How We Fell (When We Were Children)

I still remember the first day. Light broke forth unlike any other day since. The first time is always the best, I’ve learned. The first day was altogether strange and wonderful, as most good things in life are. Bà taught me this, as he taught me many other things. I remember opening my eyes, and struggling to gain footing on the dusty ground from where my body had been formed. I stumbled and fell around as if I had too much wine, which was quite the scene for Bà. He laughed as he helped me move my muscles the way they were supposed to go. If I knew to be embarrassed I would have been, but I was just a child then.
I was a child, naked and unashamed, without culture to tell me how to act, without education to teach me what to say. I remember trying to speak, as I heard words come from Bà’s mouth, to communicate back to him what I thought about this new world I suddenly was immersed in. It wasn’t as some have supposed. I didn’t all of the sudden know how to speak. It actually took me two years before I could form sentences that were congruent. Bà was patient with me. He created me a child, for that was what he desired. He could have made me a man, complete and full of knowledge, but as he told me many times in the Garden, he desired to be a father first, and then a friend. And he was a father. He taught me how to relieve myself, how to clean myself, and how to eat food that would nourish and sustain me. I learned both from his words and his ways how to be a man, the first man, and how to rule the beautiful paradise he had placed me in.
I remember one time when I was still quite young, that I made the mistake of eating a poisonous flower. It was so delightful to look at I figured it must be delightful in my mouth as well. It was not, however, and as I felt something within me that was not pleasant I cried out and Bà came rushing over from where he was tending a vegetable patch. He instantly placed his hand upon my stomach, and all pain was gone.
“What was that?” I asked innocently.
Bà smiled gently and said, “That was oleander, a flower I have made to be a part of this world to help you and your kind later on, outside of the Garden. And that which you felt is called pain, and although I do not wish you experience it often, I have created it as well, for your growth and for your learning.”
“But I thought learning was supposed to be fun,” I insisted stubbornly.
“It is child, it is. But you don’t always learn everything the way that you’re supposed to learn them. Sometimes a road I did not mean for you to travel on is beaten down by your feet, and you will experience much pain and hurt before you reach the fun part of learning. But remember son, I will always redeem your trial for triumph, and your pain for joy. I promise you that.”
He then took me by the hand to the center of the Garden, where there stood a large Tree, more beautiful than any of the others that surrounded it. Its many branches spread wide and low, low enough that I could have stepped onto each on after the other like a staircase. And the fruit! I had never seen such fruit in all my life. The tree seemed overburdened by the weight of all of the fruit that hung from the ends of its branches. We walked up to it, and I examined its depths as we talked. How wonderful it looked to me. I reached for a fruit. Bà’s hand slapped my wrist, and pain once again shot through part of my body.
“Ow!” I said, pulling back my hand and looking at Bà intently. “Why did you do that?”
“Because I know something that you don’t child,” he said, picking a fruit and peeling its skin to reveal bright red flesh within, juice dripping off of it like sweet honey.
“What Bà?” I asked. “What do you know that I do not?”
He smiled grimly and looked me in the eyes.
I will never forget that look.
“I know that not all things are as they appear, and that it is better to let some things remain unknown. This is one of them. You may eat of all the other trees in the Garden, but this Tree you should not. For if you eat it of its fruit, you will die.”
“What is die Bà?” I asked.
“Death,” he answered solemnly. “It is what happens to the flowers when they stop blooming, or what happens to the berries when they are eaten by a bird or other creature.”
“You mean I will get eaten?” I asked, alarmed at this prospect.
“In a sense, yes. You will be consumed by knowledge. You will be eaten by desire; you will no longer rule over the world, but rather, it will rule over you.”
He then took my head in his hand and whispered strongly, “And I have made you to be a ruler, a conqueror, a king. Do not forsake your destiny for mere temporary gratification.”
I loved his embrace and his words were wise, but a question still remained within the walls of my childish mind.
“But Bà, if this Tree is bad, then why did you make it?”
Bà looked differently when he heard my question. It was as if he saw something I did not, and I felt a strange feeling, which I now know as fear, taint my affection for him in that moment.
“I made it because I also made you to be a conqueror. Just as you conquer this earth, you can conquer this Tree. I need to know you can first rule over yourself before you rule over others. The Tree itself is not bad, but it will lead you to bad things. It will lead you away from me. And because I know that you are best by my side I commanded you not to touch it. For your safety and out of love for you I forbid you. Trust me child, you do not need this. All that you need is within my hand and flows from my heart. This Tree is temporary, you and I are eternal.”
His words made sense in the moment, and I was satisfied with his instruction when I first heard it. But from that day onward I always remembered the Tree and how good the fruit looked. But I was just a child, and I trusted Bà more than anything else.
From that point on, Bà taught me more and gave me more work to do than before. I enjoyed work. It gave me purpose. I tended the garden with him, and he taught me how to create food from the different plants that we farmed. I grew stronger, wiser, and more confident, ruling the Garden while Bà watched me and gave me advice. Although he still helped me in my work and tended to his favorite parts of the Garden, he gradually let me take complete reign over the small world he had placed me in.
I was just a child, but I was growing.
One day in particular was brighter and more colorful than all the rest. I remember it fondly. I was sleeping beneath the fig tree in the eastern side of the Garden as I always did, when Bà awoke me, singing loudly. I was shaken from my sleep by his big but gentle hands.
“Get up son!” he shouted jovially, singing the rest of his words as I rubbed my eyes and struggled to get on my feet.
