That’s it, said Hans. I thank you. It has been wonderful. And … I need to leave; I would like to journey and learn about faraway places and people. The Master opened his eyes. Calm. The window of the school office let the sun shine in. Yes, Hans. The Master spoke quietly. You have learned much in seventeen years. You have read, have argued, have contributed. You did good, and I thank you. You are filled. I know we need to part, as there is nothing more that I can tutor. Please accept three gifts: a deed, a book, and a riddle. The deed confirms as such you have the information of a master. The book comprises all questions I encountered. And listen. This is your riddle.
Where will you go?
Which place you know
That has not been
Thus none has seen
Yet been all along
You can’t be wrong
The walls have fallen, and the world is turning back. And forth. Journey west, go with the sun, and do not obliterate the east. I wish you luck, the luck to walk, and see, and grasp. Your time will come.
Still standing in front of the Master’s desk, Hans gracefully bowed his head and smiled. He took the three gifts and promised: I shall never lose sight, Master. I miss the old desk in the library already. I miss the airily responses we were lucky to give. I miss the trees in the park, the river by the school, and the sandy path to its gate. Now, I would like to begin to work. Somewhere else. I am grateful and will make you proud.
Hans remembered the riddle, put the book and the deed in his briefcase, and journeyed with the sun. He walked three times seven days, and each night he found a host in another house. The new week had just begun, when Hans arrived on an island. The islanders told him there was a place where machines that could see and read were built. Would it not be helpful to have one of these, he kept saying to himself. When he saw a tall cubic building, he stopped and read the sign: Ministry of Intelligent Technology. A longing entered through his eyes. He did not knock and opened the door. The foyer was vacant, and at the other end — a paternoster lift. Hans could read the signs on each passing floor. High up he stepped out; it said LANGUAGE MACHINATION above the entrance to the corridor. Hans brushed his student jacket and jeans with his hands. Why had the roads been so dusty, he thought. I need to make a good impression and show them the deed.
The door to the machine room was wide open. A man in a red jumper pressed buttons on the machine’s console, hunching over a large screen. Hans knocked at the open door. Excuse me, Sir. Don’t Sir me, was the reply. Who are you and what do you need? Learning … machines … language, Hans stuttered. You can do that here, was what Hans heard, but the man had not moved from console or screen. Was he a wizard? He must be, keying commands into the machine. Suddenly, the man looked up. Do you want to stay? Are you prepared? Hans did not know and showed him the deed. The wizard sniggered. Not too bad. You can put it in the box with the others. Nobody wants to pore over these here. I will show you how to operate this machine. You will work for us and learn and then show me what you can do. We can then present the examiner with what you did. You will get a velvet cap with tassel, if you like that sort of thing and if you are stubborn and lucky. Hans gladly threw the deed in the box with the others. I won’t miss the paper, I have everything in my head, he thought confidently. He grabbed the wizard’s hand. When can I start? The wizard hastily took two steps back. Right now, but don’t be so eager.
Hans typed and tried at the console many hours and days. Finally, the machine read a few of the questions from his book. For this they gave him a velvet cap with tassel. He felt as rich as a prince that day. Would his king ever want to know? Was he the the only who cared? Or so Hans thought, and again it was time to leave. He had learned a lot about the machine and very little about the man. Now, the wizard stretched out his hand and said good-bye and good luck. You will need it, it is not easy crossing the sea. Oh, I will make it, I am lucky, exclaimed Hans a little too loud. And thank you for everything. I will not forget.
The west winds blew at sea every day. Hans liked the air on his face. Close to the foreign shore, he was thinking about the machines and had forgotten about the velvet cap he proudly wore each day. The wind sailed the cap into the water, and so it drifted to the back horizon. Hans was saddened, but he thought to himself: I can still operate such machines. I just have to show them. I have not had a hat before, I won’t miss it now. I have the book and remember the riddle. And so he landed in the new world and started journeying with the sun, looking for work. And the work found him. He taught students the ways to speak and the customs of his old country. In this new world, they were not keen on the Master’s book of questions. These questions were written before we were born, was what they said. So Hans took to the book to the butcher and traded it for a large sausage. The way it smelled of smoke reminded him of the meat his mother would bring home for supper. He happily ate it and started a list of his own questions. His belly was filled every day for many years and he enjoyed the food less and less. He had a comfortable chair for the quiet times and he opened fewer and fewer books. He taught his new questions to novices for three times seven years. And each semester one group left and another came. Over time the groups got smaller. And smaller. Hans missed the potency of the groups of the past and knew it was time to journey with the sun. He left his questions and queries, his writing and whispers to the library, said good-bye to the other workers and apprentices, and remembered the riddle. You whispered often and asked many questions, the co-workers said. We needed you, and we will miss you in years to come. Hans blushed. I miss the words you gave me in all these years already. And I will not forget them. I will miss our shared passion, the scent of our corridors, and the colors of our rooms. I miss you, my friends, and I need to journey with the sun.
The times had changed on earth. New walls had been built in the south. Emperors had crowned themselves. Marauding soldiers of different stripes had no uniform or country left. Hans journeyed through them all. With each step, he skipped the walls, smelled the fear of emperors, and tasted the frustration in the land. Three times seven moons grew and faded. Seven guides lent Hans their eyes and hand. When he arrived at the peaceful ocean, he wanted to rest for seven days. And so he did. His tired boots stopped stepping. His eyes closed and gazed in. The waves licking the tranquil beach hushed his head. On the seventh day, Hans stood on the beach and longed for the mountain tops, the trails, and the trees. Winds gusting and the sun blazing, he spit his frustration into the ocean and cooled his fear in the salty water. It felt to him like wall stones had fallen off his chest and yanking chains off his ankles. He turned to the mountains and sat down quietly – in a world of his own. A smile on his face, he looked at his empty hands, and his lips started dancing with words:
Where will I go?
Which place I know
That has not been
Thus none has seen
It’s been all along
I can’t be wrong
The riddle. It is always the little words which are the key, Hans thought. I. I went. I am going. I will go. One day. He felt his heart and knew the place. My heart, he said boldly. Now that I have lost the stony burden, I wish there was someone here to see it. In any case, he said out loud and stood up tall, still facing the mountains. I am here. This is my time.
Hans lived and worked among the mountain and the sea people, who had come, like he, from the four corners of the earth, for many years. And if he did not die, he is still alive today.
This is not
I have signed up for a year-long online writing course. This is lesson 3 on ‘missing’. I am committed to the remaining 49 lessons … I had posted the beginning of this fairytale for the course about a week after lesson 2. Finishing it for this blog took a little longer. This is my take on the fairytale Hans in luck / Hans im Glück, collected and written down by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, also known as the Brothers Grimm.
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