Walking with Him Day One.
The beautiful vase in the marketplace was still on my mind. Her perfection, the way any flower would look even more attractive with her, the crowd adoring her. My heart yearned for those.
She was once like me. A pot with no name. A pot with nothing but.. well, a beggar, and that’s not something to be proud about.
The Potter’s Son said that the secret of the beautiful vase is that she walked with Him. And so I decided to follow His steps, believing that this journey would lead me to the significance that I’m longing for.
Step one, He said, is to carry the beggar and follow Him. But how was I supposed to do that, when I don’t even have arms?
“Once, I settled in a town called Kreempaf, where the best pastry chefs in the land resided.”
“Does living there mean you are a pastry chef too?”I asked the Potter’s Son. “Is there anything you’re not?”
He lifted me to His face and smiled. “My friend, I AM who I AM.” And I honestly did not understand what He meant, but well, sometimes it helps not to ask so many questions.
“So aside from the best pastry chefs, what else is in Kreempaf?”
“There, I met a good friend. Carleo.” He said. The beggar, who was walking ahead of us turned left and we followed. We entered a narrow desolate street.
“Carleo was one of my best students and must I say, also my favourite.”
“But a teacher is not allowed to have favourites!” I said, indignant.
“Well, dear little pot, you must remember that I am no ordinary teacher. I am fond of having favourites. In fact, every student of mine, is my favourite.” He smiled, and I let him continue with His story.
“See, Carleo’s colleagues excelled in their craft by absorbing lectures and continuous practice, but his was pure talent. A natural ability, like it was the very reason for his existence.”
“Wow,” I exclaimed. “I wonder what my reason for existence is…”
“Believe me when I say you have a story of your own.” He answered. “But for now, I want you to learn about Carleo.”
He gave a meaningful look at the beggar and I followed his stare. The man bent down to pick a piece of dusty wood from the ground. He blew the dust off and wiped what remained with his greasy hand, and with trembling fingers he traced the wood’s surface. There seemed to be an inscription, but I could not read it from where I was.
The beggar’s lips twitched into what I thought was a smile, but with all the dirt on his face, I could be wrong. Clutching the wood in his hand, he continued to walk deeper into the street.
“Ah.. I can still smell it,” said the Potter’s Son as we followed the beggar.
“Smell what, sir?”
“The sweet aroma. The fragrance of flour mixed with sugar. The smell of a freshly baked chiffon,” he told me, his eyes closed.
“I can only smell burnt wood, sir.” I said. And it was true. The street was an endless line of burnt houses. I could only imagine the terror in the people’s eyes when the great fire came and devoured their homes. “What’s this place?”
“This, is Kreempaf. Or what’s left of it.” He answered.
“Sir, do I really have to sift everything in this barrel?” Carleo asked his Teacher.
“You should, if you still want to know my secret.”
“But it will take me weeks!”
“Then just quit, Carleo,” the Teacher told him, amused.
Carleo paused to think. “No Sir, I will not.”
With regained enthusiasm Carleo followed the Teacher’s order.
“What do you think of Mara, Sir?” He asked the teacher, blushing as his eyes were fixed on the flour he was sifting.
“Ah.. quite a beauty isn’t she?”
Carleo blushed harder. “That’s not what I mean, Sir. Do you think she’ll be alright?”
The Teacher moved beside him and helped him sift. “Hearts are fragile, Carleo. You don’t have to deliberately crush it to break it. Most of the time it breaks without your consent. Mara is a strong girl. She’ll get through.”
“Do you think I can help her? Get through?”
The teacher tapped Carleo’s shoulder with his floured hand. “Everyone needs a friend, my friend.”
And Carleo was left deep in thought.
With the beggar leading us, we went inside a burnt structure that seemed like a school. It was made of concrete so it somehow withstood the fire that destroyed the place and its inhabitants. The books in the shelves, however, were not preserved, as with the desks and other facilities.
“Is this the place where you trained Carleo?” I asked.
