I was playing with fire. I remember the first time
I saw it. We were at the market. As usual. But there was something new at the temple. I didn't pay much attention.
There was always something new every time
we went. Change was just a part of living and even new things had fallen into the background of weekly monotony. Of course there would be changes each time we went. It was expected.
The new fire at the nearby temple was merely one of any number of changes competing for my attention, though I was too busy thinking about my own problems
to notice. It was only during fits of boredom in the weeks after that I wandered over, while waiting for my packages to be prepared.
There was something different about this fire. Perhaps I should have expected it, considering it was at the temple after all
. I didn't have much time to investigate. More pressing priorities always took me home.
But as the months went by, I found myself spending increasing amounts of time staring into the flame. There was something there that seemed just out of reach of my understanding
, something I could almost put my hand around.
At first I tried tossing in some nearby pebbles, after ensuring nobody was watching. The colors of the reacting flame were fascinating. When my parents noticed
me attempting to borrow some of it with a tree branch, they told me to drop it immediately.
"Do not act above your station," they told me. "You were born for the fields, not the temple. Keep your thoughts on the reality in front of you
I wasn't paying attention. I was old enough to make my own decisions, to visit without them if I wanted to. But I still limited myself to visits on our regular market days. There would have been too many questions if I started showing up without a good excuse
It seemed as if the flame had a mind of its own. It crept up twigs like a caterpillar, flashing green and yellow, sometimes backtracking in the opposite direction. I was afraid to ask the workers at the temple. Would they kick me out? Would they tell me never to return
"That is definitely not what the fire is for," my peers would tell me. "It is a holy thing. Not a toy
for you to play with."
"Don't be so selfish," they would say. "Don't ruin this for the rest of us
. Don't play with things you don't understand."
But I was doing just that. Trying to understand it. They didn't want to listen
. I didn't see much point in trying to convince them otherwise. I knew they had their own struggles to worry about, just like I did, without having to waste their time on pointless debates about temple ethics.
I started staying longer at the market. Never after it closed because that would have raised too many eyebrows, but my time there was no longer about being as efficient as possible
. I lingered by the temple more often than I should. I'm sure this did not go unnoticed by anyone, but at that point, I no longer cared. I wasn't there for them. I was there for me.
Then one day, a figure seemed to appear in the flame. It waved. Was it waving at me? Was this something that was supposed to be happening? I immediately went back to the market and purchased a lantern. Nobody would care if I borrowed a bit
of the flame, would they?
Maybe they had become so accustomed to my presence at the temple that they no longer paid much attention. I quickly ran off with my newfound possession. The figure stayed behind in the temple flame, but seemed to be encouraging my escape
That night I was staring intently into the lantern, but it seemed much more ordinary away from the temple.
Out of curiosity, I dipped my finger into the flame. It was warm. But not painful. Slowly it began to coat my hand, like waves of oil, bright and sparkling. As the flames grew larger, I suddenly panicked, realizing I didn't want to burn down my house
I ran outside. By then, the flame had covered my arm. I ran into an open field, and the small ashen figure suddenly appeared on my shoulder.
"They really don't know what's possible
, do they?" it asked. "They are not using me to my full potential."
With that, I was engulfed in fire, warm but not burning. I felt my feet lift gently off the ground. My hair flailed around me, a mixture of energy and matter
"Would you like to see the ocean?" the figure asked as my home disappeared behind us