The Old Man And His Children

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The greatest trick the devil plays on man is to make him believe he is free.

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Far away in the hills, there lived this big, proud old man, with his wife and many young children. This man was larger than life, extremely generous and caring to his dependants, but at times he could be cruel and tyrannical. Consequently his children would flee when rage filled him and his wife would weep when anger swelled in his eyes. This old man led his family the way he saw fit, and for many a year lived like a king of his own little world.

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His kingdom was the land which lay around his cabin, where he grew some vegetables and survived on some livestock that he kept. As a family they were fairly poor, and their methods of living were crude, but they hardly ever starved, and such was their country and land, that rain was never scarce and their limited land and animals hitherto dependable.

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The old man had links with another family, who dwelled in this vast landscape of rolling hills, forests, glens, lakes and meadows. His closest neighbours were the distance of a few days of walking and they were rather different. The children, being slightly older than his, were harder to control and demanded their say in how things were run around place. The old man had realised that the children of this household had stood up to the tyranny of their father and now they and their mother held sway over the household. This factor did not please the old man, for he wished that his own family did not come into contact with the outside world. But the old man depended on this neighbour. They liked his vegetables, which did not grow in their fields, and their hay and grass was particularly appetising for his animals. The grass and hay in his field was not as copious or healthy. This was why the old man had to make regular trips, swapping his goods for their goods, eventually becoming a close ally of the father and a friend to his children. Deep down, he knew that as his own children grew, his power would slowly slip away just like his neighbour. Still he made a point of not allowing his family to accompany him on any of his trips.

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An added problem in time for both families was their aging resources. The  old man and his neighbour faced some difficult times. With dwindling livestock, and without a sign of growth, they went in search of other families, who they surmised lived far to the south, so that they could make links and try to offer them vegetables and hay in return for goods.

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To their amazement, after many days travelling, they found another family, who had darker skin and who possessed land rich with fruits and animals they had never seen. This new family was amazed to see these two old and strong white fellows, with their amazing vegetables and hay, with their charming voices and authoritarian air.  So the old man and his neighbour started trading supplies with them, thereafter, taking the long trips out there from time to time, swapping their vegetables and hay for their exotic fruits and animals.

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Until one day, the two neighbours had a wicked idea. They had gained the trust of the head of this family, who led his tribe much like the old man and his neighbour. Moreover, the wife and children also trusted the new men well. Knowing this, the old man conjectured to his neighbour,  that if he taught the wife and the children to stand up to their father secretly, he could use it to his own advantage. Their father would surely come to him for help, as the darker man had become attached to the old man and his friend.

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And this is exactly what occurred.  After some clever and cunning words to the rest of the family, the old man and his neighbour saw the dark-skinned father coming to them and sharing his problems. And behind his back, the old man promised the wife and children that he would convince their father to give them more respect and freedom in return for good treatment. Admist all his manipulations, the old man had also made them believe how much they all needed his vegetables and his neighbour’s hay. They all trusted the old man so much, that they even gave more of their fruits and animals in trade for the few the vegetables and hay they brought on each trip. A time came, when the dark-skinned children and their parents now depended on the old man for survival, because they had granted him authority and rights over their fruits.

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Time passed. The old man’s family was growing older in age, more aware of their own strength, but completely unaware of their father’s exploit beyond the hills. The old man fumed because now he had made his house bigger with the goods he had attained from the dark-skinned ones, and ensured there was plenty of food and supplies for his wife and children. Despite his excellent providence, he knew his children would eventually grow older and overcome his power. He hated the thought of losing his way.

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So he had another plan. To ensure his power would always reign, even without his dependants realising. He made a pact with the fathers all around the area, who he and his neighbour had discovered through time, to share in his secret, for they all faced the same dilemmas, of their children growing up and their wives losing their fear. The old man made trips around all these houses, spellbinding the growing children with his stories of far and dangerous places, instilling confidence that they one day would rule like their fathers, but also making them fear what was outside with his magical presentations. They believed him and hung on his every word. Likewise, he hired his own neighbour to enter his own domain, and make friendships with his own wife and children, and in a similar way, charm them with stories of power and fearful places.

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Eventually, the wives and the growing children were certain of two things: that one day, they would have more power to decide their own fates, and also, the world was a fearful place, which was treacherous to travel and explore.

