Once upon a time, in a time not too long ago, unless the time after that time and the time after that are indeed long ago, then our story does truthfully take place in a time very much before now, there was a little princess. This particular little princess didn't like being a princess. She didn't even like the idea of thinking she was a princess. She had all the things every other princess had. She had all the things any child of any kingdom would want. But being a princess did not interest this little princess. At all. The little princess didn’t like a lot of things. Her bedroom was too big for having tea parties in the afternoon; there were never enough chairs for the few who came anyway. And when they did come, the sun was either half-past or a quarter before in the sky. Her drawing table and its chair were too far from her bedroom window; her bedroom window was too far from the sea. The sea was too close to the Castle; the Castle was too close to the land. The land was too crowded; it had too many people. And the people, the people were too big, too tall, and they had very loud voices.
This little princess definitely didn’t like being little either. There was one thing the little princess did like. Her father, the King, would wake up before dawn to talk to the watchmen. There was only one watchtower. The little princess was not impressed. She didn’t understand how a real Castle could have only one watchtower: one to face the sea and the very same one to face the land. This made no sense to her.
But her confusion makes up less than half of our tale. The King had exactly three watchmen to keep watch on the tower. The little princess could never remember their names. She knew their names, yes. She could tell you all three names, “Alban, Bailey, and Caspar.” But what she could never tell anyone, not even Alban, Bailey, or Caspar, was which name belonged to which watchman. The particular characteristics of each watchman are not important for the purposes of our story. This is simply because their differences were not important to the little princess.
You see, she had never properly met them. She was certain they were real. They did exist . She was sure of that, at least. From morning to noon, two watchmen oversaw the Castle’s surroundings. From noon to afternoon, all three would stand on the top of the tower. And from afternoon to evening, again, two watchmen would be on guard, watching the land and the sea. How many of them were on duty from evening to dawn was something she had never considered.
This is not to say that this little princess was not a curious little princess The question just did not interest her.
Many things did not interest the little princess. She was not interested in the counts or the knights. She was not interested in the village peasants or even the strange doodads of Bartholemew the Merchant. His box of delights, filled with lollies made from the honey of some birch tree bee, spectacle lenses that only let you see your own eyes, the talking box that would just repeat backwards anything asked of it, the dolls made of glass that always filled with color when held, the balls that surely without fail kept bouncing up and down, did not interest her in the least, and certainly not in the way they caused such excitement for the other children of the village. She was not even interested in her little tea parties.
This is not to say this little princess was bored. She just didn’t like a lot of things. Not being interested in a certain anything is one thing whereas not minding something is another thing different all together.
Galen She didn’t mind that her father, the King, was often busy. She didn’t mind that she could hear his footsteps buckling down the hallway every day before dawn. The little princess didn’t mind that her nurse, Miss Uma, was always the first person to greet her good morning. She didn’t mind the fresh rosebuds Miss Uma brought to brighten her room. She didn’t mind her lessons: Penmanship, Mathematics, and Reading. She didn’t mind the baby her mother, the Queen, had brought home a few days ago. She didn’t even mind Miss Uma’s son, Galen.
This is not to say that the little princess did not sometimes wonder about such things. Sometimes she did wonder why Galen was so skinny. He was very skinny for someone who was so loud. She wondered how a room got brighter by flowers. She wondered why the Castle had wooden floors in the hallway. She wondered what the baby looked like. She wondered, a few times, why Miss Uma didn’t have something better to do. The little princess also wondered if she did like anything or something in particular. Was there anything she was interested in? This question often bothered the little princess. She wanted to like something. So she waited and waited for something to like until she could not wait anymore.
The little princess decided she did like one thing; the little princess liked being alone.
The little princess did not usually get to be alone. Like any other princess of any other kingdom, this little princess had several duties to fulfill. She was responsible for many important things. Being responsible and taking care of things, whether or not you or I see such things as important, are matters important in themselves. The things that this little princess was responsible for were few. She must always wake up before breakfast was served in the court. She must stay awake throughout her Mathematics lessons. She must go for her walk with her mother, the Queen, at three o’clock in the afternoon. She must kiss her father, The King, goodnight before she went to bed at seven o’clock in the evening. She must be nice to Miss Uma. She must even be nice to Galen. She must let the court, the people, and even her parents, the King and the Queen, be nice to her.
