On the canvas of the world, all we who inhabit it have been painted by the hand and the skill of some great and unseen painter. Our forms are sketched, our colors chosen, and even a bit of our talents and favors are swirled into our beings. While the painter is busy marking the subtle and the transparent differences between us, there is another who is busy filling us with the elements that are the same between us. The great alchemist mixes the proper balance of feeling and thought for every person born.
There is a tale, so old that it forgets the names of the painter and the alchemist, but remembers that the two were married. One day, they bickered. Many who are married do so, it is true, but the painter and the alchemist were rare beings, full of wisdom and peace. So their bickering was equally rare.
It may have been that they bickered about their trades. Perhaps the painter wanted to paint some people the same way. Perhaps the alchemist wanted to give some people different feelings and thoughts. Perhaps they agreed to a trial. Perhaps they did not and it was an accident what came thereafter.
The tale does not remember.
The tale only remembers this. It came to pass that two were born upon the earth whose forms and colors appeared exactly the same. They were both baby boys. Both had skin and eyes of a deep bronze. Both had fuzzy wisps of black hair. Both lay upon the same length of their father’s arm. Both gripped their mother’s thumbs with equal strength. Yet from the first, all could discern the difference between them. For one came into the world weeping and the other came into the world laughing.
The laughing boy was named Sorow. The weeping boy was named Joye.
Never had a woman born two children within the same day. Never had two children been born who looked exactly like one another. Some deemed the children cursed, chiefly because it seemed that the feelings that should have belonged to just one child were instead split between the two. Some deemed the children blessed and enchanted, for they were surely bound together in ways no other two brothers could be. They shared a form. Perhaps they shared a mind and a soul. Perhaps they would develop strange gifts and powers that they would use to the benefit of their people.
The people of the settlement where the boys were born soon came to see that in many ways, the boys were no different from the other children. They felt other feelings like anger, fear, shame, wonder, pity, and surprise in equal measure. They felt moments of calm and peace. It was only joy and sorrow they did not share.
At first, the people came to favor the laughing brother, because he made them feel happy, even if they were feeling miserable. And they shunned the weeping brother because he turned their moods gloomy, even when they were feeling cheerful.
Sorow had many companions among the other children. Joye had only one, his own brother, for the other children found him far too sober.
The brothers were devoted to each other. Joye was accustomed to feeling sadness. But it pained Sorow, even through his laughter, to see his brother so mistreated. One day he devised a plan.
“Let us trade names, brother,” said Sorow. “So that I can bear some of the burden you bear, and you can enjoy some of the rewards that I enjoy.”
Joye considered his brother’s words. “They will learn who we really are when I begin to weep and you begin to laugh.”
“Then we will learn to be calm. When you are sad and long to weep, you will not weep. You will remain as steady as stone.”
“And when you are happy and long to burst out in laughter,” Joye said, understanding his brother’s plan, “you will not laugh. You will remain steady as stone.”
They had their studies and their exercises. They had their tasks that were set by their mother and father and other elders. When they were finished (and sometimes even when they were not), they spent many hours, hiding among the forest and training each other, testing each other. Sorow would provoke Joye into weeping and Joye would breath, stand up straight, and will himself to grow calm. Joye would find ways to amuse his brother and make him laugh, and Sorow would breath, squeeze shut his eyes, and will himself to grow calm.
Their minds were keen, keen enough to know that their trick of trading names may not work on those who knew them well. They would never dare try such a ruse on their father or mother. They would not even dare to try it yet on the people of their settlement. But there were others they might trick. The brothers were of an age to go traveling with their father to the other settlements in their region. Their father would only take one of them at a time, for he feared the sight of two boys who looked the same might cause trouble. His children might be feared, or they might be coveted.
To assure there would be no confusion, their father took Joye only to the northern and southern settlements. He took Sorow only to the western and eastern settlements. Soon, their father trusted the boys to visit the settlements on their own, to conduct the business of trading. It was then that Joye and Sorow traded names as well as wares to practice their calm in the presence of others.
They were never found out, even though they often broke and began to weep or laugh. For the people in the other settlements did not know them as well as the people of their own, and they did not know that there were two of them. So the brothers were never caught.
