By Iya Sun
On a purple pillow of silk thread that rests upon a cherry floor table, which resides inside a lush bamboo house that was built atop the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, sits an inordinately small, human, girl child named So Jeong. The day of her birth was like any other day in a world where people, as they are called in civil society, are born. Despite this casual beginning, the Swinging Leaves foretold many ages ago that on that particular day, a girl would emerge into the world with special gifts for each who would travel to look upon her face. With just a single lock of the child’s hair, the traveler would be granted the one wish for which the traveler had traveled the great distance. This, however, came with the small condition that neither the person who plucked the single lock from the girl child’s head nor any member of their future line could ever return to pluck a second strand.
For days, sometimes even months, travelers would travel from distances far and wide for a chance to climb the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet. Giving no thought to the condition upon which the granting of a wish rests, many traveled to solve problems of the moment. Few rarely withstood the journey to the base of the mountain. Even fewer successfully made the climb. But, if even a few from every thousand that journeyed summited, the number of hairs plucked from the girl child’s head subtracted quickly. By the time So Jeong was but six years old, she had almost no hair at all.
Finally, one night, on the brink of death with only a few strands of her hair left, So Jeong cried into the night in grief for all that had been taken from her. Out of fear for the precious life of the girl child that might soon be lost, the Swinging Leaves built a small bamboo shelter to shield her from the travelers’ sights. The hopeful travelers continued to travel to visit the girl child, but for an unknowable amount of time, she sat unseen, which left the travelers with unfulfilled wishes. Alone now to heal and grow strong, the Swinging Leaves presented the girl child with a gift: The Four Cats of Wisdom. Over the course of the next, unknowable amount of time, The Cats would arrive. They were to provide her with warm, loving company while also instilling within her pillars of wisdom.
The first and oldest cat was named Gami the Gentleman. Gami possessed a coat of black with only the simplest white markings. A thin white moustache lined Gami’s upper lip; his chest was aglow in livery, his paws shod in white socks and mittens. Gami was, first and foremost, a gentleman, and as such, his instructions gave way to the girl child’s understanding of wisdom as a privilege, not a right. It was, according to Gami, So Jeong’s duty to forever learn, grow and understand, to always maintain and prepare her mind for the reception of knowledge.
Louie was the title of the second-in-line, and he was a Listener. Covered in a luscious bundle of the softest, fluffiest white and grey fur, Louie remained pleasant, always. Content to merely sit and watch the activities of the others was what made Louie, Louie. He never complained nor did he ever demand that things not be so. No matter what came his way, Louie the Listener heard the good, the bad and never made a fuss. As a Listener, he considered everything that came his way equally, and as the Listener, it was Louie who taught So Jeong about how the key to learning anything was through listening to what others had to say but more importantly, through listening to what she held in her own mind.
The last two cats of the Four Cats of Wisdom were, in fact, twins and as such, arrived simultaneously. Even though they were twins, they did not look exactly the same. Both wore fur of a similar fossil and charcoal striping. Anko wore white knee-high boots, however, while Choko wore white socks and mittens. Choko also donned a brownish moustache, while Anko was clean-shaven. The twins Anko and Choko arrived with a fury, in a flurry of chaos that resulted in the temporary loss of Louie the Listener. The one thing Louie could not tolerate was the raucous rambunctiousness of the twins. They were so cacophonous that Louie could not do the one thing he did best, listen. Despite the temporary hubbub, Anko and Choko quickly began their teachings, and not long after his departure, Louie returned.
Anko the Amicable taught the girl child many things about how to share and spread her knowledge to others. To be friendly, according to Anko, shows respect, and to respect, Anko instructed, instills comfort, and when a person feels comfortable, Anko continued, a person feels confident, and through confidence, Anko surmised, can a person accept who they are, and only after a person accepts who they are, may they accept who they are not.
Choko’s lessons were the most difficult for the girl child to ingest, for Choko was titled Choko the Champion. Choko consistently challenged the girl child in ways that seemed irrelevant to her, and yet he insisted that she would one day understand. That day, however, could not ever be determined or known, as explained repeatedly by Choko, since to know when one needs to be brave does not courage require, and courage is what makes a champion. For it is within the unknown that the courageous succeed. When a champion succeeds, humility requires courage. When a champion is bested, courage fuels grace.
After ages and ages, the girl child finally regained a full head of beautiful, long black hair that shone bright when the rays of the sun filtered in through the tiny slivers between the shoots of bamboo. One day, So Jeong desired so deeply to resume her task of giving gifts to those who made the arduous journey. She, however, did not know how or when this could possibly be accomplished. Thus, she hummed a small tune about all the wisdom Gami the Gentleman, Louie the Listener, Anko the Amicable, and Choko the Champion had taught her. Her song now finished and lingering within the walls of her shelter, the wind slowly snatched up the song as it seeped out between the bamboo’s cracks and delivered it to the Swinging Leaves.