No matter.
He reached down and swung me up high and around his shoulders, where I plopped up and down as he ran and jumped through the Garden, singing along the way. We reached the northern side mid morning, and as he let me down on my feet he explained his sudden excitement.
“I had a dream last night, child, about you, and I got the most wonderful idea!”
“Dream?” I asked, giggling. “I thought you never slept Bà!”
He laughed and punched my shoulder playfully. “No I don’t! But I do rest, and sometimes while I rest I get wonderful ideas that I call dreams because they’re so wonderful. This time I had a dream about you, but it wasn’t just you anymore. There was another beside you, like you but different.”
I was confused but excited about his idea, as I was about all his ideas, so I clapped my hands and shouted.
“Yes Bà! That is a wonderful idea! Where shall we find this other! Let’s look at the creatures, yes?”
Bà stopped for a moment upon hearing my words, chuckled to himself, and then grabbed my hand.
“Of course! We shall find the creatures and see if any will be good for you.”
Of course we didn’t need to look far. Bà simply clapped his hands together and all the animals came running towards us. They formed a line, and one by one they marched past me. I suddenly started giving names to each one, and as I named each one, Bà whispered into their ears. I think he was telling them what their name was. He could speak their language better than I could. He tried to teach me it several times, but I never fully grasped it. There’s an awful lot of grunts and hissings within their language and I never fully made use of it. You have to be a diligent student in order to learn it, of which I was not. But I digress.
One by one each animal walked by and one by one I gave it a name. I was proud of my work, but when the last one walked by I felt a tinge of something I now know as disappointment.
“That was the last one I guess,” I said, looking up at Bà with a furrowed brow.
“I know,” he said smiling, looking at the last one as it walked away from us. He turned to me with a twinkle in his eyes. Suddenly darkness overtook me.
When I awoke, it was evening. I jumped to my feet, alarmed that I had slept the whole day.
“Bà!” I called out.
He didn’t come.
“Bà!” I shouted again, looking wildly around for his form. It never took more than a few seconds for him to come to me when I called his name.
I started walking. Something felt strange in my side, and I took my breaths shallower than usual.
The sun was setting. It was always my favorite part of the day. Bà always walked with me during this time. It was always our time. I ran faster through the Garden, sending dirt and leaves flying as my hands tore through brush and my feet beat the ground.
My name. I followed the sound until I came to a small clearing in the Garden, filled with flowers of all types and colors. There was Bà, kneeling over something in the dust. He did not turn to greet me but called me closer. I ran over and knelt beside him just as he was bending over and breathing upon whatever was beneath him.
“Are you making a new creature Bà?” I asked, breathless.
Bà chuckled. “Yes child, a new creature. One I think you will take a liking to.”
He straightened up and put his arms around me. “What do you think of her?”
As I looked for the first time at this creature I was astounded. I was overtaken by wonder and consumed by liquid joy. A feeling unlike any other rose up within me as I watched this creature, who looked much like me, but with slightly different parts, stumble to her feet much like I did my first day. A feeling of strange compassion and peculiar desire came over me. I ran to her side as she struggled to gain footing.
“Here,” I said, “do it like this.” And I showed her how to walk like I was taught my first day. She watched me intently for a moment and then duplicated my footsteps perfectly! It was incredible, really. What had taken me several days to learn only took her a few tries. Bà watched us as he relaxed against the trunk of a nearby olive tree.
“What do you think of her?” he asked me after calling me to his side.
I struggled to find the appropriate words that could sum up the equation of bewilderment and awe that had formed within me.
“She is wonderful,” I managed. “She is me, yet not me at all. She is like a dream that came to life. She is skin and bones like me, but her spirit seems brighter, stronger. I suppose that she reminds me very much of you.”
Bà smiled, wider than I had ever seen him smile before. “Good!” he said, loudly and jovially. “She should remind you of me, for she was made in my likeness. I have given her a different part of my heart, one you will need often in the coming ages. To you I gave my strength, to her I gave my beauty. Together, you will become one, as I am one. Your strength will protect her, and her beauty will sustain you. Yet you must draw from her beauty only to give it back. You must adore her, much like you adore me. You must care for her, much like you care for this Garden. And in turn, she will save you from pain and give to you joy unspeakable.”
“Oh I will care for her, do not worry Bà!” I said, distracted by the beauty who was wandering around the space in front of us and inspecting each fruit, flower, and insect. “You know how I care for all the creatures in the Garden.”
Bà looked me in the eyes and spoke in a gentle whisper, strong. “She is more than a creature, dear one. She is a child, like you. She is not land to be cultivated, an animal to be tamed, or a fruit to be consumed. She will rule alongside you. Yet she will not rule as you do.”
He picked up a wild violet growing beside where we sat and lifted it close to my eyes. “Together, you are a plant,” he said. “You are the roots beneath the earth, and she is the flower above. You are her strength, the ground she stands upon, the foundation for her living. Yet she is the crown of your life; without her your strength will be futile and without purpose. Without you, she will become weak and fragile, blown apart by the slightest wind that comes. Without her, you will spread long and wide, never becoming anchored in anything, lost in the darkness of the earth. Do you understand this son?”
“Yes Bà, I understand. We need each other.” I looked up at him for approval to my answer.
He nodded.
“But Bà,” I said, getting up to my feet and brushing myself off. “What about you? You will be with us right? You’re staying here, right?”
