Once upon a time in the Kingdom of Real Life there was a young girl born into the arms of a tired mother who was no more than a girl herself and living life within the struggle called Poverty. The mother abandoned the child very quickly and a kindly Grandmother took her in. She fed her, clothed her and even managed to send her to the hallowed halls of School. This girl knew she was privileged and must be a Princess to have such kindness in her life.
The years passed and the Princess worked hard, waking before the sun to do the chores, feeding the animals and preparing chai for breakfast, all before she left for school. The Princess passed through the mighty obstacle course that was called the Education System, gaining passes at the many rituals known as exams and moving forward to the place for the truly privileged only, the mighty Secondary School. She toiled, studied, fed the animals and tended her guardian’s small farm, for she loved this Grandmother with all her heart but it was hard, so very hard.
The obstacle course within the Secondary School had much higher hurdles and the ditches of filthy water she had to traverse were wide, deep and dangerous. She watched many succumb and drown. Also they spoke a strange and difficult language unknown to her previously, English.
The final ritual approached and she slept for just a few hours each night, preferring to sit up into the night with a solitary candle burning in the dark to light up the pages of her study book. After the mightiest of all hurdle Form IV Examination, she left the Secondary School exhausted, nervous and fretful for her future, she wanted to repay her Grandmother with the greatest gift any child could give, success. She dreamed of taking that success and using it to gain entry into the Advanced Level system from whence she could go to the palace of learning, University and gain many titles and emerge a Pharmacist. She was tired but hopeful of achieving the great pass she needed.
The results arrived and she had done well, her grades each earned points and those points when added together matched the number that was usually required to be awarded the Great Pass Certificate. Now she knew she was truly a Privileged Princess. She was taken to the Great Tower where she climbed many steps on a narrow spiral staircase, going up and up and up until she thought she would reach out and shake the hand of God himself. At last she reached the end of the stairs and there was nothing except a door with the word FUTURE written in letters a foot high and harsh black script. In that moment she was frightened and wanted to turn and run back down the stairs to her Grandmother’s home. But when she turned she saw the staircase was disappearing even as she watched and she knew she would fall to her death as the steps beneath her feet were washed away unless she entered through the scary door.
So it was our Princess found herself locked in the tower with nothing but a mattress on the stone floor, a pitcher of water to wash herself and a stack of dry, dusty books containing long words and signs that made her eyes hurt just to look at them. But she knew she must master the complexities within the books and so she sat cross legged on the floor and thanked God for the opportunity of her Future before opening the first book.
As the sun started to go down and the tower darkened the Princess could read no more and so she stood, looking balefully at the door for there was no handle on the inside, she turned to the narrow window and looked out. She gasped in wonder at the sight before her eyes, thousands upon thousands of gleaming towers dotted across the evening sky. Some were shorter then hers but many, many were taller and there were thousands of birds some great and mighty, many small and struggling for breath at the high altitude, all seemed to be searching for a particular tower. She watched in awe as she saw a grand eagle land on the ledge of the window of the tower nearest hers, which was one of the few shorter towers. She watched as the Eagle talked with a young boy whose head appeared at the window. When an eagle landed on the sill before her she was shocked and fell back into her room.
“Come, come child we don’t have time for this,” the mighty eagle said grumpily. “Get up and come and tell me your great plan for leaving this tower and joining Advanced Level studies.” The Eagle fluffed its wings as it collapsed them in on its body, clearly expecting an answer of great import and knowledge.
“Why, I don’t know Mr Mighty Eagle,” she said bowing her head respectfully. “Would you be terribly kind and help me?” She raised her eyes and looked pleadingly into the dark black circles of the eagle’s own.
“You don’t know? You come here, open the door marked future and tell me you don’t know?” He fluffed his mighty wings as if to open them and leave. The Princess cried out in alarm.
“Please Mr Mighty Eagle, I have worked hard and achieved the points of last year’s Pass allowance and now I await the issue of the Great Pass Certificate but I know not how to leave this room.”
“Oh silly girl, why didn’t you say that? What you need to do is grow your hair long enough to be plaited and cut to make a rope to help you scale the wall down,” The eagle flew up to the sky hovering above her window as they both looked down into the depths below. “If you reach the bottom you will receive the Great Pass Certificate for it will have been awarded you.”
The Princess’ hand flew up to her shaven head and she looked down with misery in her eyes.
“That will take up all of my future Mr Mighty Eagle for I have no hair right now and it will be months before it is even a foot long.” She withdrew from the window not wanting the Mighty Eagle see her tears.
“Humph…” said the Eagle and with that he was gone swooping down towards the ground at tremendous speed, the Princess rushed to the window to watch.