But there were things aside from what the little princess was obliged, or made, to do. There were also things that the little princess should take care to do. She should always be awake and alert after she had woken up. She should always try her very hardest at understanding addition, subtraction, and multiplication. She had not learned division yet. She should listen to her mother, the Queen, on their walks. She should always pay attention. She should learn what ladies look like and how they act like. She should always listen to what her parents say. Even if she only really got to see her father, the King, at dinner before kissing him and her mother, the Queen, goodnight. She should be thankful for Miss Uma. She should even be thankful for Galen. Again, what we must do and what we should do are often confusing concepts, especially for little princesses. This little princess was more concerned with what she wanted to do.
So often, she wouldn’t wake up before breakfast was served. She would fall asleep during subtraction. She would pay far more attention to the shapes on the backs of the butterflies, the little feet of the centipedes, the hearts she was sure she saw walking around the gardens, which were in fact ladybugs walking together, than she did to her mother, the Queen, on their walks. She sometimes would find Miss Uma’s presence annoying. Why did she need to go everywhere with Miss Uma? This question the little princess asked herself quite often.
She wanted to wake up when she liked to. She wanted to learn about where spices really came from, who gave the mushrooms their hats, when fishes grew feet, how her mother, the Queen, was so tall, and why do stories always have endings. She wanted to run, not walk, through the gardens. She wanted to spend more time with her father, the King. She wanted to ask her mother, the Queen, questions about what really mattered. She wanted to see what the baby looked like.
The little princess found one thing she did not want but that she could have, as often it is hard to compromise between such two ideas, wanting and having. She had loneliness. The little princess liked being alone. She often wanted to be alone. But she could not be alone. The King and the Queen, her parents, would not allow for it. So this little princess was often lonely.
Loneliness does not always mean that no one will come to a tea party. Whether it is yours, mine, or even a little princess’ tea party. Nor does it mean that there are no jokes to laugh at, stories to cry over, or people to miss. Loneliness is a very strange thing. It is sometimes a very sad thing. Sometimes loneliness goes away because there are people to laugh and cry with over silly stories you share together. Other times, the best way to get over being lonely is to be alone. Even little princesses need time to themselves. Time to think about things that really matter. But this little princess was never allowed to be alone. Instead, she was lonely. Do not be upset. Our story is not a sad one.
An incredible thing was about to happen on this particular day. Although rare, such things do happen. Such things are possible. And such things often happen to the last person in any story to whom such a thing should have happened.
Outside the little princess’ bedroom, the day had begun like any other day had begun before. It had begun long before the little princess finally awoke. In fact, it is likely she would have never woken up except for one tiny detail that is important to our story. The little princess had been sleeping, and probably dreaming, since seven o’clock the night before. In her slumber, she began to think she was in fact awake. She heard a constant buzzing noise. This noise grew into humming and then grew into gurgling then grew into roaring. It would fade in and out. The little princess could not make sense of this. The noise was then followed by other noises: coughing, clanking, rustling, and finally the words, “Oh Dear!” This little princess was not used to people talking to her in her sleep. So she was certain now that she must be awake. She sat up in her bed. Why was it so dark? She felt rested. She did not hear the buckling of the King’s footsteps. She wondered what might be going on. Maybe she had finally woken up before her father? Maybe she had only slept a little while. Sometimes the little princess felt better after a nap.
Her confusion was quickly solved when she began to look around her. Her curtains were closed! That is why she could not see anything!But then where was Miss Uma?The little princess began to wonder if she had indeed taken a nap or woken up before her father, the King.“Oh Dear!”The little princess jumped.Who was talking to her? Or was it, whatever it was, talking to her at all?She was afraid to open the curtains. She folded her feet beneath her knees and sat in a frozen curiosity. She was not sure if she was scared or confused.The noises grew and grew. “Oh Dear!”
