“Tu-Swift, we are learning so much from the library we uncovered. Just as you came, I was putting the final touches on a translation of a story about Stoned Soup, Would you like to hear it?”
“Yes! What’s it about, Cat Eyes?”
Cat Eyes smiled. “Well, I’ll tell you the story and you tell me what you think it means. Here. Come sit beside me.” She patted the rough-hewn bench she sat upon. “You can watch the words as I tell them. How would that be?”
“That,” replied Tu-Swift, “would be wonderful. I love hearing your voice.” He sat beside her and took her hand in his and peered at the runes that he had helped decode. This is the story she read him:
Once upon a time, long ago, there was a village blessed with enough for everyone. The village, named Acirema, was located near ancient beautiful forests of beech and oak. The forests abounded with plentiful game. Long ago, the people of Acirema had cut down part of the forests and turned it into rich farmland capable of producing abundant food. Beyond the forests lay snow-capped mountains. From the mountains, several clear beautiful rivers ran to the plains near the village of the Acirema.
These villagers, like most villagers, had developed many customs. Among them were their shared evening feasts. Except when the weather was exceptionally bad, the villagers gathered in the evening to share a feast. They built a huge fire beneath a large cauldron. When the water finally began to boil, villagers began to contribute what they had to the community soup. Some brought potatoes and turnips; others brought large yellow squash, Jerusalem artichokes, and bright orange carrots; still others brought nettles, blackberry leaves, and hickory nuts. Others, who had been lucky at hunting or fishing or gathering eggs brought those contributions and added them to the soup. Each time the villagers made this soup, the first ingredient that they added was invariably a clean stone, though no-one knew exactly why. Many simply accepted that this was the proper way to make soup. Some theorized that the stone made it tastier. Others believed it helped the flavors circulate. Some thought it was a sacrifice to the god of the fresh mountain water, the sun, or the spirits of the forests.
When the soup was ready, everyone partook and everyone was satisfied. After the meal, they would take turns telling stories or reflecting on the events of the day. Sometimes, they would dialogue about why they began their recipe with a stone.
On occasion, strangers would wander by and they would join in the evening meal. Some of these strangers taught the Acirema new dances or songs or showed them new ways to make things. Some were strangely silent. All of them thanked them for the soup and most continued on their way after a day or two but some liked the village so much that they joined with the Acirema. Those who joined soon found a way to make their own contribution to the village and its soup. Although some harvests were sparse and some flush, the Acirema always had enough to feed everyone in the village. They worked in harmony and enjoyed life.
One hot summer day, it so happened that a fat old man wobbled unsteadily into their village. Despite his obvious extra folds of fat, he demanded a very large portion of soup. His appetite seemed nearly insatiable. He didn’t say much at his first few evening meals, but he observed carefully.
The Wobbly Man noticed that some people ate more than others. The Wobbly Man noticed that some people were taller than others; that some had blue eyes and some had brown eyes. The Wobbly Man noticed that some villagers put a large quantity of carrots in the soup and others only put in a few nuts. The Wobbly Man noticed that some people were old and some were young.
Although the Wobbly Man said little during the evening meal for the whole village, he spoke throughout the entire day, at first, only to one at a time. The Wobbly Man spoke to a strong young man thus:
“Well met, my strong young lad! You must be the strongest man I have ever seen! Surely, you are the strongest in the village! Am I right?”
The strong man answered modestly, “I may be.” He shrugged.
“Of course you are. And, yet, I know that you could be much stronger still. You are not really getting your fair share of the evening soup. Your grandfather eats as much as you do! How is that fair? I’m sure you’re a much better hunter.”
“Grandfather? My grandfather no longer walks this earth. Perhaps you saw my father? He often sits next to me.”
The Wobbly Man acted surprised. “Oh, that old man is your father. I wonder…he doesn’t seem nearly so strong as you do. Well…who knows? But anyway, he certainly eats a lot for his size. And, yet, he isn’t half the hunter you are, I imagine. I don’t really know. I’m just guessing from how little he adds to the soup.” The Wobbly Man smiled.
After a few moments of awkward silence, the strong young man said, “I’m going hunting. Do you know how to hunt? Do you wish to come too?”
The Wobbly Man replied, “Oh, no. I don’t hunt. You go ahead. And don’t pay any attention to what I said. It’s none of my concern. I like to joke a lot. That’s all. It means nothing. Sometimes a maple tree springs from an acorn, you know?”
The strong man shook his head. “No, that never happens. What are you talking about?”
The Wobbly Man replied, “No. Perhaps you are right. I’ve never actually seen that either. Well, you go hunting. Happy hunting!”
Next, the Wobbly Man spied one of the beautiful young maidens of the tribe. Long silky blond hair framed her smooth skin and her bright blue eyes. He followed her down to a nearby stream where she bathed herself. He watched with pleasure from behind some bushes. At last, she emerged, quite refreshed; she lay on a warm slab of shale to allow the sun to dry her front and back. When he judged she was about to re-robe herself, the Wobbly Man walked by casually placing himself between the young maiden and her robe.
“Oh! Well met, young maiden. I didn’t realize anyone was here. Nor did I realize it was your custom to go naked in public. I shall join you then and learn more about your ways.” In a flash, he dropped his own clothes in a pile at his feet.
