Day One

Dear reader, forgive me for withholding the names of the people and places involved in my narration. This was done in order to protect the innocent. For this reason, and many others, I have referred to the protagonist of our tale as F. So it was that F, who was the most substantial and genuine of all possible Fs, realized that today was no ordinary day. An insatiable student of the numbers, F held today’s date to be significant and propitious in ways he had only begun to explore, and which made it fit for the start of our journey.

      It was not long in our desert trek before we encountered a gaunt, bedraggled ground dweller of somber countenance, engaged in tasks whose aim it was difficult to grasp, enveloped in a cloud of dust like a shroud of mystery. As we approached him, he rose and extended his hand. As he did, I caught a flash of knowing in his deep, dark eyes that I yearned to fathom for the reason that I could not. F acknowledged the greeting and corresponded with a like gesture, whereupon the man made a grimace and spat on us.

      F’s spirits soared ever higher. With the airs of a man who stands above the rest, he explained more about our encounter than I had hoped to understand. He asserted that, although its full significance he could not yet reveal, and would only become apparent by and by, it provided further evidence, if any more were needed, of the significance of the task before us. While not all could be disclosed, nor could the reasons why this was so, F stated that one must never do an injustice to a stranger, no matter how odd he may appear to us. Fairness demands, he explained, that we judge actions with the greatest measure of magnanimity; when in doubt, we should always assume of all available interpretations that which is most generous: to criticize a desert dweller for his lack of cleanliness would be unkind, to question the nature of his gift would be ungrateful.

      By way of illustration, F related an incident in which a bullfighter came to him seeking advice on how to overcome his fear of bulls, bringing with him, as token of his appreciation, a bull’s ear. Ignorant of the nature of the bullfighter and of his calling, and rather put off by the bloody, hairy sight of a severed ear, F mistakenly offended the bullfighter by rejecting his gift; whereupon, in following his ancient code of honor, the bullfighter was forced to seek revenge by stabbing F on the back of the neck. Stung by the keen pain of his grievous error, F promptly accepted the gift, and counseled the bullfighter, offering much insight into the nature of fear, which he now understood so well. So convincingly did he demonstrate to the bullfighter that nothing made less sense than a bullfighter who was deadly afraid of bulls, except perhaps for one who was not, that soon thereafter the bullfighter was back fighting bulls with renewed courage. Indeed, the bullfighter was now so fearless that it wasn’t long before it was his turn to stare death in the face.

      So it was with F's teachings which I have compiled for you, dear reader, in this book. All prejudice must be cast aside at the pain of death. Here then are the four parables that F saw fit to tell during the length of our journey so as to pass the time.

First Parable Or The Jungle Parable:

     If the jungle were cleared, reasoned the dissatisfied dwellers of a small village surrounded by a lush tropical jungle, they would be able to plant only those trees whose fruits they favored, raise livestock, and rid themselves of the infestations of vermin and nettlesome mosquitoes. And although it was true that the jungle’s medicinal plants had stubbornly refused to grow outside of the jungle, even this they considered only a minor nuisance. The God-fearing villagers had a deep belief that the power of all things natural and unnatural was but a mere a reflection of that of the Gods that had created them; thus, protection from disease could be readily obtained by identifying the relevant deity, which they considered a much more practical approach than to scour the jungle in search for the elusive plants. So it was that the villagers had long ago decided to eradicate all manner of evil that the jungle bred. And in this task fire had, paradoxically, proven itself to be both a fickle and a dependable ally. Naturally, then, the villagers venerated the God of fire. And it was only owing to a certain chronic lassitude, no doubt induced by certain negative powers, that concerted, widespread action against the jungle had yet to be taken.

      One dull morning a village lass was making her daily trek to the river that meandered by the village, forlornly dreaming of the miracle that would make the river change course so that she might be spared her tiresome daily chore, which was ruining her unclad feet, or else that her father might relent and procure her those charming sandals that suited her so, when he knew all too well how she would sooner have stubs for feet than wear the ugly shoes he had made for her; so was this unlucky girl despondently lost in meditation, bemoaning the fate that had visited her father’s callousness upon her innocent feet, her thoughts having just turned riotous and her mood sour, which was her habitual mood before returning to the humble and meek character she was best known for among the villagers, and just when she had paused to consider in turn the harm inflicted on each one of her once delicate and supple toes, like flower petals barely of this earth, which had now become rough, mangled, sullied and swollen, like mud-dwelling tree roots, just then a voice from within the jungle called onto her.

