Short story – King and the Blind Beggar: Liar, liar!

LIAR

The blind beggar was bathing in the royal bath while servants fed him grapes and other delicious fruits. The king arrived and descended into the steaming water opposite to the beggar and said: “It has now been several days since I took you to my palace, and I am getting restless. How much longer until you shall impart to me the divine knowledge and heavenly secrets, like you have promised?”

The beggar shooed off the servants and said to the king: “You are quite impatient, oh dignified king. But your impatience also shows me your deep desire for the truth, and it may hasten the process of your maturity. I promised you that in five years time it will happen, but it seems now that four years might well be enough.”

“Four years!?,” the king exclaimed in agitation and splashed water with his palms. “I have been so kind to you, you wrinkly, smelly codger, that I have spared your life many times over and even let you in my palace to be served by the most beautiful servants and fed the most delicious foods, and you tell me four years I must wait?”

The king’s black beard was quivering from his irritation and impatience and the beggar said calmly: “I promise you that the heavenly secrets are worth the agony of your waiting. And you must understand, oh great king, that only rare beings ever reach the highest peaks of existence, so unless you want to remain a suffering mortal, you have no option but to follow my guidance with patience and let me show you the way to godliness.”

The king splashed water in frustration and got up from the bath and ordered his servants to dry his body and rub fine oil onto his skin. When the king was gone, the blind beggar waved his hand to the servants to bring him more grapes and serve him wine.

The next day the beggar dressed up in the most exquisite silk clothes and let the king’s slaves carry him to the market square to meet with the ordinary townsfolk.

A poor boy came to the blind beggar, thinking that he is a wealthy royal, and said: “I am just a poor boy and I have been raised by rats and stray dogs and evil witches. Please, sir, give me a dime so that I can buy myself a piece of bread.”

The beggar ordered the slaves to stop and he turned his blind eyes towards the boy and said: “You are lying, small boy, you are lying to me. But because I am a merciful man, I shall pity you and not send you to the dungeons.”

The boy looked closely at the old beggar, who was dressed in royal silk, and said: “You are not a royal! I know who you are! You are a blind man who used to be begging for alms at the street corner. What are you doing up there, being carried by the king’s slaves and dressed up in such fancy clothes?”

“You have mistaken, young man,” said the beggar. “I am indeed the king’s counsellor, and for that reason I am being carried in this chair by the king’s slaves. I do not know what nonsense you are talking about.”

The boy said: “You are an impostor! You are just a dirty beggar, and somehow you have managed to fool the king with your foul tongue to listen to your blabbering.”

The beggar gestured to the slaves to start moving away from the little pest, but the boy followed and started mocking the beggar and using more and more ugly words to insult him.

“You don’t know what you are talking about,” said the beggar. “I am the noble counsellor and I am the man who decides the fate of this kingdom. Go and ask the king, for he will surely tell you the truth if you will not believe my word. But what does it matter? You are but a wretched troublemaker, and your words are like the hum of a little mosquito in my ears. So make yourself disappear before I change my mind and send you to the dungeons to rot with the other bandits, you little insect.”

The beggar had to order the slaves to move faster and head back to the palace, for the boy became a disturbance and he didn’t want to attract too much attention among the people.

Upon meeting the king, the beggar said: “The townsfolk are becoming a real nuisance, my king. They should be taught and disciplined for better and more respectful behaviour. I recommend that we create a new order in this city, for the people have lost their manners and they cannot talk rightly but use foul language that makes my ears hurt.”

The king looked at the blind beggar and a red colour appeared on his face and the king said: “Who do you think you are? Have you forgotten that you are nothing but a decaying old man whose life I have spared because I think you hold something that might be of great value to me? But each day I start to doubt that more and more. You don’t deserve or need the respect of the townsfolk, because you are just a cockroach who is extorting me and I am too weak to use my kingly sword to cut your head off and be done with you.”

“But king,” said the beggar, “what if I told you that the people are speaking ill about you and some are even conspiring against your might? What if I told you that there is a vast cabal being put together with the aim of overthrowing you, the mighty and beloved king.”

“If you told me that,” said the king, “I would laugh so hard that I could not breathe and I would die immediately. But because you are just a lying, devious beggar, I cannot believe such words and my patience with you is running out.”

