Supreme ruler of the universe, eh? I like the sound of that.
But I am no dictator, nor do I ever wish to be, and only dictators create holidays and festivities centered around themselves – a part of the cult of personality they build to be looked upon and celebrated by ‘the people’, but never never for the people. No, I am no dictator, no brilliant “Supreme Leader”, so if I were to be granted the title, I’d say, “Thank you very much, but no thank you, someone else can be in charge, though I’ll take the holiday and give you all something to be happy about.”
A festival, yes, but not for me or of me.
No, it will be the Festival of the People.
Festivus falls on the first day of July and runs for a week, always and without fail. It’s a tradition, a memory, of the one celebration that connects us back to our great-grandmothers and their great-grandmothers — to our very first ancestors themselves. It is like the knowledge of making fire: Someone long, long ago obviously had to have figured it out and started telling everyone else how to do it. But we don’t know when or who or how. Like the knowledge of making fire, Festivus simply exists.
It exists to celebrate the sunshine and the ripe blooms; the brighter sky and the greener grass. It signifies the start of something sweet: Summer. The season after the toiling and hard work of planting in spring, and the season before the toiling and hard work again of the harvesting in autumn. Even places that don’t have ‘summers’ celebrate this mid-year holiday; it’s a temporary break and a tiny celebration, as if to say, “Good job everyone, we’ve made it through half the year. Have heart, because we’re halfway there.”
I dress in my prettiest blue eyelet dress, the skirt smooth and crisp, fresh off Mum’s ironing board. Tam comes over to tie the waist back, and she makes a big bow in a way that I never can. The sleeveless thing let’s the warmth touch my skin, as I put an arm out the window to feel the breeze. Tam smiles.
“Get some food in the kitchen. Mum’s getting ready for the Sale and she needs you strong and pretty to sell some out at the Fair.” Because that’s how the first day of Festivus starts, everywhere.
The Fair Day of Plenty. It starts with a Sale at the Fair, of all the fresh food and baked goods we can come up with, as a form of showcasing the Women’s cooking talents and the Men’s hunting skills. But also a time of getting to know each other again, of lingering around the crowds sharing bread and berries, and talking about things at home, at the fields, at school. Are we doing okay? Do you need any help keeping up?
It’s the warmest and coziest of all the days of Festivus, because of the delicious smells, and the comforting laughter and the Sun just pouring onto the green meadow where the Fair is held. The light in people’s hair and eyes and the kind way in which they talk to each other. Not that the people aren’t kind, normally. But on the First day of Festivus, they are kinder.
I weave around the crowd, a basket of warm breads and pastries in my hands. The different aromas mix into a delightful blend of flour and fruit, and I’m tempted to pick one up myself and sink my teeth into the softness of them right there and then. Not surprisingly, the smells catch the attention of many, and they stop to peek into the wicker basket. I slow down too, to allow them a good, long view of Mum’s delicious bakes: the soft, loafy bread; the perfectly golden brown chocolate chip cookies, the chips still melting slowly under the heat; the tart redness of the strawberries in the custard cream pie. Most touch my shoulder and ask, “You’re one of Rosemary’s, aren’t ya?” (Rosemary is my mother’s name) I’ll nod and smile, and they’ll shake their heads muttering, “She’ll kill my heart before it stops beating, that one” before taking out their wallets or purses and exchange some bills for a fresh pastry.
I tend to get through the basket quicker than my other siblings, so I finish up faster then they do. Once I’m done, Mum sends me off with some coins to spend as I like, saying she’ll keep the rest of my share for me for tomorrow, because she is afraid I’ll overspend like I always do. That is fine by me. Tomorrow is my favourite day of Sales anyway. The day when my family won’t be part of the Sale, so I can have the whole day to myself, wandering as part of the crowd, looking for new things to add to my collection of oddities.
The Fair Day of Goods; the second day of Festivus. On this day, Sales still go on, but for other materials that a person might need, like clothes or strong shoes or a new necklace. On this day, everything that isn’t food, is sold. You might even be lucky enough to find some people selling teeny kittens and puppies from a fresh litter, and even one or two selling their new calves that would one day grow up to be strong, working animals. The atmosphere is still fun and cheerful, but it’s louder now, boisterous. Everyone is trying to sell their own things and is trying to get their point across, so they shout ridiculous bargains trying to grab at people’s attention. Those who have nothing to sell, will contribute to the crowds that trickle and trickle until they are a flood, and still the Fair is nothing less than immense pleasure.
This day is my favourite part of the Sales. Partly because the goods sold are usually uncommon, yet still at a reasonable enough price. But mostly, because of the people. Familiar townsfolk aren’t the only ones selling at this Sale; visitors, merchants, people of other nations are allowed into our little town, to barter, sell and trade with one another. And along with them, they bring strange new goods that this town would never have imagined of, in a million years.
