Chapter 1: Everything is a Lie
’WHERE IS my unicorn?” Victoria asked. She was lucky to have asked the most important question of her life at a relatively young age. Most of us Homo ignoramus never know any important truths because we’re always asking the wrong questions. As for the circumstances that brought Victoria to this unusual situation; well, this is her true story.
A long time ago and far, far away … This was not how it all began. Apparently, someone had already used this opening. Victoria also deemed “once upon a time” a vapid cliché. She even nixed our best suggestions, turning down a wizened wizard’s narration for her most unusual adventure and refusing to let a morose monotone mangle her poetic monologues.
For us lowly pen wielders, it boiled down to the unenviable choice of either emulating Homer’s invocation of the Muses or plagiarizing Dickens’s rhetoric, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” both vehemently vetoed by Victoria. We ended up with no alternative but to launch directly into the crux and climax of the unlikely, unfortunate, and unfathomable events that befell upon one ordinary and unexceptional girl named Victoria Solana.
The saga began with the tinkle-tankle and the tintinnabulation of clanking steel. It woke Victoria from her stupor. She was greeted by a headache of biblical proportions. She felt as if all of her bones had become disjointed. A fire raged underneath her skin. In the course of her odyssey seeking for truth, Victoria discovered that our fragile reality depended on us asking the right questions.
Victoria Solana was the most unremarkable person you could ever know. For all of her life, she had lived in the inconspicuous town of Dundas about forty-five miles west of Toronto. It’s a part of the city of Hamilton and is a short bike ride from McMaster University. In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Victoria was singularly adept at escaping attention. She once bumped into her homeroom teacher outside of school, and the poor woman got all flustered trying to remember her name. Victoria had such an average appearance and nondescript demeanor that if she shared a room with more than two other equally unremarkable Dundasians, her presence would promptly disintegrate into quantum uncertainty.
Fortunately for Victoria, she was an only child and her parents doted upon her. She didn’t care a whit about what others thought of her if she could live a calm and ordinary life in close proximity to the people she loved, namely her parents and her two best friends, Bella and Jackie. This would be quite enough for her. Victoria was living precisely the kind of idyllic life that she wanted, and she was blissfully happy.
Victoria had three faint moles on her face. One was high on her left cheek, where beauty moles are usually located. Another one was near the left corner of her lip, which is supposed to signify that she’s a connoisseur of good food. The last one was at the center of her chin below her lips, which by the mystical science of molesophy means that she’s a loving and considerate person.
This is the paradox of Victoria. She was by no means a plain or homely girl. If one studied her features carefully, one might even conclude that she was rather attractive. After all, it is said that “there are no ugly girls at sixteen” … or maybe it’s eighteen. A sage certainly said “there are no ugly girls, only lazy girls.” In any case, one thing can be said about Victoria—she was not lazy.
It all began on Victoria’s Sweet Sixteen birthday. She could ask for anything her young heart desired and her parents would have indulged her, as long as it was something appropriate and within the confines of their modest means. Victoria’s parents were immigrants who spoke broken English with an accent. They came to Canada with nothing, but they always seemed to make just enough money to indulge themselves in small pleasures.
“Why don’t we have dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant?” Victoria suggested. “We don’t have to worry about the girls. Jackie can’t come because she got grounded again for swearing,” Victoria rolled her eyes. “And Bella’s going through a vegan phase. It’s okay. I’ll do something with the girls later.”
“That’s too bad about the girls,” Victoria’s mom said. “But for your sixteenth birthday, we should try a better restaurant. I feel adventurous. What about Indian food?”
“Can I make a suggestion?” Victoria asked.
“Sure,” her dad said. “It’s your birthday. You decide.”
“It’s just another birthday. Let’s go to the place that we already know makes our favorite dishes at a reasonable price. Besides, we go there every year; they know it’s my birthday so we’ll get a discount and free desserts.”
Victoria knew her family’s financial situation. They were always tight with money. They had never traveled or engaged in any costly activities. Victoria had no complaints. She had no desire for adventure. Heaven for her was curling up in bed inside the warmth and safety of her blanket with a good book. Victoria loved books. She was a veritable bookworm. She devoured books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In fact, both her parents also loved books. That was another reason why the family never seemed to have any savings. They spent all their money on books, and they had a houseful of it. There’s an old Chinese saying, “you can find golden abode and jade-like beauty in books.”