       My lady, as the cowardly yellow sun retreats into its daily blood bath, I journey from deep in the jungle to observe your drudgery, your awkward gait, your tiresome fulfillment of an utterly useless chore. Why, I wonder, do you persist in stealing water from the river? If you are thirsty, then the river will quench your thirst. If you are hot, then the river will cool you down. If you are bored, then you can find entertainment by the river’s edge. If you seek peace of mind, then you ought to use your pilgrimage to meditate upon the flow of water and the steadiness of the river, and you shall discover that you yourself belong to the river of life, and you do not wish to be stolen from it. If it is enjoyment you seek, then you shall find no greater pleasure than to allow yourself to drift with the river, instead of fighting against the current, visiting those places that the river itself happens upon.

      Begin your journey where the water trickles down the still and rocky mountainside, like light and tiny hoofs descending the slopes and chiming in proclamation of the river’s birth. Let yourself drift with the water as it gains in vitality and careens off the rocks, shaping them, as it flows through pools and gullies, gathers into boisterous tributaries, issuing ever more credible challenges to the highlands, and carving treacherous ravines in the process. Yet beware, beyond a certain stretch the rush is too strong, the drag too fateful, the looming, chiseled walls afford no escape, and nothing can save you from the jagged rocks awaiting you at the bottom of the cascade, like an unflinching and fateful beast hidden in the mist, with jaws agape and rotted teeth, frothing in rabid anticipation of the spectacle to come. Abandon the river before it is too late. Do not allow the fascination of the waterfall to hold you spellbound. Do not become ensnared by its calm tumult. Break the spell and follow the lithe river in its beautifully disconcerting march, twisting and turning as it forges the lay of the land, as in permanent and wise doubt: now fiery or meek, contained or overflowing, moody or steady. Through supple valleys, frolicsome meadows, and vibrant jungles, wherever the river passes, it is always the toast of life, all the while burdening itself and growing sluggish; at last, after convoluted travel, the river majestically and peacefully descends upon the crowning deltas and marshes where life celebrates its coronation with splendor and variety.

      I for one delight in visiting a shady and secluded bend of the river, a whimsical watery corner to which I am strongly attached, and which I defend against all intruders. After each meal, I travel to this spot in sweet anticipation of the satisfaction that is to come: to hear the trickle of the river and the rustle of the bamboo shoots whispering in my ear as they tickle my whiskers, to gaze at the enchanting water swirls, short-lived yet persistent, to feel the velvety moss under me and the cool shadow over me, to playfully thrust my limbs into the moist air above me, to feel the water gently lapping at my sullied paws, to smell the air of familiarity enveloping me, all these are true joys of mine. At such times I wish to submit myself to the protection of the river. There is not a pebble on the riverbank whose absence I should not mourn! And as I lounge among the bamboo groves that proliferate alongside the river's edge, like defensive lances guided by their own certainty, I am intrigued by their curious alliances. I saunter with abandon amid the fallen limbs carpeting the jungle floor, with their golden and reddish hues of death, here wondrous death, like a glorious and permanent battlefield piled with the pure and aromatic corpses of wan, yellow warriors, their blood spilled on their comrades dead shortly before, like the translucent decay of the vanguard of the fall. It is then I find myself among the dead gathering in the struggle for life.

      Who are you?, asked the woman meekly.

      Ah, I see it now! It is the snake that you are like; like the snake you come to the river to steal, but you feel at home in a barren land; like the snake you bask in the sun, and without the sun you grow listless; yet, unlike the snake, your skin burns easily and your blood is warm. Then why do you worship the sun? If you persist in drying the river the desert will, by degrees, feed on your theft and gain like a rottenness that spreads and lays waste.

