– Ideally, make your own story –
Part 1 – Gathering the materials
Part 2 – Making anew
Needles to say, his parents were the happiest to see him back. At least, his mother was. His father got Alzheimer and took his son for his brother, who died a few years before Bill came back. When his father saw him for the first time dressed as a pirate with a wooden leg, he started crying, then he hugged him. “Son!” Afterwards he would approach him as a stranger and tell him that he had a son that pretended to be a pirate with a wooden leg when he was a little and that he would make the wooden legs for him. So, the new puppet master that, for whatever reason, arranged his theatre in their house, asked the old man to make him a wooden leg. And he did while telling him about how his son should come home any minute now from his play and how he would love to meet the puppet master. “If my son would become like you, I would be very proud!”
But not everyone was happy to see him. Elise seemed indifferent, but Jack, who has shared his dream to be a pirate as a child, was calling him names and said he had a bad influence in the neighbourhood. “With the crime going up all we need are pirates and stories of violence to raise our children with.”
Bill arranged a room in his parents house to be a puppet theatre. He started asking all kids that were willing to talk to him about how would they envision their life. There was no shortage of kids under twelve that would, though their parents got in the way at first. He would then make plays out of their stories and use the puppets to act them. “You should be ashamed of making kids believe in things that are not possible”, Jack would tell him. He managed to convince other parents that letting their children at Bill’s theater was wrong. The initial wave of kids was diminishing. Elise’s children were still coming, though. One day, she joined them and told Bill that she is happy with the way she lived her life. “When you returned to town I realized we would not have been happy together. I’m glad you left, now. It was hard getting over you, but I think it would have been harder to live with someone who doesn’t want to be there. I don’t understand the way you live your life so I cannot support you, but I won’t try to stop you this time.” Her daughter had a lot of stories to tell too. She told him she wanted to be a writer. Bill told her she already was. She just had to keep telling stories and not stop when she grew up like his father did with sculpting. “Writers need to travel the world, to see things and get experiences in order to invent new worlds. She will never leave this town. It wasn’t safe for a boy to run away like that. You were lucky, but a girl is bound to end up in a very bad way and die before her time,”Jack told Elise, while her daughter was by her side. “But I don’t have to travel, I can read and see movies,” the little girl argued. “You can write about this town though. Good writers write about what they know best and every story is worth being told,” Bill said when she told him about Jack’s reaction. “I will tell your story one day.” “I would be honoured.”
Of course, the town had his share of bullies and bad boys. Jean stood out as leader of a gang of high school drop-outs, who were always up to no good. They didn’t care about Bill and his theatre, until the police was chasing one of them and he took shelter in there. Police knocked at Bill’s door, but the man told him no one has entered his house or theatre and they were free to check. They did check, but a theatre has many hiding places and Bill signaled the boy were to stand not to be seen. After the police left, Bill stopped the boy for a chat. He wasn’t willing to listen, though. “I don’t owe you anything. I’ve been in jail before, it wouldn’t have been any big deal. If you didn’t let the police get me because you think you can save me you are wrong.” “I just want you to give back what you stole.” “No man, I need this.” “You need that laptop or you need a laptop?” and he handed him his own. “Just give the one you stole back and I’ll give you this one. If you help me at the theatre for a month, I’ll buy you a new one.” “Go to Hell!” said the kid and left slamming the door.
A few weeks later, Jean appeared at Bill’s door. “I heard you need help at the theatre.” “I don’t, but if you want to help, I’ll find something for you to do.” Jean shrugged. He was surprised Bill would let him walk around although everyone knew Jean was a thief. Bill didn’t seem to care. He would give him a task everyday and when he was done he was free to go, or stick around for the shows. Once he did. There were only five kids and one adult. The room wasn’t big, but it could accommodate twenty people, at least. After a month, Jean went to Bill with a photo and said “I want this laptop.” Bill smiled and the next week he got him the laptop. Jean was shocked and wondered what the old man was doing for money because he did not charge for the theatre. Not that anyone would pay. And the laptop was expensive. If he had that kind of money what was he doing in that part of town… Then he realized he doesn’t care about that. The old man was clearly nuts. “Where does he keep the money, though?” He decided to stick around “helping” at the theatre so he would find out.
Bill saw him playing a computer game and asked him about it. It turns out, Jean made it. It wasn’t much. All the graphics were abstract and not very good, but the idea behind it had potential. “I know a girl who draws really well. Maybe she can help you get a better look for the game.” “I don’t care about that. I do this to pass the time.” “So does she, with the drawings. Maybe you could pass the time together.” “Her parents won’t let her hang with me.” “I don’t really think they would care.” Bill was talking about Maria. Her father was a drunk and her mother was neglecting her. She wasn’t pretty and Jean crooked his nose at the thought of spending time with her. “She does compensated for her lack of beauty with her drawing and I didn’t ask you to marry her. Just see if she could improve the looks of your game. Just to pass the time.” He did not answer to that, but a few days later, Bill brought him some drawings. Jean recognized what the game would have looked like if he could draw. He was fascinated and agreed to meet up with Maria. After a while, his gang would have to remind him about the money. “You grew soft. Or are you in love with Maria?” The notion was absurd. “Prove it,” said the gang in one voice.