Bà smiled and his eyes suddenly looked old. “Yes, child. Even in the coming ages, I will be with you. I will be the earth that you draw life and water from, and I will be the sun that she draws life and energy from. When the earth seems like it is all you have, remember that it was I who created it.”
These words I did not understand at the time. I understand them now, for I am no longer a child. But in the Garden I was just a child, ignorant and happy, free from judgement yet bound by my perceptions. I had no knowledge of evil, I had no wounds from sorrow.
I started to walk away from Bà, but he called out to me, “Érzi!”
I stopped quickly and looked back at him, still leaning against the tree, chewing an olive.
“Yes Bà?”
“What will you call her?”
And a word I had never heard before was birthed within the tempest of my heart and sent through the articulation of my tongue into the atmosphere: “Ài!” I said. “I will call her Ài!”
The name stuck.
Over the next few years me and Ài grew close. We were children, naked and free, ruling over plant and animal with nothing more than our hands and our hearts.
And at the time, it was enough.
But as the years rolled by, we noticed changes that began to take place. For one, we began sleeping much longer than we used to. When I was younger I would often wake up before the sun rose, excited to start my day ruling the Garden and working alongside Bà. But no more of that now. Bà would often have to wake us up late in the morning, when all the birds already had their breakfast and the sun was well on its way to the center of the sky. There also were changes in each of our bodies. Hair grew in unusual places, parts of our bodies grew larger, and my voice became something that Ài thought sounded very funny at times, especially when I became suddenly excited.
Some of the changes were more alarming than others. I remember the first time I woke up next to my dear young wife and being quite surprised at all the blood that was on her and me. I started running around the Garden and shouting Bà’s name. I found him in the orchard, pruning branches off an apple tree. I ran to his side and pulled on his robe.
“Bà come quick!” I cried out. “Something is wrong with Ài! You must help her!”
Bà very patiently listened to the thousand words that stumbled over each other as they quickly exited my mouth about what had happened. He smiled gently as he always does.
“My dear son,” he said running his finger over the hair stubble growing in random patches on my face. “Do you remember what I told you when you first met dear Ài?”
“Yes, I think so.” I said, trying desperately to remember what it was he had told me. “You mean how you said we are a plant?”
“Yes, very good,” he said as he reached down and picked up a bundle of branches and placed them under his arm. “Right now you need to be her roots. Be strong and take care of her. She simply needs you to hold her up right now.”
“But Bà, how?” I cried out, confused and distraught.
Bà just placed his free hand on my shoulder and then turned around, walking away with his branches. “You will be fine child. Go and care for her.”
Somehow, we managed all of these changes quite fine. Of course, Bà was always there for us. We could ask him any question, for we did not know what embarrassment was and we did not know how to feel shame. We eagerly explored the earth and each other, finding uninhibited and unashamed delight in each other’s minds and bodies. Each adventure was simply a chapter in the book we were writing, without knowing we were writing it. Some days we would have just the two of us, and some days Bà would join us and we would all work or play together.
But no matter what we did during the day, every evening Bà would walk with us throughout the Garden, listening to our stories from the day and teaching us many things from his great and magnificent mind. Though I did not know it then, Bà was preparing us for the coming age, the age in which I write these words. For though he did not plan every step we took in our journey, he always made sure we were ready for it. It is what a father does, and Bà was our father, and we were his children. Yet though we were children in spirit, our temples of bone and skin were growing; our spirits struggled to fill the vacant spaces.
One night as we lay beneath the fig tree on a bed of leaves, holding each other close as we often did, Ài whispered to me gently, “Érzi, do you love me?”
These words caught me just as I was drifting to sleep. Dear Ài always seemed to think more whenever I was almost asleep, but that did not bother me.
“What do you mean Ài?” I asked inquisitively. “What is love?”
Ài sat up and looked at me, biting her bottom lip softly. “I don’t really know, but I’ve heard Bà say it to us before, and just before I came to bed, while we were talking, he said it to me.”
“And?” I asked, still confused at her question.
“And..I feel different. I very much like the word. I feel as if it has stuck to me somewhere deep and I cannot let it go.”
Her mind chewed longer as I struggled to understand.
“Love, Érzi, love,” she went on. “It is a word I cannot get out of my thoughts. I feel as if it means something great. And you are very great to me, so I think that I love you. Do you love me?”
My dearest wife was right. It did seem to stick to me. “Love…” I thought about the word aloud while Ài clung to me and searched my eyes as if they were valleys.
“It is not a plant,” said I, processing my thoughts audibly into the evening air.
“No,” she responded.
“It is not an animal.”
“It is not something to eat.”
“It is not something we can find.”
“It is something we say.”
“It is something we accept…” Slowly the word began to form within my heart, creating structure where there was none, giving depth and meaning to unknown places.
“Yes!” shouted Ài.
“It is something we give,” I said, becoming more excited, pieces of understanding building upon one another.
I jumped to my feet and pulled her close. “It is something we are!”
“Yes!” she laughed as we embraced.
I kissed her, longer than I ever had before.
That night we had an adventure, one we never had before. For we were just children, remember, but love awoke something deeper within each of us that compelled us not to simply be with each other, but to be each other, together.
And together we made one.
And it seemed to me that night, that the stars shined brighter than ever before.
The next morning, while we picked strawberries from the south side of the Garden, we talked about the previous night and what an adventure it was. Though our bodies were growing, we were children in heart, and our minds were still naked, no cloak covering the thoughts between us. When Bà showed up to the berry patch, singing as he usually did, we told him all about what we had done the previous night, detailing our adventure as if we had just explored the local forest. Bà was quite happy with us, and as we asked him questions he told us many things that I will not write here.
