No toy could remember the moment of its creation, because at the moment of creation it had no awareness at all. It just meandered about, mindlessly performing its set task and entirely oblivious to all. Individuality only came in degrees, a tiny bit at a time.
Day-by-day a toy would gain a vague awareness that there was a constant Rump-a-dum-dum around it. Then it would gain a vague awareness that it was being vaguely aware!
Day-by-day the toy would start to piece together that those Rump-a-dum-dum noises seemed to be synchronized with the little batons that it saw beating against a drum. Then it would piece together that those were its batons, and that it was moving them with its hands, to play its drum.
Day-by-day the toy would begin to wonder why it was playing that drum. And then it would stop. And then the world would sound so empty and strange without the sound that it would start playing again. But it would play it a little differently now. Rump-a-dum-dum-dum! Rump-a-rump-dum!
Now, at last, it would be an individual being, and while wandering about it would start to recognize that there were other beings that were not itself. Some of them would smile knowingly and wink at it and ask if it had “come to itself yet,” which the toy wouldn’t understand the meaning of.
Some of the other toys, though, would be entirely disconnected from their surroundings, like a ballerina that was glassy-eyed and monotonously twirling on top of her box without a single step of variation. And the drummer would see how that little ballerina-on-a-music-box was day-by-day starting to come to herself and look back at him with a bemused wonder. Then the drummer would understand what it meant to “come to oneself” and realized, almost with horror, that once it had been so oblivious itself!
And so the drummer would go back to those that had smiled and winked and would tell them that yes, it had come to itself, and now it was very much confused. Then they would tell him it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, it happened to them all. Then they would tell him that he probably ought to follow this road over here, and presently it would bring him to a great and important city. Once there he could start to learn about the real world.
And a toy, such as this drummer, would thank them, but want to know why he hadn’t always been aware, and why he was now, and where did he come from to begin with?
“No one really knows,” the smiling Bishop might say.
“Even when we know how to know, we still don’t know where we came from,” the winking Knight added.
“We see you new toys waking up, but we don’t actually see any of you get made, now do we?” the questioning Rook offers. “Just one moment there’s an empty pond over there, then you turn your back, and when you look again there’s this rubber duck swimming through it completely oblivious. And it’s always behind your back like that. No matter how you try to see it, new toys always come in secret.”
“Oh how curious,” the little drummer says. “But how do you–”
“To the city,” the stern King repeats. “That is the place for you.”
“They’ll give me the answers there?”
“They might give you an answer or two…but mostly more questions, and really you’d better get used to that in this world. So the sooner you get there and the sooner you get used to it the better, so you’d better get going now!”
And with that a drummer would figure he had better start down that road!
It wasn’t a very straight road, indeed it incessantly curved back-and-forth in a whimsical sort of way. A road meant for play, rather than for function.
And this proved quite the challenge for the drummer. For all his short life he had always marched in straight lines. Indeed with such straight legs and no knees, what else could be expected of him? Thus as he approached the first turn he walked straight into it, then straight through it, then straight off of it and straight into the dirt going the completely wrong direction.
He came to an immediate stop and stared about, trying to understand what was going on. He decided that he ought to try again, and so took another step, still in the wrong direction!
Once more the drummer halted, and he was really getting quite anxious now! He did not know how to move back to the path except for by trying to walk again, but each of his tries seemed to be carrying him only farther away. He couldn’t help but worry whether by trying so hard to return to the road he wouldn’t just wander away from it forever.
And so he waited for a good deal, but nothing useful came from that either, and so he decided he really ought to try just one more time. He thought really hard about going the right way, looked down to his foot, and watched as it continued straight forward in sheer defiance!
And so the drummer paused again and wondered a bit about how exactly one was supposed to go the right way, which meant that he was still pausing and wondering when another toy happened to come her way down the same road.
It was the dancer he had seen from before, the one that had been unaware of her own existence. She went down the road spinning and spinning, which meant of course that she had no trouble with the turns whatsoever.
“Oh,” she exclaimed when she saw the drummer standing off the road a few inches from her. “Are we supposed to leave the road here?”
“I–no, I don’t think so. I just can’t seem to turn properly.” The drummer was very ashamed.
“Oh, are you going to stay here forever then?”
“I just might have to.”
“Wait, I have an idea…” and she spun over next to him, looped her arm around his, and twirled him right back onto the road.
“How did you do that?!” he asked in amazement.
“It’s just what I do. Now can you continue on your way?”
“Well…I can because the road is straight right here. But I see another turn waiting up ahead, and once I get to it I’ll be right back in the same sort of trouble again I suspect.”
“No worries there. I’ll just stick beside you and help you around that turn as well.”
“And the next?”
“And the next and the next and the next.”
Well that was certainly a relief! So the drummer and the dancer continued down the road together. They would still fumble from time to time, such as when the drummer wouldn’t come to a complete stop before walking off a curve in the road, or when the dancer would spin too far and end up pointing back the way they came; but now at least they fumbled together, and somehow that made it better. And both of them would straighten the other out and then they would continue onward together.
“This is quite a long time we’ve been on this road, isn’t it?” the dancer asked after a long time being on the road.
“Yes…but maybe it’s that way with every road. Really I’m not sure myself, I’ve never been much of an expert on them.”
“Sir, I’ve been wondering, what is that you’re holding in your hands?”
“These are my batons, and I use them to play my drum. See, like this.” Rump-a-rump-rump-rump! Rump-a-dum-a-dum-dum!