     Why do you fear the night but feel safe under the sun? As I hide from the overbearing sun, driven out of my mind by the incessant humming of the cicadas, I dream of the cat-like approach of the night. Impatiently, I wait for the chance to see far more in the darkness than in the glare of the sunlight. As the night engulfs me, I am game to the stealthy immensity around me, elevating my spirit with its subtlety, piercing my heart with its keenness like a mouse in the talons of a soaring owl. Whereas in daylight all was hateful and heavy to me, when touched by the night every sound reveals the harmony of silence, every smell contains the fresh essence of the night, every vision becomes enchanting. In the cool fragrance of the night my heart outpaces my limbs. What fears do not turn irrelevant before the eye of the night, shining with soft reflected glory?

     Who are you?, insisted the woman, instinctively covering herself, frozen before the hidden eyes, feeling naked and trembling uncontrollably. Mingled with her fear, a lewd curiosity began to swell in her heart as she strained to make out her mysterious suitor.

      I see that you are stubborn, said the voice. Do you find comfort in your dogged determination? The story of life attests to the emptiness of purpose. All change comes at a heavy price. Life is not a matter to be improved upon. Life is all there is or ever will be.

      What conceit to believe that man lords over all other creatures! If you are bored, then occupy yourself in contemplation, not mischief. Your ceaseless yearning leads you to nothing but vague hopes. And when nothing comes of your insanity, you throw a collective tantrum, like frogs croaking for attention, and then you search for scapegoats, like buzzards circling a carcass. It is your good intentions that one fears the most. In their name you plunder and pillage with muted conscience. Man is but the most rapacious and unseemly of creatures.

     Do you believe it would be praiseworthy if you succeeded in drying up the river? Do you feel special in exercising such a pointless power? Instead of serving nature, you rebel against it, and you worship figments of your imagination with the drone lamentations of a lugubrious jackal. Do you believe the only being is that of man? What jealous dishonesty leads you to guard your own dry fantasies, which are nothing more than mere reflections, while plundering all that is naturally beautiful? Like a reckless son, you rebel against nature without bothering to secure your own sustenance. Why would a featherless chick willingly jump from its nest? And why would it wish to burn down the tree that shelters it? You may aim for the stars, but your dreams are empty. When will you learn of your true place in nature?

     You are as a bright red crab caught in a drying pool. In its weakened state, it could never make it to the river; and even if it tried, supposing that, miraculously, a higher being would intervene in its favor, feed our crab, and turn it loose. But why, one may ask? There is no certain answer. Perhaps it was the attraction of the shiny, red armor, or perhaps the spindly legs sticking out of the round body suited its fancy. And what is to come of this surprising turn of events? Our energized crab now dashes about in frenzied hope, mindless of its vulnerability. Even if it could escape under cover of night, its oversized claws, will hinder it; its armor will weigh it down; its strength will be wasted in sideways motion; its bright colors will betray it.

     But imagine that our little crab would dash from shrub to shrub, taking refuge as it went; that whatever foes it encountered it would ward off with its pincers; that it would find the strength to continue, until at last, in a final burst, with faltering and erratic weaving of its spindly legs, it would lounge in mad pursuit of its watery vision. Here we should take leave of our little red crab, full of hope, for soon the morning dew will evaporate in the glorious dawn, the temperature will rise by degrees, and then its proud armor, far from protecting it, will cause it to bake from the inside, until all that remains of the red crab are limp legs attached to an empty shell.

     To be sure our little crab will not survive. One may hope that our hero will run into one of the many streams that crisscross the jungle; or that guided by a mysterious sense, our crab will somehow find the river. But it is just this infectious wishful thinking, this pointless hope, that would doom the red-hooded wanderer, along with many others of its kind, if such a fate ever came to pass. For in its long, perilous journey, moved by its unlikely string of victories, our buoyed little crab will come to feel unique, supernaturally fit, exceptional, enigmatic, able to stave off death and all its purveyors, endowed with mystifying powers, undeniably chosen for a brighter future in a better world. It will then lose all fear and become daring beyond reason. And soon it will grow dissatisfied with its murky, topsy-turvy stretch of the river. In its loneliness and sorrow, it will seek refuge in its fake memories. In the light of its inflamed dignity and pride, its former drying, muddy pool will become transformed into a red, shimmering chalice of life. All of creation will be reshaped by the burning imagination of our little river denizen, such is the fictitious power of its feverish mind!

