#8 Paradise Island
Happy New Year, friends, and welcome to Story Press #8! If you missed the last publication of 2021, click here.
If you haven’t read any of Story Press - hit up the archives here.
For the first newsletter of 2022, I’m sharing a story I wrote a few years ago, inspired by the philosophy of Lao Tzu in his famous writing, Tao Te Ching. I do admit, however, it’s been a while (years) since I read it. You can find it here if you wish.
#8 Paradise Island
Two men lay asleep on a desert island. They both had black hair, black beards, hazelnut eyes, effeminate hands, and big feet. Indeed, it is no surprise that the man on the right, having been woken by the cold salt water lapping up to the soles of his feet, was just as confused looking at the man beside him as he was looking at his surroundings.
The man on the right rubbed his wet feet in the sand and when the sand got all stuck to them he frowned and muttered an obscenity. He prodded the man beside him on the arm. The second man was content in his sleep even though the water was brushing the soles of his feet too. The first man even judged that the second were smiling in his sleep!
He prodded his sleepy ally again on the arm and the second man woke up. He leaned upright and looked around with a sort of childish curiosity, before his eyes landed on the man who now faced him. They were both taken aback by their resemblance to each other, and should they have been in the same state they would have recognised themselves as the same person.
As it happens, they were in rather different states. The first man, still with his feet covered in sand, had rolled his wool suit trousers up to keep them dry. He wore a sky blue buttoned shirt with a white collar and white cuffs, a navy tie with a white oval symbol in the middle, and a dark blazer. His hair was moulded into a quiff as pristine as an ice sculpture. His beard was groomed with the utmost precision. No hair went unaccounted for. He had smooth alabaster hands with finely trimmed nails protruding from his healthy fingers.
The second man wore no suit. He sported a pair of trousers and a shirt that one might acquire at the local market for pennies. His shirt was creased, baggy, and maintained the odd tear here and there. His hair was unkempt and greasy, and rested on his shoulders in a lazy droop. His beard offered little compensation: a rough, thick amalgamation of uncared for facial hair. His hands were thin but red with the sun. His nails were clean but long.
The suited man looked with a sardonic gaze down to his companion and said: “Who are you?”
The scruffy man smiled at a red and yellow butterfly nearby. Its wings trembled with a fleeting pleasure. He looked back at the man before him, a man he considered a man of society.
“Nobody,” he said.
Happy with his response, he laid his back down onto the sand and looked to the sky and the thin clouds beside the sun.
“How did we get here?” asked the society man.
“I do not know.”
The society man, restless at his companion’s indifference to their predicament, stood up and started to look around. He saw long grass that wavered in the slow wind, trees teeming with trilling birds, and a curving sand band warped inwards by the gravity of the ocean. He pulled at his hair as he saw no hope of leaving the island.
“How are we to leave?” he cried in supplication.
“I do not know.” The second replied calmly.
“Do you know anything?” The society man countered with anger.
“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
The society man sighed, “You are simple.”
“Certainly, that is true,” replied the simple man with a chuckle.
“I feel sorry for you,” the society man said.
“And I for you.”
“No, you feel jealousy. There is no doubting your inferiority.” He awaited a response but he was not granted one. He continued, “One only needs to glance at our attire to see who is more successful.”
“I don’t disagree with that,” agreed the simple man.
The society man grew aggravated at his failed attempt to arouse any temper in his companion. Instead, he was only met with a smile.
“Well, I suppose it is up to me to figure out how we will get off this island.”
“As you please,” grinned the simple man.
Already, the sun had sunk so that only the outermost glimmers of its reach stretched over the horizon. The society man had tried to put himself to use and disappeared for a time, returning with some frankly useless objects he had acquired further inland. The simple man, however, had not moved from his spot. He only removed his shirt, rolled it up and placed it beneath his head. He watched the sky, clear of all stains, and the stars as they gleamed brightly down to Earth. He could even see Mars, a burgundy blaze among hundreds of white stars. He quickly departed into a slow, peaceful sleep.
The society man did not sleep a wink. He was trying to remember all he had learnt from school about woodwork and the like. His society life, he felt, had prepared him for survival. He felt instilled in him an instinctual drive that would serve him well in this environment. Used to sleepless nights and city lights, morning arrived and he had got to work on building a boat-like concept that he believed would be enough to drift him back to his much-valued civilization.
He spent all morning creating the necessary tools by finely slicing down bits of wood, splitting bamboo shoots and creating thin stringy ties that could be used to hold the slats to the frame. It came together as a square shape with 12 slats spread across it. As the sun rose to its midday peak, the society man wiped his brow and looked around for his simple companion. At that moment he saw the simple man approaching from the grass, he was chewing on something. When he grew closer he saw that the simple man had a handful of berries, an orange-like fruit, and had water dripping down his cheeks and lips.
“That stuff is probably poisonous!” The society man said knowingly.
“Yes, probably it is.”
“What did you drink?”
“Water from a coconut.”
“Was it cold?”
The society man looked around desperately and disappeared for a short while. When he returned he was eager to continue building his boat. The simple man sat and watched while he chewed on his berries and smiled. After a time he grew bored, he stood and walked down the beach.
When he returned from his walk, the boat was finished and the society man was resting, having made a fire. The sun had escorted the men into the doleful hands of the moon. The simple man rolled his shirt into a cylinder again and rested his head. The society man, proud of his carpentry, looked at the simple man with a lofty face and when the simple man did not look back he said, “I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”
The simple man turned his head and said, “I wish you the best of luck.”
The society man replied, “I do not need luck. Look at that beautiful thing, it shall return me safely.”
The simple man made no reply but smiled.
“You do not want to come with me?” Asked the society man.
“No, I shan’t.”
“Sea-sickness.” The simple man grinned.
The society man laughed. “That is foolish! You will die here.”
The following morning the society man arose at the earliest hour of the dawn. The low glowering sun watched him indifferently as he prepared for his travels. The simple man was asleep.
When the society man was ready to leave he woke his buddy and told him he was going.
“I wish you good luck, again,” said the simple man.
The society man waded his contraption out about twenty feet into the water. There were no waves, only the early morning calm of the ocean. He clambered up onto his floating creation and began to paddle away with a paddle he made. The simple man watched him, smiling, until he could see him no longer. Soon the sun drifted so that it was nearly past the Earth’s edge. Then, rather suddenly, the sky grew cloudy, and the cloud’s turned dark and it began to rain. The rain fell avidly onto the sand underfoot. The simple man walked up into the grass and found a tree with long, twisted boughs that stretched down. Its heavy, wide leaves and the long grass protected him from the weather and he sat pleasantly watching the ocean where his companion had gone.
After a time he noticed that he was not alone. In the tree that protected him were many birds that too looked out to the ocean. Far away a flash of lightning filled the sky, it was very bright and its fork shape stabbing his planet left the simple man wondering what had become of his societal companion.
The following day, the weather had returned the island to a paradise. The simple man awoke with his back rested up against the trunk of the tree that guarded him the previous evening.
He looked around and saw that very same red and yellow butterfly that he had seen four days before. The butterfly fluttered around him marvellously soaking up the light of the sun. It made a full circle around the simple man and the tree before landing on the tip of his fingers and soporifically contracting and expanding the breadth of its wings.
The simple man let out a simple laugh.
Thank you as always for reading this story. Please share this with anyone you think may enjoy it, or even if they won’t enjoy it, for that matter - it would make a fun conversation.