“Seems cruel, doesn’t it?”
Morranus whispered with a small shake of his head, the night of the Pit rumbled with the excessively loud and dangerous sounds of the killing engines. Such a question was unthinkable, not to mention suicidal. It puts the subject to the question on the same train of thought as the one who did the asking, thereby infecting him with the same influence, if the infection goes unsupervised, it may well spread and soon would be unstoppable. The first one who ever asked Morranus the question and thus infecting him, was his father whose father had infected him and the trace went on back.
Morranus remembered looking at his father with disbelieving eyes, the word ‘cruel’ was never part of his mental dictionary, so for that moment he took quite some time to understand what his father had asked, and he recalled his father looking back with his sad but hardened eyes, those eyes that had once melted his mother’s heart, or so did she say. That was when he obtained the age of adults, and when he finally asked, “Why would you say that?” His father had put his hand on Morranus’ shoulder and began to explain, and by the end, he had left his father. The next few years, he came back, hugged his father and said:
Yes, it does.
Decades had passed and his father had moved on to join his ancestors in the heavens, but the words of his father and those before him had collectively congregated in Morranus’ head, shaping and fueling the way he had been living his life. Now, in the midst of the heightening tension between the Empire and the common people, at the risk of compromising the safety of his own son and his family, Morranus knew it was time to pass on those words and thereby infecting his son.
Rollo, who had been whooping and enjoying the sight of the Pit, with the sounds of bones crunching accompanied by the screams of the Wallians, who didn’t seem to hear the question. As they walked back to their car, Morranus simultaneously walked alongside him and waited patiently for a reply. The sounds of the excited chatters of their fellow audience didn’t affect them despite the occasional sudden screams of excitement over how the female Wallian had soiled herself at the sight of the giant of a man wielding a mace or how the last group of Wallians had tried to crawl up the walls, trying to escape the jaws of the tigers only to be laughed and pushed back down by the audience. Oh, how they laughed, Morranus had thought with a deep sadness. How they laughed.
Finally, in the car, Rollo said, “Cruel? What was cruel?”
Morranus looked at the face of his son, the one he had struggled all his life ever since the death of his wife to raise a strong and righteous man. With a heavy heart, he had kept the infection to himself for fear that a young Rollo would not be ready for it, and would soon blurt it out to his friends or any sharp-eared spies lurking within the crowds. The last thing Morranus would want is to jeopardise Rollo’s safety and life. But that night, Morranus knew he was ready.
“That, what we saw at the Pit. That’s what I’m talking about.”
Rollo stared at his father with a confused face, “But father, we were just watching the Wallians getting purged.”
“And that didn’t seem cruel to you?”
“How was it cruel? They’re not like us, they’re not even humans.”
Morranus placed a warm hand on Rollo’s shoulder, “Tell me, Rollo, how did you come to that conclusion, was it because you yourself said so, or was it because the Empire told you so?”
Rollo shrugged his shoulder and Morranus lifted his hand of his son. “What you’re talking right now father, is treason and blasphemy. You’ve placed both our lives and my family’s in danger.”
In an unexpected moment, Morranus gave a genuine laugh which took Rollo by surprise, “Forgive me, son. What you said just now was exactly what I had said to your grandfather when he infected me.”
Now the situation was too much for Rollo, he grabbed Morranus’ shoulders and looked him in the eye. “What the hell are you talking about, father? First, you said to me what we saw just now was cruel and now you’re telling me grandfather had infected you?”
Morranus looked back at Rollo and calmly said, “Yes, I do understand you’re confused beyond comprehension. But please son, let me explain to you to the best of my abilities what I want to impart to you tonight.”
Rollo slowly took his hands off Morranus, leant back on his seat, took a deep breath which seems to have lasted for minutes and said, “Alright father.”
“When I was exactly your age, I was at the annual Pit with your grandfather. The night was just like this, I remember. Clear, with the moon shining down bright on the night. I remember what they did to Wallians: They placed one family in a cage on top of a pillar which slowly descends into an acid pool; I can never forget their faces as the acid slowly ate away at their legs, bodies and faces. At that time, it was glorious for me to see these... enemies of the Empire suffer… I whooped, I laughed and screamed in satisfaction. Tell me, would you have done the same?”