Most of Victoria’s adventures took place within the pages of her books and inside her imagination. The longest journey she had ever taken was a school trip to the Bethune Memorial House at Gravenhurst, Muskoka. It took two hours to get there; but for Victoria, it felt like a journey to the far side of the moon. When Victoria researched Bethune for her report, she discovered that his last will and testament was dated November 11. She would learn later that this was a very special day. It was no accident.
Victoria shared many interests with her mom, such as cooking, singing along with musicals on video, and sewing her own clothes. She had a close relationship with her dad as well and shared some of his interests in classical music, chess, and watching sports on TV. While her dad loved to watch European soccer, Victoria was a big fan of the Maple Leafs, the Raptors, and the Blue Jays.
Victoria’s dad was an amateur stargazer. He had taught Victoria since young to identify the constellations and the planets. He also told her the corresponding Greek myths, which were of course the sanitized versions without the sex and the violence.
Victoria loved magic. It’s a phase most kids go through. She was a big fan of the Amazing Randi and Penn & Teller. She taught herself how to do some of their tricks and became adept at prestidigitation and misdirection. In the process, she learned the lesson never to believe in magic.
Although Victoria’s parents came from a country where most people followed Orthodox Christianity, they were not particularly religious themselves. On the other hand, they encouraged Victoria to learn about the various faiths and decide for herself what she wanted to believe or not to believe. They had a whole shelf of books on the subject. Victoria could read them whenever she had theological or ontological questions.
For reasons unknown to Victoria—and no explanation was ever given—her parents didn’t want her to partake in any sports, physical games, or competitions. It was just as well, because Victoria didn’t like gym, sucked at dodge ball, and she certainly didn’t fancy acting like a klutz in front of her schoolmates. On the other hand, Victoria played a mean game of chess, and could probably beat quite a few other players at school. But she didn’t like being watched, didn’t enjoy humiliating her opponents, and would rather just be a kibitzer. That way, she could checkmate others in her mind and enjoy it just the same.
Despite living a mostly sedentary lifestyle, Victoria was amazingly healthy. She couldn’t remember the last time she needed to see a doctor. If one must find fault with Victoria, it would be her special weakness for chocolate. It was a vice she was willing to overlook from time to time. As a whole, the Solana family was a happy and contented entity, consisting of three interacting bodies that had achieved perfect harmony and perpetual equipoise. They never encountered any three-body problems.
Life in the sleepy town of Dundas was therefore all too harmlessly and graciously Canadian for Victoria, and Victoria was as Canadian a Canadian could ever be, ranking way up there with the Canada goose, lumberjacks, maple syrup, ice hockey, and saying sorry when someone steps on your toe.
But in the blink of an eye—or as Goethe would say, “den Augenblick”—Victoria’s life turned upside down and inside out. She lost both her parents and everything else she held dear. She could no longer be sure who she was. Her past life became a puff of smoke, suspending precariously in the air, to be dispersed into nothingness with a wave of the hand. By and large, she was like an ant on a Möbius strip or a ladybird in a Klein bottle, at a loss as to which dimension she belonged to. Victoria was lucky to still have her two best friends, but she would soon be separated from them by a continent and an ocean.
Never having stayed overnight anywhere outside of Dundas in her life, Victoria ended up half way across the world in a strange land, trying to survive among people who spoke an alien language. Meanwhile, she had to evade decidedly sinister and doggedly determined assassins, staring down the barrel of a pistol aimed point-blank at her face, and narrowly escaping death in a fiery car crash. She jumped off a plane mid-flight without a parachute, almost got crushed by six container trucks during a high speed car chase, and sank to the bottom of the sea while strapped inside a car. She dangled from the window at the top of the tallest building in China, wrestled with a hungry tiger, jumped off a cliff, and killed three men using one arm. On the positive side, she had the chance to win the World Series championship for the Toronto Blue Jays. All this happened to Victoria because, without being aware of it, she held the key to the greatest mystery of the universe.
“Stop exaggerating,” groaned Victoria as she struggled to get up. “Just tell the story the way it happened, please.”
Dear Lord! This is unprecedented in the history of storytelling. The heroine of this epic tale has made a direct request for how she wants her story to be told. While this is highly unconventional, given that she is the protagonist, she does have the prerogative.
For those readers who may find the pompous and hifalutin lexicon of this literary fabrication discombobulating—or as Jane Austen would say, “extremely vexing”—the last sentence means Victoria Solana is the boss, and we do what the boss says.
So let us begin again, with less poetic licence and with minimal embellishments, to describe the improbable adventures of Victoria Solana and why she woke up wondering at the whereabouts of her unicorn. As we all know, the unicorn is a mythical beast; it has no place in a factual story.