A girl wandered in a forest when the sun had set. She was lost. She knew she had been with her friends, but they all took their own paths and head to different directions. She did not know how she ended up there. In fact, she did not even remember her name and where she came from. She only remembered a name: Happiness. It belonged to her friend. Thus, the girl set out to find her way back to her friend.
The forest was dark and full of tall trees. They blocked her view and her path. The girl observed the trees and hoped to find a thing or two which she could use as a marker. She could not tell the North from the South or the East from the West. She could not read the stars. She was not supposed to be there. But she was brave, so she still gave it a try although she had nothing to help her survive. She took the first step forward.
Dry leaves carpeted the ground, and the sound she made when stepping on them made her shudder. She kept walking. It was not very long before she encountered someone. She saw him at first, talking to himself. He sounded satisfied. He pointed at the trees circling him. His hands moved in a way that indicated he was measuring something. Then, he nodded several times. She greeted him and introduced herself. He replied and said his name was Acceptance.
The girl did not remember him, but she suspected he was one of her friends. Otherwise, why would anyone be in a forest alone? She asked him if he knew Happiness. “Sure I do,” he answered boastfully. “I am very close with her.” The girl was glad to hear that. She asked him how to find her. She explained that she was very close with her, too. Upon hearing this, Acceptance gave her an appraising look. “Then you must know that to find her is to be accepted by everyone,” he snorted. She asked him how she would know if she was accepted. “It is easy. When no one can find a thing to criticize from you, you are accepted,” he stated rather brusquely, “and you have to fit in.”
He gestured to the trees. “You see these trees?” The girl nodded. “They are strikingly similar to each other. That is how you know they belong to this forest. Different trees have no place here; which is actually a good thing because if they were here, they would ruin the harmony of this forest.” He took a short pause before appraising her again. “You are not similar to me. If you must find Happiness, go along this way and find someone else. Maybe you will have better luck,” he said dismissively.
The girl continued her journey. As she pondered upon everything Acceptance had said, she noticed that, indeed, the forest looked beautifully lined up with similar trees as far as her eyes could see. She had never really thought about the beauty of fitting in, but now that she did, her heart was expectant to see people with whom she was similar. Therefore, when she bumped into the next person, she felt a bit discouraged.
There was nothing similar between her and the restless man. He moved from one tree to the next in an extraordinary speed and eagerness. She called out to him and introduced herself. He ignored her at first, as he was so absorbed in going back and forth and taking notes, but finally acknowledged the girl’s presence. She apologized and introduced herself before asking if he knew Acceptance and Happiness. “Of course, I am Curiousness. I wanted to know everyone, so now I know everyone,” he answered pompously. She told him what Acceptance had told her, and asked him if he knew anyone similar with her. “That bloke is nonsensical. If you want to find Happiness, you have to indulge yourself in, and devote yourself to, knowledge. You have to have the thirst for it,” he said with the utmost certainty, “and everyone who had found Happiness had it.” She asked him what it meant.
“Say, when you arrived, did you see what I did with the trees? Of course, you did,” he did not wait for the girl to answer. “I devote myself to the knowledge of the trees. I know what every layer of a tree trunk means, what color is the tree trunk, and what color is the leaves. I know that the trees have roots and branches. And I take notes so I will not forget.” The girl, being so simple-minded, failed to understand, so she asked Curiousness what to do with the knowledge he had gathered. However, Curiousness decided that he was done with her. He waved his hand to a footpath behind the trees. “Pursue Education. She knows what to do with it. You’d better hurry; she left hours ago.”
And so the girl ran down the path. She did not know what Education looked like, but she had to run to catch up. Otherwise, she would fall too far behind. It was in the midst of running that she stumbled across someone who was collecting fruits. The girl asked her if Education had passed this way. “Education?” The fruit-collector was startled. “You will never stop running if you pursue her.” The girl explained what Curiousness had told her. She mentioned Happiness and Acceptance, too. “Well, she passed my route,” the fruit-collector explained, “and she taught me about fruits.” As she said this, she showed the girl some of the deliciously red and round fruits. The girl almost took one of them when they were pulled outside her reach. The fruit-collector snarled, “You have to pay if you want one. Nothing is free. I was the one who collected them, so you have to pay for my efforts.” The girl argued that it meant Education had a right to a part of the payment, too, considering she was the one who taught her about fruits. “Well, Education taught me indeed, but then she left. I was the one who came up with the idea to collect them!” she answered so defensively that the girl did not have the courage to argue further. “She passed my route and paid with knowledge. Besides, what is the use of Education if you get no profit from it?”
The girl, upon seeing that the fruit-collector was most likely not interested in her journey and Happiness, decided to leave. But before she left, she asked for her name. “My name is Stability,” she answered simply, before adding, “remember: what is important is not to pursue Education. It is to get money. Money guarantees your life. People like you if you work because you are not a burden for them. I am not a burden to you, but you could be a burden to me if you take my fruits without paying.”
The girl took off again, this time with knitted eyebrows. She was rather shocked to find the conflicting reasons. Her head started to hurt. If there was a positive upside from her encounter with Stability, it was that she now recognized the red blinking lights behind the thick leaves, mirroring the flickering of the stars. She had not realized there were so many fruits on the trees. Thank goodness; just in time, her stomach began growling with hunger! She could not reach even the lowest fruit hanging from the branch, so she climbed one of the trees. The girl was out of breath by the time she picked a fruit at last and silently understood why Stability had insisted for her to pay.