Rollo nodded silently.
“Then the only who didn’t react the same way I did was your grandfather, well he did laugh and clap but I could tell even then that he was merely pretending. After the Pit was over, I asked him what was wrong, and without the slightest hesitation, he asked me back,
“Seems cruel, doesn’t it?””
“My reaction then was the same as you; shocked, hurt, disappointed. I accused him of the betraying the Empire and all they had fought for, I hurled insults at his face and he just… looked at me quietly.”
“After I’ve calmed down, he told me that he just infected me with that question, that all my life I have never once thought of the Empire’s treatment of the Wallians was anything but cruel. At that moment, for the first time, my mind had begun to associate ‘purge’, and ‘cruel’ in the same context. And now, I have done the same to you.”
Rollo’s face was a mixture of sadness and fear. “But why father? Why would you risk all of our safety?”
“Because I want to show you that, in the midst of all that’s happening, there is always something greater than the Empire: our humanity.”
“Whatever is it that you know about the Wallians, I want you for the moment to really understand why do you hate them, why do you despise them even though you have never talked to any of them or had any sort of interaction with them before?”
His son shifted to a more comfortable position, Morranus gave him some time to think and Rollo finally said, “They were the main conspirators with the Lunese which led to the invasion of our homeland, which in turn caused the deaths of our people.”
“Yes, what you said is true, there is no disputing that. But when was the invasion?”
“2000 years ago.”
“Then why are we pouring our anger and hatred onto these Wallians?”
Silence covered the two like a layer of fog. “Because… they are still the enemies”
“Enemies? What enemies are you referring to? The invasion was a failure, the leaders back then had repelled them. They captured the Lunese king and executed him, the Wallians had been punished for their betrayal. So why are they still the enemies?”
Rollo felt uneasy, “the Empire said that the Wallians were once respected and trusted citizens but their betrayal destroyed that trust.”
“Again, it’s true. But did you ever think that it is unfair to punish these descendants of the ones who committed the betrayal?”
Morranus took a sip of water and continued, “What they did 2000 years ago was terrible, there is no question about that. Our people have flourished but the Wallians remained as they were at the end of the invasion because the Empire along with ourselves would not let them be. But these Wallians who had long ago renounced and condemned their ancestors’ actions are being punished for it, do you think it’s fair?”
Rollo said nothing.
“You said that they are not humans, that they are not like us. But let me ask you, do they not have the ability to feel remorse, just like you? Do they not have the ability to feel regret too? You have been to countless Pits, so can you recall how many times they have shouted or cried out their regrets for what their ancestors did? Or how sorry they are?”
Rollo said, “I… do. Even tonight, they did express their remorse.”
Morranus nodded and again placed his hand on Rollo’s shoulder, “I recall every single apology they made, ever since my father infected me. But no one else did. They never do, because they still think like you do. That was when I really understood what he wanted me to understand. Our ability to empathise and to feel sorrow and regret are what makes us humans, once we lose that then we can no longer call ourselves that. At this point, the Wallians are the ones that are more human than we do.”
“I am truly sorry that I told you this and thus infected you, I know I’ve put not just the two of us but my daughter-in-law and my grandchildren’s safety at risk. But this is necessary. Because as long as there is someone to understand that it’s not just about living one’s life to their content, it’s not just about finding a partner, but to also feel as another in pain do, to have that urge to help another, to forgive and only then are we worthy to be called humans.”
Rollo said nothing but he knew Morranus was done. By then the parking lot had already emptied out leaving them the only two people there. He started the car and drove back home.
The father and son did not discuss much on the infection. In fact, they avoided it because Morranus’ father gave him the benefit of time, so it’s only fair he did the same for his own son. Rollo was a headstrong man, Morranus thought with pride. It’s what made him who he is, and he may reject what his father said but somewhere deep down inside him, there is that small hope of optimism.