“I might be a devious, lying beggar, but how about that boy I met in the marketplace this morning? Was that boy also a lying beggar?”

“What boy? What are you talking about, you filthy creature?”, asked the king.

“The boy who came to me while the slaves were carrying me in the chair,” said the beggar, “and who said that there are people speaking ill of the king and that there is a dangerous cabal being created in dark halls and dungeons deep underground, where the eyes of the rule cannot see or its hands reach.”

“Nonsense!” shouted the king. “Where is my sword? I need to cut this madman’s head off before he spews out more lies with his poisonous mouth!”

The beggar didn’t budge by the king’s threats, but continued and said: “Yes, and this secret cabal will shackle you and your family and everyone close to you in the castle dungeons and use your beautiful daughters and your wives for their pleasure and they will defile your forefathers and remove the rule of your family from the accounts so that no one shall ever again remember your name.”

Then the king jumped towards the beggar and grabbed his throat and jolted him forcefully, but the beggar didn’t give up and said with a stifled voice: “But it is not too late to stop it!”

The king suddenly calmed down, let the beggar free and said: “How can we stop it? Tell me now or I shall make you carry buckets of excrement day and night for the rest of your life.”

“You must establish a new order in the kingdom. The people have become complacent and lazy. They have become ungrateful and deceitful. You must establish a new order that will turn everything upside down and make the people respect the throne like they should. Only a new order can save you from demise, for I have heard rumours that this cabal is quickly advancing in its plans and it will soon begin to execute a horrible measure of action to overthrow you and disgrace your name.”

Short story – At the doctor’s

Doc

“Good morning,” said the doctor and cleared his throat.

“Morning,” said Robert.

“I have called you here for the reason that…”

“Yes?” asked Robert calmly.

The doctor turned to look at his screen for a couple of seconds and clicked his mousepad a few times and then turned back to Robert: “I have called you here because I have some unpleasant news to tell you. You have cancer, Robert, a nasty one. Very nasty.”

Robert looked at the doctor quite calmly and said: “All right. What does it mean… in practise?”

“It means that we are going to do our best to fight the disease and take whatever means necessary to give you more time… but you must understand, Robert, that this cancer that you have, it’s an extremely rare form of cancer. More specifically, it’s a pancreatic cancer which is very hard to treat, and… and the prognosis is usually quite bleak. I’m sorry, Robert, but I cannot promise you more than a few months to live. I’m so sorry.”

Robert looked at the doctor straight in the eyes, and the doctor didn’t see any change in him, no trembling, no tears, nothing. He was sure that Robert was in shock. There was a moment of silence, and the two just stared at each other. It was only rarely that the doctor had had to give such a dire verdict to a patient, and he was as at a loss of words as he always was when he had to sentence someone to death.

But then Robert broke the silence and said: “A few months? Well that’s plenty. Thank you, mr. doctor.”

The doctor looked at Robert in a slight amazement. “I know this is a big shock… to hear something like that, and I ask you to take your time to think it through and sort your head out. You may not yet quite realise the implications of this disease, but that is perfectly understandable. No one wants to hear that they have only so little to live…”

Robert interrupted him and said: “You have totally misunderstood me, mr. doctor. I am not in shock, nor am I in grief.”

“It is such a sudden strike, and it always comes as a total surprise, like a blow straight in the belly,” said the doctor. “It will take some time to get used to the idea that there really is only a limited time left, but it will happen, trust me. Just go home, talk to your wife and children, talk it through and think it over. It will get better, believe me, Robert. Many patients with terminal cancer have reported to me later on, nearing the end of their existence, that the agony and despair wears off and is then replaced by an acceptance, a kind of surrender to destiny.”

“You are wasting your energy,” said Robert. “I don’t need your comforting words, mr. doctor. You see, I don’t believe in death. Or actually, I do believe in it, but I believe that it is very different than most people think.”

The doctor was baffled. He didn’t know that Robert was religious, and that seemed to make it more difficult to make Robert realise that in fact he was going to die within a couple of months.

