The Fire

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Once upon a time, there was a rich merchant who sold pottery for a living. He had a big house, many servants, and a family of seven. He had everything money could buy but he was not happy. His business was so busy each night when he returned home, all his children were asleep and he had missed the chances to kiss them goodnight. He had worked hard to ensure his family did not have to endure the suffering he had as a poor potter, but all he had sacrificed his youth and efforts for was more and more gold, yet less and less happiness.

One night, the merchant awoke from his sleep to see smoke at the storeroom which was interconnected to his house. He woke his wife up, and with the help of his servants, the merchant woke all his children up, and told them to bring along what was most important to them. They must escape before the fire spread over. The kids grabbed some toys and ran off. His wife managed to keep hold on most of her jewellery, but the merchant himself only managed to save some travelling documents he often used for his business trips.

Just like that, all the hard earned fortune was gone. The uncaring fire licked happily at the sturdy base of all their dreams and hope, the flames devoured the happy home as if it was a dessert after a main course. And the merchant became a poor man. The first few months were still bearable, as they lived on some money the merchant collected from his debtors. And then when money became scarce, his wife parted with her precious gems, and allowed her husband to sell all her silky garments. She only kept her wedding band. The kids had their expensive toys, but life became simple for all of them. To say they took the twist of Fate kindly would be stretching the truth, but they tried to make the best of it.

Although they no longer enjoyed luxuries that money could buy, they learnt to be contented with their lives. They were not miserable although life was undeniably harder on those who had less money in their pockets. The poor man made some pottery that he sold at the market. The money was enough to buy food for the family only, so they had to let the servants free. The merchant had been a good lord, and a few loyal servants chose to stay near the family, in any case they could be of use. The family did not go hungry, but having meat to eat became something for the children to look forward to during festivals. But the poor man was happy. He was constantly at home, and was with him family all the time. Every now and then, he would unexpectedly have a windfall and bought his wife some silk garments in place to the one she had lost, much to her joy. He too would get a treat for each of the kids.

There were days when the kids whined about the past which they missed terribly. Their mother would be impatient with them, and told them to bury their longings for what was lost, although she herself was the one who desired most for what she was robbed off. And then there were quarrels, which never happened in the big house that became more like a sweet dream than an actual historical object in their lives. The potter could only reassure himself that despite all these, they grew to love each other more, tolerate one another, even when the darkest side of them emerged... Poverty has the ability to tear through the gay mask of Man, and leave the truest and rawest form of a Man's nature standing.

Still, the kids grew quickly. Before long, the firstborn had finished his education and told his father he would travel around being a merchant, hoping to one day restore the family glory. The happy father gave him some capital from his savings over the years and sent his son on his way. And then his daughters married off to decent families when they were of age. Although those families were not as rich as they once were, but the poor man had ensured that those families would not maltreat his precious girls. And one by one, the children became adults. And they all had their respective careers and families, where haughty spoilt brats should had stood were virtuous people free from the lure of wealth. The poor man stopped working, and began to enjoy a retired life with his darling wife. His children provided them enough for them to sustain their livings.

One day, he told his wife to pack. They were going to travel and see the world. His wife laughed and asked how could they possibly afford it? The man sat his wife by the bed, and she decided to make herself comfortable, her husband had indicated that he had a long story to tell.

"My dear wife let me share you a tale. Do not judge me too harshly after I finish. There was once a man rich beyond his imagination, but he was unhappy. When he went home, his children were asleep, and he too was too tired to pay attention to his darling wife. He was miserable and sad. Whenever he could stay at home, his children were uncomfortable around him, and instead hid behind his wife's skirt. He was a little jealous of his darling wife who could stay at home, and love and be loved by his children. And then, a long summer ago, Fate gave him a chance. His brother came to him, asking for help. His brother needed some money to start a business. So he gave his brother everything that he could think of, his stocks, and most of his cash. He kept a good stash at a safe place. Then, with his brother's help, he burned down his own house, in order to start a new life. One that allowed him to be free of his obligation, as a rich man. He could now spend more time with his family, and teach his children that money could not make the world go around. But he did not want his family to suffer too much, just enough to learn empathy for the lesser people. His sons grew to be good lads that were unspoilt by unnecessary riches; his daughters became good wives and mothers that could fulfil their duties properly. His family was untainted by the evil of wealth. The man was very very happy. But there was one thing that clouded his joy. He once promised his wife, she would have the very best in Life. His dear wife should have clothed in silk, his wife should have drunk the finest wine, his wife should not have to work her precious fingers into blisters... He was upset that his wife had to go through all the hardship because of his selfishness. He wanted to tell her he is very sorry. His brother is now very much richer than they once were. And to make it up, the man wishes to bring his wife to see the world. All the expenses would be covered by a grateful brother. What say you my dear wife?"

The wife stiffened, as she continued resting on the bed. She knew her husband was expecting an answer from her. There were some words that could not explain one's feeling. The mixture of betrayal, of understanding, of love and of resentment... But there was something that should suffice. The wife leaned over where he sat, just by her side, and hugged him. It was all that she could express. The embrace was so tight, she had to wonder if she was trying to refrain from choking him, but decided she just loved him. She had lived through all that, and nothing could turn back time… Not even if she managed to cried blood out of her eyes.

He wiped away the tears, and kissed her. Secrets and sacrifices were inevitable in some instants. A good marriage and a wholesome family required more than just love...





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