Land of the Free by Manuel Moya


Land of the Free
by Manuel Moya

Lost amidst the mountainous terrain, a traveler attempted to balance his wearying body on the little remaining strength of his legs. But each time a new peak had been crossed, the valleys below presented him with nothing more than the same unforgiving rock and the blue floor above him walked on in ease by the gods. Snickering at the distresses of a mere mortal, taunting him with a frivolous climate, baiting him with blurry visions of refreshment, they secretly envied him for his struggle. The struggle to survive was one they could never enjoy let alone understand – the true fountain of youth whose waters would never refresh their palates nor satiate their eternal souls. And so in private resentment they continued to scoff at him from their lofty beds of cloud and even pressed their weight down on the man’s shoulders. The limbs of the transient could no longer hold him, and he finally tumbled down the latest slope.

He awoke to find himself lying in some sort of dark and dirty cavern to the sound of children indifferently rushing in and out with bowls of exotic food and drink. The man slowly accustomed himself to the pain shooting from various scraped wounds, and then he followed the light to find his way out of the cave. The surrounding village seemed to be mostly populated with youthful faces, all of them grouped into various stations in the town. Their heads were shorn, and their faces dirtied with mud and the sweat that comes from hard work. They all wore a long dark-brown tunic that covered them from head to toe.  In one lot, young boys were busy hammering away in some sort of metal works, while in another, young girls hurriedly molded clay pots and plates, threaded blankets and other such cloths.

“Welcome traveler!” bellowed a voice from behind him.

Turning around, he found himself greeted by a half-naked man with an oceanic belly that rippled along the tide of hourly lunches, relaxing shamelessly on a litter hoisted by five or six adolescent males.

“Where am I?” asked the visitor.

“Welcome my friend to our land!”

Noticing the gaudy beads of jade and gems around the man’s neck, the visitor inquired “Are you the Chief of this land?”

“Ha Ha Haa! No my friend. No. There are no chiefs in this land. This is the land of the free!” He said with an oblique smile. “There are no slaves here and no masters. Everyone can do as they please.”

The visitor became baffled at this as he watched the adolescent males straining to keep up the massive weight of this tribal elder on their shoulders.

“Come! Come! I will show you around my bountiful paradise!”

Another huddle of adolescents suddenly accumulated to hoist the visitor onto his own litter.  As soon as the tour began, the visitor and his host were brought to what appeared to be the center of a very small village. From their lifted height, each of the stations could be pointed to and seen:
“You see my friend, we are a place of learning here. The root of an advanced society is education! And I mean practical education. Learning that has a function. All that you see here, all of these stations are places of learning and doing.” Raising his hand, he pointed to one of the stations, “You see them over there? Over there, where we just were?” The guest could see a large swath of boys and young men, all fully clad in their communal uniform, assiduously sawing wood and immersed in an array of arduous labors. “That is where the boys learn to build. Ah yes, that is where they prepare the materials for our manors. Oh,” he chuckled and patted his throne, “It is also where they build these here comfy seats, hah hah haah.” But the traveler looked around – except for the dirt hovels dug into the ground, there were no such ‘manors’ to be seen.

Then he pointed to another station, where twenty-something males and females were all engaged in a myriad of seemingly dissimilar activities. Within that post, he saw young men in combat, spear throwing and other such sports, girls playing primitive musical instruments, while others seemed to be busy writing. “This, this is our most proud institution. Only the brightest are accepted here. It is where they learn the arts of high service.”

“Tell me, do these children have any parents?” asked the guest. “Where is your manor and what sort of work do you do?”
The elder instantly bellowed a chuckle, “Haha Haa. Work? We don’t need to work! This is the land of the free. Nobody works here my friend. Come. Come. I will show you where I live.”

The males began to carry the host and his guest up towards the mountains leaving behind the small cluster of rat hole-dug outs and work stations. Feeling uneasy about being carried by the gaunt males who seemed to be gasping and panting for air, the guest tried to unseat himself from his undeserved throne, but his host insouciantly looked at him and remarked, “This generation is so selfish. They truly are just grown up babies.” Then he chided his underlings, “Come on! Get off your useless asses and get to work!” The guest returned to the seat of his litter, but a loose rock slid under the foot of one of the slave youth. A young man slipped and fell to the bottom of the mountain while the others still managed to hold up the litters. “Oh there they go again. All they know how to do is whine and complain,” said the porcine elder over the sound of the adolescent’s muted whimpering. As they continued up the mountain without the injured straggler, the newcomer looked back to see the boy at the bottom of the mountain crying hopelessly in a bloody agony.