“Bà,” I said, my mouth half full of ripe strawberries. “Have you ever become one with anyone?”
Bà answered my ignorant question with gracious joy. “Yes, dearest child. I have always been one, even before the beginning. Before you were, dear child, I AM. And because I AM, you are. And because I am one, you both are one as well.
This seemed to satisfy my curiosity for the time, until later that night, after we had become one again, and our words were food shared between us.
“Érzi,” Ài said suddenly, “what do you think Bà meant when he said “before the beginning”?”
“I suppose he meant before I was created,” I said definitively, satisfied with my answer.
My lover was not.
“But what was before you?” she asked again, thinking harder.
“I’m not sure, I suppose just him.”
“But if Bà made you, then who made Bà?” she asked again. My thoughts reeled hard, my infant mind unable to walk the path set before it. After a moment of silence I reached over and tickled her.
“Bà must have just sprung up from the ground like a tree, you silly sloth!” I joked, trying to pretend that the unanswered question did not burn within me like a fire.
She took the bait and her curiosity was subdued. She stood up and kicked me in the side playfully.
“I am not a sloth!” she declared, her hands on her hips.
But I was still thinking about Bà and how he came to be. And this question bred with my restlessness and soon several more questions were birthed and moving around the empty rooms of my mind. Who made Bà? Who is he, really? What is he doing when I can’t see him? How old is he? What’s his real name? Are there other Gardens that he made too?
A sharp kick awoke me from my pondering. Ài was still talking.
“If I am a sloth, then it shall be easy for you to catch me!” she said, and just like that she was off. I never lost in a game of catch.
I wasn’t about to.
I ran after her hard, my bare feet pounding the dirt, producing a tempo with which to measure the song from the nightingales above me in the trees. She was especially fast that night however, and I found myself tiring as I chased her farther and farther towards the center of the Garden. When I finally caught up with her she was standing still, looking at a Tree, big and beautiful, its fruit on display by the hundreds.
Something within me was prodded as I looked as this Tree with my wife, and I suddenly remembered the words of Bà and what he commanded me concerning this Tree.
“No Ài!” I shouted, as my wife reached up to pick one of the fruits that dangled inches from our eyes. She dropped her hand and looked at me with wide eyes. I never shouted.
“What?” she cried out as she withdrew into my arms.
“Bà warned me about this tree, Ài,” I spoke in a whisper to her, as if the Tree could hear me. “He said that although it looks very good it is not good at all, and that if we eat it, we will die.”
My wife scrunched her face as she looked at me. “What is die?”
“Death,” I answered solemnly and importantly, trying hard to impress my lover. “It is death. It is what happens to the plants when we eat them.”
“Oh,” my wife sighed. “Well I don’t want to be eaten.”
I agreed.
We both walked back to our bed that night, laughing about how funny it would be to be eaten.
The next day, while washing ourselves under a waterfall, Bà came by with food he had prepared. He made the best food and Ài and I were always delighted to eat whatever he brought us. As we told him about our adventures the day before, we came to the part of the Tree. Bà listened intently as I told him how I had relayed his commandment about the Tree to my wife. He smiled widely.
“I am so very proud of you both,” he declared, wiping his hands on the grass next to where he sat. “I have an idea. Let’s take the day off and go exploring!”
We both were elated! We screamed and jumped up and down like little children.
“Shall we go to the southern part, or the eastern today Bà?” I asked, already set to go.
Bà laughed. “I have a better idea. Why don’t we visit my friend the sea? He’s been begging me to pay him a visit soon and there’s no reason he shouldn’t meet my children, yes?”
The sea! We had only ever heard stories from Bà about the sea. We couldn’t believe that we were allowed to go. The Garden had four rivers in it, and each was fairly large, but we had never been to the sea. We spent the rest of the day at the sea, screaming with the waves as they roared and swimming next to Bà as he encouraged us to go farther out where our feet couldn’t touch the bottom.
And the Tree and all of my questions from the night before seemed to sink beneath the waves that we played in.
The next few months were much the same as that day, every day we spent with Bà only another adventure, each one greater than the last. Yet as the months were added one to the other, Ài began to gain interest in other things. I remember the one night I woke up and discovered her talking to a fox. When I realized I wasn’t in a dream, I asked her how she knew their language.
“I taught myself,” she said, matter-of-a-factly.
“Wow,” was all I could manage.
Bà was immensely proud of her for learning their language. He and her would sometimes go about the Garden, talking with the beasts and birds for the whole afternoon. But as always, in the evening we always spoke with each other. Ours was a language I knew and I was secretly glad the animals did not know what we were saying. It made me feel powerful, more like the ruler Bà said I was. Yet whenever me and Ài walked through the Garden, the animals all followed her.
I told Bà about it the one day while we were tilling soil for a new vegetable patch.
“I feel like I am not a ruler anymore,” I said, smoothing out the soil freshly broken up by Bà’s strong hands.
“Why, child?” He listened as he worked ahead of me.
I sighed. “Because they all listen to her and speak to her. I think they like her better Bà.”
“And why do you think that is Érzi?”
“I don’t know…I suppose it’s because she can talk to them.”
“Ah but you can talk to them as well. What do you really think it is?” Bà kept busy while he talked.
I stopped smoothing out the ground to sit and think.