The young maiden blushed and this excited the Wobbly Man even more; so much so, that his excitement was nearly visible. He strode up to her wondering whether his great weight would be sufficient to force her to do what he wanted regardless of her wishes.
“Sir, put your own clothes back on and hand me mine! You are a guest here and it will not do well for people to see you naked. They may misunderstand your intentions.”
“Oh, me, oh, my,” said the Wobbly Man. “I’m just having a little fun. Is that such a bad thing? It’s of no concern to me if you prefer other women instead of a handsome guy like me. I’m sure another young lady will be along shortly. Maybe this is where you congregate? Ah, but I’m a stranger. What do I know?”
As he spoke, the Wobbly Man reclothed himself and sauntered back toward the nearby village. Here, he spied a group of youth having a spear-throwing contest. After he spied a particularly long throw, he spoke up again.
“Nice throw! Back in my village a throw like that would earn you the right to a maiden such as the one lying naked by yon stream.” The Wobbly Man pointed in the direction he had just come. “Even now, she is quite — what is the right word? She is quite desirous of having pleasure with someone. She even begged me to have sex with her. She complained that none of the young men hereabouts were interested in wooing women. A shame really. But what do I know of your customs? But if I were younger and stronger, I wouldn’t wait so long to make my own desires known.”
The young men looked at each other and left off their spear throwing contest and ran down the path toward the river, each hoping to win the young lady’s heart.
The Wobbly Man smiled and chuckled to himself. He closed his eyes and imagined all of them forcing themselves on her. At least, he hoped that’s what would happen. If she were broken and exhausted, he would try his own luck again.
Now, a new opportunity presented itself and required his attention. The father of the young man he had spoken to earlier was sitting alone and cleaning fish. The Wobbly Man walked over and sat down on a nearby log. “Good afternoon, dear sir. I believe I spoke earlier today with your son. I’m still learning the names of the people here. What is your son’s name again?”
“Rigel! Rigel! That’s a fine name. And your son seems healthy and strong as well. I must tell you that my own son, named Junior, is every bit as ungrateful. More so. I’m sure they’ll grow out of it. That’s just the way youth are. I wouldn’t worry about it. Speaking of Rigel, where is he? Why isn’t he helping you clean the fish? That seems the least — I mean, it’s none of my business, of course, but it seems as though if he’s going to complain about you getting more of the soup than he gets, he would have a stronger argument if he did more to prepare the soup.”
The man stopped cleaning the fish and looked at the Wobbly Man. “What? Rigel said I eat more than my share?”
“What? Oh, no! No, no, no, not at all. Not in so many words.” Here, the Wobbly Man paused, tilted his head, and pretended to be thoughtful. He clicked his tongue, leaned closer to the slender old man and whispered in a conspiratorial tone.
“If you ask me, he should be very grateful that you agreed — you know — to act as his father. Not everyone I know is man enough to do that. Right?”
The fish cleaner stopped his work again and looked at the Wobbly Man with a frown. “What do you mean, ‘to act as his father.’? I am his father.”
The Wobbly Man nodded his head up and down vigorously. “Of course you are. Of course you are! You are the man who raised him. I’m sure beneath all that resentment, he has great respect for you. I’m sure he does. Right? You are sure too, right? All that resentment in his tone and so on — that’s just — he’s probably angry at his mother, really.”
Every day, the villagers of Acirema hunted, fished, gathered food, or worked their farmland. Every day, the villagers made things, observed things, added to the general well-being, the food stores, or the knowledge of the Acirema. Everyone, that is, except for The Wobby Man, who never hunted, never fished, never built or crafted anything with his own two hands.
That is not to say that The Wobbly Man was not busy. He was very busy each and every day. He told the tall people that they should received more soup because their tall bodies needed it more than short people did. He told short people that they were short because they had not received enough soup. He told blue-eyed people that the brown-eyed people thought blue eyes were a deformity and he told brown-eyed people that the blue-eyed people thought brown eyes was a deformity. The Wobbly Man set husband against wife; he set father against son; he set men against women; he set the elderly against youngsters and he set youngsters against the elderly.
At first, the Acirema remained peaceful and kept to their own ways. But gradually, just as the sand in a river bank eventually becomes sandstone or shale, the people began to mistrust each other. As the elderly began to mistrust the young people, that made the young people suspicious of the old people.
Day after day, week upon week, month upon month, the Acirema tribe grew ever more suspicious of each other. When the autumn harvest came, many kept back a good proportion of their food for their private consumption. The community soup grew thinner in consistency and lesser in quantity. The fire needed not to be so large. People often ate in silence. Instead of sitting around the fire sharing songs and stories, the people retired to their own dwellings. When the cold winds of autumn turned icy, they stopped bothering to make soup at all, at least as a group.
The Wobbly Man had left. No-one seemed to have noticed exactly when he left. He did not tell them that he was going, nor did he share why he was going, nor where. No-one noticed him walk away from the Acirema, turn back and look from afar upon the village of Acirema and smile a broad grin. His last words to the Acirema, he muttered far out of earshot of the Acirema.
He simply said, “Fools!”