“Look out Mr Mighty Eagle, the ground is coming up to greet you very fast, don’t hurt yourself.” As her words went tumbling down after the Eagle she held her breath in fear. Then as quick as a lightning bolt the Eagle had turned and was soaring back toward her. The Eagle landed on the sill looking exceptionally pleased with himself and she knew she should praise his dramatic flight but before she could speak he silenced her with his beady eyes and said in an ominous voice. “How many points?”
“Well, twenty four Mr Mighty Eagle. I got twenty four points.”
“Hmm… going to be tough. Let me see. 24 x 1 magical coin x 66 yards, 2 feet and 7 inches plus a drop of winter’s rain from the Land of Plenty, divided by 24 and with a wing feather from me for luck. Hmm… let’s see now.” He tucked his head under his wing and was asleep instantly, snoring loudly.
“Oh, but …” the Princess’ voice trailed into a whisper as she shrugged her shoulders and sighed. Wow that was a big sum the Eagle had to do, no wonder he needed to sleep. She knelt beside her mattress and prayed to God Almighty for her hair to grow quickly and for the Mighty Eagle to have a good night’s sleep and then she curled up under the thin sheet and tried to sleep.
When the sun started his grand ascent in the skies he sent early morning rays to awaken the princess and she sat up sleepily, rubbing the detritus of the sleep dreams from her eyes dreamily. She had slept well and her dreams had been of riding the Mighty Eagle’s back and seeing many lands and many things, she knew she was in the presence of a magical and truly mighty being. She stood and absentmindedly ran her fingers through the stubble of her shaven head and as she did so the tower filled with the light of the sun and she felt a fabulous tickly and scratchy itch all over her scalp and she could feel her hair growing beneath her fingers.
“Oh my goodness, Mr Mighty Eagle where are you? You solved the sum didn’t you? Oh my, oh my please come and look my hair it is nearly a foot long!” She struggled with the weight of her new hair as it cascaded over her eyes and down her face to her shoulders. “Mr Mighty eagle are you there?” She called out joyously through the lustrous locks the good lord had sent her but was frightened to see the Mighty Eagle already in flight and leaving the tower.
“Good night Princess, I will return soon and you may claim a second point. I don’t know if the 24 points will suffice but you can boost their power with your prayers and with your learning. Good day princess.” His voice faded as he flew further away from the tower and the princess was sad and lonely for she had gained comfort from his presence.
The Princess heeded the word of the Mighty Eagle and studied and prayed every day, she found some scissors and hair bands that had appeared next to her washing water and she styled her new hair to allow her clear sight but leaving a fringe atop her eyebrows as a constant reminder of her luck and good fortune. The rest of her hair she started to plait, unravelling and re doing it many times to ensure the strongest of braids, it would need to be very strong to sustain her weight.
The Mighty Eagle returned many times and each time he rested on the sill and recited his sum before falling asleep. The Princess longed for his return every night but sometimes he did not return for many moons, she never complained and prayed to God to help her remain strong and to keep the Mighty eagle safe. She spent her days re-plaiting her ever growing hair and studying the great tomes in the tower. Her head ached from the weight of the hair and she grew restless wanting to cut it off and make her escape.
“Please Mr Mighty Eagle may I cut my hair and leave tomorrow?” She asked after he had come for the fifteenth visit.
“No Princess. Absolutely not, why how you can be so silly and impatient? Did your Grandmother teach you nothing.” With that the Mighty Eagle turned his back on her and slept. The next morning she woke as usual with the sun illuminating her tower and her head experiencing the tickly, itchy sensation but her hair did not grow as much as usual, she was horrified and cried to God for forgiveness.
The Mighty Eagle did not return for many moons and the princess started to think he would never return. Then one night as she stood at the tower’s window watching out for the giant flap of his wings she looked up into the night sky and saw the most beautiful thing her eyes had ever seen, a shooting star and she knew it was a sign. She fell to her knees right there in the dust and prayed to God for the Mighty Eagle’s return and thanked God for the gift of the shooting star.” As she said her Amen she heard the rustle of feathers and knew that God had heard her prayers.
“Well Princess, I have news.” The Mighty Eagle spoke as if he had not been away for many days and the Princess’ heart swelled with love and thanks. “The Great Rulers in the majestic land of Government,” he paused and looked at her until she bowed her head and curtseyed in what she hoped was an appropriate response. “Yes, well the Greatest of them, the man they call Pre-si-dent, has issued his decree to the chief minister in the mighty Education System. It is whispered that the new Pre-si-dent has plans for great change afoot and that soon, in maybe a thousand moons, there will be no more need for Towers as all Students will go to Secondary School and there will be plenty of places for those that wish to traverse the giant hurdle and continue to A Level studies.” The Princess looked up at him with wide, tearful eyes, she knew this was a great thing the new Pre-si-dent was doing and was thankful for the future generations that would benefit.