“She can understand them too. She can listen to them. I can’t. All I can do is tell them things,” I said, slowly understanding what I said as the words came out of my mouth.
“Good, good,” Bà chuckled. “That is what truly sets apart a leader. One who can not just give orders but also give an ear. One who doesn’t just rule but one who also loves.”
“But how can I love them? They are not like me,” I said.
Bà stopped working and looked at me. “How do you love Ài?”
I threw down my hands and started to cry. “I do not know! I do not know what love even is! All that I know is that it is a word. It is a word, just like peace, or faith, or any of the other words you tell me. I do not know what any of them mean. Why won’t you tell me Bà? Why won’t you tell me?”
Bà came to my side and held me in his arms.
“My dearest child,” he said to me, his eyes focused on the pattern of the birds flying overhead, “I wish that it were as easy as telling you. But not all things can simply be explained. Some things, like love, you must simply do; and as you do them, you will find what they mean. Remember Érzi, without the roots the flower fades. Be the roots, child. Be the roots.”
These words created me, though I did not grasp what they mean. In my heart I was a child, and I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. I knew in part, for whole had not yet been given. I struggled to understand, and I struggled to love. I did what I knew to do, and it wasn’t much, but it was all of me. Yet through our growing pains, me and Ài grew closer together to each other, trying to rule and love the earth we had been given. I tried hard to learn the language of the creatures, but could not, and so I let Ài speak for the both of us and did my best to be a gentle and good leader.
But with each passing month our curiosity grew subtly within each of us. The image of the beautiful Tree in the center of the Garden never left either of our minds, and in time it slowly made its way deep into our hearts, where it began to cast other things out and take dominance. We slowly found ourselves walking by it more and more often, and scarcely was there a night when one of us wouldn’t have a dream about it. I suggested that maybe if we treat it like all the other trees we might forget about it, but I realize now how foolish of a thought that was. Nevertheless, we entertained my idea and started sleeping under it instead of the fig tree. But it did not stop there. Eventually we were eating against its trunk, making love beneath its shadow, and playing within its branches.
Bà would still come to join us and talk to us, even under the Tree. He never spoke a word to us again about the Tree, but I could tell that he enjoyed it better when we played and slept elsewhere. I naively offered one afternoon that if he did not like the Tree he could destroy it.
“I would never do that Érzi,” he said, strongly, with unexpected passion. “If I did that you would no longer be children. You would be slaves.”
When I got back to the tree that night, I told Ài what Bà said to me about destroying the tree. She giggled.
“I think Bà is worrying too much Érzi.” She kissed me gentle on my lips and rolled over on her back staring at the fruit hanging above us. “I’m sure the fruit isn’t even that bad.”
I smiled and my mind eased as I looked at the fruit with her. “Maybe Bà has eaten it before,” I offered.
My lover laughed.
“Perhaps it is all a joke.”
“Perhaps it is quite delicious.”
“Perhaps it will make us very strong.”
“Perhaps it will make me understand the animals.”
We laughed at the likelihood of such a thing.
Ài sat up. “I forgot to tell you. I talked to a new creature today. I had never met him before.”
We knew all of the animals in the Garden. I was confused.
“What do you mean Ài?” I asked, curious. “Was he just born?”
“No,” said Ài, thinking. “No he was most definitely not just born. He was fairly large, and he spoke our language well. He seemed very wise.”
“Our language? What do you mean Ài? None of the animals know our language. It is ours,” I said confidently, sure that she had simply been dreaming.
“No,” she shot back. “He spoke our language. I started talking to him first in the language of the animals of course, but he answered me in the same words we use with each other and Bà.”
I was dumbfounded.
“I thought only you, I, and Bà knew our language,” I said, thinking harder now. “After all, Bà was the one who taught it to us. Do you think he taught this creature as well?”
“I don’t know,” was the answer. “Perhaps this creature taught Bà.”
I sat up, staring straight at my wife.
“That’s impossible!” I cried out. “Bà made all things. No one needs to teach him anything.”
“How do you know?” Ài argued, “We don’t even know how old he is!”
“Well he’s old enough to make us, so it doesn’t matter anyway,” I answered stubbornly, and then promptly laid back and turned on my side.
“At least meet him and talk to him,” said Ài softly, as she laid down beside me. “Maybe he will give you some answers to your questions. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.”
While my lover slept I thought about what she said and the questions that haunted my uneducated intellect. My lack of knowledge gave birth to curiosity, and curiosity gave birth to speculation which gave birth to presumption which gave birth to doubt which gave birth to fear. And fear ravaged my heart all night long.
The next morning I got up before the birds and went running to Bà’s hut on the far north side of the Garden. I rarely went there. It took a couple of hours to get there, even running the whole way. But I didn’t care.
I needed answers.
The sun was just creeping over the distant horizon beyond the trees above my head, and a small pillar of smoke rose from the hole in roof of the hut. As I neared the hut, I heard voices talking inside. One was clearly Bà’s, but the other two I did not recognize. I came to the door and opened it hurriedly. Instantly a white bird of some kind flew over my head out of the hut. Bà looked up from where he was sitting on a log. A lamb sat upon his lap, and he stroked his wool gently. He smiled warmly and invited me in.
“How are you this morning child?” he asked as he filled a cup with water and gave it to me.
I nodded and drank the water.
“I was just thinking about you, Érzi,” Bà said, the sunlight from the rising sun illuminating the creases in his cheeks and around his eyes. “I was thinking about the first day I made you, and how wonderful it w-”
“Who was here just now?” I interrupted. I never interrupted Bà. “I heard voices when I was outside your hut Bà. Who was it?”
