‘Tell me a story,’ she said, resting her head on my chest.
I looked up at the stars in the sky above us. ‘I’ve told far too many stories already.’
‘Not to me.’
That was true. I wondered what she would say when I told her that she was the last story I’d told myself when I grew tired of being alone.
So I started to tell her of the story of a man who lived alone. I told of a man who held an entire universe of emptiness and nothingness in his hand, and how at one point he took that universe of nothingness and shaped out of it a world.
‘A world?’ Shanta lifted her head to look at me. ‘Like this one?
‘Yes.’ I said. I told her how he made the lands and the seas, the mountains and the valleys, the rivers and the trees.
‘It must be wonderful to have that power,’ Shanta had wonder in her voice. Her fingers curled the hairs on my chest.
‘Maybe,’ I said. I told her of how this man had walked the world he’d made, placing animals, birds and all living things, from the smallest spring shoot to the oldest wisest elephant, across the lands.
‘What’s an elephant?’
‘I’ll show you one day.’
‘Is that a promise?’
I hesitated. I had made promises to people before. ‘Yes,’ I said eventually. ‘It’s a promise.’
‘Go on,’ Shanta nudged me.
‘But the man was still alone, even though he had created a world, a paradise.’
‘What is a paradise?’
‘A paradise?’ I thought for a moment about all those other paradises, how they had all eventually fell to some human failing, rubble and blood seeping into the dry uncaring ground. ‘A paradise is like a dream someone tries to make come true.’
‘What is wrong with that?’ she spoke softly.
‘Dreams and the real… well, they are not the same thing. You have to be careful of dreams they never tell the whole truth.’
‘Are dreams lies, then?’
‘Dreams are stories we tell ourselves. Stories aren’t true.’ Sometimes dreams are lies. I have told myself enough stories to know too how they all turn out to be lies in the end.
‘But dreams can be true sometimes, can’t they?’
I looked down at the top of her head and kissed it. ‘Maybe.’
‘What happened to the man?’
‘He grew tired of being alone,’ I said.
‘So what did he do?’
‘He made himself a companion to share the paradise he’d created.’
I nodded. She did not notice.
Shanta nudged me again when she thought I’d been silent too long. ‘And then what happened?
‘I don’t know.’
She shifted. She got up and rolled on top of me, looking down at me. ‘The companion, what was her name?’
‘Shanta,’ I said.
She looked at me for a long time.
‘Maybe it is time for me to start telling you some stories of my own.’
‘I don’t know.’
‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘You don’t have to worry. None of my stories will be true.’
I nodded. ‘All right then.’
‘Not all that long ago,’ she said, settling back down. ‘There was a woman who lived alone. She was lonely and wanted a companion. So she invented a man and told him to create a world for them to be together in. Her name was Shanta, and the man thought he was the one who told stories, but all the time it was her telling her stories to him.’