For Nan, who is possibly the best mum out there, up with my own gorgeous lovely mum.
There was once a large-hearted lady who had a wonderful big family complete with a farting dog. Each day as they sat around the table for breakfast, she would put in a prayer for all her little ones, her husband and her dog.
But most of all, she would pray for her little boy with hair that shone like the Sun when it’s about to burst forth on a brand new day. Bright flaming red.
Like for any mother, each of her babies was special in their own way. But among them all, it was the little boy with flaming hair who has that unpin-able something that made everybody think to themselves – there’s something about him, I wonder what… Which is not to say that he wasn’t a normal little boy. He was very like all the other children. He laughed and he played and he didn’t do his homework sometimes.
But he also had a special little corner in his heart that seemed to wait for something. He didn’t himself understand what it was. Sometimes he would catch a glimpse of it in a book, or hear it in the refrain of a song or feel it well up in a poem that he needed to write. But he could never quite tell what it was.
Perhaps it was a piece of the flaming morning Sun.
So he spent a lot of his time staring up at the sky, looking for an answer. Then one day, as he was squinting at the setting Sun, sitting by himself as usual, he saw a bent old man approach him framed against the distant ruby horizon like a ragged raven descended from the twilight sky. He watched on mesmerized as the bent old man made his way to where he sat.
The old man spoke in a faint distant voice, “I know what you’re looking for little one, and I can take you to it.”
The little boy was startled. The old man pulled out a little vial from his robe and held it out to the little boy with feeble hands.
“But to get there, you must drink this. It’s a magic potion I made myself.”
The little boy reached out and gingerly took a sip from the vial. Just as soon as he touched it to his tongue, something strange and wonderful happened. With that one taste the little boy was transported across oceans and mountains, beyond the bright blue sky into a dark pool spotted with luminous globes, past moons so large they could swallow the sky. Deeper and deeper, further and further yet closer to what he sought till he was finally in the center of a flaming orb of glowing warm red.
Just as the little boy was about to settle into the warmth of the orb, he was rudely pulled out of it. And when he opened his eyes, he found himself looking into the eyes of the old man. There was something unsettling about those eyes as they laughed at him. When the little boy tried to lift his head, he felt something pulling him down. His bones seemed drenched through with a weariness that belonged to lifetimes and years that he had never known.
When he finally did manage to sit up, he noticed that the old man suddenly seemed stronger and less bent.
Then the old man who was bent no more, spoke in a loud and clear voice, “I could take you there forever little one, but for that you must come back and drink some more…”
Before the little boy could say anything, the old man disappeared into the setting darkness.
That evening everybody noticed that the little boy was quieter than usual. When his mother tucked him in that night, she thought he looked a little worn. His hair though, she later remarked to her husband, shone brighter than ever as it framed his pale face. But it was only when she leaned over to kiss his forehead that she discovered with alarm that his face was covered with the faintest lines, somewhat like a fine blueprint of wrinkles.
She couldn’t believe her eyes and she shook him awake to tell her where he had been that day.
Wearily, the little boy told her the story of the old man and the magic potion. He told her about the magical journey he had been on. The beautiful colours and planets and stars that he had seen. And when he came to the last bit of his story about the flaming orb, she saw the sparkle in his eyes collect in pools that rolled off his cheeks in two big tear drops.
At that moment she felt something stab her heart and she cried out, “Promise me that you will never ever touch that potion again. Promise me that you will never go back there. Promise me!”
She took his hand in hers and held it to her heart, as she waited for him to speak. After several moments he whispered a feeble yes.
The little boy loved his mother dearly, and he really wouldn’t ever do anything to hurt her. But sometimes, when something beckons the very core of who and what you are, it isn’t easy to pull away from it even if it means hurting yourself and the ones you love most dearly. And so… soon after when he was a little stronger, he dragged his feet to the door while his mother lay sleeping on the couch outside. As he crept out, he gave his sleeping mother a loving look that said both how much he loved her, and how sorry he was for letting her down. He paused a long moment, wavering between wanting to hug her, wondering if she’d wake up and hold him back; and walking away quietly… then finally, he blew her a kiss and stole away into the evening.
He slowly made his way to the same place he had last seen the old man, and sat there calmly as he gazed up at the setting globe of fire.
Not long after, he beheld the striking stride of a dark creature silhouetted against the auburn sky. It was the same man he had met not long ago, and yet he was different. Much younger, much stronger, and a lot less human.
“How very nice to see you little one!” said the man-creature with a flicker of his eyes and an unpleasant gash of a smile. “Somehow I knew you would come!”
He ruffled the little boy’s shimmering hair like a greedy merchant caressing a bag of gold. Then suddenly and reluctantly, as if he had just remembered something, he pulled away his claw like hand and reached into his robe. This time he pulled out a big heavy flask.
“Drink this little one, and you will be free forever. But you must drink it all at once before the Sun goes down, else the spell might not work. Hurry, we don’t have much time.”
The little boy took the flask in his hands. As he unscrewed the cap, he noticed the man getting impatient and excited.
He held it for a fleeting moment, as he thought of his family at home. His brothers, his sister, his father, Baron the farting dog and finally, his lovely mother. And then he thought of his mother’s eyes pleading with him to come home…
“Oh do hurry little boy, or you’ll lose your chance forever!”
The man-creature's raspy voice broke into his thoughts. There was something about the voice that made the little boy obey.
He put the flask to his lips and at a go he drained every bit of the fiery liquid.
Immediately the little boy with the flaming crown crumbled to the ground and darkness swept over his eyes. As he felt every drop of consciousness drain away, he heard loud booming evil laughter and the sound of great big wings flapping away. As the sound of the wings grew distant, the shadow lifted and he felt a glowing spread of warmth envelop him… he was falling deeper and deeper into the inky sky once more.
Just as his last thought fled his mind, he whispered to a passing cloud...
“Tell mama, that at every ruby sunset, when the Sun is aglow with red, I will be by her side, watching her beautiful smile.”