little, became something that always conveyed satisfaction, but lacked the enthusiasm that had been there just moments ago.
The soldier looked at him, then back at the child.
“Good for him,” he said, simply.
The man was still looking at the child attentively. “Yea,” he said lightly, as if his mind was somewhere else very far away.
The soldier wanted to ask, but he looked again into the room, at the peaceful, sleep-laden face of the child.
He decided to not be curious./.
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