by Setsuko Adachi
In the Mountain That Knows Happiness stands a grandstand with a grape arbour hidden from mortal eyes. A century or two ago, it used to be easy to spot from below for anybody, including mortals, because tapestry after tapestry of grapes in various shades of colour shone under the white sun. Today, the colours of tapestries have faded and some vines have been consumed by rot. They were suffering an existential crisis. They have been labelled as not practical by the current mortals.
The spectres of the Mountain have always called the grandstand Berfrois and always will. It was where the honourable judges and respectable connoisseurs gathered to spectate the contests between Arachne and Athena, that is, figuratively speaking. You see, Arachne was the mortal in Greek mythology devoted to the art of spinning exquisite stories into delicate tapestries who challenged the talented and immortal Athena because Arachne sought the best of the best.
The Mountain used to have an innumerable number of Arachnes. They passionately contested. When the honourable judges, assisted by the respectable connoisseurs, housed in Berfrois, announced the winner, the Mountain celebrated happiness. The mortals were euphoric when the winner’s tapestry was brought up and added to the grape arbour to honour their achievement. That no longer was the case.
Given the situation, the uncanny commotion that the unhappy spectre portion of the residents in the Mountain That Knows Happiness displayed should be compassionately forgotten. It started when M, a man deceased at the age of forty-four, announced, “My challenge has been accepted. I am going to Berfrois to watch a living sapiens go at it. Any sapiens spectre is welcome to come join me.”
So, they all went to Berfrois excited, chatting and waiting.
“Who is this lovely living sapiens that took up the challenge?”
“I hear it is M’s niece.”
In the meantime, M’s niece had no idea she had become a potential source of happiness for the weakened spectres. For her, it was merely the fact that at the age of forty-nine, she had found how to be happy. She lived on one of the islands that suffered from high depression and even worse. It would hardly surprise anyone that she had wanted to know how to escape a life enslaved by misery. She had the habit of saying: “I was unhappy. I am unhappy. I will be unhappy. If I only knew how to make myself happy….” Although one has to say, she was lucky because no matter how much depression enveloped her, she had the ability to sleep it off. And one day, apropos of nothing, her wish was fulfilled — she could generate happiness from unhappiness. Doing it felt good. It made her high. Somehow, she knew she owed this happiness to her late uncle M.
M was her favourite. Her hero. M had been dead for three decades. M had refused to use morphine to sedate his pain. M said he would rather bear pain than kill his ability to think. She remembered with acuity their last mortal conversation. It happened three days before M died his painful death. She stopped by to let him know she would be gone for a week, that she would be travelling with her friend. He blessed her with his “itterasshai.” His “itterasshai” was always genuinely encouraging. It signified something like, “Go venture out, have fun! There’s something in it for you,” and she left with “ittekimasu” — “I’m going!”
Understandably, she had been pouring a lot of energy into thinking about M and trying to figure how this happiness came about. So much so that she started again to envision him in their living room. And that was when M, the spectre, announced that his challenge had been accepted.
She had no idea she was being watched. Berfrois was packed to watch her take up M’s challenge.
“Shh…” said M to the spectators. “Look, my niece has brought me out there. She is good. That is as close as it can get to me when I was alive.” The spectre-spectators in Berfrois watched her M enter the living room through the kitchen door. The empty living room was bright with white light. The four sliding glass doors bent and distorted light, air, shades. M and spectators were able to make out the projections of pale fragmented shades of grapes and Berfrois, all of which she would not know even existed, in the living room. Her M sat on a sofa bed with his legs extended. Her niece sent her three-year-old self.
She came in from the hall of darkness.
She went and slid down his legs.
Over and over.
Bubbly happiness filled the room.
It was colourful bubbles.
The toddler was hyped.
Then her energy wore her down.
She closed her eyes, saw colourful bubbles, and drifted into happy sleep in his lap.
“Bravo,” mumbled M silently in Berfrois. “Did you pick up on that?” M said to his fellow spectre-spectators. “She turned those pale shades of grapes into those happy, colourful bubbles. Impressive, she does not even know they exist!” Berfrois roared in appreciation.
“Let me go challenge her,” M said, and he slid into her M in the living room.
The spectators saw her walk into the living room from the hall of darkness. She sees M carefully wrapping the sleeping toddler in his lap with bubbles. “Ah, uncle,” she said, “that is how you did it. You protected my sleep well.” “Yes, indeed, and you see I am applying them as liberally and artistically as possible.” “Every wrapping is a piece of art that makes me proud of my fantastic self.” He kept at it, and she watched.
She should have known, but she did not. The living room was getting too distorted, too dazzled, too airtight. She wanted to retreat to the hall of darkness but could not move, quickly realising why. Of course! He was wrapping her! She was his proud work of art. She thought of telling M to stop and did not. Instead, she tried to see if she could rearrange the bubbles into different shapes to free herself. She could and touching bubbles proved pleasant. She was not smooth in the beginning. Her awkwardness amused her uncle. M laughed heartily. “It is great to see you working at it.” “Keep it going. You will find your shapes and aesthetics.”
She only heard M’s laughter, but Berfrois was shaking because the spectre-spectators were laughing so hard. Some were even teary-eyed. “She knows how!” “She is doing it!” “She gets it!”
M was pleased. Couldn’t stop laughing. “You are not doing that on purpose, are you? So artless, almost artistically clumsy! It has a slapstick effect on me! No elegance at all! Ah ha ha ha ha ha!” “Uncle!” “Sorry, dear. Sorry! You will be fine. You have great potential. It is all a matter of honing your skills, cultivating perceptions. My first time was not nearly as good as yours. Ah ha ha ha ha ha!”
The bubbles overflow into the hall of darkness. The spectre-spectators watch niece and M, who was looking much younger than his forty-nine-year-old niece, follow the bubbles into the hall of darkness. It was refreshing. She had always known the hall of darkness, but it was not the hall nor darkness she knew. The hall had grown life-size, her life-size, to be more accurate, a dynamic, messy shapeless sphere. It was a useless, frustrating mess; but an alluring, bubbling mess! She passionately started to arrange the bubbles to spin stories. If she could not find the right bubble to fit, she would fill in the hole with her babble.
“What a pity,” M started talking to her and a nervous silence quickly fell on Berfrois. They knew the final challenge was coming. M continued, “These days, living sapiens are directed not to do what you are doing now. The young ones are even told doing this does not get them a well-paid job that it is a waste of time and energy. If they wanted to be successful, stay away from it.”
The Berfrois spectre-spectators held their breath, looked at the niece and waited.
“But you did not, uncle. The unhappiness is the source of this joy, isn’t it?” “Exercising this is fundamental to being living homo sapiens, isn’t it?”
She did not hear it, cheers broke out.
“Well done, my niece, well done!” “Go, itterasshai!” “Enjoy your life! Your psyche knows the pleasure of surviving!”
“Yes, uncle! Ittekimasu.” She showed no hesitation. She trusted his itterasshai. She left before a second had time to split.
When she was gone, M was mobbed by the celebrating crowd back in Berfrois. “Congratulations, M!” “You did a wonderful job!” “She lived up to your challenge more than enough!” “Her bubbly art fragments might find a way to grow into one beautiful tapestry one day.” “There’s something for us to look forward to.” “I wander when she will join us.” And in the midst of all the celebration, Berfrois gave way.
……Sincere apologies to those that were spooked that day.
About the Author
Setsuko Adachi is associate professor in the Department of Information Studies at Kogakuin University, Tokyo. Her main research interests are identity formation and cultural systems analysis.