(image by killer turnip, used under a creative commons license)
What was happening to him? He regretted his knowledge. He regretted having ever tasted the fruit. It appeared that knowledge was as much a burden as a gift. Maybe he had to share this burden to make it lighter and more enjoyable. That might be it; he needed some creature like himself conscious and curious of the world to challenge his thoughts and ideas and stimulate his mind.
He woke up and stretched, slowly. How long had he been sleeping? He was not sure. Time didn’t really matter anyway. The sun felt nice and warm on his skin. He just loved the warmth of the sun; one of the best things about this planet. He would lie there, and do nothing for hours on end, days even. Sometimes when he was feeling particularly indulgent he would vegetate for a few weeks. Only his brain would be working; his thoughts wandering in the most unexpected directions. He could never keep them silent, but then he never really tried. He enjoyed the relentless, merry-go round stream of consciousness, ideas and emotions that jumped and danced around his mind. He would take pleasure in trying to mould the fleeting images into a crystal clear understanding of the world he lived in, often ending up in a kaleidoscope of warm confusion. Because this world was very challenging for both his brain and his senses. As much as a bottomless pit of unanswered questions, it was an inspired and inexhaustible source of wonder.
The flora in particular was exuberant. From mushrooms to moss, from ferns to flowers, the variety was endless. And then the trees: there were hundreds and thousands of them, arboreal wonders of all shapes and sizes. Some flowered, some did not; those trees that flowered yielded a wide range of exotic fruits with equally exotic colours and tastes ranging from yellow-white or green-blue with an acidy touch to orange-red or purple with a sweet smelling melting onto the tongue.
There was one particular fruit that interested him most. Not only had it a delicious taste, but it was the very reason why he had ceased to be just a vacuous creature living in a perpetual state of vegetation. Indeed, he had not always been the sharp thinking being he was now…
A very long time ago (he couldn’t really tell how long exactly), his brain simply didn’t function at all, just like all those plants surrounding him. He was just there, eating and sleeping, content in an existence without any aim or purpose and not a single idea in his tiny head to disturb the quiet of his days and nights. But then one day, by an extraordinary stroke of good fortune, he came across the tree. Looking back he couldn’t believe his own luck, because he had never, ever, come across anything like it before or even since. Not that it was particularly beautiful or anything; in fact it was rather a plain tree. But, there was something special about it, or more precisely about its fruit. Now that the memory was clear in his head, he remembered his reaction when he first saw it, and how very appealing it seemed to his innocent eyes. Not in his wildest dreams could he ever have imagined such an attractive thing. He knew at the time that there were no two ways about it; he was bound to give it a try. So he plucked the round greenish fruit from the lowest twig, and took one, big crunchy bite. He chewed on the yellowish, bitter flesh for a while, and then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, came the revelation.
It was as if he had just been given sight for the very first time. The everyday things that surrounded him revealed themselves in a totally different light; and at the same time, he became aware of a whole range of new sensations that delighted his senses. The smell of the fruit; the colour of its skin; the quickening beat of his heart; the warm feeling that invaded his body… He looked up and was blinded by the light of the sun sparkling through the leaves and was gladdened by its heat. He was now more alive than all of these plants and trees put together. And unlike them, he was completely aware of himself being alive; full of a new found energy and zest for life that was positively overwhelming. Then, as if this was not enough, out of the blue a strange sensation bubbled up from his heart. This was a new, heavier sensation which lurched its way up into his consciousness; curiosity. For the first time in his life, he felt he had an aim and a purpose. For the first time in his life, he felt “he was” and he wanted to know how and why.
He soon realised he could not go back, ever, to where he had been before. He somehow knew his new condition was irreversible. And now that his eyes were wide open, he doubted he needed the fruit anymore to keep them alert. However, he still loved the fruit, so he took some more bites, and more, and more. And this feeling of warmth and fulfilment that pervaded his senses each time was something he knew he could no longer live without.
He had to be careful though, because he was not completely alone in this world, and he knew it. Now and then he would catch a glimpse of a strange creature wandering in the area, then another and another. These creatures looked stupid and innocent to him now. ‘Pretty much how I must have looked’ he mused to himself. But he knew they would inevitably come across the tree, and eat some of its fruit; and he couldn’t let that happen. There was so little of this fruit that he had to keep it all for himself.
At first he was not sure how to repel the intruders. He was aware it should not be too difficult to get rid of them; they were so naÃ¯ve and stupid that it would have been just a matter of time for him to find the weakness lying within every single one of them and the way to wound or even kill them all. But for some reason he didn’t feel like it. Deep down he had the feeling he would hate to see the unfortunate wretches hurt and suffering. He had to find another way.
That was when he came up with the idea of the rumour. The plan formed in his brain as he was looking into the trusting eyes of some ignorant creature that was passing by. He had to talk to it. At first he was not too sure how he would put it, because he had never ever tried to communicate before and he felt his language was quite basic; but as it turned out simple language was actually what he needed. He approached the creature and whispered into his ears. ‘Don’t go nearer’ and as the creature looked up at him, puzzled, he added: ‘You didn’t know? This tree is forbidden. Anyone who would dare venture to take even a bite from one of its fruit would greatly anger The Universe; they would be expelled from this world, and condemned to an eternity of wandering in the wasteland’.
The creature looked at the tree with fright in its eyes and ran away. He was proud of his little ruse. He trusted that the creature would tell the same lie to another and that creature to another and so on and so forth until the lie became a rumour. Rumours travelled very quickly in a world peopled with heedless creatures. And as he was to learn some days later, rumours were also far more effective than any other weapon he might have used. For hundreds of years, nobody would even come near the fruit and he had it all to himself. And for hundreds of years, this suited him admirably.