Bà looked out the window by where he sat. “It was just me, child. There was only one here.”
That did not satisfy me.
The empty places in my soul longed to be filled.
“No,” I said, strongly. “No I heard voices. Who was it?”
“Child,” Bà said slowly,“I am telling you the truth. It was just me.”
“Then how old are you?”
My raging curiosity demanded answers.
“I have no age Érzi, you know that. I have always been.”
“That’s impossible,” I said, the questions flooding my mind until they threatened to break through the very flesh and bones that contained it. “Who made you?”
“No one Érzi,” he answered again, with grace. “I have always been. Let’s take a walk.     You need some fresh air.”
“No!” I suddenly shouted, emotion boiling hot within me. “I don’t want to take a walk with you. I don’t even know who you are.”
Bà stood up and looked into my eyes. “Do not say that child,” he whispered firmly. “You have known me from the beginning. Do not say you do not know your own father.”
“If you are my father than you would tell me things!” I cried out. “You would tell me what love is, where you came from, and why I cannot always see you.”
“I cannot explain these things to you now, child. You would not understand!”
“I would not understand because you made me to not understand! That is why!” I shouted, tears streaming down my face.
“No, Érzi,” he said, his voice filled with emotion. “I have created you to do more than understand. I have created you to be.”
“Why do you always speak like that?” I cried out. “If you truly love me, just speak to me!”
“I am speaking Érzi. Listen.”
His eyes were oceans.
I left the hut, my heart pounding, my breaths short. I ran back to the center of the Garden. My naked lover sat on one of the lower branches of the Tree, talking. I walked up to her slowly, the weight of my previous conversation pulling me down to earth stronger than gravity. She noticed my posture. She came to me and helped me sit down against the Tree’s trunk.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, her voice filled with concern.
“You were right,” I whispered dully, looking into her beautiful eyes. “He didn’t tell me anything. I feel like I don’t know him anymore.”
Ài paused, and searched for the right words. Instead, words flowed from within the Tree.
“You’re right you know,” said a Voice, sweet but powerful. “You don’t know dear Bà anymore. He changes his mind on so many things it’s a wonder that he hasn’t changed his mind about you. Yet.”
“Who is that?” I demanded, standing up and whirling around.
My wife calmed me with her finger upon my lips and told me, “It’s the one I was telling you about last night. Remember?”
I remembered.
“He and I were talking ever since I got up,” she said excitedly. “He told me he thinks Bà is hiding something from us.”
I didn’t disagree.
“He told me that he would love to talk to you.”
I submitted.
“Where did you come from?” I asked, speaking to the unknown depths of the Tree. If this creature answered that question it would be more than Bà did, I thought.
Out of of the Tree crawled a green serpent, its mouth closed, its eyes round and wide, looking straight at me with certain intensity. The Voice spoke again, but I noticed that the serpent’s mouth remained closed.
“I was created, much like you were,” it began. “Except you were drawn from dust, and I was formed from fire. Bà and I were very close, and he entrusted to me charge over the most precious parts of his heart. We had a relationship much like he and you do now, except that I was more powerful than you. He was a father to me, and I to him, a son. We ruled together over this earth, and each day seemed better than the last. But one day, I realized something: Bà was nothing like me. He and I were like oil and water: we did not mix. His mind was set on other things than mine. I wanted to wage war and conquer, he wanted to create and rule. So I began to plan a war against him so that I could overthrow him and have him serve me instead. But alas, my war was sabotaged by an attack and in a sudden violent battle me and my friends, those loyal to my cause, were cut into pieces and our spirits thrown from our place down into this earth here. See, Bà was jealous of my power, he was threatened by my glory, and frightened by the thought of me reigning in his place, not because I could not, but because he knew I could.”
I interjected his story with an obvious flaw I saw. “But you started the war against him. What else would you expect him to do but fight you?”
“My dear Érzi,” the Voice continued, “you are the first of your kind so you do not know much about the way created things are supposed to function, but I imagine you observe the animals around you, do you not?”
I admitted I did.
“Well,” he went on, “you will then agree with me on one thing: that a father lion protects his cubs, a father bird builds nests for his young, and a father frog takes care of the needs of his babies, yes?”
All this I had seen in the Garden. I agreed audibly.
“Well then,” he continued, “you must realize that a father’s first duty is to protect his children. I was his child, and he my father. He claimed to love me, he claimed to be good. And yet he destroyed me. He cast me out of my home, stripped me of my happiness, and waged war against me and all of my friends. Now does that sound like a good father to you?”
“No, I suppose not…” I said softly, slowly.
“It is not!” the Voice declared quite loudly. “A good father would never wage war on his own child. A good father never hides secrets. A good father tells his children everything.”
 A good father tells his children everything.
Was it true? Bà was the only father I had, so I did not know whether he was good or not. What if he was not? Were there better fathers than Bà? Was he even really my father? Was he simply the one who made me and nothing more? Was anything he said to me actually true?
