It was a hot day, I remember. For me anyway. I was sweating a lot, moving things around town for other people in my village who seemed to be cool, even cold. A basket full of fish my uncle. A bail of hay too heavy for his mule for his new wife, who seemed a lot younger than him, and looked a lot like him too. Lots of buckets of water for everyone else whose names I don’t remember. But though my muscles hurt, my arms weren’t cold. And my feet didn’t need to have any coverings on them. And my chest didn’t need any cloak, like everyone else did. I felt good about it all. I was used to doing the work. Everyone else was used toâ€¦doing whatever they did. Whatever it was didn’t concern me anyway, as long as I got to eat at the end of the work day. What else does a man need other than a barn to sleep in, some water to drink and some hard bread to strengthen your teeth with? “Purpose,” a small man next to me said just as I sat down to share my evening meal with the pigs, mules and goats in thr shack my then owner called a barn. “And a means to carry it out,” the surprise visitor continued. Unlike everyone else in my village (the people and sometimes even the animals), he didn’t seem to be offended my face, and looked straight at it with a fascination instead of horror. Odd that this man with a face that was the same on both sides, a back he held straight like a tall pine tree, and arms and legs that all matched each other was looking at me, a man who was born as a boy with mismatching limbs, a twisted backbone, and a face that in which neither the eyes nor the nose looked the same on both sides, was looking at me like I was just like everyone else on the outside.
I offered him a piece of my bread. He offered me his hand, introducing himself as Mechanos. And then he did something that no one else had done in a long time. “What is your name, and what is your Purpose?” he asked. Someone asking me MY name? And a question that sounded like it was important? Not that I had an answer to the question or even understood it. But Mechanos seemed to be looking for answers to questions I didn’t even know about. Like how one strong man could use a tool to be able to do the work of ten other strong men. Or how one small, weak man who was smart could do the work of a hundred strong men. He first showed me what he meant with a long pole that was flat on one side. He picked the heaviest piece of metal in the barn, a heavy small stove used to cook metal into horseshoes or swords, and asked me to lift it. Since my job in the village was to do whatever anyone else asked me, I did it, but could only lift it a few inches off the ground. Then it fell onto the ground again. Then he set up the long pole on top of a large log. “It’s a lever,” he said. “I can lift this object higher than you, or a horse, or even one of the gods can, because I have this,” he said, pointing to his head.
“A balding scalp?” I said to him, as he pointed his finger just above his eyes.
He laughed, and said I told a great joke. Odd, that he didn’t say I WAS a great joke. While I tried to figure out what the difference was between saying a joke and being one, he lifted the kiln above the ground, then above my knees, then above my head. He held it there, counting to three, then let it down. He was tired, and his small arms looked like they hurt. So did his feet look like they were hurt. It took him a little while to catch his breath, but he proved what he said he would do.
By his robe, he didn’t look like he belonged in the village. His eyes didn’t look like anyone else’s either. He was different. And he carried with him parchments wrapped up very tightly. There was writing on them, and pictures, and lines that looked like they could be buildings, bigger ones than I had ever been in, or even seen. I asked him, “Do you make buildings for the gods?”
“For men want others to think they are gods. Men who some men say can talk to the gods,” he said.
“Do you talk to the gods?” I asked him.
“Not anymore,” he said with a laugh on his face.
“Is that because they are angry with you?” I asked.
“No,” he said, coming down from a really big laugh that seemedâ€¦kind, and painful. “I’ve outgrown the need to talk to the gods,” he continued. “And even the need to know if they exist.”
This I didn’t understand at all, but it felt like something very truthful, and kind. I offered him the rest of my supper, so that he would stay and keep talking to me. I asked him where he was from. He named the place, but I didn’t recognize the name. He said that was alright, and that I was better off not knowing about the place where he came from. Or the people he knew there. Or the people HE had to do things for who asked him to do things. But he did tell me why he was in my village, the one where I was born slower in the head than anyone else, but bigger everywhere else.
“I need rocks from the hills here, and someone to help me find them, and carry them down the mountains, and help me make those rocks into stoves and other things that people everywhere want, and need,” he said. “And as you see by my thin arms and legs, I need someone I can trust to move rocks, and what I make with what’s in them. Would you like to be that person?”
I had never been out of my village, and never had the wish to leave either. But maybe I needed, or wanted, to be somewhere else. I heard my mouth say ‘yes’ to what he was asking. He smiled, placed his small hands on my big shoulders and said something that no one else in my village had said to me, in a long time, anyway. “Thank you,” were the words he used. And in the language that important people say to other important people. I feltâ€¦important. Good about myself. I thanked the gods with a prayer, but then he stopped me. “Don’t be fooled like everyone else is,” he told me. “If the gods do exist, they live inside of us, not atop Mount Olympus.”
I didn’t believe it. No, not because it was so strange to here it. But because I didn’t WANT to hear it. A world without gods to keep people in order? A world where we rule ourselves? A world where everything that happens is up to us? A world without the ghosts of my parents and older brother telling me what to do, or the people they sold me to telling me what to do? Noâ€¦this wasn’t how it was. For then anyway, but all of that was to change very fast.
Mechanos heard voices outside the barn and told me to be quiet. I didn’t understand what they were saying, but it seemed that there were soldiers there. After they were finished talking to some more important people, the ones who didn’t sweat in summer or freeze in winter, Mechanos turned to me and whispered. “If you come with me, I’ll give you whatever you need, and if I can, what you want. But you have to come with me NOW!.”
I said ‘yes’ again. Mostly because I was asked. And, of course, the nickname I had was ‘he who always says yes’. Yes, that was how it happened, and how it all started.