“But now, my Princess, now is a difficult time because, before such changes can happen, there must be a period of suffering and those caught in the towers today will be the first to endure that suffering. Take heed my Princess the Great Certificates will be issued soon, pray and study very hard and be ready for the day.”
The Princess gasped as the weight of the words of suffering took hold of her heart and clenched it in their grasp trying to enforce the spell of Desperation but the Princess was strong and squeezed her eyes shut tight and prayed to her God. When she opened her eyes, her heart was free once more and the Eagle had left.
For seven days the Princess barely slept, using the daylight hours to study the great tomes and the night hours to pray and re braid her very long hair. Every night the Mighty Eagle came and slept on her sill, saying little and looking tired and forlorn. Clearly the spell of the sum was taking its toll on him and she was sorry for that and fed him water to drink and smoothed his once beautiful feathers.
On the seventh night, as the very last spell of her 24 earned points was cast the Princess fell into a deep and melancholy sleep after bidding the Mighty Eagle a goodnight and thanking him for his help, for she knew she would never seem him again. Her sleep was fitful and her dreams were of tumbling out of the tower, her braid not strong enough to hold her. She woke with the sun to the sounds of horns playing and cheering and party crackers popping in the early dawn light. She rushed to the window and saw thousands of boys and girls climbing down their towers, some had ladders made of wood, some had sheets tied together and others flew down on the backs of their Eagles but all were joyous and happy and their words rang in the air. The Great Pass Certificates are waiting on the ground!
The Princess turned nervously and hunted for the scissors, for she knew what must done. She opened the jaws of the blades wide and reached behind her neck to cut off the braid as close to her scalp as she could for she knew 24 points alone was risky. As she stood with the scissors poised, her arms screaming in pain at their contortions, she paused and raised her eyes to God. “Please Lord, let the Mighty Eagle be well again for he looked very sick when he left me. Please God I ask you this favour before I ask that my 24 point braid be enough. Amen.” As she said the final word a great force entered the tower and took her hands in its grasp and hacked off the braid, cleanly and smoothly and very close to her scalp. “Thank you Lord.” She whispered gathering the braid and quickly working to tie off the end before it started to snake down and unravel.
Once she had tied off the braid it fell in a mighty coil at her feet and it seemed to her that it had grown in strength and was fatter and stronger now, she smiled up to the Gods and looked about the room for somewhere to secure the end. As she felt along the walls close to the window her heart thumped in trepidation, where could she tie the braid? The Mighty Eagle had said all would be clear but she was blind, she could not see. As panic gripped her heart, she fell to her knees and sobbed as images of the Mighty Eagle lying dead in the dust and her Grandmother weeping over his body came to her. In that moment she gave up and let panic do its worst.
“Tut, tut, tut. What are still doing here you silly Girl?” The voice of the grumpy Eagle filled the tower and she threw the cloak of panic off as she jumped up and rushed to the window to hug him. But he was not there, there were no Mighty wings flapping in the sky, she must have imagined him. As the grip of panic sought to regain its hold she slumped on the sill. “Ouch!” Her forearm hurt and the scratch immediately bloomed red with her blood. “Oh my, oh my!” She exclaimed staring at the vicious hook that was set in the window’s brickwork. “That was not there before, I know it. Thank you Mr Mighty Eagle, once more I thank you!”
She tied the braid to the hook, her fingers working nimbly as if powered by another more able pair of hands. Once firm she tugged and tugged with all her might to be sure it would hold and swallowed hard to keep the Dogs of Fear at bay. Now came the task of lifting the braid and sending it out down the wall. Not an easy task for the hair must now weigh a ton and she was but a slip of a girl but she knew the Lord would help her. The first few coils were the mightiest and heaviest and she laboured long and hard, the sweat of effort filling her eyes and blinding her. She moved the first two coils inch by inch, crying out in torment with every pull and tug of her pitifully bony arms but she would not give in. Eventually she reached the window and sat back to take her breath, she knew lifting the coil and tossing it through the window would be the hardest task of all.
Sitting there, with the coils of her golden 24 point braids nestled next to her like a giant golden cobra she looked around her tower and smiled, realising that she had grown quite fond of her new home. With a smile in her heart and determination in her soul she started to sing a happy tune, one her Grandmother had used to lull her to sleep as a baby. She rose and sang loud and clear, her voice sweet and strong amidst the hurrahs and cheers from below. With no more thought she turned and grasped the two fat and silky coils and without a break in her song she tossed them through the window and collapsed against the wall as they ran away from her and took on their own life cascading down the wall.
