Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Wing of a Girl Called Purity

“This is from the wing of a girl called Purity,” Johnny said as he picked up a piece of green stone that lay in front of me. He held it up to the light so I could see the lines that run through it. Immediately, I noticed the lines were thin and darkly colored like the veins on the back of my grandmother’s hands.

Johnny is a jewelry merchant that works in the Camden markets. For the past 25 years, he showed up to this market everyday to sell jewelry carved from Jade stones and animal bones to locals and tourists that pass through. His stand lies between a clothing store, owned by an older Chinese woman who pop’s in to schmooze from time to time, and another jewelry store owned by a younger woman from Bangladesh who mostly keeps to herself.
Johnny hails from New Zealand. Or at least, that’s where he spent the early years of his life. He used to own a bar there. In fact, that’s where he met his wife. It was a kind of “love at first sight.” She was too beautiful for him to resist and he completely enchanted her. Why shouldn’t they end up together?

They got married and had a child called Ella. Ella was born deaf, and as the years passed Johnny’s wife became less enchanted with the life and the child that Johnny had given her. She began drinking, and Johnny began to search for a new life for him and his daughter. He found his way to London in the 1980’s to sell hand carved stone Jewelry in the town of Camden. Johnny carved all of this jewelry himself so he should know better than anyone else, there is a story for everything.

Born of Native American heritage, and living in London for the past 25 years, Johnny has an original story for every piece of stone at his shop. He sought one out and told me a fantastic story of a girl called Purity. He said, “Purity was a girl that lived in a sad world of heavy truths.” Johnny continued to hold the stone tight in his had while he told the fantasy story of Purity’s journeys to a happier world. “She finally existed in a world without gravity,” Johnny said. One in which she was free to spread her wings. As she extended her wings, she was confronted by an unnamed demon who asked, “Are you pure?” In a time of Monarchy, in which Kings and Queens demanded loyalty and service, only those of great wealth could be considered pure. Johnny said “Purity was frightened by the demons knowledge so she wrapped her wings around her body to hide herself from the demon, but just as she did, the demon clipped her wing so Purity would never be able to fly away.”

As Johnny finished his story, he held the piece of stone back up to the light, as he probably has done a thousand times in his life. As the light peered through the foggy stone, I took a quick glance once again as to take notice of the veins inside of it, but this time they seemed to pulsate as if there were streams of blood actually pumping through them. Johnny had me convinced! His story set a vision in my eyes, and even more importantly contained so much passion and conviction, that I found myself thinking of it as a true story that, through the years, had simply fallen into the realm of legend. I then realized that Johnny wasn’t telling me these stories for the sake of telling me a good story, or even a true story. After all, how am I to know if he really was the son of a Native American man? How am I to know that he really had a daughter, or a wife for that matter? I realized that throughout the two-hour conversation, Johnny was passing on to me, not just a story, but also his existence in the form of poetic metaphors.

Johnny has become a man of stories, some true and some false. But that is okay because, in a story, all that really matter is whether or not your audience believes. Even in true stories, there’s no such thing as absolute truth, “its all fantasy”, as Johnny put it. As I stared at the clipped wing from a girl called Purity, I realized the purpose of Johnny’s strange story. The only reason it exists is to make people feel something he has felt. When Johnny tells a story, he makes you feel and believe in what he is saying, so the question of truth is no longer relevant. Instead, it becomes a passing of knowledge.

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