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Time moved on. The old man and his neighbour found more dark-skinned families to exploit, which made him and his neighbours richer. His children continued to grow, until one day, they rose forth, full of power and strength, announcing that their father would no longer rule the household, but they would, and any decision they made would be made fairly and through consultation. No more biased, one-sided decisions from their father. It was a sensational moment in their lives. The adrenalin rush of freedom intoxicated them. And at this moment, they all looked on at the sad face of their father, who now saw his own children following the trend of all the other children around them. The old world was dead.

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But now a new order had begun. The children felt proud and free, that they now ruled their own lands, and they held sway over their rich and well-resourced home. Instead of their father ordering them around to do the chores, and get supplies, now they all did it themselves, and they promoted their mother to the status of a queen, while their father had the role of the retired leader who now had to blend into their shadows.

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But, amazingly, they did not stop their father from his little trips beyond the hills. And likewise, the other children from all the other households allowed their own fathers on their trips abroad. They had no desire to find out what lie  beyond their world. So engrossed had they become with the power they held in their hands, that they had no care or concern about the others houses and what was going on there. They still knew nothing of the fact the very riches and prosperity they now ruled over, had been gained by their father’s exploitation of the dark-skinned families down south.

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Fear and hate began to rise. The dark-skinned children grew to hate the old man and his neighbour, and no longer liked their visits but resented them. They had become poor and weak. They had heard of the riches of the pale skinned children far to the north and how the dark-skinned families around had become impoverished. Bitterness grew in these children. Anger. They had been duped. Their own parents were powerless to act. So the children decided to embark on a reign of terror.

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After much trouble and pain, the dark-skinned children found the household of the old man, and began to break its windows and kill their animals, which had once been theirs. The children of the old man, horrified, disgusted, charged out with their pitch forks, fighting off the dark-skinned children, cursing them. They had never spoken to these children before only heard of their barbarism from their father, and decided very quickly that they were evil and a threat to their way of life. So they attacked these foreigners in order to protect their own land and resources. The dark-skinned children were filled with so much hate, that they did not want to speak to the white children to reveal the reason they had become so wretched. They thought these children were the cause of their own suffering. Defeated and dejected the hapless children fled in ignominy.

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As these events unfolded, the old man and his neighbour sat back, smiling at the outcome. And as time elapsed, they watched their children, now growing older, holding their regular meetings where everyone had a say about what was to be done. And they chuckled at the way the children all had to put a cross on a piece of wood and place it in a box, which was then counted, and the person with the most crosses would become the leader, or his or her idea would be followed.

“Do you see how wonderful it is to be free!” One of the children said: “We are masters of our own destiny!”

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But the old man’s two eldest children, a boy and girl, held back and watched the proceedings with an air of shock and sickness. They had followed their father, despite the dangers, to the other houses, to the houses in the south and they had seen what was there. The conspiracy, the poverty, the dependence and the debts the dark-skinned ones owed to their father. And to their horror, the children had realised, that all the comfort and convenience that there was in their own house, had been built upon the exploitation of the other families down south. They suddenly realized why the dark-skinned kids hated them so much. They also realised how the families of the south still depended on them for subsistence. It angered and chilled them both, down to the very marrow in their bones. But the horrifying thing was, there was nothing they could do about it, and in reality, despite the good system they had set up in the home, the voting, the cooperation, they were not really free. They had been duped by their old father.

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After much soul-searching, the two eldest settled with this: they decided to live with the guilt and make the best of their lives as much as they could. For ignoring was better than facing up to the truth. The only thing they would do to help the dark-skinned ones was spare some goods each month, and offer them as charity once they were sure the dark-skinned ones would not attack them anymore.

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The old man watched his children, playing around and shouting orders, while smoking his pipe, filled with tobacco from the dark-skinned ones, which could not possibly grow on his fields. His smile was wide, for he knew, when he would eventually kick the bucket, there would be two more people to inherit his amazing charade.

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And this is what he told his two eldest children, when they returned home that first time from the dark lands, forlorn and knowing the truth: “The greatest lie that the devil plays on mankind is to make him believe he is free.”

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About Novid Shaid

I am a Muslim writer and English teacher. I have written poetry, short stories, a play, and I am currently working on a novella. My subject matter and themes are related to Islam, Sufism, politics and also my job as a secondary school teacher. My work is copyrighted and any works published here may not used or copied without my prior consent. You can contact me via the "Contact Me" page, if you wish to use any these writings. I am keen to gain the notice of publishers and if any are interested in my writings, please contact me via the "Contact Me" page. Was salaam, Peace

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