After they were well-practiced, they began to play the trick in their own settlement, just as they had planned. Joye enjoyed the praise of his people sometimes, as best he could enjoy it. And Sorow took upon himself the burden of being shunned sometimes.
When the boys grew older still, and stood upon the cusp of manhood, it was the weeping brother who was wanted. The people in their settlement believed that tears were meant to honor. When a mother’s child was gravely ill, she did not want the company of the laughing brother, even if she knew he meant well. But when the weeping brother came and sat with her and wept with her, she knew his tears were sincere, for they were always sincere.
In other things, the brothers remained equal. They could both hurl spears the same distance. They equaled each other in their studies. But they began to take interest in different things. For the laughing brother enjoyed hurling spears more than he liked scribing scrolls. The weeping brother found more comfort in his studies than he did in the strength of his arm.
Though their people loved them, and they loved their people, they both still stood apart.
“Can you not see?” Joye would say on a day of feasting and merriment. “We should weep and be troubled. This happy day will pass and sad days will follow.”
“Can you not see?” Sorow would say at the funeral of a man who suffered a terrible injury and died young. “We should laugh and be comforted. He was stricken with suffering and welcomed the passing of his spirit.”
Try as they might, the brothers could not learn the feeling they lacked, even from other each other.
“I grow tired of always laughing when I should be weeping,” said Sorow one day. He was thinking of a girl he fancied, who thought him frivolous and unfaithful. For even when he was calm, he seemed to her always on the brink of laughter.
“And I grow tired of always weeping when I should be laughing,” said Joye, who had felt contentment and peace, but longed to feel the happiness he read of in his scrolls.
“Calm is no longer enough, is it, brother? Trickery is not enough.”
Joye put a hand upon his brother’s shoulders. “Then perhaps we should try again to teach other, one to laugh and the other to weep.”
They tried again, and when they failed, Joye did not give up. He had made a list, from his readings, of all they might try. They saved enough coin to travel to the largest settlement in their region. They traveled with the hoods of their cloaks pulled forward, so none would see them together. There they found and revealed themselves to a magician who was quite taken aback at the sight of the twin faces. Joye entreated the magician to cast spells upon them.
When they returned home, they burned the strange packets they were given and inhaled the fragrant smoke that issued forth. They drew the signs they were told to draw and recited the chants they were told to recite. After many days, neither brother felt any differently. After many more days, they judged that the magician had duped them.
Still, Joye had another idea, and Sorow trusted his brother and followed him. They climbed atop a high mountain in their region and found a rare herb. Some legends claimed this herb had to power to convey the feelings and thoughts of one person to another. They stewed the herb for many months, and much to Sorow’s objection, they each took a sip of the resulting foul concoction. Then they switched their cups, and each took a sip from his brother’s cup. Again, they waited. They waited for Sorow to weep and for Joye to laugh. While they waited, they both grew ill and feverish. Both were miserable for days. Neither laughed. But neither wept either. For they were strong and hardy.
When they recovered, Joye had but one more idea, a dangerous idea if it should work. So he had saved it for last. Though Joye deemed they should abandon their quest, Sorow insisted they try. Joye had found an ancient song in his studies. The song was used by the great beings of old to summon the raw spirits in the world, spirits of feeling, thought, idea, notion, and philosophy. The song was used by the great beings to draw these raw spirits into themselves to expand their perceptions. Joye planned to use the song to summon and draw happiness into himself. And Sorow would summon and draw sadness within himself.
The brothers sang the song under the light of a blue crescent moon. And they waited. Still, there were no tears in Sorow. There was no laughter in Joye.
The brothers resigned themselves to being as they were. Though they were young men by this time, they were still tricksters.
Sorow still fancied the same girl in his settlement. And one day, to show her he was serious in his affections, he sent Joye to woo her in the only way he could not.
Joye, the weeping brother, pretended to be his twin, so that he might show the girl that Sorow could be sober and thoughtful.
“My brother has taught me what sadness is,” he said to her. “He has taught me that there is sometimes honor in tears, as in the tears that are wept for the worthy.”
“Is it possible for you to have learned what sorrow is after all these years?” the girl asked.
“I am not certain. But for you, I would go any distance to learn.”
