There is a notion to be found amongst remnants of the more ancient cults of our common history, and earlier still, in many of the legends and stories of the Occidental nations, that each soul finds his own individual birth, whether it be into the life of a King, fool, or swine, to be most agreeable. Seldom does a Soul question the “rightness” of its incarnation. This was especially true of young Jack.
On one side was the perfect Ten. The most complete of all numbers in all of this, Jack’s own particular kingdom. Ten, the Master of Many, the illustrious, wonderful Ten, all digits intact, and double the girth of any of his nine (or eight, some would argue) brothers and sisters.
On the other side was the Queen herself – Mother to all, the beautiful, the magnificent, radiant Queen. She was full of grace, and had a face of the kindest, sweetest sadness.
Jack was perfectly happy. He could think of no better place to be. He spent all the uniform morning of youth in a satisfied daze, a kind of sleepy dream where nothing bad or fearful existed. He would admire his neighbours from time to time, but everything else in the world was very, very far away indeed.
Then one day the world opened.
Light came suddenly from everywhere, and before he knew it, Jack’s world had turned upside down. Things seemed to be coming apart, and in the next instant the dear Queen, that fine lady of comfort, and his old friend, the dependable Ten, were separated from him. They were taken off, and he was alone. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the light once more gave way to darkness.
Gruesome shapes came at him from this darkness.
Then the darkness, terrible as it was, began to alternate with the intense, blinding light. This was, perhaps, even worse, because now Jack could see the weird symbols and unknown numbers surrounding him, and shuffling off. It was a strange and terrifying place, this new world, and everything seemed to be on the move. Strangers would surround him for a while, and then, without explanation, they would vanish again, to be replaced with other things, even more mysterious.
This continued for quite some time. Once or twice he imagined that he felt, only for a moment, that he was once again next to his own sweet Queen, and for a brief moment he had hope – but it was soon gone, snatched away, and all the new colours and shapes seemed somehow wrong. It was the same with his perfect friend, Ten. He met others, of course, and though they reminded him in many ways of his dear companion, it was never the same thing, exactly. Though he even admired some of his new comrades, conversed and connected with them, and tried to share the sorrow in his heart, they could never completely fill the hole that was gaping inside. The joy of youth had been too complete, and the love he received from these new beings seemed second-rate.
Time wore on, and Jack gradually found himself more and more alienated from the world. At first he was full of anger, and rebelliousness, but as time dragged on, his heart became, day by day, a little emptier and a little harder.
As he learned the ways of this new sphere of operations, his pain became buried deep inside, hidden, and he simply concentrated on getting along as best he could. There was no point in longing for something that could never be, he decided. Better to accept, and to bear the pain with honour.
With an expressionless face he watched the goings on in the various kingdoms. Pairs and groups would partner up, create families and houses, but then break apart again. He sought out his former neighbours, and found them once or twice, and for brief moments he almost forgot all about his misfortune. But the change would come again and again, and he was never very certain about his future. With bitterness and deep resentment he watched his own fair Queen carried off by some bearded pretender wearing a crown. With regret he learned that his former best friend, the Ten of the same household, had formed new bonds with others.
Again the scene would change, and Jack watched and he waited. Sometimes an unbearable sadness would descend upon his heart, and he would compose, and create images of his lost home in his mind. Most days he missed his former position, and his companions. At other times he would think furiously about the situation, propose theories, and seek counsel. If only he could become King, one day, perhaps he could take a Queen? Perhaps, instead, if he studied the numbers, added them, arranged them, or multiplied? He tried everything he could think of, until his head ached and his fingers were raw, until his heart came up into his throat, and he choked back the tears.
He wished from his soul that this melancholy game of Shuffle would end, and give him peace in his bones.
Then – quite by chance – as if by magic, he found himself back home in his original position. His searching and anguish had been in vain, and blind luck, or inevitability, perhaps, had fulfilled his deepest wish. He was back where he belonged, between his very own Ten and his lovely Queen. He was speechless with joy. He danced and celebrated. He cried and laughed. He embraced them, and they embraced him. When he could finally speak, the words spilled out, unstoppable. He told them of his anguish, his misery, and his longing.
The gentle Queen and the ever sure Ten listened compassionately, and comforted their companion as best they could. Did he not see that all was well? There was nothing to fear.
Finally, back in his comfortable, happy place in the world, Jack asked about what had happened to his two dearest friends while they were separated. Each in their turn began to tell their stories, and as he listened, Jack began to think deeply.
The Queen spoke about far off lands, about thrilling voyages, chance encounters with fine people, and the magic and the mystery of her grand adventures. She had come to know and to love many new souls, adopting them as her own, and spoke warmly of their merits and their strange customs. She had met Kings, Princes and slaves, fools and warriors. She had loved, and been loved.
Ten spun yarns about the world he had discovered. His interest was in Science, in Mathematics, statistics, probabilities and chance. He had conquered the world of numbers, filled up his stores, traded, failed and then succeeded, and failed again, and won back twice his original fortune.
Jack listened, and as he listened, he compared his own miserable story to theirs with a growing sense of shame. Something had been missing, it seemed, and that something lay within him. His companions did not judge him, or offer any advice. They were the sorts of characters that gained nothing by pointing out the faults of others. So, when they were done, Jack withdrew into himself to consider.
For a very long time Jack meditated, and as he did so, an immaculate peace began to enfold him. He neither moved nor spoke, but steadily gathered his inner life into one, single, shining point. All his fear, all his desire, all his longing and his confusion melted into one, translucent, moving disc. At the centre of his brow the moving light traced a gentle circle, followed by its polar opposite, a complimentary dark shadow. The two discs devoured and birthed each other, countless times, in an eternal creative dance of bliss.