Long after she had done eating, the girl rested on the wide branch. Her mind drifted away, so it surprised her to hear a song sung so close, so suddenly. She looked down and found a pair of eyes staring directly at her. “Hello, what are you musing about? My name is Love.” The girl introduced herself. She explained her purpose and all the advice given to her. “You silly girl, you take the long way if you listen to them,” Love laughed. She was so carefree and bright that the girl was bedazzled. She wished she could be more like her. “Listen to me,” Love said. “You just need to find love. Love leads to Happiness, directly, via the freeway!” And as she spoke, her hand gestured to a smooth road the girl had yet to see in the midst of the forest.
That road was starkly different from the closed and tight ones she had taken. This one was not surrounded by tall trees; instead, bushes of flowers stood proudly. There were no dry leaves on the road. The girl could see the stars and the moon very clearly and she felt calmer. The road was so pretty and seemingly harmless that she was certain Love spoke the truth.
She ran and ran and ran and believed she would find Happiness at the end of the road, but when she arrived, she found that it was deserted, except for an uptight looking man. She thought he might know if Happiness was there. She told him what Love had told her, and the man scowled. “Do not trust Love blindly. There is no such thing as a freeway to Happiness,” he said, so she told him about Acceptance, Curiousness, Education, and Stability. He took his time before answering: “I am Security and I am not sure about the correct path to Happiness, but just to be safe… why don’t you just do all that you have been advised to do?” She asked him to elaborate.
“Be a little similar to everyone in order to be accepted. Have a little thirst for knowledge just in case. Pursue Education up to a certain degree, only to satisfy your curiosity. Stop if you want a little stability. Work. Love a little!” he exclaimed. The girl opened her mouth to ask more, but Security cut her off. “Now, off you go. I do not have the time to help others. I have to ensure my own safety and do everything they also tell me to do!”
The girl scuttered away in a rush. If Security did not have the time, what made her think she had? How long had Security been there? How late was she? By the time the deserted road ended, she was so tired and the night was so dark that she was frightened of everything. She arrived in an empty meadow and began to regret having started her journey at all. The advice only made her more and more confused. She doubted her purpose as she felt more and more distant from the memory of Happiness, so she cried.
The girl cried for what seemed like ages, but probably only a few hours, and wailed. She was lonely and exhausted and troubled, and the night was not helping. The moon and the stars were too far away to cheer her up. That was why she was taken aback when, between her tears, she saw someone approaching. She wiped her eyes. Before her stood a woman, older than any of the people she had met although not by far, offering her hand. The girl took it and stood.
“Why are you crying?” the woman asked. The girl told her everything: Happiness, Acceptance, Curiousness, Education, Stability, Love, Security. And that she was lost. She felt even more lost than before.
“Do not give me advice,” the girl begged, “for it will only leave me perplexed.”
The woman chuckled. “I will not because I cannot.”
“What do you mean?” The girl asked, puzzled.
“The path to Happiness differs for everyone. It is not a simple set of steps,” the woman explained. “Being accepted is what you should seek if you do not like being criticized, or maybe you would prefer to pursue education instead if you devote yourself to knowledge. Working may be great for you if you do not like being short of money and profit, but love is what you should be after if you like the bright presence of a company. Security leads you to a sense of safety, which sometimes comes along with Happiness. However, more often than not, your friend Happiness is far from him.”
“Was he lying, then?” The girl felt like a fool.
“No, of course not. He just could not recognize the face of Happiness because he was no more certain than you were. He kept going even without certainty—and it is not wrong, mind you—but I do not think you are looking for a life like his. Security has nothing to complain, and he is completely satisfied with his choices, but his way of life is not for you.”
“How do you know?” The girl inquired.
“I see it in your eyes… because Happiness has marked you. What you seek is an intense and fierce Happiness. A Happiness found in the essence of being.”
The woman smiled when she saw the girl gave her a blank look.
“Close your eyes, Little Girl, and I will guide you to Happiness.” She held the girl’s hands. When their skin touched, the girl felt waves and waves of emotion surged towards her. Memories flooded her mind; of her first breath, of her first exposure to the air, of her first cry to the world. Of her first walk, of her first word, of her first song. On and on and on it went, before finally the memory of her first introduction to Happiness arrived. Something clicked inside her, and the girl opened her eyes.
There she was, her friend Happiness… so beautiful and brilliant that it almost blinded her. Morning had come, and the knots in her heart had been untied.
The girl’s eyes met the woman’s and she whispered, “Thank you.”
“Never mind,” the woman answered. “You are bound to meet me, after all.”
“Who are you?” the girl asked.
The woman smiled again. “My name is Wisdom, and you would have never met me had you not gone on the journey you took. Happiness had been inside you all along. You just need to be reminded.”
Cerita ini dimuat di blog saya yang lama pada tanggal 4 Juli 2016. Setelah bertahun-tahun tidak menyelesaikan cerita, akhirnya saya berhasil merampungkan kisah ini dengan tidak disangka-sangka. Begitu istimewanya cerita ini bagi saya sehingga saya putuskan untuk mengirimkannya ke salah satu dosen yang paling saya hormati. Beliau mendapati cerita ini mirip dengan The Goodman Brown (Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1835); mungkin tanpa disadari, tulisan Hawthorne itu sangat berkesan bagi saya meski waktu sudah lama berlalu sejak saya membacanya.