There are many stories in man’s remembering. Some say they are spun by an old woman who lives hidden from the sun’s rising and setting. The words she steals from the whisperings of leaves whose trees have never seen a forest nor known what one is. These she puts together with whimsy born from the loneliness of her dark home. Such is the power of her hate and bitterness that all of us, at one time or another, she manages to catch in one of her stories.
Some of these stories are as old as children’s tears. And it was well into the twenty-first year of my life, when I thought I was a man, but one day found myself shedding children’s tears, that our greatest teachers, Pain and Sorrow, told me the story I am about to tell you now.
It all started with a wish, at a time when people still made wishes and believed they would come true—eventually.
The boy had been taking a long walk with his father. They hadn’t seen each other for years because the father had gone away to do whatever it is all fathers do. And the doing had taken such a long time that their hearts had grown far apart. They took the walk because this is how they had always resolved their differences. In truth, the son loved the father as much as the father loved the son. But this time, the sun had already grown dark and they still had nothing to say to each other.
Suddenly, in a cry that broke both silence and distance, the boy pointed to the sky and turned to his father saying, “Look! The star! My star!”
And the father laughed and knew his son again, remembering the games they used to play when they pretended they owned the night sky the way a king and his prince own a kingdom.
“And look, son, there is my star. Ah, what a night it is! It is time for wish-making. Father returns to son. Son returns to father. What stronger magic with which to make wishes true?”
So with the stars as witnesses, the son wrinkled his brow and started to choose from all the wishes in his dreamer’s heart.
“It has to be a special wish, you see,” he told his father. “For we are special people, people lost and found, people with a special love.”
After a while, the boy’s brow smoothened as a smile pushed back his cheeks into little mounds.
“I know! I wish that one day I will win the Rainbow Kingdom and all its riches
I will bring back for the both of us in
our old age.”
The father laughed at the simpleness of his son. Being a practical man used to the ways of a heartless world, he asked the boy, “Why did you not just wish for riches? Why choose the Rainbow Kingdom, a kingdom I didn’t know existed?”
“But, father,” replied the boy, “Can’t you see? There are kingdoms and kingdoms; some are good and some are bad. But the rainbow is especially beautiful—it gives joy when all the world is rain and I am ready to cry for lack of you or of something to do. Whatever is on the rainbow must also be especially beautiful for it gives me hope whenever I see it. Besides, riches are nothing unless they’re won, and what nicer place to win them from than a kingdom on the rainbow?”
Now what could the father say? He would be arguing against his child’s dream. And what are children without their dreams?
This was how the night ended—in spangles and in dreams. And many days were to end in nights less radiant and less joyful.
The two stars were never seen again after that night. And the wish of the boy went the way of all wishes—forgotten but never let go in the most secret corner of the heart as the days deepened into nights and the nights faded into days. And Time for the two became a circle of happiness and of growing.
All was beautifully the same as it had ever been for the father and the son.
Then the rains came. And they stayed for many days. One morning, the boy was looking out the window deciding whether rain was made from the tears of angels or from the overflow of the clouds’ jewelry boxes. He was bored and had nothing else to do. His father was in bed pampering his rheumatism against the dampness of the weather. His mother had long since gone with the nights and days that fell like leaves.
The rain was almost over now. It looked more like a transparent curtain with surprises of silver thread running down its length. Through it you could see the blue morning sky.
There was something in the sky which unnerved the boy, much like the way the memory of a past joy unnerves all of us who have grown sad and bored. His heart recognized it before his mind. He shook with excitement when, from the blue of the sky, he could make out, vaguely at first, then more and more distinctly, the blue, the violet, the green, the yellow, the orange, the indigo and the red of the rainbow.
All at once the night of the wish came back to him. And he knew that it was time for him to leave the home he had always known and the father he had learned to love more and more.
It is a strange magic, this magic of wishes. One becomes responsible to the wish one makes — to see that it comes true, or if not, to see at least that it is given the proper chance of coming true. The stars gave their light for the wish. And now, it was the boy’s turn. He felt this in his heart.
He packed nothing except some food for his journey. And again this was the way of wishes — to bring only yourself, to offer only yourself (that is the most precious star of all).
And being thus prepared, he set about bidding good-bye to his father. Now grown old and forgetful — even of the night of his return — the father could not understand. “Stay, son. I cannot hold you back, but know that you leave everything, even this old man you have learned to love more and more.” Suddenly, the old man stopped — and he, too, could feel the call of the wish aching in his son’s heart, though he could not remember the wish itself. And he knew that his son would go.
What are parent’s wishes against the dreams of their children?
So the boy set off on the path outside all doors where all adventures begin. And he set off in the direction of the rainbow — to his left. But the house was hardly out of sight when the rainbow melted, as rainbows are wont to do. And already the dark hem of night was brushing against the blue mountains before him.
Still the boy would not let his wish go so soon. He ran after the memory of many colors, stumbling in the darkness of night, tripping over roots of unseen trees, stubbing his toes against rocks much older than he. But it was in vain, the memory of where the rainbow was too far and too long gone. And it was in despair and weariness that he collapsed beside a tree with roots reaching into the waters of a freshwater stream.
It was midday when the boy awoke. The sun was glancing off the wrinkles on the stream. And the purl of water washed away the tiredness of his heart.
“What brings you here?” a voice asked him.
Turning to his left, toward the direction of the voice, the boy saw nothing except a queerly shaped rock about three feet high.
“What brings you here?” the voice repeated, and still there was nothing except the rock.
“Excuse me, sir, (for the voice was that of a man) is it the rock I am talking to?”
“Well what else is there? And I ask you again, what brings you here?”
“I came running after the rainbow; but it faded before I reached it and here I fell weary, empty of all hope. But who are you?”
