Sunday, May 9, 2021

The sky painter

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Dawns would not exist without Fernando. Cloudy skies, golden sunsets, and starry nights all would not exist, because Fernando was in charge of painting them all. With a stroke of his brush, he turned night into day, and day back into night–which was what he had been doing since there was a sky.

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He was the one who set the sky’s colors. He chose a brilliant, beautiful blue for the daytime sky to match the lush greenness of the world below. He picked rich red, orange, and yellow hues for sunsets. Like fires, he knew that the beauty of sunsets was found in their chaos and unpredictability. He zigged and zagged around the sky, moving up and down and side to side, to allow the colors to blend on their own. It ensured the uniqueness of every sunset–a different ending to a different day. He wanted a dark night sky to lull the world to sleep. The sky was his canvas, and he knew which colors would stand out the most.

He was also in charge of painting the clouds and the stars. He always made sure to stock up on buckets of white paint so he could paint millions of them. He knew clear skies were beautiful in their own way, but he just could not resist cloudy days. He loved recreating his dreams too much. One only needed to look up at the clouds to see the places and creatures Fernando saw in his sleep. He painted floating islands and rolling hills. He allowed his cloud animals to roam the sky as the real creatures bounded and leaped in the world below.

As for the stars, he turned painting them into a game. He first dipped his thickest brush in white. Then, he would go around, flicking paint here and there. Stars were formed whenever drops of paint landed on the sky. He never decided on constellations–his eyes were always on the lookout for patterns or stories to tell. He did, however, make sure that there were as many stars as possible. He wanted all the children and children at heart who whispered their wishes to the stars to have enough to see their dreams come to life.

This was what Fernando did, day after day, and the world below shifted alongside the sky’s changing colors.

In the beginning, people kept time through the sky. The sky’s colors provided them with routine. When the sun rose, so did they. They went about their days as the sun and clouds moved across the sky, tending to their lands and feeding their animals. The fiery streaks that marked the descent of the sun told them it was time for them to retreat to their own homes and light their own fires. The stars in the sky told them which way to go.

Then the world learned to keep time on its own. People spent more time under artificial light. They charted their own city constellations among the streetlamps and car headlights, and those were the new stars that guided them home. They woke up and slept according to their own time. It no longer mattered when the sun rose or set–they decided when they would call it a day. They no longer needed the sky.

Fernando did not mind much at first. Only the adults stayed cooped up indoors under their electric lights. Children still loved staring up at the sky. Children still tugged at their mothers, pointing up and urging, “Look, Ma!” Children still lay on the grass to play guessing games of what the clouds actually were.

“It’s a snake!”

“No, it’s a jumping rope!”

“Don’t be silly, it’s a belt!”

They continued with their games even when they were indoors, sitting by the window, watching the clouds go by. When they had no windows, they drew and colored their own clouds and skies. Fernando continued painting for the children.

Eventually, however, even the children found new windows to peer into. They watched the world through their television screens instead. They joined their parents in walking around with their heads bowed, staring at the portable windows their new smartphones gave. The screens showed worlds colored more vibrantly than the one they were in, and so they too stopped looking up.

Fernando worried. The children no longer pointed up to his paintings or played their games, but he hoped he was just imagining things. One day, he decided to find out for real. He knew the children loved funny cloud animals, so he filled the sky with them. He painted a cloud circus parade–bears on bicycles, tigers jumping through rings, and monkeys wearing top hats–and they marched through every child’s window. The animals looked so real that you could almost hear them growl and roar. Still, they did not look up. The children’s eyes still remained glued to their television screens. They found the shows they were watching funnier.

Fernando thought that maybe he just was not trying hard enough. Maybe his animals were not as funny as he thought they were. He decided to try again at sunset. Sunsets had always been a human favorite, after all. Children were always making their own sunsets on their own paper skies, and many even used up all their warm-colored crayons on them. He went straight to work. He got out his pink and violet buckets–colors he rarely used–and added splashes of them on the sky. He was practically dancing and twirling across the sky’s canvas just to blend the new colors with his usual yellow, red, and orange. It was his best sunset ever. Still, no one looked up. The children were too busy playing their smartphone games set in imaginary worlds with their own colorful skies.

Fernando decided he would try one last time that night. Surely the children would be unable to resist sharing their hopes with the stars! He then prepared a spectacular show. He released millions of shooting stars that streaked across the sky. Almost every inch of the sky was covered with the brightest stars that had ever shone above the world. It was the starriest sky Fernando had ever made, with enough stars to provide the entire world’s wishes and more, and still, to Fernando’s disbelief, the children still did not look up! They chose to stare at their screens until they fell asleep.

Fernando then knew he had been beaten. He had painted his best work, yet nobody thought they were worth a glance–not even the children! He never thought the day would come when children had something else to imagine for them. He saw no need for him or his paintings anymore. He did not even bother painting the sunrise anymore. He just went straight to bed.

The next morning, adults and children rose to the sound of their alarm clocks. Upon opening their eyes, they knew something was wrong. Something was missing, but what? People checked for their gadgets. Many went around their houses, opening doors slowly in fear of seeing a stranger on the other side, but in the end everyone was stumped. Everything was in its proper place. Why did they still feel something nagging at them then?

A little girl had woken up from all the hustle and bustle inside her house. She had been dreaming of living on her own cloud island with her own cloud pets. She did not know what was going on around her. She was just frustrated from being awakened from a good dream. No matter how tightly she closed her eyes, she could not go back to her cloud island, so she decided she would daydream instead. She hoped the sky had cloud animals she could watch. She realized she had not seen any in a while. In fact, she realized she had not seen clouds of any shape, or the sky itself, for quite some time. She parted her curtains and yelled. The sky was gone!