Robert continued: “To you death must seem very real, naturally, because you see disease and death in your work on a regular basis, am I not correct? You see people who one moment are filled with life, jumping, dancing, screaming in pain, bleeding, crying or laughing, and the next moment they may be lying motionless on the metallic bed of the morgue with their skin all cold and grey. Of course death seems real when you see that. But you must understand, mr. doctor, I don’t see it the same way you do. I don’t think the life that is in a human body is generated by the body, but that the life only uses the body for a little while and then, when the time comes and the body wears off, it simply moves out, just like when a radio breaks up, it can no longer receive the frequencies, but the frequencies themselves are not affected by the breaking of the radio device. This is why I am neither afraid nor sorrowful.”

The doctor was secretly pitying and judging his patient as a religious nut by now, but of course he couldn’t say it to him. After all, he was a dying man with terminal cancer and only a few months to live at best. The least he could do for him was to go along with his comforting beliefs.

So the doctor said: “That is interesting, Robert. You may have a point there. That’s what I have been thinking myself. I think you are right.”

“You don’t have to lie to me, mr. doctor. I know that you think I’m not only dying, but also crazy from head to toes. But that’s all right. I don’t mind.”

The doctor was feeling uneasy, and all he wanted was to get out of the situation, but at the same time he couldn’t just leave the room and abandon his terminally ill patient.

“Look, Robert, I think that everyone should be allowed to have their own religious beliefs. But the truth is that whatever you believe, it won’t change the fact that this disease will kill you. There is nothing that can be done to stop that, even if we could postpone the end by a several days or weeks. You are going to die, Robert. I just want you to understand that. And it is also my job and my responsibility as a doctor to help you come to terms with the truth in a way that will not make you debilitated to make arrangements for the, umm… for the time beyond, and to say goodbye to your loved ones. Robert, I have seen hundreds of people, each with their own quirky beliefs about death, die literally before my eyes, and whatever it may have been that they believed, each and every one of them died the same and so far no one has come to me afterwards and told me that death doesn’t exist. No one has come, Robert.”

“And yet, here I am, telling you exactly that,” said Robert. “So what seems to be the matter?”

The doctor scoffed and said: “Yes, but you are still alive, Robert! Don’t be ridiculous. If you’ll come after I have seen your body go cold and lying on the metallic bed of the morgue and tell me death isn’t real, then I will believe you. But right now your words are just the words of a religious nut who cannot face reality. Just blind belief, Robert, blind belief that provides a superficial sense of comfort and numbs you from the truth of your disease and the truth of your impending death. Now, as your doctor I advise you to go home, make arrangements for your unavoidable death, hold your wife for a little while and accept your fate.”

The doctor noticed that a smile was growing on Robert’s face. He said: “Why it seems to me that my disease and my death seems to affect you more strongly than it affects myself, mr. doctor? And even if my words indeed were just the words of a delirious fruitcake, would it hurt anyone if I died at peace knowing — or believing — that life goes on even after the destruction of this physical body?”

“Of course not!” the doctor exclaimed. “But as a man and representative of reason, it is my duty to stay with the hard facts and the hard facts only, and not try to distract my patients with fairytales just to bury the truth.”

“You shouldn’t worry about me, good doctor. I know I cannot change your determined mind about this, and I won’t even try. But I want you to know that whatever happens at the time of death isn’t as dramatic or scary as you may think, and that I know for sure. Your fear arises only because you think that life will end when the body dies. But mr. doctor, how can life end? Isn’t it the body that evolves as an organic result of the earth’s biosphere? Isn’t it the earth that gives life to what seems to be a human being? And isn’t it the the sapling that grows out of the rotten trunks and leaves of his predecessors? How can life end when after the death of one form another immediately is born? We are like the trees in the forest, mr. doctor. We go on forever and ever, because we are part of life’s eternal cycle, not separate from it. Not separate. That is why I am not afraid.”

Robert smiled gently, stood up, shook the doctor’s hand and left the room.

Short story – Bartender and the miserable pop star

Pop

 

Once it happened that a pop star, whose popularity was on a decline, was sitting at the bar. The star was feeling miserable. He ordered one glass of cheap whisky after another.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked the bartender.

The pop star glanced at the bartender and answered, “I am addicted to attention. And now it has happened that they are forgetting about me.”

“Who are forgetting about you?” asked the bartender.

“The tabloids, the people, everyone. No one is giving me attention anymore. Without attention, who am I? Without attention, how can I go on living?”

