A Religion of Words

The marketplace was bustling. Every morning the people would flock to the shops and the kiosks that crowded the heart of the town. It was here that the vendors would shout out their wares and the hunters would display their catches. Wives and mothers could be heard bartering with the shop keeps and with each other. Children weaved in and out playing games. Some were singing songs.

In the middle of the market square was a fountain. The water had long since dried out. There was a statue of a nameless goddess holding a vase. A relic few thought of. It had been there too long and for that reason alone would likely never be torn down.

On top of the vase sat a small boy. He was not an orphan but he didn’t belong to anybody either including the town. But he was there all the same and had been sitting on the vase long before the market had opened for the day.

He sat alone, unnoticed and unmoving. His eyes were closed, but he could hear it all as the din rush over him. He could pick out the voices and who they belonged to. He didn’t know their names. He didn’t have to.

The newlyweds. She hemming and hawing at the jewelers. Him fawning over her. Their new bliss.

The runt who twisted his ankle while chasing another boy. He was sniffing, trying not to cry. He could not find his mother in the crowds. From the waist down everyone looked the same. He just wanted to go home.

The new girl who worked at the fish stand. She’d been homesick for the longest time. But the more she worked the more home faded away. She loved what she was doing. From the smells and the sizzle the fish made as she dropped it in the oil. To the old-timers that taught her to sliced and butcher. She loved the feel of a knife in her hand as she cut and chopped. This was her purpose.

Atop his perch the boy listened. He heard their words and their stories. The petty disputes and the joys and the melancholy as the day went by. Everybody just went on with their day. They were far too busy to notice a boy.

Eventually the vendors closed up shop. the crowds thinned as the sun went down. The wood carver, always the last to leave, looked over his work with a satisfied grunt and headed home. Only then did the boy open his eyes.

He hoped down from the statue and sat on the edge of the old fountain. There was an apple on the ground that had rolled away. He picked it up and held it to his forehead. He could feel the coldness against his skin. He thought of all the people that he had heard and he said a prayer. For them and for himself.

When he was done with the apple, he stood and looked up to the starry sky. Then he began to dance. It was slow at first. There was no rhythm or beat. It wouldn’t have matched up to any music. Jerky movements that quickened in pace. He danced among the empty stalls and the grounds where so many had been. He began to whoop and to holler. No one was around to hear him. He went faster and louder. More out of control. He danced and he shouted for those that would not hear him.

And then he went away.

He never came back.

The Shop Keep

When I first met my wife I wrote her this little short story. I haven’t looked at it for five years now but when I pulled it out it made me smile and only needed some small touch ups. I present it to you now. Enjoy.

“I can see you are a great considerer of the oddities,” said the Shop Keep. “Beg pardon?” I asked, as I looked the Shop Keep over. He wasn’t a tall man. Unremarkable face really, though he trussed it up with things like an eye patch and a long goatee that was greasy and curled like a worm ashamed of itself. The Shop Keep drummed his long fingers on the glass “You look to me like a man who enjoys being confronted with the mysterious.” He gave me a wink with his non-patched eye.

He spoke with a pseudo-Arabic accent like the little dude who starts the story in Aladdin. Probably where he got his whole shtick since he was a white guy working at a dank store in Queens. But whatever.

“Whatda got?” I asked him. My curiosity had gotten the better of me.

He moved with surprising grace to the back of the store and grabbed a few things, including a cage. I suppressed the urge to walk out of the store. Little rule of mine but when a strange man who looks like a cross between Arabian nights and Pirates of the Caribbean wants to show you something that is in a cage you book it out of there as fast as you can. But I stayed. It seemed rude not to.

“First we have what I like to call Exploding Sand.” The Shop Keep said as he grabbed a handful of powder and threw it down at my feet.

“Hey now!” I took a quick leap back incase something really did happen. There was a quick flash of light and then I realized there was just a bunch of sand on the floor. I looked at the Shop Keep with a raised eyebrow “ Do you have a flashlight hidden behind your back?” I asked.

The Shop Keep looked back at me with one innocent eye. I imagined the guilty one was having a go at me though behind the patch. “Course not sir, tis magic sir.” He grinned at me with as much sincerity as a head of cabbage. I decided not to ask questions but tried to calculate how quickly I could be out the door depending on the next “surprise”.

“Next, good sir, we have the Mirror of Truth.” He said as he removes a small mirror from a dark purple cloth. The mirror was roughly the size of a women’s compact and I had a suspicion that on the back of it would be some light glue and possible even some concealer.

The Shop Keep held up the mirror so that could see my reflection in it. “What does it do?” I asked.  He gave me that same innocuous look. “Why sir it reflects things for what they really are.” I paused for a second to try and analyze what he had just said. “So…” I was having a hard time finding the words for this one “… it shows you what is?” I finally said.

The Shop Keep gave me a delighted expression, that reminded me of when my third grade teacher used to give us gold stars on our homework. “That’s right sir.” I shook my head “So it’s a mirror?” I asked. The Shop Keep wagged a finger at me “Oh no sir it shows you what is.”

“What do other mirrors do?” I asked. The shop keep solemnly said “They show you what could be.”

“Um I don’t think so.” I said. I was trying to think of a way to not be rude.

The shop keep tucked the mirror under the counter somewhere and said “Ah well sir, not for everyone.” He grabbed the cage now which was covered by another purple cloth.

Keeping what was inside of the cage hidden he made a big show of opening it from the back. He even was making a “Bum-da-da-da-da-da.” Noise out of the corner of his mouth, which I assumed, was supposed to be a drum roll.

The Shop Keep grabbed whatever was in that cage and thrust it out onto the counter with sincere delight “I give to you Sir, THE TAP DANCING SQUIRREL!” he shouted with glee.

The tap dancing squirrel really looked more like a muskrat. It was large and hideously over fed. Someone had carefully and painstakingly knitted little colored booties with metal bottoms that skittered all over the counter as the squirrel tried to walk around in a way evolution had so far unprepared him for. On the squirrels back someone had etched in faded blue ink “The Amazing Maurice.” It was, all in all, the singular most pathetic sight I had ever witnessed.

I looked into the Shop Keep’s one good… well, uncovered eye to see if there was some hint of a joke being played on me. Then I looked down at The Amazing Maurice who seemed to have abandon his dream of escaping in favor of munching on some spare Exploding Sand.

Without a word, I turned and walked out of the store.