Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Parable of the Low Hanging Fruit (Part II)

Schiavo clomped off in his donkey cart early the next day, riding from town to town and wandering from market to market without pinpointing the piazza where he had purchased the prodigious plums. It was in a distraught state that he reached Forfuna as the setting sun turned the surrounding trees into long finger shadows over the still bustling market. He scanned the stalls packed closely in the square until his eye landed on a figure that he knew instantly was the monger he had been seeking. When he rode a bit closer, the fruit monger looked up and acknowledged him with a knowing smile, so knowing the provisioner found it presumptuous. Yet, as he drew closer, the fruit monger continued to look his way from time to time and greet him with the most knowing of smiles.

“How dare you look at me as if you knew I would be ever-so-delighted to see you,” groused Schiavo after alighting from the cart and jostling his way through the throng to the monger’s stall.

“Are you not?” chuckled the monger.

“Well, perhaps,” posited the provisioner, “but shouldn’t it be up to me to reveal my own delight first?”

“I’m sorry,” said the continuously chuckling monger, “but I knew you would come and that you would be wearing that face that could be seen from so far off.”

“Well did you now?” challenged Schiavo. “You knew I would come all this way.”

“I did.”

“And you know why?”

“I do.”

“Well, why don’t you just tell me,” mocked Schiavo.

“For the plums.”

“That’s it!” exclaimed Schiavo, surprising even himself with how quickly he dropped all pretense. “But how?”

“Because anyone who buys the plums of Agrono once comes back with the very same look. Everyone.”

“Aaaah,” now chuckled Schiavo, “so it wasn’t just me.”

“No, no, no,” said the monger. “I am possessed of no special knowledge. I just know what the plums of Agrono do to all those who eat them.”

“So where is this Agrono,” Schiavo solicited.

“Who, not where. Agrono is a person, a cultivator of fruit trees but some say he is a magician.

“He can be a sorcerer for all I care,” opined the provisioner, “as long as I can buy more of his fruit.”

“He will come to the market in the morrow,” offered the monger. “But be here, just by that ancient tree, when day breaks. His fruit will sell quickly.”

“Then I shall be first,” said Schiavo. “I will go now and spend the night in my cart.”

As Schiavo lay in his cart and looked up at the stars, he wondered why other carts had not piled single-file behind him and hoped he had not been duped by the drupe-seller. But when the cocks bugled in the dewy dawn, carts began arriving from all directions and as they did, pointed themselves not at the ancient tree but at an unassuming lane that dissolved in the distance near the top of a gentle slope. The carts assembled themselves with military precision, then all fell quiet as if everyone was straining their ears for a signal sound. Then he heard it, the creak and rattle of a cart in the distance and people began to say, “It’s him. It’s him.” And when the vaguest of forms emerged on the hazily lit horizon, the crowd gave the shape a name. “Agrono,” they shouted in delight and anticipation. “Agrono!”

Schiavo strained his eyes to make out the nearing figure and noticed that the cart driver was waving his hand dismissively, as if to suggest what he was hearing was wrong or inappropriate. The provisioner turned to the driver of the cart closest to his and said, “I don’t think that is Agrono. He seems to be telling us that we’re mistaken.”

“And that’s how we know it most certainly is Agrono,” said the other driver. “He doesn’t like the fuss we make. He says we should be grateful for the soil and the trees, that he could not do what he does without them.”

As Agrono approached, Schiavo could see that he was man beyond his middle years but not yet old. His limbs were strong, his eyes alert, and his face full of expressive lines. Schiavo knew that this was man who had lived a life full of both struggle and joy.

Agrono drew his cart close to the ancient tree, then stepped out and approached it like a pilgrim nearing a long-sought shrine. He did not need to kneel for no gesture could have expressed more reverence than the look on his face. Schiavo was not a sentimental man but he could not help but be moved by such an eloquent tribute and thought how different this man must be from the great scholar. One seemed so grateful for something so simple, the other so unhappy despite having been given so much.

Agrono then turned back to his cart and opened the back gate more fully revealing the oddest assortment of baskets, a motley of color, size and shape.

“I am prepared to buy all you have,” proclaimed the provisioner.

“But I am prepared to sell you only these,” said Agrono, unloading four large baskets of plump purple plums.

“But …why?” sputtered Schiavo.

“Because this is only your second purchase.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I have not seen you before and you are now the first in line which means you must have learned where I would be from the fruit monger before the sun set. And the reason you went to the monger was to learn the origin of the fruit you purchased unknowingly the first time.”

Schiavo found himself pondering if this seemingly simple soul at the base of the great tree was in some odd way even smarter than Omniscio but no sooner did the great scholar come to mind than paroxysms of dread rattled him out of the reflection.

“But I was first in line,” he protested.

“A line of your forming only,” said Agrono gently.

“Then why did I stay all night in the cart.”

“I would not have asked it of you.”

“And yet I did. I made the greatest sacrifice.”

“And what of those who have sacrificed even more? Those who have bought from me the longest? Those who have helped me out in difficulty? What kind of man would I be if I sold all to one I have never seen before and forsook all who I have known for so long?

“A man of business,” hissed the provisioner. “I am offering to buy all you have at top price.”

“Would a man of business be wise to cater to one who offers to buy once at the cost of many who have bought often?”

“I buy for the Academy d’Omniscio. There will always be many there.”

Agrono shrugged. “And yet there are many here who I have known and loved, and who have loved me, for so long.”

And so it was in a huff that Schiavo left and in a deep state of misery that he made his way back to the academy, deeper still as he climbed the stairs and knocked on the door of Omnicio’s study. He reported procuring four large baskets of the fruit, attempting to tell the story in such a way that it might be seen as a coup but the great scholar would have none of it and called Shiavo an “ass”, then began embellishing on that name with adjectives and adverbs of ascending alphabetical order, thus:

“You ass.”

“You braying ass.”

“You clodish braying ass.”

“You dolt of a clodish braying ass.”

“You exasperating dolt of a clodish braying ass.”

At about the letter “j,” the provisioner ceased to feel maligned, having developed a morbid curiosity about whether Omniscio might run the whole alphabet, even the odd letters like Q, U, V, X and Z, which, as it so happened, the great scholar was able to do:

Q = quaggy-minded

U = ulcerogenic

V = vile

X = xanthistic

Z = zysum-sotted

Yet, the more he thought about it, Schiavo reasoned that few people, if any, had been so eruditely excoriated and concluded there was real distinction in it.

Omniscio, meanwhile, resolved to take such a weighty matter into his own hands and to find the fruit-grower on his own. So it was that he traveled to Forfuna and, by various means, mostly brow-beating, ascertained the general location of the abode of Agrono. When he came to a large, bountiful orchard, he knew he was closing in on his man but wondered why one with so much would go to the trouble of selling his own fruit. He wandered into the orchard and began to follow the ruts of cart wheels until he was struck by beautiful music that seemed by some Aeolian magic to be coming from the trees themselves. But, slowly, he realized the music had a single source and followed his way to it. He came upon a clearing that held a simple but sturdy abode and on old stump sat a pensive man coaxing the most beautifully complex notes out of the most rudimentary of pipes. As he drew nearer, Omniscio knew the pipe-player must be Agrono for there was something of obvious and unusual substance to him, a man who would be immediately identified as a master even if his trade were unknown. In the home, Omniscio could see figures moving about and assumed they were readying their last meal of the day.

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