The toymaker straightened his back as the bell above his door jingled. He looked back to see Nico and Alexander run in. They were such rambunctious boys, full of energy and life. He loved them as he loved his own children and grandchildren. The little boys came into his shop daily without fail and he was always grateful for the company.
On their part, the boys were always awed whenever they walked into the toymaker’s shop. It was a place of such wonder. He was called the toymaker by the townsmen, but he was so much more. He was father, grandfather, friend and accomplice. The boys couldn’t imagine life without the toymaker.
The boys made their way to the back of the shop where they knew their friend would be waiting. They walked slowly, marveling at the creations of the toymaker. They had no idea what half of the things did. They just enjoyed looking at them.
“Is that my little Alexander and my little Nico?” Said that infinitely friendly voice.
“Yes, toymaker.” The boys chorused sweetly. The old man gave them a wide smile and ruffled their hair one by one. The boys basked in the attention of the dear old man. He looked old, but he also seemed young. He had a boundless energy about him that belied his supposed age. No one seemed to remember the town without the toymaker. His shop had always been there, generation after generation.
“Tell us a story, toymaker” Nico asked sweetly.
“Yes! Yes!” Chimed Alexander. The old man squinted and looked at the two bright eyed boys. Then he appeared thoughtful.
“Ah, what story can an old man conjure up today?” He said. “Have I told you the story of the whale that swallowed a man?”
“Yes, we know that one already.” Smiled Nico. The old man looked thoughtful again.
“How about the one of the man who fought off a thousand men with a bone?”
Alexander giggled. “We know that one too!”
“Ah! Then the old man is left without stories, I’m afraid.”
The boys smiled, he always did this; tease them, then educate them. That’s why they came all the time.
“Teach us something new, toymaker.” Said Nico. The old man looked at them with his smiling blue eyes that seemed to pierce their very soul.
“Very well, I’ll show you something.” The old man made his way to a strange looking device. It looked like a telescope on a tripod. He set it up and turned a knob at the top. Suddenly, the air in in front of the telescope (for that’s all we can call it now) shimmered. The boys were startled and looked up apprehensively at the toymaker.
The old man just smiled at them and said, “Not to worry boys. It won’t harm you. It is just a window.”
The shimmering air expanded and suddenly it turned misty. The mist cleared slowly and suddenly it seemed that the boys were looking through a window. A large window it was, and it was a window like no other. It provided various view points from which they saw the scene before them. Then the boys looked back and noticed the toymaker making gestures in the air like he was controlling a camera and with each gesture, the scene before them adjusted. He smiled at them and lowered himself to the ground. They did the same, sitting on either side of him and paying attention to the makeshift screen.
The scene before them was of a church. There was burial in progress, a priest was speaking and there were a lot of people in the church. They all seemed to be mourning.
“Who died, toymaker?” Alexander asked.
The toymaker answered, “A great man by their standards. He was helpful and had a great many friends. He is being eulogized at this moment.” The toymaker made some more gestures giving the boys a view of the front row where the man’s widow sat with 3 conspicuous places empty, the boys also noticed that at the back of the church sat some people huddled together.
“I wonder what they’re saying.” said Nico. The toymaker in response, twisted his hand in a quick flick and suddenly what the people said could be heard.
“I’m happy he’s dead.” Said one.
“He was a useless man.” Said another.
“Thank goodness the bastard is dead, @#!$ bastard!”
The little boys were shocked at this. They could hear a mourner speaking from the podium saying, “He was so kind, so full of life. We didn’t always get along, but he was a man who deserved respect.”
Suddenly, the scene disappeared before them and they were staring into nothingness.
“Well boys, what did you think of that?” asked the toymaker.
“I think the people at the back were wicked, heartless and don’t deserve happiness.” Fumed Nico
“Nico!” said an astounded Alexander.
“He’s allowed an opinion, Alex.” Said the toymaker “What about you? What are your thoughts?” Alexander was thoughtful for a moment, then he said;
“I agree with Nico. Just not with his expression.” The toymaker smiled and said.
“Did you know the man personally?” Both boys shook their heads.
“But everyone seemed to love him, apart from those at the back.” Nico retorted.
“Did you notice the empty spaces beside his wife?” The boys nodded.
“That was for his children.” Said the toymaker. “Why won’t they come for their own father’s burial?” The children didn’t answer but the toymaker could make out what they were thinking.
“Do you know if he’ll make it to the candy land that has been promised after death or the wilderness?” Probed the old man. The children didn’t answer this either, but there was doubt etched in their faces.
“What if I told you the man was a horrible father, an alcoholic, a wife beater and in some cases a swindler?” The boys looked at the toymaker in shock.
“But no one should gloat over death no matter the individual. He must have been nice to some people, or else no one would have showed up to his funeral.” Ventured Nico timidly.
The toymaker clapped his hands together, eyes twinkling which startled the poor boys.
“Excellent point, Nico!” exclaimed the old man. He smiled at the boy and Nico gave a weak smile back.
“Now take a look at this.” With another flick of his hand, the misty air cleared again and they were privy to another scene. It was also a burial, but this one had just the priest and a handful of people in attendance. It looked like the burial for a powerful man. The man lay in his coffin in elegance and grace even in death. Two mourners in particular seemed to be crying hysterically.
“What’s going on here, toymaker?” Asked Alexander.
“It is another burial, but this man was hated by everyone and was oppressive in all his dealings.”
“Where’s everyone?” asked Nico.
The toymaker flicked his wrist and an impromptu looking concert seemed to be in full swing. People were clearly celebrating the death of the dead man they had just seen.
“They must have really hated him.” commented Alexander.
“Is what they’re doing right, Alex?” Asked the toymaker.
Nico cut in, “If everyone’s celebrating, then he must have really been a horrible man.”
The toymaker nodded. “You noticed the two mourners who cried hardest?”
The boys nodded.
“They were orphans taken in and cared for by the cruel man. They loved him like a father and he in turn was always there for them.” The boys were stunned.
The toymaker returned the makeshift screen into its original state of nothingness and turned to the boys.
“What differentiates the men?”
Nico piped up. “One was loved and the other hated.” The toymaker nodded
“Would they go to candy land or the wilderness?”
Alexander answered this one. “We can’t say, we don’t know their hearts.” The toymaker nodded again.
“What unites them?”
The boys mulled over this one for a bit. Nico eventually spoke. “Death.” He said it with a new understanding in his eyes. The toymaker’s eyes twinkled.
“Ah! Death. Right you are Nico. They are both dead. It unites them and makes them the same.” Alexander still looked a bit lost.
“Nico?” He asked.
Nico turned to him and said, “Alexander, don’t you see? They were both imperfect, whether by a large margin and a small one, and as bad as it was, they still had people who either cared for them fiercely or hated them. But in both scenarios, the people with hate in their hearts were the foolish ones because death makes us all the same. Big or small, kind or evil, loved or hated.”
The toymaker beamed at Nico. “I’m so proud of you.” Nico smiled back
“So, what can you take from this?”
Alexander answered slowly, like he was just getting the hang of it. “Death is not a happy occasion, whether we love or hate the person, we must understand the significance of death.” The toymaker smiled.
“Even when men kill their enemies in war, most of them understand what has been done. When they cheer, they cheer the victory to their land, not the death of another. Death is a solemn affair, not to be trifled with. Because my boys, death is the end of a journey and the beginning of another.” With that, the toymaker lifted himself up and smiled at the boys again.
The boys left the toymaker’s shop without saying a word. An important lesson had just been learned.