However, this particular morning, as he was honestly thinking about it, he had to admit that he was starting to feel some undesirable side-effects creeping in. While he felt much more aware and alive, and increasingly full of knowledge, he could also feel a downside, feeling sometimes depressed and frustrated, and, to tell the truth, lonely; something he never experienced before. He had become more particularly aware of this dark shadow the day before, when a creature happened to pass by the tree, now an extremely rare event. To his own surprise he had felt a rush of joy. ‘Maybe I’m just getting bored guarding a tree that does not need guarding anymore’ he remembered muttering to himself. But then he had heard himself saying ‘hello’. The creature had jumped with fright and run away. Where the animal had stood was now an empty space. This was odd. Before he would have delighted in seeing the grass where the simple creature once stood; but all he was able to see then was emptiness.
What was happening to him? He regretted his knowledge. He regretted having ever tasted the fruit. It appeared that knowledge was as much a burden as a gift. Maybe he had to share this burden to make it lighter and more enjoyable. That might be it; he needed some creature like himself conscious and curious of the world to challenge his thoughts and ideas and stimulate his mind. Yes the fruit stimulated him for a while, but only for a while. Now that time had passed and his mind had developed, he needed some real being to take over the challenge. He needed some quick-witted mate to feed his mind and soul.
That’s how he made up his mind. He would share the fruit of his tree, and give life and consciousness to some other being like himself. He would share the burden of thinking and the joy of seeking, the mulling on the past, the projecting into the future, experiencing the highs of happiness and the lows of sadness. He couldn’t keep the whole experience for himself anymore. He would offer the fruit freely, and by this gesture he would make a gift to himself as well.
As his decision had just become definite, two creatures happened to be passing by. They were long and slim like himself, though they were quite different in the way they moved. He observed them for a while. They were very dull indeed; not a spark of intelligence in their eyes; nor did they have any grace or beauty in their movements. He recognised them as belonging to the human species; man and woman. Exactly the kind of worthless creatures he needed to accomplish the transformation he had planned; to make it complete.
“How are you?” he whispered. They came nearer. “Hello” the woman said, “what do you want?”
“Nothing, I just feel a bit lonely and I would very much like to share this meal with you” he said. And he presented them with an enormous shiny fruit.
Both backed away slightly, obviously just realising where they had ventured. “But everybody knows we can’t eat any fruit from that tree” the woman said. “She’s right, we’ve been told we can eat any fruit from any trees, except that one” the man added. “Horrible things would happen and we would be expelled for ever” he continued fearfully and in all sincerity.
“If I were you I would not worry about that” was the reply he gave. “That is just a story which holds no water at all” he continued. “The universe just didn’t want you to eat that fruit to keep all its power for itself. Because if you eat that fruit you’ll be given the greatest of gifts, the gift of consciousness and knowledge that goes with it”. “What’s that?” asked the man. “You’ll be wise” he replied. “…”. “I know you can’t imagine what it is just now, but trust me, you won’t regret it. That’s all I can say”, he concluded.
They looked greatly puzzled and gazed into each other’s eyes in silence. They obviously could not make head or tail of what they had just been told. He waited, trying his best to look cheerful and welcoming. The woman was the first to break the gaze. The words he had just uttered seemed to have found their way into her clouded thoughts. Her eyes wandered to the tree and he couldn’t help notice in her eyes the greed he had once experienced himself. She took the fruit, smelled it, and at last took a big crunchy bite. She then presented it to the man. The man grabbed the fruit quickly, put it to his mouth, hesitated a few seconds, and in turn took a bite.
He held his breath. Was it going to work on them as it had on him? He was not so sure now. The expression on the woman’s face suddenly became graver. Her eyes widened. “Where am I” she said. In turn the man started to look around. They now both looked in awe and were glowing with a newfound radiance. He was thrilled. He was certain it was working. But then something else happened. The expression on their face abruptly changed from astonishment and joyful wonder to sudden fear. They stared at themselves and blushed. It was as if they felt embarrassed at the way they looked. The fear in their eyes was then replaced by terror. The woman started to shout: “Why did you eat the fruit; I told you He would get us. I told you He would make us weak and defenceless, before expelling us; I told you He would make our lives miserable!” Her face was now red with rage.
Her fear and anger instantly spread to the man. “It’s your fault” he retorted, “you gave it to me to eat. I just did what you wanted me to do. It’s your fault if He gets us, throws us out into the wasteland and leave us vulnerable and miserable for the rest of our days!”.
He was watching them from the tree. They were busy arguing and fighting. Obviously they had forgotten he was here. He was feeling sad and disappointed. This was not at all what he had expected. What went wrong? He could not make any sense of what he had just witnessed. But then he started to understand. Fear. Fear, that’s how it all went wrong. They were not prepared like he had been. They had all these false beliefs, instilled in their heads. The fruit of the rumour he had spread all those years ago. It was his own fault. His heart was broken. Obviously the gift of consciousness was not something that could be so easily given. For some reason, once shared between two distinct beings, it did not seem to be handled as easily as ignorance and bliss.
He realised his mistake. He should never have shared the fruit. Loneliness was his fate. He had no choice now. He could not take the risk of becoming one of them. He had to leave them to their own destiny, let it unfold despite all the distress and misery it was bound to generate. He could not undo what he had done. And he could not afford to have anything to do with them anymore.
He made himself long and smooth and blended his skin to the colour of the ground so as to become as invisible as possible – hoping beyond hope that no-one would ever notice, let alone grab hold of him; and silently, he glided away.