She lay exhausted now, even her song had died in her throat. She looked at her hands and for the first time saw they were chaffed and sore and the skin threatened to break open and bleed any moment. The waves of the Sea of Pain finally reached her and lapped up her arms and rendered them useless. She looked around panicking once more for she knew she must hold tight to the braids of her 24 point hair or fall into the depths and plummet to the ground surely breaking every bone in her body. She spotted the scissors and crawled on her knees and elbows to reach them. Taking her kanga from the bed she cut it into strips and made bandages bathed in water. Finally with her sore hands swathed she stood on unsteady legs and peered out of the window. The sounds of cheering and party crackers filled her soul with hope and determination even though she could not see the ground. Her 24 point braid shone golden in the sun and she climbed out of the window with trepidation in her heart but determination coursing through her brains.
Hand over hand, slowly, oh so slowly, her feet tucked together around the braid as she descended. The words of the Mighty Eagle came to her as her heart clenched in the grip of panic. “Don’t look down Princess. Once you start the climb look only up into the eyes of God.” Remembering his words she forced her face and eyes to look up and seek the eyes of God himself. Slowly, oh so slowly, her hands thrumming with the pain as the bandages uncoiled themselves and let her 24 point braid bite into her skin with sharp ferocity. Hand over hand, down, down, down. The wind whipped up cruelly and the braid started to swing, she cried out in fear and her feet untangled themselves from the braid and she was swinging in the sky with only her torn and broken hands holding her. “No, please Lord no. Don’t let me fall.” Her cries rang out into the skies and her feet regained their hold on the 24 point braid and the winds dropped, she whispered prayers of thanks and continued.
The Princess must have fallen into a trance whilst continuing the long climb down for suddenly she awoke and realised the shouts and cries of the crowds were closer now, the sun beat down on her neck where she no longer had the cover of hair and she realised she must be getting close. Excitement welled up in her heart and she disregarded the voice of the Mighty Eagle and as she climbed down, hand over hand, slowly, oh so slowly, she turned her face away from God and looked down.
What she saw stopped her downward motion as reality flew up from below to greet her.
The end of her braid was but a few hand over hand steps away but the ground and the safety and sanctity of Advanced Level Studies was still a mighty drop. Too far for her to jump, she would surely perish. She looked down in desperation, seeking help and as her eyes focused she saw her Grandmother standing with her teacher from School, arm in arm and weeping. Their thoughts and cries reached her heart and she knew.
The great changes the new Pre-si-dent was trying to bring had to be paid for by suffering and she was caught in that giant snare along with 230,000 other students. 24 points was no longer enough. 24 points was 2 points shy of a pass certificate. Her future was the tower, a locked door with no access to education or university or books or study. The great Education System had moved the goal posts. She, like so many had failed.
Now she noticed the other towers and now she heard the cries and screams of desperation and as she looked round she saw many were left higher than she, further from the ground. As she tried to stop the well of disappointment flooding her eyes she saw a boy from a nearby tower simply let go of his ladder and plummet to the ground, she fancied she heard the crack of his bones and the shattering of his life. She sobbed and looked about her and realised many had never left the tower, many just stayed, resigned to their fate and never allowing the dream of hope to enter their heart and right then at that moment, she envied them. Trapped in their dark futures with no door handle through which to escape, she wished she had remained. She let her feet unfold and dangle freely, she breathed in the closeness of the air of success and it tasted bitter in her throat. So near and yet so far, so much hard work and all for nothing. Why? Why? It drummed against her skull thudding and pounding mockingly, why?
She released one hand’s grip on the 24 point braid and was not surprised when she didn’t fall but rather dangled, swaying in the breeze, her remaining hand suddenly powerful and strong. She resented that strength and wished it gone.
“I will not climb back to the Tower of my Future.” She cried out with the pain and torture of her heart singing in her words. “I will not fall to the ground and die either.” She swung herself precariously, still only connected by one hand. “I will achieve my dream. I will go to the Hallowed Halls of Advanced Level. I will work the land and dig the soil of the farms and gardens. I will earn a wage and I will take myself to the gates of the Hallowed Halls but I will not let go of my dreams.”
Her cries let loose the powerful armies of the Determined and they thundered across the skies in their chariots battling the swords of Failure and cutting them down. A great battle ensued and the Land of Reality looked on in wonder as the Princess remained suspended by her 24 point braid, which was strong and righteous and powered by Effort. The Land of Reality knew not what to do to end this war. A true Knight was needed, one with the magic of coin to resolve the struggle. The Grandmother watched the fighting and heard the thoughts of the Land of Reality’s leaders and she turned and ran, determined to find her Princess the Knight she deserved.
So it was that our Princess was lowered from the skies, finally letting go of her 24 point braid as her Knight arrived cloaked in kindness and belief in the Right of Education. He came with coin of gold and marked with the strange currency of his land, $ CAD. He bought the Princess’ freedom from the Dark Tower of her future but he was sad, very sad because he had to watch the many others fall to the ground or struggle back into their towers. He could not save them all.
But… He saved our Princess of the story. God bless him and his friends.
The Princess is now in school and studying hard. Every day she gives thanks to the Mighty Eagle, her Grandmother and most of all to her Knight.