The next day, the Swinging Leaves swung through the girl child’s shelter to share with her their decision. So Jeong giggled and twirled about on her pillow as she awaited the Swinging Leaves’ new arrangement. They had come to the conclusion that with the girl child’s hair now grown back stronger than ever, So Jeong was not only strong enough to endure the constant giving of herself to others, but also, she was now wise enough to fertilize the consistent, hasty growth of her gift-giving strands of hair. With that, the Swinging Leaves gave another small gift, that of a warning. To the girl child, the Swinging Leaves spoke, “Those who take from you will never give you anything back. Thus, if you do not know this already, know this now. Yes, you possess the type of gift only you can give, but you are not required to give anything to anyone.”
This warning came as a bit of a shock to the girl child for she did not know that she had a choice. A little stunned and confused, the girl child stood upon her pillow with greater force than the Swinging Leaves had ever felt from her before. So Jeong, with a small stance of anger, dismissed the Swinging Leaves from her shelter and demanded that they never return. To withhold such information, the girl child exploded, means the Swinging Leaves were then cursed. Patient, the Swinging Leaves left the girl child, never to be seen again. As confusion and despair burdened So Jeong’s mind, the Four Cats of Wisdom remained close but did not dare to utter a word.
Then, one morning, the girl child decided that she would hear each traveler’s wish before giving them a strand of her hair. In confidence, the girl child exited her shelter to find herself in the presence of thousands of travelers who had all also made their own shelters in which they could live until the Girl Child with Locks of Gifts appeared again. At first, So Jeong was delighted to see all of the travelers who had traveled and waited for an unknowable amount of time. Soon, thereafter, however, So Jeong felt a deep pang of fear. One traveler spotted the girl child standing gently upon the glistening tuft upon which her bamboo shelter was built. Within an instant the traveler shouted out something in a tongue So Jeong did not understand.
All at once, every traveler ran toward the girl child and each plucked a single hair off her head until there were no hairs left. With the final plucked hair, So Jeong collapsed onto the ground where she lies to this day, buried now to be sure, under the heap of dust and debris that make their way each day over the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet to settle and rest.
An Alternate Ending for the Emotionally Weak
Then, one morning, the girl child came to a conclusion about what she shall do. Feeling courageous, the girl child carefully stepped out from her bamboo shelter and sneaked a look at her surroundings. Immediately, the girl child noticed that the entire top of the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet was covered in small shelters housing travelers from all over the world. Slowly, the girl child crept back into her shelter to determine the best way to introduce herself. A moment later, the girl child opted for an ascent to the top of her bamboo shelter. Thus, with the help of the Four Cats of Wisdom, the girl child arose to stand on the roof of her shelter.
Loudly, in all confidence, the girl child made her presence known and greeted all of the travelers with a lovely gesture. The girl child immediately enchanted the eyes and minds of every traveler, and they all listened to their Giver of Gifts with great intent. Over the course of a short while, the girl child explained how she would indeed invite each traveler to approach her atop her shelter and listen to the motivation behind each traveler’s travels. Only after listening to a request will the girl child determine whether or not the traveler deserves a strand of her hair.
Thus, each traveler approached the girl child atop her shelter and began to explain why the rough journey was made. The girl child would listen to the traveler’s entire story, and at the end, the girl child would then ask the traveler three questions regarding their story. If the girl child found the answers to be satisfactory, the girl child would then offer three pieces of insight. The first would always have something to do with the meaningfulness (or lack thereof) of the traveler’s request. The second dealt with the scope, reach, depth and breadth of the traveler’s request. The third pointed at the self-awareness the traveler lacked. If, at this point, the traveler still stood before the girl child, the girl child would then offer her instructions. The traveler would then be sent away to fulfill the directions given by the girl child. If, however, the girl child found the answers to the questions the girl child asked each traveler after the traveler explained the journey, the girl child would simply send the traveler away, never to return. Cursed, once the traveler descended the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, the traveler would soon forget that the girl child with locks of gifts even existed. Thus, the traveler never sought the girl child’s gifted hair ever again, not to say that the children of that traveler would also never know, but the traveler would not remember to tell them. What happened after the girl child sat and listened to traveler after traveler, day after day, age after age stunned the Swinging Leaves. Even the Four Cats of Wisdom could not have predicted what would follow. As the girl child sent each traveler away either with instruction or cursed to forget, those who were sent with instruction never returned to collect a strand of hair, either. Instead, each traveler was so grateful to have sat in the presence of the girl child that with great focus and concentration the traveler acted upon the instructions given. With great pride, the traveler soon found that his/her own action manifested the original request. Thus, the traveler no longer needed the strand of gifted hair to fulfill the request for which the traveler initially traveled.
Still, nevertheless, as the Four Cats of Wisdom peacefully paced around the girl child, travelers from all over the realm traveled day after day, age after age, to present their request for a strand of gifted hair while the girl child sat and listened day after day, age after age. As the girl child sent each traveler away with instruction, none ever returned to collect her hair. Needless to say, after ages of wisdom had been distributed throughout the realm, upon a purple, silk pillow, atop a bamboo shelter that was built upon a tuft upon the middle-most peak where the three peaks meet, the girl child sat with the longest, shiniest, strongest, black, most beautifully gifted hair the world had ever known.