The little princess was still too scared to get up. Slowly, her eyes began to adjust to the dark. She made out a strange lump in the corner of her room. Someone or something was sitting on her chair. It was a giant figure and seemed to sway back and forth. The outline of its body got larger and larger then smaller and smaller. The little princess did not believe in monsters. She did not think a monster would be interested in visiting her of all people, anyway. What good were little princesses to monsters?
The little princess slowly began to make sense of her surroundings. What that was so big could possibly be sitting in her room? In the dark, too? The little princess began to listen carefully to the noises that were coming from the lump on her chair. As the little princess listened, she was certain that being scared was silly. She knew that voice! The little princess had heard many voices from many people over her little life, but had only really listened to few of them. Only one person sounded like that: Miss Uma.
The little princess quietly got out of her bed. She tip-toed to her drawing table and chair. She looked closely but still could not see. She realized she needed more light. So she slowly crept across to the other side of her room. She lifted the corner of the curtain covering her bedroom window. It was well past breakfast time! The little princess stopped to think. It was not her duty to open the bedroom window’s curtains. But then how would she know who or what was sitting making so much noise in the corner of her room? She thought carefully for a minute, but not much longer. She decided that just this once, it might not be so bad to open the curtains. She even opened the window. Now she could see! It was Miss Uma.But Miss Uma was not awake. She was sleeping. Why was Miss Uma sleeping when the sun was well past breakfast time in the sky? “Miss Uma,” the little princess whispered.
Miss Uma did not reply.She did, however, make other noises.“Miss Uma,” the little princess tried again.The little princess thought Miss Uma was having trouble waking up. For a moment, the little princess’ confusion turned into anger. We must always be careful not to get angry when we are confused. Things may not be as they seem to us when things don’t make sense.The little princess thought, “Why should I be waking Miss Uma up? It is her duty to wake me up! My duty is to wake up when she tells me so.”Then the little princess began to wonder, “Who wakes Miss Uma up? When does Miss Uma wake up to make sure I wake up?”The little princess decided that just this once, it might not be so bad to try to wake Miss Uma up. The little princess tried calling her name. “Miss Uma!”
The little princess tried saying hello. “Good morning!”The little princess even tried poking her.Miss Uma was a very large old woman. Her skin was very soft. Her eyes jumped in circles when she spoke. She jiggled when she laughed.She spoke loudly and talked a lot. But today, Miss Uma did not move. Her eyes did not jump up to greet the little princess. She did not make any conversations, not even a hello, with the little princess.The little princess told herself she was a lady-to-be so she must not shout. The thought did cross her mind. She then began to become sad.Why was Miss Uma not waking up? “Oh Dear!”
The little princess jumped. She did not expect to hear anything from Miss Uma after she had not replied the little princess’ greetings. Miss Uma’s hands were clasped tightly around her belly. The little princess was not sure what was happening and was beginning to get scared again. What was wrong with Miss Uma? Why wouldn’t she wake up? Why was she rocking herself in the little princess’ chair?The door burst open. The little princess’ mother, the Queen, entered with two other lady servants. The little princess was very confused. She was so confused, she forgot to greet her mother good morning. She forgot to let the other two women greet her and she forgot to wish them well, too. Only one thought alone was on this little princess’ mind.“Mother, what happened to Miss Uma? Why won’t she wake up? Why won’t she answer me? Why is she rocking in my chair?” the little princess asked.
“Little one,” her mother, the Queen, replied, “Miss Uma is sick.”
Miss Uma had worked for the King and the Queen, and even the little princess, for twenty one years.
The little princess always thought this was a very long time. She knew how to read a clock. She knew how to read a calendar. She thought she was not too bad at multiplication either. Mr. Pargens, her Mathematics tutor, may have had other things to say about this. If Miss Uma had worked for her parents, the King and the Queen, for twenty one years, the little princess thought, then surely Miss Uma was silly to not have bought herself her own garden, her own flowers to brighten her own room, her own castle, or even her own Miss Uma.