“I do not know myself. The memories of rock are poor. Though they have seen much, they remember little. But I do remember that I was once flesh like you. And that I loved once — not a rainbow — but a sensible woman. Perhaps too sensible. She left me for a sensible man and my love for her let her go. But I turned on myself. My sole happiness was lingering on her loss. And this was bitter happiness and the bitterness made me hard. Help I took from no one. Help I gave to no one. Then one day, I saw the rainbow after a light rain and there was hope again in my heart. The next morning I woke up to find myself the way I am now. The loss was gone. The pain was gone. Only the hardness remained and I welcomed it then the way I welcome it now.”
“So you have reached the rainbow!” the boy cried in joy. “Do you know how I can reach it?”
“No, I cannot tell you that. Since the last time I saw it, it has been as far from me as the woman who left me for a better man. But follow the stream till it leads you to an old hag who lives in a hut full of mirrors. The glass always catches the rainbow’s light. Perhaps she can help you.”
Hearing this, the boy left, even forgetting to thank the rock. The rock, content in its hardness, didn’t mind.
It was easy to follow the stream and the boy made good time. It wasn’t long before the boy came to a clearing as full of light and multi-colored brightness that for a moment, he thought that he had indeed come to the kingdom of the rainbow. But it was not.
The hut was full of mirrors that bounced and bent the sunlight and shattered its whiteness into thousands of colors. Before this odd but striking abode stood an old hag, almost bent double with age. Her hair was the color of ash and white powder. The wrinkles of her face were caked with flesh-colored cream. Her lips were stained bright red and curled into a wide grin. She swayed as she hummed waltz music to herself. Her dress was in tatters, but she seemed not to notice.
Upon seeing the child, she curtsied as she called out to him. “Good morning, dear sir, have you come to visit me?”
The boy was taken aback by her silken voice and her smooth charm. They seemed out of place beside the tattered cloth and her wrinkled skin.
“Good morning. The rock sent me. I came looking for the rainbow and he said you might help. Rainbow light is caught in your mirrors, but it is not what I seek.”
A sigh many ages old came from the lips of the old woman. She closed her eyes and finally seemed as tired as she looked old. But the weariness lasted only for a second, and then a shadow of pain, and then wrinkled flesh curled up into her weird grin once more.
“The rock? I knew him once, and left him for a more sensible man. He no longer knows me now for his hardness has lost him his eyes. And even if he had them still, they would be turned into himself. Such is the pain I caused him.”
The boy grew uncomfortable as he remembered his father that morning when he left. But the old woman did not notice as she kept on droning:
“And the more sensible man? The better man was no better. He left as I had left and, oh, what pain he caused me, but Time is kind and I know he will return. See, I am still practicing our waltz. When he does return, I shall bewitch him with my beauty and all will be as before.”
And the boy wondered how the woman could think herself beautiful with all the mirrors around her.
She continued, “Yes, I know the rainbow. I keep memories of it in my mirrors. It came when my beauty was about to fade and I had just about lost all hope. I no longer wished to see myself and wrapped my heart in regret. It rained that day. Then the rainbow came and my mirrors shone with its unearthly light. I looked into them again and hope was restored as my beauty was by the rainbow and the rain. So now I am young and will ever be as I see myself in my mirrors. Yes, I will help you find it though it has never touched me. I am content to see its image trapped within my mirrors. There is a woman they say who can help you, though she is not as lovely as I. She lives a heart’s journey away whichever way you walk.
And so saying she turned her back on the boy and proceeded to waltz around
“What shall I do?” the boy thought. “What is a heart’s journey away?”
And thinking this he walked and walked and walked. Through fields he never crossed before, through paths that suddenly appeared and disappeared just as suddenly. He passed the old hag whirling her life away. He passed the rock turning more and more into himself. And sometimes he returned to places which looked familiar. And sometimes he stumbled into places he saw only in his dreams. And still he walked. The boots he wore had long worn through. His feet were patched by scabs of many wounds. Shreds of cloth clung to his skin. He learned to eat the leaves of nameless trees. And when he slept, in his dreams he kept on walking.
The day came when he had lost all hope. And heaving a sigh, he gave up his heart and died. Cold he remained until something colder still touched his cheek. And all at once he was alive again, looking into the grey eyes of a woman lovelier than anyone he had ever seen.
She was paler than the mist on Christmas mornings in the mountains. Around her, the air was thick and cold with dawn dew. And when she spoke, her voice seeped into his heart and made him quiver the way the dampness can make you whenever it rains.
“I hear you’re looking for the rainbow, and looking to me for help.”
And the boy could only nod yes.
The cold voice went on. “I am Mother Rain, and through me alone shall you reach the rainbow. If you are to win the kingdom, sit with me and wait, and give up your heart again.”
And the boy sat and waited. Cold rain came and drenched him to the marrow. A numbness came over him, and what hope he had left he gave up to the cold. There was only the sitting and the waiting and the grey eyes of the woman and her cold breath on his shoulder. And day was marked only by the lightening of the grey. Thirty times the grey lightened until it began to sparkle like silver thread on an old curtain, forgotten because it was too well kept.
A cold hand took his, which was by now almost as cold, and led him to a rainbow pale and shimmering. “This is the kingdom you would win. It is yours.”
And the boy entered and felt warm again. Blood flushed his cheeks pink. The scabs on his feet gave way to smooth skin.
He saw a young man by a stream embracing his lovely sweetheart. He saw the same woman waltzing with another man in a house full of gleaming mirrors. And everywhere there were rainbows and rainbows and two stars he thought he would never see again. Finally he saw his house and his father rushing out to meet him. An embrace and son returned to father as father returned to son.
And here in this kingdom he was happy, for its riches were hopes and dreams that would never come true.