     Why, it is quite true that we have chosen our little crab for our own purposes, helping it along as much as we could, hoping to breathe life into it. But what is to come of our good deeds? If our crab does find a river, so much the worse: weary of body but buoyant in faith, it will set about spreading its dissatisfaction with the river’s decline, and its inflamed tales will prove infectious to its discontented kin, who will be easy prey; they will soon follow our wanderer and its mad vision, which they find addicting, and embark on holy crusades with an urgency that outstrips their capacity for change, leaving their primitive armored bodies in place, and slating them for extinction. Or should we hope that our crabs will serve a greater purpose? Fine. Let us humor the crabs one last time, and grant them a further miracle of forty days and forty nights of wandering on dry land. And just what are they after? The promise of a barren land? Ah, don't you see how ridiculous we are now becoming!

     I ask you, said the voice from the jungle, would it not have been far more merciful to make a meal of our little hero at once?

     So it is with your kind. Like an infestation, you gorge yourselves on the juices of others. When one of you decides to collect yellow dirt, his work will be envied and emulated by his neighbors. Each of you believes that your toil must serve some purpose. What this purpose is you can not say. But if the truth were known, and not mocked, your sacrifice is meaningless. Like emotional slaves, you labor under the guidance of a mysterious overseer bent on your destruction. And if His pleasure only avails you heavy burdens, this too will please you. You claim that your actions are directed, while in the same breath proclaiming your own freedom: a rational animal indeed!

      Sometimes it appears that, in spite of your laziness, you labor feverishly to drown out your fears and your sorrows. But what makes you so sad? It is death that saddens me and contemplation of the river that soothes my grief. Other times it seems that your demeanor is a sign of a nature both rebellious and fawning, that at heart you wish for nothing better than death, that you can not tolerate living either in company or in loneliness. If like sheep you would have no need for authority, if like a tiger you would not suffer it, if like a wolf you would acknowledge and cherish it without bitterness or wounded pride. But what about you? Indeed you are special. You are unique in your madness. Only mankind has ceased to be in touch with reality. But perhaps I am less than kind and more than keen.

      Who are you?, asked the woman once again.

      And why is it, proceeded voice, that everyday you wear different colors, like a chameleon. Are you ashamed of your own sight? This I could understand. I have never seen a mangy dog or an old monkey that showed more skin than you do, nor have I smelled a more foul congregation of vapors.

      My coat is like the jungle: luscious and flaming, pierced by shafts of light and shadow. My being is like the jungle: fiery, vibrant, secretive, and proud. Do you recognize in my coat of arms the colors of mystery and death stalking you? What I wonder, can you say on your behalf?

      I am chosen, answered the woman, her body shaking and her voice quivering. All other creatures whether they stand, crawl, walk, or fly have been created for my sake. I fear you not!

      Why anyone would choose you is a mystery to me, replied the tiger losing patience. Your kind is curious indeed, but no more than an accident, a waterfall in the river's course. The essence of life is not the will to power or dominion, but the will to persevere. You believe your vision more penetrating than that of an eagle, yet you are blind to the jagged jaws of nothingness closing in on you. As you stand there trembling like a deer, yet holding your ground, madness seeming courage, one wonders what sort of an accident could have led to such an outcome.

     When I stalk an excited sambar, as it issues white flashes from its excitable rump thrust high in the air, I keep perfectly still. Only my tail continues to move with sinuous and enchanted convulsions. I am transfixed by its dashing, voluptuous confusion. The empty threat of the shapely horns beckons me; its large fearful eyes capture me; the slender shape draws me in; the unforgiving graceful dance of balancing stilts, the twitching, bulging thighs seduce me; the smell of fear envelopes me; the trotting sounds beat in rhythm with my own drumming. I linger, my tense, impatient body held back only by the desire to prolong the instant of time; then, just when the moment of supreme opportunity is about to pass, I am overcome, lost to the impulse, and I lounge forward with unremitting ferocity.

