It was twilight, the Old Sol having just sunk below the lower blue mask in the heavens, leaving behind a sharp region of magnificent orange sea, and bathing the earth in an afterglow of peace.
Elsewhere, God has just called the children of the Earth to a meeting, to discuss the numerous problems that beset them. They came in their dream bodies, Whiteman, Le Africaine, and the Asiatic.
The venue was a very beautiful temple. As they approached it, they could hear the sound of running water. The dominant color everywhere was blue. Into a kind of boardroom the Guardian of the temple ushered them in. Soon God’s representative, the Spiritual Traveler, a tall man in a business suit that exuded a lot of love and humility walked in.
“You’re welcome, dear blessed children of God,” began the Traveler. “The Lord of All sent me to represent Him in this meeting.” He sat down, lifted his head and said in prayer, “Oh Great One, Lord of All, bless this gathering with Your Divine Grace. We completely surrender ourselves, and all we are going to say, think and feel here into Your able, loving, and assured hands. May Your will be done.”
He looked at each of them and indicated that he is listening.
Le Africaine was the first to speak. “Your Grace, my problems are the biggest. There is famine in my land and my people are dying of hunger. Our population is increasing so fast that we cannot meet up with feeding, housing and providing basic medicare to them.
“Your Grace, that is not all. We are faced with unfavorable harvest and low prices of our export crops in the international commodity markets, which are controlled by Whiteman.
“Your Grace, my most critical problem at the moment is debt. I cannot service or repay my debts due to an acute balance of payments problem. My other problems, Your Grace, are usual: corrupt, insensitive, sit-tight political leadership, religious and tribal intolerance, unemployment and rising prices of consumer goods. Your Grace, that is all.”
The Asian was next to speak. “Your Grace, my first problem is economic. Our goods are faced with trade barriers, quotas and high-tariffs abroad. We can no longer sell what we produce. The second is political: Some of my people are still living under an unfavorable political system that doesn’t grant them much freedom. The third problem is tension and unresolved political conflicts in many regions. Closely associated with the above is ethnic and religious conflicts, which, in most cases lead to street violence, riots and wars. This is especially quintessential of India and Pakistan.
“The last of my problems, my Grace, is economic. While some of my people, especially those in the southeast, recorded roaring growth rates ten to twenty years ago, our economies have been on the slow down in the last seven to ten years. That is all, Your Grace.”
“I heard you, blessed one. Let the other speak.”
“Your Grace,” Whiteman began, “my problems are the most critical. Chief of them is the menace of terrorism. This monster must be exterminated. 9/11 was a nightmare. Another is my declining uncompetitiveness especially against the Japs. Next on line is unfair competition from the new industrialized economies. In short, Mister Asia here is my major headache.
“Your Grace, have I mentioned violent crime, general apathy, urban instability and decay, narcotics traffic, drug addiction, and the menace of cybercrime? There is still HIV/AIDS.
“And, your Grace, there is this monster I can’t still understand. I refer to it as stagflation. Initially, we’ve always had stable prices and high under-employment, or high rate of inflation with low under-employment. But suddenly we are having a simultaneous combination of industrial stagnation and double-digit inflation. That’s all, Your Grace.”
“I heard you all,” said the Traveler, peering at each of them in turn. “The Divine One called you together so that we can find a common solution to these ills. Look carefully, blessed ones. I am going to make an elixir from these suncones, which you have to show your various peoples how to make when you get to Earth. If every man and woman living on Earth drinks it, all these problems you have been complaining of will cease.”
A white bowl appeared on the table in front of the Traveler. The light coming from it was dazzling. The Earthlings found out they couldn’t look at it directly. Whiteman found out that if he turned his face to an angle, and looked at the bowl in an oblique manner, he could see what was going on there. The Asian sat down on the floor in a lotus position and closed his eyes in contemplation. This way he found out he could see the bowl in his inner vision. Le Africaine used his two hands to cover his face from the blinding light.
Meanwhile sparkling-white cones were forming inside the bowl. Soon the cones disappeared and the bowl vanished. The Traveler thanked them for coming and said, “The love of the Lord of All is always with you.”
Six months after the meeting, Whiteman who could not find the raw materials in his land, came to Africa and saw it lying everywhere.
“Hello,” he said to Le Africaine. “I see you have a large deposit of crude suncones. They look interesting.”
“Thanks,” replied Le Africaine cheerfully. “As a matter of fact, we have always had them as far as I can remember. Sometimes my kids dig it up and play with it.”
“Whiteman lit his pipe and inhaled. “Well,” he began hesitantly, choosing his words, “I’d like to have some – “
“No need to mention that. I will tell my kids to pack some in bags for you. At least you can show it to your people when you get home.”