Twenty one years, or 21 years, equals a lot. It equals one hundred eighty-four thousand and thirty-six hours. Or 184,036 hours. Or seven thousand six hundred and sixty-five days. Or 7,665 days. Or eleven million forty-five thousand one hundred and sixty minutes. Or 11,045,160 minutes. Or six hundred sixty-two million seven hundred nine thousand and six hundred seconds. Or 662,709,600 seconds. The little princess thought if Miss Uma got a penny for every second she had worked for the King and the Queen, her parents, Miss Uma would certainly be very rich. But the little princess was sure Miss Uma did not have $662,709,600 dollars and zero cents. If Miss Uma got a penny for every hour she had worked for the little princess and her parents, the King and the Queen, Miss Uma still would have enough to buy her own garden, her own flowers to brighten her own room, and maybe even her own Miss Uma.
Surely a second, and definitely an hour, was worth a penny? A penny could buy you a lollipop made from a birchtree bee. If 1 second was worth $0.01 or 1¢, why did the number one, 1, have to move? If it means the same thing: one second will get you one penny which can get you a lollipop?
The little princess wondered why Miss Uma was there. Why did Miss Uma have to work? Didn’t Miss Uma have anything better to do? Maybe Miss Uma had spent all her money on lollipops. That would explain why she was so big. This little princess was not satisfied with this conclusion. Miss Uma liked to talk a lot. So she did not have time to eat lollipops. Not that many, anyhow. The little princess’ mother, the Queen, she had a lot of money. But she was not large. What did her mother, the Queen, spend her money on? Maybe, the little princess thought, if you save all the pennies you could have spent on lollipops, then you can buy a garden, flowers to brighten rooms, and Miss Uma. So what did Miss Uma do with her money? This thought did not often cross the little princess’ mind. But on this particular day, it did. This was because Miss Uma was sick. Miss Uma had never been sick before. Miss Uma had not even been sick once throughout the little life of this little princess.
The little princess worried maybe Miss Uma did not get a penny for every second she spent watching over her. She worried maybe she did not even get a penny for every hour she spent with the little princess.
The little princess began to worry that maybe this is why her parents, the King and the Queen, had gardens, flowers to brighten rooms, Miss Uma, and their very own Castle. This little princess began to worry maybe she too got to buy too many lollipops, that she didn’t even like, because Miss Uma was not getting enough pennies.
This little princess did not have much time to worry though Worries take up a lot of time and time requires other important preoccupations from all of us. These things are often hard to tell.
The day the little princess learned to tell time, she was given twenty minutes to complete the practice test given by her tutor Mr. Pargens. Mr. Pargens liked writing tests. Mr. Pargens liked taking tests. Mr. Pargens liked giving tests. He had written, taken, and given many tests throughout the length of his own life and the short span of that of the little princess. The little princess was Mr. Pargens' only student, aside from himself. Every morning, he tested himself to see if he could remember how many steps it took him to reach Castle gates. One thousand nine hundred seventy-nine steps. 1,979. That was an approximate, of course.
1,979 steps not giving consideration to the chance of Mr. Pargens tripping, falling, bumping into Miss Uma, or being interrupted by a street artist. Mr. Pargens had very long legs, very long arms, a long neck, and a long nose. He thought that this made the likelihood of trips and falls small. If Mr. Pargens walked quickly and consistently, he would walk always 1,979 steps. But often, as he would test his feet and his mind at the same time, trying to remember how many steps, trying to count his steps, trying to walk exactly 1,979 steps, Mr. Pargens rarely walked 1,979 steps. He did not pass most of his tests. But as our story is about this little princess, our concern is with the test that taught the little princess and Mr. Pargens how to read time.
On this particular day, these questions on this test were pictures. Mr. Pargens liked pictures. Numbers and words did not mean anything anyhow to a man like Mr. Pargens if they did not stand for something else. Pictures of a circle, five marking points between each number from one to twelve, and two lines, which Mr. Pargens called ‘hands’. One line was short and the other was much longer. The longer of the two told the little princess the present minute. The shorter told her the hour. Mr. Pargens told her she must complete the test with more than half of them right within twenty minutes. Otherwise, her father, the King, had instructed him to make her take it over and over until she learned to tell time. This little princess was not too interested in tests. She was even less interested in being made to do thing.And even more so less interested in being made to do something that she would have to do again and again if she could not achieve it.