     As I steal a remorseful peek at my prey’s bloodshot eyes, I pierce the veneer that separates nothingness from life. Forgetting to breathe through clenched jaws, I lay beside my prey bathing in our combined sweat. My mood turns. I am prey to the trance of life: hoofs beating, veins pulsating, nerves twitching, the silent bellowing from a cracked wind-pipe ending in the futile thrusts of a giant, slick tongue, the frenzied throes of life, the mad, liquid eyes; the flame of life has not yet been quenched and I have gorged myself on death. Exhausted, I lay about, panting in a cloud of shining dust, filled with yellow emptiness and blood, staring at my prey’s flaccid, dry tongue, and at its dark, glassy eyes beaming at empty space. I am unable to move until the proclamation of my deed settles down over me like a flaky shroud of dust.

     Why tremble before a kill? I refuse to submit to the domineering weakness that plunges the stoutest heart into a weeping frenzy. Beating by the double, facing and circling, stumping, backing off and renewing the challenge, a deep breath, an awkward fall, a burst of energy, a odd contortion, and then the final run; the reluctant warrior issues a gentle bellowing, a roar perhaps, from a coarse throat. Your laughter is not as the joyous beaming smile of life flourishing, but as the scandalous banter of a baboon, as biting and flashy as a lightning upon a reddish-golden prairie, or as nagging as the yelping of a plentiful pride of yellow dogs upon their garish game. Beware of the wrath stalking you!

      Yet, you should not fear me as much as you should fear yourself. Like a golden field of dry grass, swaying in the strong winds of a dry storm, ready to be consumed by wildfire. Only too late shall you discover that the desert is for the dead. Life did not begin nor shall it end with man. What a piece of work man is! How knavish in reason, how limited and selfish in spirit, how clumsy in motion, in action how a like a mindless plague! Three parts undeserved conceit, and one part false meekness. How cunningly it covers up its tracks! But enough. Your insanity is infectious, which through its sickness, dulls and veils, like cobwebs, wet, and heavy with morning dew, festooning figments of a morning mind, perceiving nothing other than conspiracies in pursuit of the madness that it calls justice. You may think yourself the paragon of creation, but who in its right mind would take your word for it? It is but the dawn of your existence and you are ready to pass into your final sunset.

      The tiger stealthily approached the woman, its brawny body an extension of the jungle, every muscle coordinated to a minute degree to produce the noiseless and effortless motion of the whole, every leaf on the jungle floor acknowledged, the wind, the trees, the light and the shadow putting aside their differences to hide it, every patch of fur blending with every soft jungle light beam. The woman stood by in a dusty clearing surrounded by the jungle, conspicuous, queer, and helpless. The tiger positioned itself directly behind her, and took great delight in the smell of fear announcing her presence, like a waving red rag, before pouncing on her, playfully breaking her neck, and tearing deep and bloody stripes on her thin skin, like a sheer veil.

     After tossing her and watching in fascination her throes amid the flaky dust, the glassy and wide-eyed stare, the brittle, wan, slick, and scaly skin, like a suffocating, yellow-shining, red-stripped, silvery, cold sun-fish out of water, the tiger tasted its victim. The thought occurred to the beast that it was as if she had been created expressly to feed tigers. Suddenly the tiger turned around and, without looking back, gradually melt into the jungle. Its stripes lithely bobbed up and down and side to side, like shadowy figures filing around a dying yet still vibrant yellow-red fire: covering, disguising, deforming, breaking up, and finally fusing the stealthy, sinewy, and bloody shape by the heat of its own vital energy.

      When the villagers found the body of the slain girl they became enraged. Her father suffered her loss most of all. He had taken good care of her and condoned her every whim in the hope that she would grow beautiful and fetch a healthy dowry. Now all he asked for was revenge. His fellow villagers sympathized and they too swore revenge. And so it was decided by all the villagers, except a tiny and insignificant minority, that the guilty party should be apprehended and punished in order to serve justice.