Once upon a time, in a magical lake, there lived a little mother-of-pearl, or oysters, as most daft humans prefer to call them. The inhabitants of the magical lake lived long lives, since a time before primates roamed the land, even before large reptiles and tiny mammals. No one took much notice of it, just as no one would take much notice of it in the future.
Except for Uncle Saligia.
On a short summer holiday, he decided to bring a young friend, an apprentice, along with him on his atypical travels. They experienced unusually fair weather, the kind that has little sun, little rain, little wind, as though the earth was sleeping and the air was inebriated.
Uncle Saligia spotted the mother-of-pearl immediately, as though he already knew its presence and location. He barely narrowed his eyes as he scooped it up gingerly from its little recess at the edge of the lake, smoothing its already frictionless, opalescent surface. His normally brilliant apprentice appeared in a tilted-head, almost-stupid fashion.
His mentor wordlessly pried open the mother-of-pearl with his littlest fingernail, whilst mouthing a language now ancient, used by a civilisation that existed during but a blip in the life of the latter. Inside lay a pearl, perfectly spherical, which seemed to give off a shimmering light that had acolour palette ranging from pleasure to exhilaration.
“This mother-of-pearl has been here long before me, and if I dare say so, will give me a good run for my money in outlasting me”.
His apprentice scoffed reflexively, “Doctor, don’t say that.”
Now in the fully-fledged persona of Doctor Saligia, he frowned, then laughed. “Then what shall I say? Well, this little beauty forms a pearl every now and then. None of the lake have any use for it, but they all give a part of themselves.”
They gazed outward for all of a long pause, the barely shimmering surface of the lake failing to hide the eclectic mix of unidentifible life and surrounding inorganic decor, from fish-like silver darts to attractive colourless strands of fibrous, floating matter. There seemed to be a lack of other shellfish in the lake, even for one so large.
“How…?” was all the youngster managed.
“She… It… well in simple terms, the wishes of all the creatures and life forms, even the non-live members like that old crystal formation over there. Their… not just the good ones, the happy dreams, but the equivalent of our worries, darkest horrors, are taken by this little one.”
“Then, she… builds layer upon layer, successively on top of the tiny compressed core, year after year, into this most beautiful gem we call a pearl.”
His companion had already assumed a sceptical “O”-mouthed facade. It shifted quickly into annoyance at how the Doctor had belittled his knowledge of terrestrial fauna.
“Well”, Saligia continued, “that’s how they all have survived for so long”. His words were heard but not comprehended.
Saligia took out the dream-pearl and placed it in the other’s palm. It was much heavier than it looked, but rolled slowly in the indent of the burly fellow’s large, well-formed palm, as though it were afloat in a dense fluid. Saligia then gingerly pinched the reluctant sphere up and returned it to its rightful place, and then replaced its host back to the exact spot. He seemed to be murmuring something unintelligible, soothingly.
The apprentice, reduced to little more than a blabbering child, followed Uncle Saligia on his little round. He refused to drink out of the lake as the latter did, but acquiesced to splashing a little water on his hands and face. As they left, the youngster discreetly pocketed the mother-of-pearl.
Saligia did not stop for a rest on the journey back.
The apprentice might have been a terrible scientist but made up for it with his keen economic sense. The centre of the city offered a suffocating fog of human emotion which the mother-of-pearl embraced heartily. Where previously each pearl made by it was unique and rare, here it presented itself in a weekly serving. Using his newfound requisition, the apprentice bought a car, and after a few months moved out of his shared, dingy apartment. Dr Saligia barely seemed to notice his new leather winter-coat. Nevertheless, it seemed that Dr Saligia somehow knew, and that shadow of doubt kept haunting the apprentice day and night. Worse, the pearls now seemed lacklustre and the jewel appraiser had begun to lower their offers. The apprentice frenetically tried the first desperate alternative that came to mind. He lent the oyster to a friend in psychiatric research, who initially assumed that the item was illegal, but after repeated persuasion still acquiesced with the correct judgment that the oyster was not in any way incriminating.
So the oyster enjoyed a fruitful course as the friend journeyed brought it to his wards everyday, not unlike a parent bringing a toddler to the office. It started bearing a pearl everyday, which pleasantly surprised the apprentice, who had agreed to divide the harvest equally and had expected a net loss. Over an abundant fortnight, the pearls seemed to regain a steady shimmer. The apprentice was delighted beyond measure.
The day that the apprentice had decided to tender his transfer request to the psychiatric wards arrived. Incidentally, his friend woke him up in the early hours of the morning. A large crack had almost split the oyster asunder, and its insides had turned pitch black. The friend demanded an extra two pearls for the undesirable outcome, to which the apprentice relented to reimburse but one. The dead oyster was disposed in a wastepaper basket containing empty cigarette boxes and draft reports.
Uncle Saligia waited for his apprentice to invite him to coffee later that day. He never did.
It was better that way. Coffee gave Saligia the jitters.
That night, he paid a short visit to a junior psychiatric houseman, and reminded him of the dangers of smoking. He left with a bag of cigarette boxes that he “needed for tobacco residue sampling”. He only left after the houseman had sorted and extricated all the drafts that he deemed too good to be shared or stolen.
Saligia could not care less about the sorry fool and his work, and rummaged through the sooty, hollow contents, until his fingertips touched the mother-of-pearl. His pupils narrowed as he gingerly pulled her out from the asphyxiating mess, eliciting an undertone curse. As he held her up to his eyes, the once magical progenitor, taker and maker of dreams, crumbled and floated away in the cool evening breeze.