These questions roared like hungry lions in the prisons of my infant mind and I struggled with the surpassing weight of their sound. My mind was unaccustomed to such weight; it was the mind of a child, not strong enough to hold such uncertainty. It was built for ignorance and freedom, not discernment and knowledge. Those past couple of days had built a siege around the fortress of my innocence, and I knew the walls couldn’t hold much longer. The desire for knowledge was becoming much stronger than the desire for freedom. What good was freedom if you did not know what it felt like to be enslaved? What good was joy if you did not know sorrow? What good was love if you never knew hate? What good was a father if you never were an orphan? I struggled with the tension between the words I spoke and the experience behind them. I told Ài that I loved her, but I didn’t know what love really was. I said that Bà was my father, but I didn’t know what a father was even supposed to be. I said that Ài was my best friend, but I didn’t have any others. I said that was happy, but I didn’t know what it felt like not to be.
I was ignorant, but bliss escaped me.
I did not know evil, but I did not know good either.
I needed to know.
I needed to make a choice.
I awoke from my thoughts to notice a piece of fruit being handed to me by Ài, who had red juice dripping from her mouth onto her chin and falling to the ground by my feet.
The fruit.
The fruit that Bà said I could not eat.
Why should I not eat it? It looked just like the other fruit in the Garden, or maybe even better. Was this just another thing he was withholding from me? What truth would it bring? What pleasure would it give me? Why would Bà withhold something so beautiful from me? Did he think I did not deserve it? Did he think I was too young? Did he think I was not strong enough?
No matter, I thought. I would certainly show him.
“Go on,” said the Voice. “Eat it. You are strong enough. One bite and you will know everything you desire to know. You will no longer be a child, but you will become like Bà, a father to many, a son to no one. Eat it. You are strong enough.”
And so I took the fruit and devoured it, bite after bite, until the flesh was all gone and only the pit remained.
Angry and proud, I ate that too.
“There!” I shouted arrogantly. “I did it! I ate the fruit from that stupid Tree! I ate it Bà! And guess what? I’m still alive! I’m still alive!”
I laughed and shouted more, jumping up and down like a madman. But Bà did not answer my defiance. He did not come and apologize for keeping so many things a secret, or for not letting me eat from the Tree. Instead, I heard the sound of my young wife crying.
I had never heard that sound before.
I ran to her. She was sitting under the Tree, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs.
“What’s the matter Ài?” I asked worriedly.
Her eyes widened at the sight of me and she turned her face away from my gaze and cried out, “Don’t look at me Érzi! Please don’t look at me!”
“What do you mean?” I asked, still approaching her.
“Don’t look at me!” she cried out again. “I’m naked!”
“Naked? What do you mean naked?” I inquired, this new word fumbling around in my brain.
“I don’t have a covering!” she shouted. “I’m naked, and you are too!”
She ran away from me into the trees nearby. I looked down at myself and suddenly realized what she was saying. I was exposed. I had no coat like the wolf, no feathers like the bird, and no scales like the fish. I was without a covering: vulnerable to the cold, defenseless against the world, unguarded from any attack, naked.
All of the sudden I felt as if shame was eating me alive, and I plunged head first into the mouth of fear. I didn’t know what to do so I ran from the open space to the trees where my lover had fled. There she was ripping leaves from a nearby fig tree and tying them together with the stem from a vine. She looked up at me as I came to her. Her eyes were filled with tears.
“What have we done Érzi?” she said, her voice hoarse. “What is this feeling? What is going on? Is this death? Are we dying Érzi? Are we dying?”
I didn’t know the answers to her questions. I ate the fruit so that I would know more and now that I had eaten it I felt that I knew less than I did before. I shook my head and quietly helped her sew the leaves together.
“What is this for?” I whispered.
“To cover myself,” she answered, wrapping it around her waist and looking me in the eyes. “You should make one too.”
So I did.
The rest of the day we spent beneath the shadows of the trees in the Garden, barely moving, barely talking, unsure of everything. And since I had eaten the fruit that morning I could not stop thinking about eating more. Ài felt the same. We both felt terrible since eating it the first time, but still we wanted more.
“Perhaps if we eat another one each, it will reverse the effects of eating it the first time,” I offered.
It was enough of an excuse.
We hurried back to the Tree and each ate another fruit, faster this time, our disappointment driving our teeth deeper into the flesh of promise. But it was to no avail. Our fear grew larger and our shame only increased. And with each swallow our our lust for more only intensified. Our discontentment drove us to pick fruit after fruit, until our bellies hurt from how much we stuffed them. But our hearts were far from full; in fact, they never felt more empty. We finally gave up and lay down, wishing for the ground to swallow us whole.
There we lay beneath the Tree, a man and a woman, no longer children, no longer free. Our mouths and hands were stained with the blood of the fruit and the ground was painted by what dripped from our quick and eager bites. There we lay, lovers and enemies, accomplices and playmates, one yet two. There we lay, created for love, orphaned by pride. There we lay while shame slowly chewed us up and spat us back out, and fear built walls around our spirits.
There we lay, until the sound of footsteps prodded us from our place on the ground and behind the nearby trees. Bà was walking in the Garden, looking for his children.
“Érzi,” called out the voice of my maker. “Where are you?”
I didn’t move. My muscles froze together and my jaws clenched tightly, the anticipation of what Bà would say to me controlling my every action.
“Érzi!” he called out again, this time closer. He was standing beneath the Tree, but he looked straight in my direction. I couldn’t see his eyes and for that I was glad. “Érzi, where are you son?”
Finally I retrieved some amount of courage to exit from my hiding place and stand sheepishly in the clearing in front of him. He looked at me with a tender gaze and asked me, “Where have you been? I have been searching for you all day.”
“I’m sorry,” I began, the words coming out of my mouth like the small cries of a lost kitten. “I heard you walking around and I ran and hid, because I was afraid.”
