“They wouldn’t interfere with the world,” aunt said the one rule.
How many times had we heard the same story. We had grown with it, and it had become a part of our growing up. Even aunt, with all her love for storytelling found it amusing just how much we loved the story. Ever since the first time she told it. It was a standing argument between us, when she first told the story. Aniya said we were five. I believed we were around four. Aunt said we were two. It was Aniya and my point that two was too young for us to even remember the story, and so didn’t count. But that didn’t convince aunt. It was the first telling of the story she argued, and she was absolute certain we were two when she first told the story, and even then we loved it. She of course had no idea we would love it so much. The argument would never meet its end, that we all agreed about.
“Why would they want to put up such a rule?”
It was Aniya’s question. The question that opened the pandora’s box, pushing us past the point of no return. Until then, aunt told the story, the same as always. Meeting our interests of excitement perfectly. Of course evolving as we grew. The playground had changed to the mall, and the road trips. The jungle jim replaced by the endless line of the biggest stores with the largest collection of torn jeans and white tees, which were Aniya’s favourite. The slide was replaced by the endlessly long road with the breathtaking twists and curls, smooth as butter that the car would glide over like the brush of an accomplished painter over an exquisite canvas. My favourite. The story remained the same otherwise. The great ones bored, create a world to entertain them. And put in place the one rule.
“Because the whole point of creating the world was so that they could sit back and enjoy the show. Like the movies,” I answered.
“The grandest, biggest movie,” aunt added.
“Yeah, the grandest, biggest movie,” I agreed.
“Yeah, and if the world was so very beautiful, so extraordinarily amazing, they would do just that. Without the need for a rule to keep them in check. Why then did they need the rule?”
“You missed the story,” aunt said, looking at me to finish for her.
“They needed the rule because they fell in love with the world. They didn’t want to succumb to their longing.”
“Exactly,” aunt said.
It wasn’t the first time we were walking down the road. We had gotten used to Aniya’s complaints with the story. And we thought we knew what came next, the same as always. But we were surprised.
“That sucks, guess they really weren’t as good as they thought they were. Needed such a stupid rule to keep them in check. Makes you wonder if they really were as strong as to create the world and everything. Maybe they just found it, like a rock in the playground. And decided to observe it, call it their own plaything. Not an uncommon habit.”
I was surprised, and I could see aunt was too. It was a new line of thought. Aunt was always appreciative of us thinking, coming up with questions. She said it was a good habit to use the brain, or it would rot.
“Rotting brain is such a sad waste,” we would mimic aunt when she reached the sentence.
“True, such a very common habit. Especially here,” aunt said, the teasing look on her face once again.
We knew what she was talking about. When Aniya was six, she had found a shell in the corner of the park, under the big tree. It was a magic tree, aunt said. And Aniya was convinced the shell had magic too. A fairy was growing in the shell, waiting to grow strong enough to leave and fly away. She decided she had to see the fairy before it flew away. But she couldn’t move it from under the tree, scared of hurting the resting fairy. And so for hours every evening she would sit right by the shell. Waiting for the fairy to come out. She had to see the fairy. Until one evening, when we went to the park, the shell was gone. She had to say her bye to the empty air, hoping it would carry to wherever the fairy had flown off to.
“Yeah, so very common,” Aniya repeated, smiling away the embarrassment from the memory. It was years before she had finally given up on the idea of the fairy in the shell. Not even mentioning it, unless we brought it up.
“Everyone has their stupidity to defend,” I said, directing all the surprise towards myself. “What?” I asked at their stares.
“Nothing,” they said in unison, shaking their heads. And then, aunt continued with the story.
We were years older, but we still loved the story the same as always. And loved aunt telling it.
“So, they had the rule. They had the world to entertain them, wash away their boredom. But they couldn’t just leave the world to itself. If they weren’t going to interfere, they had to put a system in place. A system that would run the world smoothly. Like the engine of the car.”
She winked at me, and I knew that comment was for me. I was the one with the love for the long drives, even if I hardly knew a thing about cars. It wasn’t cars that interested me, but the roads. The long endless roads, and driving without pause along them. Aimlessly. Dad said I had the soul of the gypsies of the old. Would never find my peace settled down. I laughed at him, every time. I was certain that wasn’t true. If it was, how could I be so happy with us, at home. Dad was just being his teasing self. But that was aunt’s reference. And she knew I understood.
“So, they built a system around the world. That would keep it going. Like a blanket around it. As long as the people were alive in the world, it would remain inert. High above. When they died, and their soul left their body, the system would grab the free souls. Take them away from the world they no longer belonged to.”
“What about animals? And trees and plants? They are alive too. What about when they die? Does the system grab them too?”
Aunt was laughing at the question, even though I couldn’t understand why. I thought it was a good question. Aniya wasn’t concerned about the laughing though. She had to know, and she had to ask. We waited for aunt’s laughter to die down, and then for her to answer, because she was looking at us in disbelief, as if asking us if we were serious about the question.
“Yeah, they’re the same too. The system doesn’t distinguish between the people and other living things. It’s fair.”
That was an answer we had to be satisfied with. An answer that we knew was coming, and yet waited for.
“And you know what the greatest gift was? That they allowed us?”
“We were given absolute freedom in the world,” we replied in unison.
“Yes, we were given freedom. To be what we could in the world. To do what we wanted. To get as powerful as we could. That was their biggest entertainment, watching people getting stronger, and yet not enough to defeat the system. That was their greatest pride. They hadn’t even realised when their pride blinded them.”
We had to cut in, the excitement unable to be contained.
“Because there was the old man who they didn’t see.”
“Yes,” aunt agreed. “There was the old man they didn’t see. He was always powerful, even as a little boy. As he grew, he started to get even more powerful. So much so, that he could see the system. They thought it was funny how he could see the world for what it was. In their amusement, they failed to realise what was truly happening. For the longest time, the man was as he was. Nothing changing. At least outwardly. They lost interest and started looking around elsewhere. It was then, when they weren’t looking that the man became old, and realised in his final days that he was strong enough to beat the system. It couldn't grab at him. When he defeated the system was when they realised what had happened. But they had their rule, they wouldn’t interfere. And so, they had to watch in fascination, as the old man grew stronger and stronger. So strong, he couldn’t be in the world anymore. They watched in horror now, as the old man departed from their world, off to create his own.”
“And he created his own world?”
It was the question the story always ended with. And the answer was always the same.
“Who knows? It’s not like they would tell us. And no one else claimed to have ever seen the old man’s world.”
It didn’t matter to us though. Whether the old man had been successful or not. Even if he wasn’t, that couldn’t keep us from imagining the new world. Where anything could be possible. Aniya and I would spend days, talking about all the amazing things in the new world. How trees could fly, their roots eating the air for food. How the clouds were on the ground, spitting out the water, into the sky like fountains when it had to rain. How rain could be of different colours, depending on the time of the day and the day of the year. How it was all such a colourful world. Such an amazing world.
As aunt ended the story, we were once again in the world we had talked so much about. Sometimes we wondered if even the old man would have spent as much time as us in creating the world. And we would end up laughing in embarrassment, calling ourselves nerds.
Even when she told the story, the blue around her was different. It was as if it was trying to be the same as it was around the others. A thin blanket with the gales leaping off. It was unsuccessful though, because I could see the difference. And a disturbing thought occurs to me.
What if the blue I am seeing is the system from the story. The one they had put up to run our world smooth. What if it was the same blue that grabbed away the souls when people died. More importantly, what if aunt could control the blue. Did it mean I could too?