He blew up smoke rings and slapped Le Africaine playfully on the back. “My friend, you are such a generous man. But I’d rather ship some of the crude suncones.”
“Ship?” retorted the astonished African.
“Then, that’s another matter…”
“I’m willing to pay, of course,” he quickly added. “I’ll pay ten dollars for every ton.”
“Ten dollars? That’s too small for that much,” Le Africaine protested.
“Ah, but you have just told me you do nothing with it,” said Whiteman, who was tapping his finger gently against the stem of the pipe. “For fact, that your kids sometimes play with the cones. I’m actually paying you money for it. O.K., I’ll pay twelve dollars. I hope that’s right for you.”
“Well, what can I do?… When will you start shipping?”
After making the elixir from the crude suncones, Whiteman sold it to Le Africaine. The Asian, while traveling, saw the prototype sample of the elixir made by Whiteman and bought it. He studied it, and because he could recall bits of how the Traveler made the elixir, he made a similar one that he sold to the African at a lower price. When Whiteman found out, he advised Le Africaine to impose a quota-tariff on the elixir imported from the Asian. Le Africaine agreed.
Soon, Le Africaine found out he did not have money to import the elixir. He went to Whiteman to give him a loan.
“Ah, my friend,” Whiteman laughed. “Didn’t I tell you it was that imitation of an elixir you buy from the Asian that’s causing your problems? That’s so. And that’s why I advised you to impose that tariff. But the tariff had not worked so well. You see, there’s too much smuggling of the imitation elixir across your borders. And your people continue to import the cursed elixir even at the high-tariff price. I don’t know what they see it. Anyway, I’d like to help you. I’ll like to give you a loan. But first you must promise to buy only from me and ban the importation of the Asian’s. Secondly, you must impose stricter border controls, so they will no longer smuggle the Asian’s elixir into your land. Finally, you must sign an agreement with me, giving me exclusive buying rights to your suncone deposits. That’s all.”
Le Africaine looked most unhappy. “I don’t think you expect me to accept such conditionalities. They’re ridiculous. I’ll go to the Asian.”
The African journeyed to the land of the Asian to ask for the loan.
“Welcome, neighbor. What brought you to my land today?” the Asian asked.
“I came visiting. It’s been quite a long time since we saw last. Your land is now very beautiful. And, ah, you produce a lot of goods now. What’s that?”
Le Africaine took it in both hands and examined it. “Say, does it taste as good as it looks?”
“See for yourself,” replied the Asian confidently.
Le Africaine took a glass from the Asian, opened the bottle of elixir and poured out a good measure. “The color is so deep,” he said excitedly, admiring the refraction of light coursing through it, and took a gulp. “Ah! It tastes so good. Even better than Whiteman’s!”
“You mean you haven’t tasted it before?” the Asiatic asked incredulously.
“How can I?” said Le Africaine, replacing the glass. “It’s expensive.”
“You made it expensive. You imposed a tariff and a quota on it. And tell me something, neighbor. How is it you imposed a tariff on an elixir you haven’t seen or tasted?”
Le Africaine gathered his flowing attire around him and thought for a while. “It’s one of the conditions imposed by Whiteman. I must be blind to be buying that cheap thing at the prohibitive price he sells it. Anyway, I’m lifting the quota-tariff on your elixir. From now onwards, I’ll buy from you.”
“It took you so long to come,” the Asian said slowly, adjusting his glasses. “I’ll give you a loan. But you have to promise never to buy from Whiteman again. The costly elixir you buy from him is causing all your problems. In addition, you must return all the elixir you bought from him.”
“That’s not acceptable to me!” Le Africaine protested. I won’t accept any conditionalities. And, of course, you know quite well the ones I bought from Whiteman are not returnable.”
Le Africaine went home to cry for three years, after which he went back to God alone.
When he got to the gate of the temple in which the last meeting was held, he saw the Gatekeeper. Six feet from the man, he fell down on his face and hands and started relaying his latest problems of funds to pay for the elixir he imports. When he finished without getting a reply, he got up.
“What do you want?” the Keeper said.
“I want to see the Spiritual Traveler.”
“Are you on appointment? Did he invite you?”
“You can only gain access to this Temple by invitation,” the Gatekeeper said in a tone of dismissal.
Le Africaine fell down and started crying, lamenting that even God has abandoned him. When he became tired, he sat down to contemplate what to do. That was when an eagle came flying high above. The bird dived down toward him, and he noticed it had something in its mouth. The object fell from the mouth of the eagle, and landed on his lap.
It was only a piece of paper with this legend: “Go back home, Earthling. Next time you are called to a meeting, keep your eyes open.”
The eagle got lost in a shower of deep amber-red that radiated from the heavens, reminiscent of the sun’s hurried departure.