The war grew nearer. Rebels were said to be massing along the other side of the river - hiding in the rice fields waiting to launch their attack on the City. The backpackers and their fellow travellers began to desert the hotel and take to the ferries going down river. The police seemed more jittery than ever. Now they harassed everyone they could stop except the big dark-windowed limousines that might contain important people or high-ranking officers. But the cyclo drivers and motorcycle riders were constantly stopped and had to pay on- the-spot fines. Then the police started asking to see identity cards (which none of the street people possessed) and demanding money when they couldn’t produce them.

Just checking? 

          Some people continued about their business apparently unconcerned. Each day the boy had been watching a man building a simple two room house. Are you building a shop?” asked the boy. I am building the house of Life and Death.” replied the builder rather sadly. and invited the boy to come and see. One room was already completed and furnished, the othcr room was empty and half-built. “That is death?’ asked the boy, pointing to the empty room.

The builder shook his head gloomily. “The room full of my useless possessions is death. The empty room is life.”

“I don’t understand,” said the boy.

“Just look around,” said the man. “Everywhere you look one is persuaded to fill one’s life with junk. One can cook just as well on three stones, but no, one must have a cooker. And it’s not just material rubbish - the movies and magazines all make us believe our life is empty unless we fill it with romance and greed, lust and intrigue.”

Property rights 

“We are so convinced by this propaganda that a life without such things seems an empty and lonely prospect. And because we clutter our life with such rubbish, death, which means the end of all those silly things, seems so negative and frightening. So we acquire more and more to help us pretend we are more secure.” He chuckled. “It is like sand bags against a flood. However much we try to stop it, death will burst through in the end.”

“Look at this room with all its trappings - many of them represent things you cannot recognise - but I do. They symbolise all the worst aspects of my life: cravings and desires, and self-importance. Although I keep meaning to throw them all out I never do.” “So why don’t you just move into the other room? There can’t be any memories for you there.”

“I have tried,” the man sighed. “I have even tried locking the room of death and throwing away the key. But after a while my craving to go back, just for a glimpse, was too powerful to be endured and I broke the door down to get in.”  

I wish… 

“Then couldn’t you make the life room more comfortable?” suggested the boy. The builder nodded, “Of course I could. Yes, indeed! I know exactly what I would put in it - I would fill it with kindness, self control, patience, compassion, generosity, joy

-“ he stopped, close to tears. “Only where can I obtain such things? I am like someone who wants to make music so much he buys the instrument, only to discover he cannot buy the skill to play . If only there was a shop - an ‘Emporium of the Soul.’”

“I have often imagined just such a shop.” He closed his eyes and pressed his hands excitedly together. “When the door opens an old-fashioned bell tinkles and a little old lady, her hair primly in a bun and spectacles perched on the tip of her nose, comes in from the back. The dusty shelves are lined with jars labelled with everything the soul needs to be healthy.”

Come on in… 

“The little old lady measures out the amount of each you want - a little of this, a little of that.” He made a deep sigh and his eyes opened. “But there is no shop - not even at the temple. Such things you have to make yourself and I am a poor craftsman.”

“When I try to make them they fall to pieces at the first tremble of my real nature, the first murmur of impatience, the first snort of indignation - and all my best intentions vanish and the room is bare and empty as before.”

As the boy left the builder was shaking his head over the house he could never complete.  

I just…? 

That night the boy had the strangest dream. There in front of him stood an old-fashioned shop named ‘Emporium of the Soul’ and the door opened with a jingling bell and a little old lady with spectacles and hair in a bun came forward to serve him. “Do you have a bar of soap?’ asked the boy. “My body is so dirty.”

“No, no,” the old lady shook her head. “This is not a shop for the body. Here you will find everything you need to satisfy your soul.”

“But I can’t see my soul,” argued the boy.

The old lady suddenly transformed into the Black Swan, “But your soul can see you,” said the Black Swan. “And perhaps it is sad when you neglect it.”

When is it?



Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9