Monday, April 21, 2008

The Emperor's New Clothes

He walked into the marketplace one day. Naked and naively curious. Clean and proud. You see, he had not yet realized that his body was a thing of shame. His eyes darted everywhere around him in wonder as they gazed upon the multicolor humans.

All other humans wore clothes. Clothes that made them look completely different. Clothes to make them look completely different. Like swishing human kaleidoscopes. They would all look the same if they took them off. Like him. He wondered if they wanted to. He wondered if he wanted them to. The only other naked beings in the crowd were a 3-month-old suckling at his mother’s breast, and a dog, licking himself meditatively.

They had gathered around him and stared at him. He felt a curious sensation as they stared at him. Excitement. A little fear. They were all silent as they stared. But restless. They shifted. They averted their eyes. Then their eyes moved back to him as if pulled; back to his naked body. His genitals in particular.

Then one little girl pointed at his genitals and laughed delightedly. They all joined in as if they had been waiting all their lives for that very thing. The air vibrated with helpless laughter. He smiled broadly too. He felt uplifted. Never in his life had anything sounded so sweet as the happiness of so many people. Together. He felt proud that his genitals could do that to them. He laughed with them too, a deep happy sound that lit up his face.

Slowly their laughter ceased. They went back to staring at him in silence. To his horror, they now started throwing things. Vegetables. Balled up pieces of paper. Wood chips. Stones. Nails. Some missed him. Some didn’t. Some came at him with shrouding pieces of clothing and tried to cover him up. He ducked defensively and tried to back away. There was nowhere to go. They were all around him now, their faces hardened in grim purpose, closing in on him. He pointed to his genitals and forced a laugh. There were no more answering smiles. Even the little girl looked implacable.

He didn’t understand. But he knew. He made a break for the thinnest part of the crowd and ran for it. They all followed, panting in unison at his heels. But he wasn’t hampered by clothing. Or weapons. He outsped them easily. He found an abandoned shack, that had once belonged to a painter. It smelled oily and dusty, but not altogether unpleasant. He crept in and hid in its darkest corner until they stopped looking.

He crouched in the shack, afraid, that whole day. Evening fell slowly, in deep melancholic shadows, as he lay shrunk, in his frightened vigil. From the window of the shack he could see the little pond where animals came to drink at night. He gazed into the rippling reflection of the full moon and wondered how the people’s laughter had turned to hate so suddenly. He wondered what it was he had done to hurt them and make them hurt him. He looked down at his naked body. Perhaps he wasn’t allowed to be naked in their world. Or perhaps he was just a naturally bad person who must be hunted and killed for his own good.

He felt acutely unhappy. He would try harder. To make them happy and laughing again. He sought around for some clothes to wear. If his nakedness offended them, then he would cover it. He found a pair of old coveralls and a smock. Spotted with paint and oil. He put them on awkwardly. They were too big for him. But they covered his genitals fully. He checked. They also covered everything else the other people were covering. The next day he walked out again into the marketplace.

He crouched as he walked, so there would be no indication whatsoever, that he even possessed genitals. They almost didn’t recognize him. But the little girl spotted him again, and pointed excitedly to him.

Same naked man. Pretending to be decent.

Some of the earlier crowd gathered again. They attracted new people. The story was retold. Soon they all knew he was there again pretending to blend in. They saw through him. He wasn’t fooling anybody! They started gathering missiles again. He ran for it again. It was harder this time with all the clingy clothes. But he was running for his life and he made it. Back to his shack.

He decided never to go out again. For three days and three nights he crouched there, gagging on his own excrements. Then starvation got the better of him and he had to move out. He went out to the pond and stared at his reflection. Maybe it was his face too. Maybe he had a bad face, that made people hate him. He scooped some wet sand from the river bed and rubbed it on his face. He was more unrecognizable now. But the sun dried the sand in a few minutes and it fell off his face.

Then he saw the paints in the shack that had belonged to the artist. They were multicolored and thick. He dipped his hand in green and rubbed it on his face. He dipped it in purple and covered his hair in it. Then he just splashed whatever colors were left all over himself. Every exposed part of his body and most of his clothes were now covered with yellow, purple, red and green, crisscrossing, blending, dripping. He played with the paint, creating fascinating patterns.

Lovely patterns. He forgot himself momentarily in the patterns. In the sheer joy of swirling and splashing them around. He then went back to the water and looked at his own reflection. His original self was gone. Perhaps the people would like this new self. Perhaps he was a good person now, worthy of love and laughter. And food. He would try.

He shuffled back to the marketplace warily. They all spotted him again immediately and gathered around him. His heart sank in fear and pain and he was just about to grab a bunch of bananas and make a run for it when he realized they hadn’t picked up weapons. They were smiling. They were happy again. He waited for their mood to change. But they stayed the same. Smiling and staring. They didn’t stop staring or move away though. They seemed to expect something. He felt like he had stumbled on some precious secret. He didn’t know what he had done, what he had to do now, but he felt light once more.

He capered around them weakly, waving his hands and feet about in mad unison. They laughed their happy laughs as they watched him. They no longer attacked him. He felt that same euphoria shoot through him. This time it was twice as heady. Because he felt… safe. He hadn’t known what safe meant before. He felt wonderful. He felt inconsolable. Pagliacci was born.

P.G. Wodehouse said "'There are two ways of writing, One of these is 'a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn.'"

I want to write both ways. And every way. Hence the weirdness :D


  1. Loved it. I might have read deeper into it :D

    but the fact is - we all need our defenses to be in the world and be *safe* and get what we want, that means...I suppose losing the self or better...guarding the self - with patterns and whatnot..

    Very cool :) Loved it

    ~ Pregnant man

  2. @Hazel Dream - Thank you :)

    @Pregnant Man - Thanks darling ... Means a lot to me :)!!

  3. You continue to surprise me each time

  4. Thanks Mackie!! I'll take it dats a good thing :D!!