It is the opening of barriers to the giant world outside.
I pass by a tall, wiry man with skin as dark as the earth in the ground, selling intricate birdcages made of tin, bronze, and other metals I will never be able to name. He smiles at me and I notice he’s got two missing front teeth, like a young child who has recently dropped his first milk teeth. “Would you like a birdcage, little girl?” his voice is thin and raspy, much like what I would’ve imagined for a man of his shape.
I frown. “They’re a little too big for me. Plus, I don’t have a bird.”
He laughs. “But one doesn’t need a bird to buy a birdcage!”
I must’ve looked like a picture, because he laughs again. He wags a finger, like a thought just occurred to him, and ducks under the table, rummaging around for something. He comes up again, and from the folds of his long, draping sleeves, he produces a miniature birdcage, much too small for any bird to fit in. It was made of a silvery metal, twisted into shapes of flowers and leaves, forming less of a cage and more of a metallic art piece. In the center, stood a little girl in traditional dance clothes of an unknown culture, smiling back at me. The man touches a notch just by the side of the cage. The girl springs to life, dancing a graceful dance as a tinkling melody pours from an unknown source.
“Like a music box!” I marvel. He nods, smiling again. “Do you want it?”
I nod eagerly, pulling out a few notes. We exchanged goods and I left, proud with my purchase.
My newest oddity.
The Auctions are held on the third day of festivities. It is mellow, but crucial still, because it sets up for the Fourth day of celebrations. During the Auctions, the Town sells uncommon but quality things, that most of the time have a lot to do with the Challenges of the next day. Usually, a Challenger will pay close attention because it will hint to them what the Challenge may be and might even bid for a product if he believes it to be useful for the Challenge. The problem, see, is that sometimes, although the product is useful and can be used for the Challenge, it sometimes isn’t necessary, and it becomes a test of wits to figure out whether one requires the products or not. Sometimes, the Auctions also sells things completely unrelated to the Challenges, but just as rare and of quality much in demand by the people. Those times are the funnest, because then I get to see the townsfolk bristle under the gambles they take during bidding.
I don’t participate in these, my brothers love to. It isn’t surprising, really, because they are one of the luckiest people I know, and the things they bid for are usually always the things most needed for the Challenges of the next day. Some townsfolk realized this a few years back, and have always tried to bid on the same products my brothers do. But my brothers are very cunning too. Sometimes, they would bid for a product so seriously and vigorously, that all the townsfolk would put in a bid. Then, my brothers would pull out at the last minute, and leave the highest bidder a product that they don’t really need at all. Other times, they would be so laid back in their bidding, that the townsfolk don’t even try to contest them, and they would the get the most important products, at the lowest of prices.
It’s very entertaining, really, and our family always has a good laugh afterwards. Sometimes, I can tell Mum believes she must disapprove, but my brothers cunning are always done in good-spirit, so it never feels like there is any harm done.
The fourth day is The Day of the Challenges. Challenges are just that: A test, a problem, that the Challenger needs to overcome either with his team or individually, to beat his opponents and become Champion Challenger for the year. The catch is no one knows what the Challenge would be, so bets are all open to the young and old, men and women. One year it was to see who could knit the fastest sweater. Another was to see who could catch the most chickens under a minute. Completely random. Completely ridiculous. And absolute fun! Most don’t do it for the title: They do it for the laughter and the fun of being part of a ridiculous competition, forming a bond with fellow participants and building that sense of camaraderie with them.
My family loves to participate in the Challenges, my brothers especially. Since Tam and I are the only girls, with the exception of Mum, I usually end up either going as a team with my friends or as an individual. The greatest part of the Challenges, of course, is the meeting of new people. The traders and merchants from the 2nd day usually bring their families along on their trips, so there are plenty of new people to meet during the Challenges.
This year, a large portion of the fields have been cleared for the event; the size of about two football fields. The ground is laid with a slick, white tarp and poles draped with a similar, plasticky material have been raised to form makeshift walls. They form a rectangular enclosed area much like a giant room, but with one wall open for the audience’s viewing. Large machines filter white, fluffy stuff from unknown corners into the enclosed area. A bubble bath!
On one wall, red flags hang just out normal reach, dangling from invisible strings. On the opposite wall, a round bit of plastic protrudes out like a clip holder: A place to hang solely one flag. It is at a much higher height than the flags, and impossible to reach unless one stands on the shoulder of another.
I frown. I came into the Challenges individually today.
No matter. I will just have to make friends while in the Bubble House then.
I stand behind the line with all the other Challengers at one end of the room, where the flag holder currently sticks out of the wall. We are to run to the opposite wall, grab a flag, and stick it into the clip holder before anyone else.