Jean broke into Bill’s computer and got all the bank informations he needed. Bill didn’t do much to secure his data. Jean managed to transfer the money the old man had to another account and make it available for his gang. By the time, Bill announced the police, the boys left. The local police could only announce the state police and let them handle it. Bill called the guy who found him for the puppet master and asked him to find Jean, which he did even if he was far away. Bill got Jean’s new whereabouts and went to see him. When he realized the old man won’t call the police on him, the boy listened reluctantly. “I see you have some very good computer skills.” “Not really. You handed me everything on a platter.””Still, you have great potential. Why not use it to build something.” “Jack is right. You are crazy and delusional, old man.” Before the boy could walk away, Bill reinforced that he needed his skills if he ever decided to make good use of them. “I will pay you well” “With what? I left you nothing.” Bill smiled and walked away, leaving Jean to puzzle over what was said.
Bill started selling dolls, just like the old puppet master, but it didn’t go as well for him. That side of town was with poor people. Even those who lived a comfortable life didn’t really have money for toys like this. He got the idea to publish a book with the stories he has collected and asked Maria to illustrate it. He managed to find a publisher and the book was sold enough that the publisher wanted more stories. Bill even wrote some himself. He donated the money he got from the books to the public school and Maria made enough money to start a small business where she would illustrate other books. Jack started to lose people with whom he could laugh at Bill for being played by Jean.
The school managed, with Bill’s help, to raise enough money to build a new festivity hall and Bill started holding drama classes for the students. High school kids got interested in that too. Soon, the kids were spending a lot of their free time at school preparing the plays: writing, building the props, making the costumes, rehearsing. Everyone could help in some way even if they didn’t have the talent to act. They still had a talent that could be used. The neighbourhood was never as united as it was than.
During one of the plays organized by the kids, outdoors, Bill saw Jean, but before he could reach him, limping on his wooden leg, the boy disappeared. In truth, Jean didn’t look like a boy any more, but Bill recognized him anyway. There was something in the way he looked that made him unmistakably Jean. Bill asked the people to stop Jean if they see him again, but most were reluctant. Since him and his gang left, the neighbourhood was more peaceful. One of the guys in his gang tried to come back once, but he was driven away by the people, which Bill didn’t approve, but he couldn’t change their minds. Jack gave up on criticizing Bill at every turn, but when it came to Jean he started again. “Who knows how he acquired his money. Sure, he told us a story, but who knows what he truly did while he was away! He seems so fond of thieves!” No one, would care for what he said any more, though. He was the grumpy old guy, even if, in truth, he wasn’t that old. He was the same age as Bill, but looked much older.
The day came, when Bill saw Jean lingering around town again. This time, Bill didn’t have his wooden leg, so he ran after Jean and caught up with him. “Hey, lad! What’s up?” Jean shrugged. Finally, Bill got him talking over a beer. Turns out that Jean was arrested for stealing some electronics and did five years in prison. He got out early for good behaviour and figured he’d try and turn his life around, but couldn’t see how he could fit in the community any more. Bill started telling him about what everyone was doing and how the theatre evolved. Locally, it was a big success, but for the outside world, this was still a bad famed neighbourhood, Jean realized. He thought of making a site for the theatre and promoting it online. Soon, the demand of puppets made Bill hire people to make them for him. When there were no orders, Bill would encourage the puppet makers to make their own designs of dolls. The variety brought even more people. Soon, tourists were visiting the theatre and the restaurants and hostels started to flourish. The people from other neighbourhoods weren’t avoiding this area of their town and some even joined in, working for whoever needed more staff.
Jean realized, even on that day he had that beer with Bill, that something was amiss with him, but couldn’t tell what and when his health problems became obvious, Bill still refused to see a doctor. He mistrusted those people and wasn’t used to needing one. All his life he took care of himself and he was fine. One day, a girl who was a resident at the Municipal Hospital, but grew up in the neighbourhood, convinced Bill to have some tests done. “If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for the kids. They are so worried about you!” By kids she meant everyone in the neighbourhood. Bill might not have kids of his own, but everyone was his child. It turns out, that Bill had cancer and it was already too late to save his life. He accepted this gracefully. “I lived an great life. It could have been longer, yes, but it isn’t and that’s ok. All of you lived my life and made it worth living, but now it is time for each one to live their own life.”
And they did. Many left and opened this kind of entertainment spots all over the world. Those places would bring to life the most unexpected shows and it was never the case that if you went in one place, you would know what to expect from any other one. And if you think something is impossible, it is surely possible in a place like this.
I don’t know if you remember Christine, Elise’s daughter, but she grew up to be a fine woman and wrote that book about Bill that she said she would when she was a child. At every event she went to, her conclusion would be: “Every town should have a pirate with a wooden leg.”