The bartender looked at the drunken man and said, “I can’t see the problem with that, really. No one to disturb you. No one to ask for an autograph. No one to write about you on the paper.”

The pop singer fell even deeper into his despair. “Exactly! No one to tell me that I have succeeded. No one to tell me I’m more important than other people. I might as well jump off the bridge. If people are no longer interested in me, what reason do I have to live?”

The bartender looked at the man and asked, “What do you mean by success?”

The star raised his head and looked fiercely at the bartender. “What do you mean what do I mean? Success is success. You know, being better than the rest. Being wanted, admired, and talked about. That’s how you know you have succeeded in life.”

“When you were at the peak of your success, could you walk outside freely without having someone guard your back?”

“Of course not! That’s when you know you’ve made it… when you need a bodyguard to hold the fans off you,” said the singer and sipped his whisky.

The bartender burst into laughter. “If you ask me, that sounds more like an imprisonment than a success.”

The pop star was starting to feel irritated. “You’re just envious! If you had ever experienced it for yourself, you wouldn’t say that. But you are just a puny bartender. How can you know anything?”

“Yes, I’m just a puny bartender. But at least I don’t need a million people to verify to me that there is reason to get out from the bed in the morning.”

The pop star remained silent for a little while. He emptied his glass and said, “You’re right. I think I’m going crazy. But I just don’t know if I can live without someone affirming to me that I matter. I don’t know if I can cope with the emptiness of not being told that I am good enough.”

The bartender was starting to feel sorry for the man. “You know, I remember when I was a schoolboy, and my mother would tell me ‘Good boy!’ each time I brought home a straight A. Any other grade and my mother would say ‘You’ve gotta do better than that, boy!’. Sometimes she would even tell me that I was not going to amount to anything with those grades. I developed, over time, a terrible hang-up about school. I learned that only perfection was good enough for my mother. I craved for that ‘Good boy!’ from my mother. I craved for that attention. Only when I heard her say it did I know that I was good enough.”

The pop star was twiddling his empty glass. The bartender saw that he was listening.

“Over my school years I developed a severe anxiety, because there was only one way to succeed — to get perfect grades. I had panic attacks almost every day and I started to seclude myself from other people because I was so obsessed to perform well. And not just well, no, well wasn’t good enough. I had to be the best. And I was… for some time. Eventually I went to college, and by the second year I felt I was losing my mind. Constantly I heard my mother in my head saying ‘You’re not good enough, you must do better than that!’ I felt that without her approval, I wasn’t worth anything. It was all I lived for.”

The pop singer raised his head and asked, “What happened then?”

“Then my mother died. All of a sudden. She just wasn’t there anymore. It was absolutely devastating. All my life I had been working hard to please her and to get her approval, and now she was gone. It took some time. It took a few years or so. I gradually started to realise that I was still alive, even though she wasn’t there to give me attention or approval.. or even to scold me. It was actually quite liberating. I dropped out of college because I realised that it wasn’t me who wanted to be there, but it was my mother who wanted me to be there. I still hear her voice in my head every now and then, but I just ignore her. I don’t need her to make decisions for me, nor do I need her to approve of me anymore. In fact, after her death, almost everything in my life changed. I wasn’t anxious anymore, because there was no longer anyone to satisfy or to make happy, no one whose wishes I had to fulfil. I went in for all kinds of crazy artistic and experimental hobbies and activities. I found so much joy in not pleasing other people. With the death of my mother I felt that also the door of my prison was unlocked. It was the prison of living up to a social role to the extreme. It was the prison of playing the social game without knowing that, actually, it’s just a big hoax.”

“What do you mean by a hoax?” asked the singer.

“Well look at yourself. You are all miserable because you base your sense of worth on the praise of people you don’t know, of people you have never ever even met. One day they may be cheering for you, and the next day, all of a sudden, they forget about you or write nasty things about you. It’s a very, very unstable foundation for a life, don’t you think? We have been taught that the social game is very important and serious, and that we must play by the rules. By praise and blame we have been conditioned like dogs to pursue things we don’t really want or need. They hoax you into believing that you must earn your right to exist, and then you start going mad. That is when you lose your freedom and become a slave.”