The starting gun blows-
Challengers move over the line-
And almost immediately, half fall flat on their faces, due to the slickness of the ground combined with the foamy mess of bubbles littering the air and floor. I couldn’t help letting a burst of giggles through.
These are clearly the people who’ve never spent countless hours in a Bubble House before. Well, most people haven’t, truth be told. But my days are dreary without play, so I’ve had enough experience to outsmart this course.
I sit on the foamy, slippery ground, press my hands down by my side, and catapult my body forwards. I laugh in glee as the familiar rush courses through my veins, a blast of cold air hitting my face, and my pigtails whipping behind me. It also helps that this Bubble House was built on a slope. I slide down the room easily, putting my hands in the air, all the while dashing by faster than any other Challenger.
I reach the opposite wall first, grabbing a hanging flag with an easy jump. I turn back to the other side of the room, and frown.
Now the problem is going back uphill.
“Having difficulty there, little miss?” A voice asks, right by my ear. I whip around to find a boy just about my age, maybe a little older, with burnt caramel skin and a blinding smirk on his face. I frown harder. “What’s it to you?”
His smirk widens. “Because I can help you.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “How do I know you don’t just want to help me so you can be crowned Champion Challenger?” He rolled his eyes and opened his palm to show me the red flag he’s also got.
“That’s easy. Because I am going to be crowned Champion Challenger.” I bristle at his arrogance. He continues, “This is just a sign of goodwill, coming out of the kindness of my heart.”
I hesitate for a good long minute, but maybe it’s because of his complete absolution in winning, or maybe it’s because I am stubborn and determined to prove him wrong, that I find myself saying, “Fine. You can help me.”
He grins, and produces odd shoes, with mini pick-axes sticking out of the front and the heels of the sole. “Use them to climb up the hill without slipping,” he says, “I’m using them right now.”
I find it odd that he just so happens to have a spare pair with him right then, but I’m not complaining, and quickly slip them on. Especially because more and more Challengers keep sliding down the slope, having figured out the trick of the arena. Together, we trek back up the hill slowly, but still making much more progress than any other Challenger.
I’m huffing by the time we come back to the wall with the flag holder. The boy, on the other hand, is not a bit tired at all.”What now?” I manage in between gasps, “We can’t get to the holder without helping each other.”
He purses his lips. “I don’t think we can reach the holder together anyway.”
I look up and see that he is right; even if we do stand on each other’s shoulders, the holder would still be too high up. My stomach sinks in disappointment. I didn’t do all of this just to be upped by my short height!
“Quite right, little miss,” the boy says. I don’t realize I said that out loud. “But don’t you worry, don’t you worry!” He is jumping around, quite excited now over something. I roll my eyes. “Could you just get to the point?”
He grins that grin again. “I think my father can help.”
“Your fa-…” But the words falter in my mouth, because a tall figure is suddenly emerging from beneath the foamy bubbles, like he had been lying there the whole time. My jaw drops open. It’s the same man who sold me the birdcage–music-box!
“You’re his father?” I say, appalled. I could see no similarities, whatsoever. The tall man laughs. “Yes, yes I am.”
“What were doing down there?” I ask shrilly, still struck by the strangeness of it all. The man raises a brow. “Do you really want to know?” I find myself shaking my head. What a man does in his free time is his own business, I say.
“She needs help reaching the flag holder, Pa,” the boy says, speaking up for the first time. He’s grinning, and I start to see the similarity. It is in their smiles. I look at him, shocked. “What about you? Don’t you want to win the Challenges too?”
He shakes his head. “Nah. Besides, you’re obviously too tiny to play in Athletics tomorrow, so might as well as give you your moment of glory today.”
I almost clobbered him for calling me tiny. But all I said was, “I’ll see you get trashed by my brothers tomorrow then.”
Other Challengers were slowly climbing over the crest of the hill now, so the Merchant raises me onto his shoulders, and I clip my flag easily into place. The audience cheers.
“And… We have this year’s Champion Challenger! Talulu Sanders!”
And I raise my hands to bask in the cheers.
The next day is Athletics. There is a myth about another world where people came together, despite war and dispute, to participate in this event called the Olympics, where people would represent their countries and compete in various sports to bring glory and fame, but most of all, showcase their strengths and abilities. Athletics are the same, except the single person would be representing himself, or at the most his team. And there are also only 3 sports being played: Archery; Foot-racing; Rugby. For these are the games of my nation. In other places, these sports may change, but always only ever 3 will be played.
This year, people of other nations will be allowed to compete in my town’s Athletics, but they would still have to concede to play these three games only. I see the boy with the caramel skin amongst those who will be participating. My brothers too, and a whole mix of people that I do and don’t recongnize.