That day, this little princess was sure she would be able to read a clock. She could read a book. Surely, a clock would not be that hard? One worry of Mr. Pargens was how he could, in all fairness, time her test. This little princess could not read a clock, as far as he was aware. The test was to last twenty minutes. How would the little princess know how much time she had to consider the places of the hands, the face of the clock, and many other important questions? Mr. Pargens told himself not let this worry him for long. She was a little princess, after all.
In a little princess’ mind, Mr. Pargens thought, twenty minutes is probably a long time. If this little princess was waiting for dinner to be served, for Miss Uma to finish folding her clothes, or for Galen to finish telling one of his stories, then twenty minutes was a very long time. On the other hand, if this little princess was taking a nap, preparing her tea party, or walking in the gardens with her mother, the Queen, twenty minutes was a very short time. Luckily, Mr. Pargens did not need to worry for long. The little princess completed the test within ten minutes! Mr. Pargens, ever the careful teacher, asked her to explain how she came to her understanding of time. “I guessed!” the little princess replied.
Mr. Pargens had not made room for the likelihood of this happening. He had chosen times that he thought would be easy, a little easier, and a little harder for a little princess. 10:10 9:45 4:55 He asked her how she guessed. This confused the little princess. Guessing, she had always thought, meant pulling an answer from nowhere. She asked Mr. Pargens to explain what guessing meant.
“Guessing, my dear,” Mr. Pargens began, “is a fine art. Example. Say a stranger from another kingdom was asked to guess your name. He might say, Purplatonia. He very well may have made it up on the spot, or considered a range of alphabets, p, u, r, p, l, a, t, o, n, i, and a, and how often they come up in the language of our kingdom, common names of little princesses, and other things. Guessing, for a lot of people, is based on an assumption or observation. Do you understand what those words mean?” The little princess shook her head. “You use what you see and then make it into what you know. That’s guessing.” Mr. Pargens smiled.Mr. Pargens quickly wrote a new test. He reminded her that when she looked at a clock, she would not be able to tell the difference between day and night. He reminded her that 12 on the dial are to be called “noon” or “midnight.” 3 was also 15. 9 was also 45.The little princess completed the new test in less than nine minutes. Mr. Pargens still was not convinced. “How did you arrive at your answers?”
The little princess explained that she had guessed. Mr. Pargens frowned. He asked her to explain how she understood that ten after then was 10:10.The little princess explained that she saw a chocolate cake. The hands were actually a serving knife and fork. The slice of the cake being cut seemed two-thirds smaller than the rest of the cake. There were also little dividers suggesting that the cake was made for more people who also wanted to eat the cake. Twelve people. Or maybe even sixty. Her slice was big enough for five or, instead, twenty people. The short hand lay on the 10; the long hand pointed to the 2. The short hand was the knife. The long hand was the fork. The long hand is what she had; the short hand is what she wanted. This made perfect sense to her. Mr. Pargens was confused. The little princess described how the numbers on the dial were actually two numbers. This Mr. Pargens had taught her! Why was he then confused?The ten was also fifty and the two was also ten. So ten minutes past what the little princess wanted fifty minutes ago after the second hour could only be 10:10.
Mr. Pargens asked for a ten minute recess. He needed to write another test.
Miss Uma did not move when the Queen entered the room.
This was of no matter to the Queen. She did not care for such formalities. She did, however, press their importance to her daughter, the little princess. The Queen, her mother, was certain that her child, the little princess, lacked common sense. This she did not see as being true for all children. The two lady servants were instructed to attend on the little princess. The Queen turned to her daughter and asked, “Why don’t you go downstairs and have some breakfast?” This did not seem proper to the little princess. “But I am not dressed! I am in my pajamas!” the little princess exclaimed. The Queen, her mother, considered explaining to her daughter how this was a matter of no importance. She decided against it as this little princess' mind was still so simple that she would not understand the concept. There was the risk that the little princess would start thinking and then believing that she no longer had to dress in the morning. In order to understand the value of common sense, it was important the little princess first practice what was normal in order to appreciate the times when normal no longer mattered.
