The tale of the speechless man

Once upon a time, there were human beings. They plowed through the day and slept through the night, because that is how they decided things were. When the sun rose, they called it ‘day’, when the moon came out they called it ‘night’.

The humans cleverly tried to name the things they saw with words. They even started naming things they didn’t see and became very good at creating language to serve their illusions. Wherever they lived, the humans were very busy with this new language thing.

Some sadly lost touch with reality because they got blinded by the words and the false promises these words made. Most of these humans started to abuse language after a while. With words they misled fellow humans (they tried this with animals too, but that didn’t work out that well). They built sandcastles that collapsed soon after the words had been spoken. Both the misleading and the misled were equally naive and thus went on and on and got stuck in their Vicious Circles of Words. Words. Words.

Certain humans made language the main subject of their academic research, some of them used language to write books, poetry, essays. They loved playing with words through writing, and made fruitless attempts in understanding reality and the world that surrounded them by reading, writing, and debating. Language and words were all they had. It was the best they could do. Some even learned different languages, hoping to get closer to the truth this way. They were wrong, but they were aware of it. Nevertheless they kept trying. One could say the beauty lied in their continued quest for the truth through words, although they very well knew they would never reach their goal. It’s like building the most ingenious and solid rocket to fly to the sun, not knowing beforehand it will catch fire miles before even approaching the target.

But high in the mountains, hidden in the clouds, there lived a human being who didn’t (ab)use words. As a matter of fact, he didn’t speak at all. No one had ever heard the sound of his voice and he didn’t even know himself what he sounded like. As far as he was concerned, it was not necessary to have ‘a sound’, to speak words. Speaking words only blinded and misled, he thought.

Although the speechless man led a speechless life, he read books, plenty of them.  He had made it his mission in life to get as close to the truth as possible, by reading. Although he knew it was all a lie, he loved the beauty of words: syllables, alliterations, acronyms, homophones.. His favorite waste of time besides reading was inventing neologisms. He listened to how his newly created neologisms sounded in his head, the speechless man. It made him smile.

The walls of his little wooden cabin high up in the mountains were covered with all the books he had read so far. Not an inch of the wooden planks was visible anymore. The speechless man was surrounded by millions and millions of words. O the irony!

One day, the speechless man decided to go on a journey. He filled his backpack with books and with a toothbrush and took the path from his wooden cabin down into the valley. After several days he reached the first village in the green valley. He crossed the bridge over the river and walked straight onto the main street. It was a horrendous experience. The sound of the villagers was deafening, utterly unbearable for the speechless man. He was so shocked that he stopped walking, put down his backpack and sat down at the side of the road, between the second and third house of the village.

After a couple of hours, the woman living in the second house, a red brick house with a lot of plants and flowers and plaster dwarfs in the front garden, approached him. Her curiosity had become bigger than her fear of this stranger who had been out there with both his hands covering his ears without moving for two full hours.

She spoke to him: she tried different sentences and words, she tried all the languages she knew, but the speechless man didn’t say a word. Though it looked like the stranger understood her, he didn’t make a sound. The woman became very nervous and suspicious.

She decided to get some help. Soon a dozen other villagers appeared and stood in a circle around the speechless man. They didn’t come too close, because they all felt uncomfortable seeing a grown up man covering his ears with his hands like a child that didn’t want to listen.

The villagers tried all the languages in the world to get some response from the stranger, but without result. After a while, some of them gave up and went back home. Others stayed longer because they really wanted to help this poor looking man. In the end, all of them left, except for one man who looked a hundred years old.

The man’s eyes were transparent which gave him a hazy, but still profound look, his hair was grey and long, just like his beard. He had a stick to support his left side. When he was finally alone with the stranger, he made the universal sign of silence where one puts their index finger in front of their mouth. A smile appeared on the speechless man’s face. At last someone understood the problem.

The old man gently came closer and sat down next to the speechless man. He pointed at the backpack and the speechless man showed him the books that were inside. Now the old man started smiling, murmured something that was incomprehensible, stood up and slowly walked down the road towards his house. The speechless man stayed where he was, confident that the old man would come back. A while later, he saw the grey man with the stick coming up the road again. He had something in his right hand and carried a bag over his shoulder.

The old man had a bowl of homemade soup in his hand and a stack of books in his bag, his favorite ones. While eating his soup, the speechless man started reading one of the books. Meanwhile, the old man took a closer look at the books in the stranger’s backpack . When the sun set, both men were still sitting alongside the main road, reading in silence. It became colder and darker.

All of a sudden, the old man took the speechless man’s hand and made it clear he wanted to get up and go. The men stood up and the old man led the speechless man to his house. From that day onwards, the two of them lived together in the old man’s house. The books were piling up against the walls, the stacks got higher and higher. They never spoke a word.

The other villagers felt so uncomfortable by the presence of these two strange silent men, that one by one they left. They took all their stuff (and that was a lot) loaded it in their trucks, moved, and never came back.

The village became quiet.

Humans elsewhere in the world heard about the silent village and occasionally, someone came walking down the main road and stayed. Some left after awhile, when they couldn’t bear the silence anymore, other stayed forever to read. They all strived to get as close to the truth as possible, together with the old, and the speechless man.

They all led their own lives, in silence.

Quiet and calm.

Apart and together.

Sometimes they made soup for each other, sometimes someone did the laundry for someone else, watered the plants or fed the fish.

But most of the time, they sat in front of their wood fires and read.

They simply were

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