Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Plane tree Thinker

All of a sudden our village’s square came to life. A weird old man arrived out the blue there one day and took a post at the fountain, under the big plane tree. The news of his arrival was spread all over the village in no time at all. The kids would run all over the place screaming out loud that “an old man wearing a dress came to visit.”
Of course, none of us wanted to miss that unexpected and out of the ordinary sight, so we all rushed towards the fountain to bit him welcome, but most of all to have a good look at the strange old man. Oh yes, he seemed to be quite a wonder in our eyes. The kids were right, he was wearing a dress; well, not exactly a dress, just a white robe, Arab style. We’d think that he was indeed an Arab if his face wasn’t so startling white. A peaceful face, that was.
“Welcome, old man” we said.
“I’m so glad to be here” he replied.
“What brings you to our village, if we may ask?”
“The southern wind, I’m a traveller!” he answered with a smile.
Well, the old man did look a bit weird, but strangely enough we didn’t feel like asking him any more questions, and on his part he didn’t seem eager to keep on talking; so, we just let him sit there and went back to take care our every day affairs. The kids, however, stayed there and started playing around him, laughing and screaming and singing. He would look at them all smiling, seemingly happy to be with them; as if that was the only place in the world he was supposed to be.
In the afternoon, as we were going back home after a hard day’s work, we found him still sitting there. By that time, we all thought he was just a passer by, that he would rest for a while and go on with his travels, but obviously he had no intention of doing so. There was no other destination whatsoever in his mind. Even when the kids went away and left him alone, he remained sitting there, thinking, smiling to himself. So really weird.
As the night was about to fall, I went to him and asked if he was going to go away. He just whispered to me that he had nowhere to go, since that exact place is where his road led him. I really didn’t know what to say to him so I started for home. After a while, I’ve sent him a plate of food with my son, inviting him to spend the night at my house if he wanted to. He told the kid that for many long years the ground was his bed and the starry sky his blanket; as for food, thanks to my generosity he wouldn’t feel hungry.
Very early the next morning, just before sunrise, I started off to irrigate my fields. But I couldn’t fight an urge to pass by the fountain to see the old man. He was still sitting there, with his eyes shut, thinking. His face was shining bright. “Oh, my god, is this an angel or a demon?” I could not but ask myself. I approached and wished him a good morning. He replied likewise.
“How are you old man?”
“I’m fine and thinking, my child”
“What about?”
Just as he pronounced the word his whole being have started glowing, as if in accordance with the spoken feeling. His face was the face of serenity itself. I spoke no more and started for the fields. Oh, how I wish I could read the old man’s soul; but I couldn’t.
The days went by, one after the other, in a hurry and the old man kept sitting there, at the fountain. Little by little everyone would get used to him and start sending him food in turns with the children. And he would thank them. And if they asked him how was he doing, he would say that he was “fine, and thinking; thinking about happiness.”
Well, he became a good friend of the kids in no time at all. Actually every single person in the village really liked him. He was a weird old man, but a kind hearted one, full of love for everyone and everything; and as the time went by we felt that he was one of us. As for his name, no one ever found out what it was, so we didn’t really know what to call him. In the end, everyone came to refer to him as “the old man who thinks about happiness” or simply “the thinker.”
He really was a thinker, and he seemed to have the answers to every question or the solution to every problem anyone ever had. So, when once I was in a dilemma and really didn’t know what to do I went to ask for his help. Needless to say that he gave me the advice that I needed to hear. And as I went back home to tell my wife that I found the solution to our problem, she cut me short: “The old man told you what to do, didn’t he?”
Day after day, week after week, the old man became a kind of a wise celebrity in that part of the country. People from other villages came to visit him every so often sad and troubled, but when they left you could see a wide smile on their faces.
As for the children, they adored them. And he loved them too, as if they were his own. When they were around, he would slip away from his deep thoughts, just to start playing with them, or to tell them some exciting stories; about the places he’s been to, about the people he met, about the beautiful creatures of his imagination. And they, who hated school, who wouldn’t spent a minute reading, they would sit around him quiet, obedient, taking into their heads and souls his every word. Just before the night called in he would give them all a big hug and wish them to a have a good and dreamy night. The kids would go home with a lot of new stories to tell their parents.
It was in May that the old wise man came to the village and by August he never slept in a bed. He only sat there at the fountain day and night, thinking about happiness. “Happiness!” That’s what everyone felt since he arrived in our lives. “He is a demon” cried out the priest; “A saint!” said the housewives, as for the kids; he was the best friend they ever had.
From day one of his coming to the village, all the quarrels and fighting in the households have suddenly stopped. You could hear no one yelling at the other, no arguments taking place; everyone seemed to live a peaceful and loving life. And if ever a problem arose they would go to the old man to give them his advice, offer them a solution. Only to his own quest he didn’t seem to find an end.
“Did you find happiness, old man?”
“I’m thinking about it; I’m thinking about it all the time, my son! It will be mine.”
As time went by his unsought for fame crossed the borders of the neighboring areas and even reached the cities. More and more people would come from afar to see and talk to the old thinker. Every Sunday was a festival day for our village. We’ve never seen so many people in our lives. And all that thanks to the old man; who had a kind word to offer to everyone who came to visit; who had so much love to give. By the end of Autumn, the wise old man was in everybody’s lips, since all the people who came to see him, when they went back home, talked to everyone about the old man who thinks about happiness, feeling utterly happy themselves.
It was on a late Friday afternoon, just before sunset, that a few lucky of us saw the old man suddenly jumping off his favorite sit, and start leaping about, and yelling and dancing, and singing like a young lad.
We were speechless for a moment, but then we all rushed to ask him what was going on. He gave us no answer. Instead he kept on dancing. Well, at no time at all we found ourselves, young and old, kids, husbands and wives, joining his wild dance. Someone started playing the lute and somebody else the guitar; the mandolin followed suite. The women brought out barrels of wine and beer and lots of food and joy. It was a party unlike any other. Even the priest left aside all his reservations and joined in the dancing, enjoying with us that sudden burst of happiness and unheard of freedom.
The party went on and on forever, and everyone there would describe it in the days to come, as the happiest night of their lives. As the music, the feasting and the dancing started dying out I went to the old man to ask him again what was that all about. He said: “I found happiness, my child!” “Where did you find it, wise man?” “At the absence of thought!” he answered with a grin and started off for the fields. I smiled too and left for home.
The most unexpected news swept through the village the very next morning; the good old man has left. But, strangely enough, no one seemed to miss him, or feel sorry that he was gone. It was as if a magic hand has kindly touched all of our souls, allowing them to feel nothing but joy. The joy of life.
After a few months a traveller arrived at our village. He told us that during his long journey he met, at a far away place, a wise old man, who just sat under a plane tree smiling, and thinking about happiness!

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