The two finally arrived at a plateau, perched high up on a large ridge overlooking from a distance the small colony of youth laborers they had previously departed. Upon entering this space, he was presented, not with a town, but an idyllic parkland inhabited by men and women in their sixties or seventies. These elders cavorted about freely, some of them fornicating in the open, while others engaged in light sporting activities, such as throwing around a hallow ball pickled with holes. Much unlike the children, they were all dressed in various types of colorful robes and jewelry, some of them scantily clad or even naked. Although some of the elders were going naturally bald, none of them had their heads shorn like the adolescents. Many looked well-fed, and relaxed while being hauled from place to place on their own private litters lifted by the young.

“This, my friend, this is where I live! Haha haa Yes…This is truly the land blessed by the gods! My friend, you must be hungry.” He clapped his hands, “To consumption row!”

The men were taken to a section of the grassland that had been solely dedicated to feasting. Long tables had been implanted for the adults to gorge on various dishes and stews whenever they so wished. Plates of delicious wild game hunted by the boys, and cooked by the girls. Gourmet ambrosias were set alongside, exotic berries, and vegetables.

“Ah …yes, my friend,” He presented the foreigner with a bowl of liquid, “try this my friend” he said with a toothy grin. The man sipped the bowl, but the juice soon burned down his gullet causing him to cough. “Ha ha haaa! Yes, yes it is strong. Much stronger than wine…” but he waved his finger from side to side, “but it is only for us adults eh.”

The youth were performing various theatrics around the table, while the adults chatted and laughed amongst each other: some of the young recited poetry on one corner, others were playing music, and in another, young men fought mercilessly to the death.

“Now…” the man patted the guest’s shoulder and pointed him towards the far back-end of the plateau where tall neo-Roman villas stood proudly over the insulated paradise, “…that is where I live.” The traveler was invited to stay indefinitely with the rest of the elders in their lavish Eden, but the uneasy guilt that comes from living in a slave-economy prohibited him from doing so.  He agreed to stay only for the night, but insisted that he must continue on his journey homeward. For the remainder of the day, he showed to the elders that he was able to adapt to their cultural decadence. He ate the food handpicked and cooked by the young, but he did not drink their strong booze. He joined the adults in their pious conversations, but expressed neither agreement nor disagreement, – self-important chatter discussing the naiveté of the youth and the young’s sense of entitlement, “They don’t appreciate the world they live in,” said one man, “They think the world owes them everything,” said another. “Why, when I was their age I carried two adults on my back, barefoot!” “Yes sir, we all did our time, we paid our dues. Now it’s our turn to have some fun.” To that, they all raised their wine cups, “Here! Here!” but the foreigner only pretended to drink.

Once everyone was asleep, the visitor crept out of the enormous villa and skirted the edge of the plateau so as to make his way unnoticed. He hiked down the mountain, where steps had already been engraved, no doubt by the youth who climbed up and down to serve their adult overlords.    Upon reaching the bottom of the mountain, he found the adolescent who fell earlier in the day, lying unconscious with his fractured limb. He lifted the young man in his arms and carried him to the cluster of hovels and work stations where the peasant youth were forced to live, “learn” and serve.

The man shouted around to wake up all of the young, all of them tired from their day’s labors, “Hey guys! Everyone! Let’s go! Let’s get out of here!” Some of them poked their heads from out of their sties while the ones lying on the ground tried to hush the man. He lay the injured adolescent down at one of the work stations and continued his calls, “Hey everybody! Let’s get out of here! Come on! Get your things!”

A girl, about the age of twenty or twenty three, her fingers calloused into leather, and cheeks sunken in by long hours under the sun, looked up at him, “What’s the matter? What’s wrong?”

“Everything is. Everything. Quickly! Let’s get you guys out of here. Gather your tools. Take only what’s necessary!”
A young man, trained for combat to entertain the elders, whose lifespan was surely more limited than all the others, chimed in, “Go where? What for?” More of the young were waking up to the commotion.

“All of you, with your skills, and your trades. You all could leave this place and live on your own. You could be much richer than you are now. Much happier. You don’t have to serve the elders. You don’t need them! Quickly. Let’s leave before they notice something!”

The crowd of youth disintegrated and they slowly returned to their slums to go back to sleep.

“I don’t understand? Don’t you want to escape? Don’t you want to be free?”

The young man, with the short lifespan, said plainly and nondefiantly, “We are already free. This is the land of the free. Nobody is forcing us to do anything. Out there,” he pointed to the rocky expanse surrounding them, “Out there, there is nothing. Here, there is opportunity! I was born into a better world than my father, and my son is going to be born into a better world than me.”

* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Manuel Moya 2014

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