Archery goes smoothly, with the prize going to long-time champion Ollie Murrs. He always wins the gold, so it’s no surprise. What was a shock though, was the silver and bronze winners. Usually, one of my brothers will clinch the silver, and the bronze would go to one of the Convent’s girls. (They’re big on archery) But this year, my brothers have dropped to a bronze. The silver medalist, is the boy with the caramel skin.
He winks at me as he leaves the podium. “I don’t feel very thrashed by your brothers, Lu,” he whispers into my ear. I fume. The nerve of him!
Rugby is a team sport, so my brothers have banded with the other town children. This year, it has become an Us vs. Them: Other-Nations vs. Home. Caramel skin boy (I need to get his name) stands amongst people of a variety of colours and tongues on one side of the field. But they look united enough — ready to put up a good fight. The Home Team, however, is arguing over positions, with my brothers being in the thick of it.
I roll my eyes. It will be a miracle if we get any points at all.
However, no matter how united the Other-Nations were, Home still had the home ground advantage. But it certainly wasn’t an easy fight; it did look like the game would go to the Other-Nations at one point. Home only won by a slight way, and the opportunity to do so seemed to have come out of sheer luck.
It isn’t a surprise then, that all the medalists for Foot-Racing, are the people of Other-Nations. Caramel Skin comes to find me at the end of the day, laughing still from his Gold Medal victory in Foot-Racing. He puts an arm over my shoulder, like we were the best of buddies.
“Again, I don’t feel very thrashed by your brothers Lu,” he says, rolling his nickname for me off his tongue with a heavy accent. “I mean, I won the Foot-Race, didn’t I?” I roll my eyes. His arrogance is still an annoyance, though I’ve been around it for quite a while.
“Whatever, Caramel Skin,” I reply. He pauses, looking at me bemused. “Caramel Skin?”
I blush. “I don’t know your name, so I had to call you something…” My voice trails off, and I realize suddenly how rude it is to refer to someone by their skin colour. He doesn’t reply, and his expression becomes unreadable. I drop my eyes to the ground. “I’m sorry. I’ll just… leave you now.”
He grabs my hand, and turns me around, but I keep my eyes on the ground. “Yusuf.”
He pronounces it like You-sof. I look up. “What?” I look up to find he is smiling.
“Yusuf,” he says again, “That’s my name.”
I smile too, trying the name out on my tongue. “Yusuf,” I say, liking the way it rolls off, but forcing the speaker to be quiet when they come to the end; to the ‘ff’ sound.
“I like it,” I say, and he smiles. “And I like your name too, Lu,” he replies.
The last two days are for Feasting and Music. They are always the best, because that is when the whole entire town would come together with whatever food we have, and bring it to the Square, where we will share our food and feast, around a round stage where people perform and entertain. The stage is shaped like a large doughnut with a hole in the center, where a large bonfire blazes with warmth and light, raging on as the sky turns from pink to purple. People laugh. People smile. We feast and we listen to the music and we mingle amongst ourselves, growing closer, bonding together as one unit because we’re halfway there. We remember who we are, as we sit there together, cocooned in our own closeness and familiarity.
This time, the crowd is even bigger, because the Other-Nations have been invited to stay too, and although we are not familiar with them, we are learning how to get along. And I think that is the best part about Festivus. It’s not the selling, nor the competitions, or even the food. It is the people, humans, of this big big world, who come together — regardless of race, religion, colour, tongue — to celebrate the one thing we all share: This one magnificent tradition that unites us when nothing else can.
On the night of the 2nd last day, when the sky is ink black and the stars are like speckles of dust in the light, and the hum of the sleeping people bundles me up in a kind of closeness and safety that nowhere else can I ever find, I say, “Thank you.”
Thank you, to whoever had thought of such a pretty idea that has never stopped, even as other festivities do as the reasons for them die. Because see, that is the beauty of Festivus. It celebrates us. The human nation. Unlike other festivals, it was no one’s birthday, no other’s special time that we are forced to celebrate. Festivus is us.
For as long as the human race survives, so does Festivus.
And I think that, as the thick blanket cocoons me in the cold night, with Yusuf’s hand in mine, as we look out onto the slumbering city, and there is nothing here but us.
He turns to smile at me.
“Festivus,” he says. “The week to tell us…”
“…We’re halfway there,” I finish. We’re halfway there.
This was so hard to write. Thank god I made it to the end, phew! It isn’t amazing, but it’s 12am right now, and I’ve got school tomorrow, so excuse the shoddiness of this post. Editing mayy be a little late. Again, apologies.
Edit (17/12/13): This piece has been majorly edited to include brand-new parts that did not publish along with the original post.
xx, Daily Prompt: Festivus for the Rest of Us