“Oh!” the dancer cried out, and her spinning changed to matched his beat. And as he saw her change her spinning he changed the way he was drumming. So now her dancing moved his drumming, and his drumming moved her dancing. It was a little disorienting at first, but then they settled into a joint cadence.
Just then they came upon the next turn, and a wonderful thing occurred. The drummer found that so long as he beat his instrument in time to the dancer’s spinning he could now make the turn on his own. And the dancer found that as she matched her spinning to his drumming, she could straighten back out anytime that she turned too far. And so they pulled and pushed with their little music and dance, and beat their way much more easily down the path.
Such good time they were making now, that soon they were catching up on another toy, one that had been sent on his journey long before either of them.
It was a puffy teddy bear, who didn’t have quite enough stuffing to stand up straight. As such he trundled along in a constant stoop, picking out his path carefully and methodically. As the two friends came alongside of him the drummer slowed his beat so that they could match pace with the bear.
“Hello there!” the dancer called out joyfully.
The bear turned his head to see them, which in turn rotated almost half his entire body. “Oh, hello,” he said slowly. “I didn’t see you there.”
“Are you off to the city as well?” the drummer asked.
“Well, you know, I was. But I’ve been travelling down this road for such a very long time and I still haven’t seen it. I’m beginning to wonder if the city doesn’t exist.”
The drummer and the dancer both found that a very confusing idea.
“But how could we have been told to go to a place that doesn’t exist?” the drummer asked.
“I don’t know,” the bear sighed. “It was just a thought that occurred to me while I was walking along my way. Or perhaps it did exist once, but it doesn’t anymore. Or maybe it isn’t really worth going to anyway. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I can think of so many reasons why it isn’t a good idea to stay on this road anymore.”
“Hmm” the dancer pondered.
“And if I can think of so many possible reasons for why I shouldn’t keep going to the city, then surely one or two of them must actually be true. Wouldn’t you think?”
“Hmm” the drummer thought. “But if you don’t go to the city…then where will you go?”
“I thought I would try at this town along the way.”
The drummer and the dancer looked in the direction that the bear pointed, and for the first time noticed that they were nearing a group of buildings on the wayside. First came a building of brick, quite tall and filled with windows on every level. From those windows came quite the tumult of noise, for the tenets of the place were enjoying all manner of raucous songs and games. There was the clinking of bottles, rough laughter, instruments playing out of sync, various shouts for attention, and even the occasional thunderous crash.
Those crashes in particular shook the entire building, for it had not been built very well. Each of its row had a stray hole here and there, and too many of those holes were on the same side, and when the building settled it had decided to lean in that one direction.
Pressed right up against the brick apartments was another building of rough granite. It was as if the second building had been hastily thrown up for the express purpose of catching the first. As such it had not been made very well, either, and had inherited its progenitor’s leaning tendencies. So it rested right up against a third building of wood.
And so it continued, one building tipping onto the next, over and over, until at last they ended in a cluster of little, clay huts. There was a fresh sign out in front of the huts and it read New Vacancies: Cheap!
“Well!” the dancer said in shock. “I don’t know that I care to stay at a place such as this!”
“Why not?” the bear frowned. “I think it sounds like fun.”
“I think I like our fun better,” the drummer said to the dancer and she firmly nodded.
And that made the bear feel a bit upset. Because he hadn’t had any companion to give him fun of any sort during his long slog down the road. Indeed his walk had been so dreary and so lonely that he was quite content to take up residence here and never worry about the fabled city at the end of the road ever again.
But now he felt that this drummer and this dancer were snubbing him, and would probably laugh at his expense after they had parted ways. That made him really quiet mad, so he reached out, grabbed the dancer roughly, and rushed off with her shouting “Oh don’t be such a snob! Give it a try, I’ll bet you like it!”
“Oh dear!” the dancer cried, then looked earnestly to the drummer over the teddy bear’s shoulder. “Help me! Please help me!”
A horrible terror gripped the drummer: a sense of loss that he had never felt before. He fought down the despair, though, and beat out a chasing rhythm on his drum. His legs sprang into action, carrying him quickly towards the bear. He had almost caught up with him when the bear made a sudden turn towards the brick building.
“Oh dear,” the drummer said, trying to pound out a cadence that would turn him. It was tough to do, more than he had anticipated. He had come to rely on the dancer’s touch to do these things, and his swivels were much more erratic now. Still, after a few over-corrections he got mostly in the direction of the bear and began again his charge.
The bear had seen this, though, and made for great many more twists and turns, even more than had been on the road to the city. The drummer valiantly kept up the chase, but he slowly fell farther and farther behind.
“Please don’t worry,” he called out to the dancer as she was about to disappear from view behind the first building. “I will find you. I will keep coming, and I will find you. I promise!”
On Monday I wrote about how responsibilities often define the characters of a story. Each hero is responsible for something, and it is that duty that drives them to action. In the case of our drummer, he developed a bond with the dancer, and he feels responsible for her well-being. The origin of this obligation was established in a very organic way as the two of them helped each other down the path. Turn-by-turn they strengthened the notion that they depended on one another, and not only for following a road. As the story continues, his every action will be driven by that sense of duty to her.
Another aspect of this story I would like to draw attention to is in my use of the teddy bear. Though we do not become acquainted with him for very long before he commits his crime, his actions are foreshadowed by his introduction. When we first meet him I took care to describe him as a weighed down, gloomy sort of person. I was trying to get the reader to have a sense of unease about him as quickly as possible. This method of signalling a character’s personality, even before they have done or said anything of significance, is something I would like to examine in greater detail with my next post. We will see how it applied to this story and literature as a whole, after which we will pick back up with the plight of our drummer and dancer.