The Pot

Bored by the rains of another monsoon afternoon, the boy wandered the maze of mud puddles to the village potter’s hut. He didn’t know exactly why he was so fascinated by the simple clay pots. All he knew was that he was and they drew him here almost daily. His greatest and most silent hope was to learn the trade from the elderly man who made them for their village. He had never dared to ask though. Until now he had been unable to move beyond is own sense of awe.

Taking quick inventory, he noticed no new pots but his favorite among them remained in its usual place. To the common eye, all the pots looked the same. Any new additions would easily go unnoticed. But the boy’s eyes were the eyes of his heart and every pot, no matter how plain, stood out in its individuality to him. He scrutinized the crooked stacks as he did every day, silently bidding each one good day.

A calloused hand ruffled through his hair. It was familiar as his own mother’s. The aroma of sweat, dust and cigarettes enveloped him mixing with the smell of the rain and painting a grin on his face.

“And what do the pots say today, little dreamer?” the old potter grinned, glancing out at the rain-soaked world.

“Don’t be silly,” the boy blushed. “Pots can’t talk.”

Upon hearing this, the man arranged his old bones on a dusty cushion more tatter than fabric and rubbed at the white brush of whiskers sprouting on his chin. It was a deliberate motion. It made a dry sound. He pondered a moment.

“A pot has a mouth just as you do, a throat, and a good strong belly,” he finally declared. “Why shouldn’t it talk?”

The boy blinked and absently fingered the rim of the pot that rested next to the grubby cushion on the floor. This was his favorite pot, and had earned this place of honor as silent recognition by the old man for the boy’s unspoken love — a love well-remembered over the years of molding, shaping and decorating the very clay that seemed to permeate every pore of his being. Yes, he understood this in the boy better then the boy understood it himself. Resting his eyes on the boy, the child looked up and smiled. The potter patted his face leaving a hand print on his sweaty cheek.

“And you know it does,” he added with a wink.

Filled with bliss and feeling content, the boy returned his attention to the pot. Placing its cool wide mouth between his hands it suddenly exploded with a *plink* leaving the bewildered child holding a pot-less rim. A soggy cricket ball rocked back and forth amid the shards as if trying to shake off the blame. The pot was destroyed.

Filling with rage the boy hurled the ball from the shop. The boy-cricketers braving the rain nearby cheered and scooped up the ball, oblivious of its crime. His heart lay amid the broken shards. Falling to his knees he began picking up each piece and cradling it against his chest, a quivering breath for every shard.

“Why are you so sad?” the potter asked.

“Its broken,” the boy choked on his broken heart. “It was the most perfect one and now its gone.”

“Its outside is broken but its certainly not gone,” the man sighed, wiping at the boy’s tears.

The boy gazed up at him with glistening eyes, the question in them plain.

With a smile that wore the weight and wisdom of his years, the man knelt among the ruin with the boy and picked up one shard, considering it.

“What you see is the skin of the pot, but not the pot itself,” he told the boy. “Yes, its true as I said. A pot has a mouth, a throat, a belly and a skin which surrounds it, just like you do. It also has another thing.”

“What’s that?”

“The pot also has the space inside. The skin may be gone, but that space that was the inside of the pot is still there. Always will be. It was there when the pot was created around it.”

So saying, the old man settled his rickety bones back on his cushion with a dusty puff and lit a cigarette. He feigned returning his attention to the rain.

The boy blinked and looked back to where the pot had been moments before, trying to digest the potter’s words. He waved his free hand around in the space where the pot had been then placed it on his own chest. He didn’t see the corners of the potter’s mouth twist around his cigarette with a knowing smile. The boy considered the broken shards in his hands, pulled them tight to his chest and pondered the space one final time.

After long moments, he rose to his feet and walked with a kind of reverence to the rubbish heap behind the shop, the cricketers forgotten. There he deposited the remains of his most beloved pot with a little smile on his face he wasn’t even aware of.

Upon returning to the cushion, the potter blew a large lazy smoke ring. The boy giggled.

“Tomorrow come by after your lessons and bring a bucket,” the man said, snuffing out his cigarette on the dirt floor.

“Why do I need a bucket?” the boy asked, absently wiping his hands on his shirt-front.

“You’ve learned what you need to know about life today. Tomorrow you will learn to make pots.”

Copyright Jean Mishra 2011


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