As Powerful As Paper

Her deep eyes scared the depths of the ocean. She carried herself like its waves, fluid yet powerful, serene but destructive. Her hair was dark as space but her skin glowed like the stars. No bangs hid her face, no jewelry clung to her ears; she was as plain as paper.

A man walked up to her. “Excuse me?”

“Don’t ask for permission to be excused.” Her retorts kept him and all others distant. She wanted to be an observer, not stuck in the game like the rest of them. She thought that if she watched long enough, she would begin to understand the rules. The rules were complex and required players to train from birth, but she never understood her training; after her 18th birthday, she stopped attending the sessions. It wasn’t illegal, but surveillance resided in every eye, making it impossible to escape from the teachings and preachings, or whatever they were called. Preachings on the walls and teachings from the palms of hands were not things that could be evaded.

She toured the park to stay clear of teachings but it was unavioidable. “You’re missing out!” yelled a bypasser, eye contact is surely a thing of the past. She watched him steer blind into the intersection, and somehow emerge perfectly on the other end. This is a daring game.

“Why don’t you see a counselor? He’ll help you understand. You can’t opt out when you’re already a pawn, darling.” They all talked like that – darling, honey, sweety – as if they really cared. So she sat with Dr. Praecepta, every Monday afternoon as he continued with the lessons that would teach her how to play the game.

He spoke in his wise voice, “Now, only a few people have beaten the game, and I see the potential in you. I think you will grow up to join those elite few! You just need to adhere to your training, and you really can be the best! The power is within you.”

It was an impressive speech at first, she thought, his voice carried it well, but then again and again he preached. It didn’t take her long to understand this was a lesson in itself; every player heard it, and from the looks of it, every player believed it. They were all sent into the game constantly being told they would win but years would pass and belief itself would become a thing of the past.

Resistance was difficult but she tried for years and years, but sometimes she would see those posters on the walls; they were art, they were beautiful, it was hard not to stare. It didn’t take long for the art to mount itself in her head. Slowly, she allowed herself to collect one piece of art, then another, and another, until her gallery was prized in the game.

She played and abstained in alternation, resistance wasn’t easy.

Her bangs grew just above her eyes and jewels began decorating her ears. The depths of her eyes were draining and when she looked in the mirror, she began to see the tip of her collection in her once oceanic eyes. It was unsettling at first, she had confided in deep eyes, but then the works of art began to wash up into focus.

It was stunning; she hadn’t realized the magnitude of her collection. Thousands of papers covered in ink sprouting in five dimensions: color, depth, orientation, complexity, message. She was an anthology of it all. Thousands of undigested works of humanity seeped into her eyes daily, and she had been oblivious to it for twenty-four years. Thousands of papers stacked upon each other, becoming stronger and stronger with each addition, had kept her standing.

Only then did she realize she should play the game after all; she was as powerful as paper. 

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