The mother ran to the little girl’s room.

“What is it?” her mother said, panting.

“Look, Ma! The sky is gone!”

“Stop being silly, Trina. You’re just having one of your nightmares again.”

The mother turned back to go around the house again and find out what it was she misplaced. Trina ran to her and tugged her arm, pointing at her window.

“No, Ma, look!”

The mother turned around, ready to scold her daughter for being stubborn. Her eyes went wide. Trina was right! The sky was colorless and empty. No wonder it had been hard to wake up! The sunlight that passed through her curtains did not greet her that morning, even if she had never noticed that it did. The mother just stood staring at the window, too stunned to move.

By this time Trina was already outside of the house, yelling, “The sky is gone! Look up, look up!” up and down the street. The neighbors peered out of their windows, wondering what the commotion was about. Gasps and shrieks sounded everywhere. They, too, saw the sky, or at least where it should have been. Soon enough, the case of the missing sky reached the news. It was all the television could talk about. This time, though, nobody was watching. All heads were looking up, wondering what had become of the sky, wondering what would become of them.

The world’s clocks kept ticking, the world’s electric lights kept shining, but it was as if the world had stopped spinning. It was neither night nor day. Nobody knew what time it really was. Nobody knew what to do with themselves.

Eventually, the adults sat at home and reminisced, believing that the sky was simply a thing of the past. The children, however, met outside. They knew something could be done. They knew something should be done, and they would figure things out.

“Maybe the sky fell,” a boy suggested. The others nodded their agreement.

“If the sky had fallen, then we should have been squashed already.”

“Maybe the sky broke into pieces as it fell.”

“The pieces should just be somewhere around here then. Let’s go!”

The children separated into teams. They went off in different directions and ran back after a while. Someone asked, “Did anyone find anything?” Most children shook their heads. A boy raised his hand proudly.

“I found something. Look, it’s the same color as the sky!”

“Geez, Jaime! That isn’t the sky. It’s a piece of paper!”

“Well, give it back then! I’ll use it for drawing later.”

With the mention of the word “drawing,” the children fell quiet. They all stared at the piece of paper, remembering the way they would use up paper after paper drawing and coloring the sky. They always made sure to color well so the sky would not have holes in it. What if… what if the sky were also an empty piece of paper?

The children all stared at each other. They sensed they were all thinking the same thing, so with a nod they all ran back into their houses. Moments later, they met again. Their arms were filled with crayons, markers, paint, and pencils–anything they could use to color the sky. They put all their coloring materials together to check what colors they had. Then they made plans.

“Anna and I can draw the sun. We already have lots of orange and yellow pens!”

“Rico and I can use this white paint to make clouds!”

“We have light blue, sky blue, and baby blue. Which one should we use for the sky?”

“It doesn’t matter! We can just blend colors together. That’s also how we make sunsets, remember?”

Once they had chosen their assignments, they discovered a new problem. How were they going to go high up enough to reach the sky, much less color it? They could barely even reach their cupboards at home!

“Maybe if we climb up this tree, we’ll reach the sky!”

“Bea’s condo has thirty-eight floors! Maybe we can go to the highest floor and paint there!”

“You won’t need to do that, I’ll bring the sky to you.”

The children all stopped talking. Who was that?

“Hi, I’m Fernando.” He smiled shyly. “I’m the Sky Painter. I heard you guys wanted to draw on the sky today, is that right?”

The children still stood where they were, staring.

“Look, I’m sorry,” Fernando continued. “I didn’t know I would cause such a panic. I forgot that the sky would disappear if I didn’t paint on it again after a while. It’s never happened before. It’s the first time I ever took a break.”

The children stayed quiet. They looked at each other, wondering who would ask the question on everyone’s minds. Finally, a little girl’s curiosity won over her fear. She asked, “Why did you?”

Fernando scratched his head. “Oh… Well, I noticed you never look up at the sky anymore. You‘re always glued to the TV or your phones. Yesterday, I painted a grand cloud parade and shooting stars, and none of you looked up. I felt terrible.”

The children did not know what to say. They felt terrible, too. They all stood facing each other in silence until Fernando continued.

“When I first heard you panic, I didn’t mind. When you kids started to find ways to color the sky, though, I knew I had to do something. That’s when I knew you really cared about the sky. I didn’t think you’d even notice, though. How did you?”

Trina stepped forward and told her story. “I wanted to go back to my dream with cloud islands and animals but couldn’t. I thought I’d look up the sky instead. You always did have the nicest cloud animals. Then I saw the sky was gone. I told everyone!”

Fernando handed Trina a brush. “Well, how would you like to make cloud animals of your own?”

 

Fernando lowered the sky until it was within reach of all the children. He taught them how to blend colors for the brightest sunsets. He created cloud animals that took children for rides across the sky. He let the children draw what they wanted. He even encouraged them to use different colors, figuring it would be nice to have a green or brown sky for a change. It was the most fun Fernando had ever had as the Sky Painter.

When it was finally nighttime, which only Fernando knew for certain, he told each child to paint a star. “From now on, you will always be able to find your star up in the night sky. The star you paint will always be yours. It will always listen to the wishes you whisper.” When they were done, the children walked home. Fernando brought the sky back up to its usual height and said his goodbyes.

When the children got home, they shared what happened with their parents. “Look, Ma! Look, Pa! I know it’s hard to believe, but the sky is back!” Sure enough, when parent and child peered out of their windows, they saw a starry night sky. Fernando recreated his shooting stars show, and this time, people watched. They clapped. They cheered! Some of the children even saw Fernando laughing as he flicked his brush to make more stars streak across the sky. When the show was over, people fell asleep counting the stars. They all looked forward to the morning sky they would wake up to. They knew that they would look up this time, and every other time. G

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