“Indeed,” he answered. “He was a very determined student. His passion for learning far exceeded his peers’,“ He said with a hint of pride in His voice. “Do you know what fueled his passion, dear pot?”
“What was it, Sir?”
He looked at the beggar once again and said “Love.”
One afternoon after class, Carleo approached his Teacher, hesitation evident in his strides.
“Anything unclear with the lecture, Carleo?” asked the Teacher, eyeing him curiously.
Carleo took a deep breath, eyes not meeting the Man in front of him. “It’s not the lecture Sir, this is about..about..ab-“ he sighed, finding it hard to voice his thoughts.
The Teacher, after packing His things, tapped his shoulder and led him to the school kitchen. “It’s alright Carleo, you can tell Me anything. I’ll listen.”
“I know, Sir.” Carleo whispered as they entered the kitchen. “It’s just that, this topic is so hard to discuss.”
“Then how about discussing it while enjoying this freshly baked pizza?” The Teacher offered, and Carleo took a slice. And as if working its magic, Carleo started to open up.
“It’s about Mara, Sir. I – I’m in love with her.” He swallowed the slice whole as if doing it would hide the blush on his face.
The Teacher smiled. “I thought you said you were just friends.”
“Yes we are, and my feelings will not change that Sir, it’s just that her loneliness and sadness drew me closer to her… And upon learning of her sadness, I realized my own loneliness. And now I can’t stop thinking of her, like I want her by my side everyday…”
“Love is not something to be ashamed of, Carleo.”
“I know Sir, it’s just… well I thought she felt the same way.” A bead of tear fell from his eye as he was looking at the floor, hands gripping his knees.
“She doesn’t?” The teacher asked, just watching him.
“She’s still in love with him, Sir”
“How did you know?”
“She told me.. seconds after my confession.”
“Who is the other man, Sir?” I asked, absorbed in the Potter’s Son’s story, while we entered what was left of the school kitchen. The beggar was already there, eyes travelling entire room, perhaps looking for something valuable to keep.
“The other man was the reason Mara was hurt. See, he left her for his dreams, and Carleo was there to pick up the pieces.”
“How come she still loves that man?”
“Some matters of the heart cannot be answered objectively my dear pot,” was His response.
“So, what happened to Carleo after that?”
There was silence. The Teacher’s eyes were fixed on the beggar once again, and I followed his stare.
Something clicked and I realized that the beggar was able to open a huge old-fashioned vault. I thought I’d see some of the school funds hidden inside, but I was wrong. The dirt on the beggar’s face was washed by the tears from his eyes as one by one, he released the things that the vault was able to protect from the fire– baking ingredients, equipments, and surprisingly, an oven.
He placed a white toque that he found in the vault on his head, and like a natural, he assembled the ingredients and equipments on the remains of the kitchen table. He measured a certain amount of flour and began sifting…
“Carleo! Carleo! Are you there?” Carleo could hear the loud voice of his Teacher against the thick smoke and the frightening sound of the great fire as it devoured the entire city. But Carleo did not respond. He did not want to be found. It was because of his carelessness that the city was burning. He would just let the fire punish him. There was no point in living anymore. Mara was gone.
“I can’t love you back.” Her words kept ringing in his head.
He closed his eyes, his chest heavy and pained as it breathed in smoke. He waited for the fire to take him.
“CARLEO!” was the last thing he heard before blackness engulfed him.
“Is this Carleo?” My question was a whisper, as I watch the beggar wait patiently for the oven to say that his masterpiece was done.
“Yes,” the Teacher replied. “I’m glad you two have met.”
The oven clicked and the beggar, I mean Carleo, jumped with excitement and opened it. With elegance I’ve never seen before, he cut a slice of his masterpiece and slowly walked towards us and offered it to the Teacher with pleading eyes, as if begging Him to accept.
I watched them with an emotion I can’t place.
The beggar’s offering was of dirt, sweat, and tears… Still, the Potter’s Son took it, looking at the masterpiece lovingly as if it was the most beautiful thing He’s ever seen.
“No matter how you felt, and what you’ve done, you still are My Carleo.” He said.