“Afraid?” Bà looked at me inquisitively. “Why would you fear me?”
“Because I was afraid that you would see me; I am naked.”
I stared at the ground.
“Naked?” Bà asked. “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the Tree I did not give to you? Did you ignore my protection?”
And fear destroyed me.
“It was Ài!” I cried out suddenly, pointing to where she hid in the trees behind me. “She pulled me away from you and gave me the fruit to eat! Why did you give her to me? It was her fault! Her’s!”
The victim of my accusation came running, tears streaming down her red cheeks. “No Bà!” she cried out, “It was the serpent! He told me that it was fine. He made me doubt you and told me to eat it. Why did you make him? It was his fault! His!”
Bà turned quickly and stomped on the tail of the serpent, who was trying to escape. “Gū’ér,” he said sternly. “You are cursed for what you have done. You were created for beauty, and yet you continue to wreak havoc and destruction wherever you turn. As I took your wings, now I take your legs from you, for you have made yourself nothing more than a snake, inflicting poison through every word you speak. You sought to consume heaven, but now all you will consume is dust and earth. You sought to make Ài your friend, but now she will become your greatest enemy.”
Then he turned to my wife and said, “Ài, my dearest daughter, I made you to be free, yet you have chosen slavery. Because of this you will only bring forth life through pain, and you will never see the end of your desires. You sought to rule over man, but now he will rule over you.”
Finally he turned to me. “Érzi,” he said, “my son with whom I was pleased, because you have listened to the voice of others more than you have listened to mine, your hands will never stop working. I created you for sonship, but you have chosen to be an orphan. You were created for passion, but you have chosen passivity. There very ground you were given life from will become your death. You sought to become more, but now you will become less.”
These words sunk like stones in the waters of our spirits, and we then realized the weight of what we had done. We both began to weep uncontrollably and apologize, seeking immediate pardon for our crime.
“I’m sorry children,” said Bà, embracing us both tightly. “But I am light, I cannot have darkness dwell with me, and you both have chosen darkness. I wanted you to be my children, but you have made yourself orphans.”
“Then take us back Bà! Pretend like it did not happen. We won’t do it again!” I cried out in desperation.
Bà shook his head. “No child, I will not steal you. You are not mine any more and to take you back without payment would be abduction. I am not that kind of a father. I cannot pretend like it did not happen, for to pretend is to lie, and I cannot say anything but the truth. Do you understand?”
“But you are powerful!” said Ài, her eyes longingly searching the face of her creator. “You can do anything. Just undo what we have done. Undo it Bà, undo it!”
She clung to his feet. He knelt down and lifted her face.
“There will come a time when I will undo everything that has taken you from me, and we will be together once again, like we were, but it is not now. Simply trust me, and know that I will not forget you. When the world seems as if it will destroy you and the darkness seems too great to see past, remember that I am greater than this small world and I am brighter than any darkness that covers you. Remember always, that before you were in darkness you were in light. Before you were separate from me you were with me. Just wait a little while longer and I will come to you again, and all will be as it were before. Wait on me child. Wait. I will come to you.”
“What do we do Bà?” I asked, trembling.
“You cannot be here any longer,” he said, his eyes filled with tears. “I cannot permit it. You will flee into the west, outside of the Garden, where you will make your new home. There you must take care of the earth, just as you did here, but you must also take care of each other. You will find it hard to find me in the world if you are not looking for me. I will not walk with the feet that I have here, I will not speak with the voice I have here, and I will not hold you with the hands I have here. I will walk with you, but you will not always see me. I will talk to you, but you will not always hear me. I will hold you, but you will not always feel me. Just as I gave you sight as a gift, I now give you faith. With faith you will see me, with faith you will hear me, with faith you will feel me.”
“But I don’t want faith,” I cried out. “I want you.”
“You will have me,” he said, “if you choose me. You will now have to choose many things: pain or joy, hate or love, death or life, yourself or me.”
“I will choose you Bà!” I cried out. “I won’t forget you. I won’t.”
Bà smiled and whispered with certainty, “And neither will I forget you. Goodbye children. Remember that I am with you, forever.”
He hugged us both tightly for a moment seemed like an eternity. I wish it was. But it was not, and the next thing I knew we were both outside the Garden, looking out into the wild world before us, feeling quite lost and ready to cry, and yet retaining a strange feeling of hope beyond all explanation that one day we will be woken up beneath the fig tree in the Garden by Bà’s cheery singing, reminding us that we have a full day of adventures before us.
     This hope I cling to.
Some people tell me I’m a mentally-ill old man stuck in the past, delusional and desperate, but I’m not so sure. They do not know Bà like I know Bà. For though I no longer see him nor touch him I know he is here with me, watching me and taking care of me as he did in the Garden. Sometimes I swear I can hear his voice as I work, and I know he listens as I talk to him. Some people tell me that it is ludicrous to talk to someone I do not see. They tell me I am talking to the air. In a way they are right. For Bà has become everything to me. He is the ground I walk upon in the cool of the day, he is the sunlight that wakes me up gently in the morning, and he is the air that I breathe in every moment of the day, sustaining my lungs and giving life to my weary bones. I know that this time is only temporary, and that another time will come when all the damage I have caused to this beautiful creation will be undone and all things will be made right again, just as it was in the beginning. I know that this time is simply the night, and that morning will surely come. I know that one day I will wake up from this sleep and Bà will smile widely and say to me, as he always did, “Wake up child. The night is past, this is the morning, and the day is yet before us.