THE GIFT OF FIRE
Their sheets were silk like mine were linen. Their mattress soft like mine was hard. They had room for two but I had only one. Theirs was the blue quilt all sharp and ironed and clean. All fluffed up like it was green hills that at any moment the yellow sun would rise over. Not a flat grey sheet that breathed in the frost except where dust and paper gathered, like a deserted street blown away by a harsh wind.
It had begun when I least expected it. Snug in the City of Cardboard that stretched for miles, I was made homeless. The Officials came to take your box away and never said why. I wandered up and down the grey streets and looked through cardboard windows and watched families enjoy their food, while the biting wind whipped around my body. Meals of honeycomb and ale, while mine was any insect crawling the streets. Soft cushions to· sit on, while my arse bruised against concrete. The stippled concrete stretched for miles. I had grown up on its surface. Lingering scabs on my flesh. My friends used to compete as to who could have the worst. I’d never been outside the ci ty. I always had a cardboard box. But since the Officals came even my best friends didn’t want to know. They said ‘You’ve no box. It makes you a Traveller. We don’t talk to Travellers. was always said that when you became a Traveller you could see what boxfolk had.
My feet were all I had left, so I walked. All I could see were rows and rows of cardboard boxes. And when I looked up I saw the endless grey that legends told to me as a child was as solid and unforgiving as the ground.
As I walked and walked and walked my cardboard shoes tore to shreds. My eyes became heavy. My limbs even heavier. And still there were more boxes to pass. I thought about what they had done to me.
As I walked and walked I got hungrier. I began to fall and my scabs took longer to heal. Still there were more boxes to pass. I decided to take my revenge.
And I walked till I began to see honeycomb and ale on little tables with a family beckoning for me to sit and eat with them. Till I began to see my own box every time I passed cardboard. And suddenly there was all this whiteness about me. It made me feel warm and blinded.
A figure came out of the Whiteness. It said ‘I am a Traveller too ..’ and I no longer felt alone. The Traveller took me to one side and said:
You have come home. Your eyes will get used to the blue sky and the green grass. Here eat this bread. Here drink this milk. And I no longer felt heavy. The whiteness resolved itself into the blue above and the green below. I saw how the fire kept the Traveller warm and how it hurt when you put your hand in it. The Traveller said’ Stay. ‘
But I had got used to walking. When my feet had healed, my stomach was full, and I had enough of company I walked and walked and walked because there is no home for a Traveller: I will take this fire that burns as a gift to my boxfolk. They have treated me so well.
THE GIFT OF FIRE