The Queen did not have time to think of another way to have the little princess leave the room. “Mother, why is Miss Uma not waking up? What is wrong?” The little princess was getting impatient. She stopped thinking that something was wrong with Miss Uma. She had started to think something was wrong. Miss Uma was never wrong in herself, even if she was not always right about the price of a lollipop from a birch tree bee, the present time, or what cake the little princess liked the best. The little princess wondered if something was doing something wrong to Miss Uma. The Queen, her mother, could see the confusion growing on her daughter’s face. The Queen also saw that Miss Uma was not waking up .“Do not worry. Doctor Asa will know.” The little princess crinkled her nose. She did not like Doctor Asa. Doctor Asa only visited the little princess when she was so hot she could not sleep, eat, or walk or when she felt like little stomach bug soldiers had decided to go to battle in her belly. What this little princess did like about Doctor Asa, but not Doctor Asa himself, was that as soon as he opened his box of cures, she began to feel normal again.
“Well, where is he?” “Doctor Asa. Doctor Asa is on his way.” The Queen stood in front of Miss Uma. She placed her hand on Miss Uma’s forehead. The Queen could not feel a temperature. Not one that was out of the ordinary, anyway. She sat down on the sinking soft sheets of the little princess’ bed. The little princess sat beside her. “We must wait.”
As they waited, the little princess’ mind drifted from thought to thought. What had happened? Why was Miss Uma not waking up?Did she eat something?Did someone put her to sleep?Did Miss Uma not want to wake up?Did Miss Uma sleep at all?The little princess had never seen Miss Uma asleep. She then wondered if maybe Miss Uma was tired. Was she tired from working too hard? Or was she tired of watching over the little princess?The little princess was too tired to think these thoughts for long or in any way that made sense, as these were too many thoughts for a little princess to have before breakfast. The little princess looked up from her confusion. She heard buckling noises coming from down the wooden hallway.She was certain they were not the footsteps of her father, the King.DoctorAsa always carried with him a clipboard, his box of analysis, and his box of cures. Doctor Asa’s job was to ensure that no one was ever sick for too long. Sick included being sleepy and sad sometimes.Doctor Asa used the clipboard for taking notes.His box of analysis had all sorts of weird instruments that helped him do his job: rubber hammers, bells, hooks, scissors, triangles. Doctor Asa had many other tricks for figuring out what is wrong. If you asked him, Doctor Asa would tell you the best way to find out what is wrong is to listen, not to ask. His box of cures contained corrections that helped, even if slowly, to make bad things go away.
Sometimes bad things never go away, but we either notice them less or learn to deal with them. Doctor Asa had very big feet. He wore very big shoes.
He wore glasses and a long purple coat. Doctor Asa’s pockets were so big that his boxes and clipboard fit inside them.“Who can I help today?” Doctor Asa asked the Queen when he entered the little princess’ bedroom.The little princess was so wrapped up in what was wrong she forgot to notice that Doctor Asa did not bow before the Queen. This was not a matter of importance because other things were far more important that morning.“Thank you for coming Doctor Asa. Miss Uma. She is not well.”“What is wrong with her?” the little princess asked too quickly and too loudly.Doctor Asa smiled. “Why don’t we find out?”“How?”“Before I can provide the cure, I must know the condition and then the cause.”
The little princess began to get confused again. She had been thinking the entire time all the reasons why Miss Uma was not waking up instead of asking what was wrong. She thought she had been worrying over Miss Uma’s condition. But what she was really doing was questioning the cause: what had made Miss Uma do this or what did this to Miss Uma?The little princess began to be less confused. Maybe, if she watched Miss Uma, she could begin to understand and notice what Miss Uma was going through and then the little princess would have an answer.An answer would surely pop up and not from just anywhere, but from patient understanding.“There is no reason to worry. Just because Miss Uma could be sick does not mean that she is sick.”DoctorAsa repeated, “Just because something can happen does not mean that it will happen.”
This is common sense. Anthea Jay Kamalnath Copyright 2009 firstname.lastname@example.org