The girl neither smiled nor frowned. She peered into his eyes as if searching, then bowed her head, and took her leave.
What Joye did not know when he pretended to be his brother was that he was being watched from afar by one who had a grievance with Sorow.
Days earlier, Sorow had been carousing with his friends and he had laughed at the wrong time and at the wrong man. The man knew who Sorow was, knew that Sorow could be careless in his laughter, knew that Sorow was often forgiven for his jollity. He did not much like Sorow to begin with. The insult he bore that night was to him a grave one. But jolly Sorow had only laughed.
Sorow had been surrounded by many friends and the man could not fight them all off. So he waited and he watched. When he saw that Sorow was alone, save for the girl, the aggrieved man saw his chance. He waited for the girl to leave. Then he fell upon Sorow.
But in truth, it was Joye he fell upon. Joye was strong, not as strong as his brother, but neither brother was as strong as this man, who was stout and short but brimming with muscle.
Many saw what happened, and some brave men jumped in to pull the brute off Joye. And some went to fetch his brother. Sorow was not far off, for he was waiting to hear how his brother’s courting went. When he heard what happened, he flew to his brother’s side.
Sorow, the real Sorow, was overcome with rage at the sight of his beaten brother. But the rage gave way to another feeling that he could not feel. He would have felt sorrow if he could. Instead, he burst out laughing, and when he did, he was found out.
The aggrieved man, even more enraged now that he knew he had not beaten his true enemy, threw off the men who were holding him. Full of taunting that the laughing brother was a coward, letting his twin take the beating that was meant for him, he went after the real Sorow.
But before he could reach Sorow, he was halted. Joye, the weeping brother, rose from where he had been propped by the help of his brother’s friend. Bloodied and bruised, he limped to his brother and planted himself between Sorow and the man who sought to fight him. For a flash, Joye too felt rage. But it vanished quickly and instead he was overwhelmed by a great sorrow for his brother, himself, and even for the man who had beaten him. He stood between the man and his brother, and he wept. He entreated the man to forgive. He had wept all this life, so he had learned to keep his voice from cracking or wavering when he spoke while weeping. The bully, moved by the weeping brother’s speech, by his courage in standing before someone who had just beaten him, and by his valiance in defending his brother, acquiesced and refrained from beating the laughing brother.
The laughing brother laughed.
Sorow was overwhelmed with feeling and it was all he could do. He laughed. He could not feel his rage at the man who had hurt his brother. He could not feel pride for his brother or fear for himself. He could not feel regret for having switched places with his brother at the most inopportune time, or for angering that man in the first place. All he could feel was the urge to laugh. And he laughed. And he laughed. He laughed so long and so hard, that something within him cracked open, and he began to weep.
So it was that the laughing brother learned to weep. As he wept, he felt a steady hand on his shoulder. The steady hand of his brother.
Sorow came to love the girl that he had fancied and foolishly sent his brother to woo. He never sent Joye to her again, but wooed her himself. She came to love Sorow as well. Sorow could feel sadness now. Something had unlocked the feeling in him on that fateful day that his brother stood before Sorow and doom. Sorow could weep now, though he still mostly laughed.
Sorow married the girl. His brother wept when he was wed. Soon, Sorow’s wife gave birth to a baby girl, who came into the world weeping as all children did. Sorow laughed for joy that day. So did his mother and his father, and all the people in his settlement. All but one.
The weeping brother wept as his little niece was placed in his hands according to the custom. He wept all the harder when she looked up into his eyes with her large dark curious eyes. He wept for the sadness and fear she would feel in her life. But he was overwhelmed by feelings he could not feel. And he wept. And he wept. He wept so long and so hard that something within him cracked open, and he began to laugh.
So it was that the weeping brother learned to laugh. As he laughed, he felt an arm wrap loosely around his neck. The jolly arm of his brother.
The weeping brother now knew joy and the laughing brother now knew sorrow. The people of the settlement were not fools. Many knew that the brothers had often traded names. But they also knew why the brothers wanted to trade places, so they let them be.
Now, the brothers could have truly switched places, and none might know the difference. But they vowed, each to be only himself. For they were not half-men. Perhaps their forms were one split in two. But each man’s spirit was whole and belonged only to him.
Copyright © 2016 Nila L. Patel