Saturday, 16 August 2008

DIRE STRAITS: "Brother in Arms"

Bhagan (Myanmar), a few years ago. A smile is all we have to keep our short conversation going. I don’t speak your language, and neither do you speak mine. The lines drawn on your tired, tanned skin reveal your age almost as precise as the rings in the bole of an old tree. Or perhaps the harshness of your life has made you look older than you actually are.

The waving of your hand is an open invitation for me to come near. Like all too many other people in this remote place, you try to make a living by selling souvenirs and books to the few tourists who find their way here. I would not be surprised if sometimes, one day goes by without you selling anything at all. There you are. And here I am, a young man who, unlike yourself, is so fortunate that he has escaped the small circle of his own hometown, and has the chance to explore undiscovered worlds across oceans and mountains. Life must not have been fair to you. Still I hear the cheerful voice of your daughter chatting with her friends in the unfamiliar words you pronounce. Still, in your eyes I read the laugh of your grandchildren playing outside in the sunset. You seem to be an endless well of happiness.

You give me a small, wooden frog, and a little stick. When you rub the stick over the back of the frog, you can hear a sound that imitates the sound of a frog. I refuse to accept at first. I can’t buy at all stalls I pass by. But you insist. I take some money and want to pass it to you. Now you are the one refusing to accept. So I insist to pay. And you keep refusing to accept. You put your hand on mine, and gently push my hand away. You don’t want my money, it’s a gift.

You don’t seem to have much, and still you give.

You must be a goddess. You deserve your own temple amidst the thousands of ancient temples scattered around here. Your humble gesture of goodness is greater than you can ever imagine. I walk away. I turn my head. We look at each other and smile, as to seal our secret. I turn around again and leave you behind me, probably forever.

Until today, I still have the wooden frog. Sometimes I rub his back with the little stick. And while I hear the sound of a frog, I remember the happiness in your eyes, princess.

There are many different worlds on this one, single globe. I still don’t know which of these worlds is the happiest one to live in…

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