There were no flowers in Fogville, and the sky was always gray. Faces were always sad. No one ever smiled. It was a place all about business. Everyone had something to sell. Everyone had some place to be. Everything in town served a purpose, just as every minute was spent purposely. No one laughed. Why laugh? And no one cried. Why cry? Both were purposeless. And what was happiness? What did that word even mean?
The people of Fogville lived shrewdly under the cloud; they lived decisively. Everything was black or white. And change was pointless—unless it was a change in product—and creativity for the sake of creativity was frowned upon. Indeed, it was forbidden for children to have coloring crayons.
There was one child, though, a worthless girl, the daughter of convicted artists: she was obsessed with color. With her crayons (ones that had been hidden when her parents were taken away) she colored on walls when no one was looking. Her name was Mali. Often, she walked a long way down the road that led out of Fogville. If she had been bigger, she would perhaps have kept walking until she found a place where color was embraced, but she was a little girl and Fogville was her home.
As it happened, one day Mali crossed paths with an old man who was heading into town. He was dressed in clothes that were severely faded. Yet, and Mali was pretty sure of this, it looked as though the man’s clothes had once been colorful. His pants were a washed out shade of yellow and his coat was a faded green. She noticed, too, that with every step he took, he sprinkled a little of something. Intrigued, Mali followed him into town.
She watched the way the merchants sneered at him. She heard them gossip. Someone was going to have to tell that poor-old-man-with-nothing-to-sell-and-no-money-to-buy that it was against the rules of their culture to wear clothes like that. It was not good to have a man like that in town. And what was he doing? Was he smiling? There was no smiling in Fogville! And what was he sprinkling? What were those little things? Someone was going to have to clean it up!
Mali was following a little closer now, and on the other side of town, when no one else was around, she said, “Hello.”
Without turning around, he replied, “Hello, little girl,” and went right on walking. Mali kept with him and was now beside him. She asked, “What are you doing?”
It filled her with joy to hear laughter. She smiled. She never smiled. She wanted to laugh. She did not know how. She asked, “What is that stuff you are sprinkling—dust?”
He laughed. “Seeds.”
“What kind of seeds?” she asked.
“Wait and see,” he told her.
He walked on and she followed and with every step a sprinkling.
They walked down a side street and circled back and came upon a mob of men. The mob yelled, “You can’t leave your … STUFF everywhere! If you have nothing to sell you’ll have to leave! Are you smiling? Stop smiling! Are you laughing? Stop laughing! Laughing is forbidden in Fogville.”
The man laughed and sprinkled his seed, and the people were offended, and they puffed up their chests at him and scowled and screamed. No one touched him, however, and he walked by them, and Mali followed, and the people made sour faces at her. But time was ticking and business could be interrupted no longer by this trespasser and his follower.
The man turned to Mali and smiled and they kept walking. “Look at how they move,” said the man to Mali. “Always in such a rush. Listen to them talk. No time for niceties. See how they live! No place for pleasure.”
"Tell them that!” Mali cried. “I know what is wrong with this place. I want to know how to fix it.”
“You already know,” he said.
“Every time you color on a wall, you frustrate them. They get angry, and they are angry with themselves. It is envy that they feel, and some of them secretly admire you. Some will eventually realize free-time is a valuable thing—the most valuable, next to love, which together bring happiness. Others will remain certain that ceaseless striving is the meaning of life. It is not in your power, little girl, to change people. But be a bright beacon. In that way lead them to happiness. In that way bring color into their lives.” And with every sentence, a step, and with every step, a sprinkle. And they walked all the streets and then at last came to the end of town.
“You’re not staying?” asked Mali. “Not even for the night?”
“I am a wanderer and must keep on.”
“Can I come with you?”
“You must stay and be the beacon. I envision the day when Fogville is not all about business and people laugh and play.”
“What about your seeds?” she asked.
“What about them? They have been sown.”
And he walked on and was soon gone, Mali standing there at the end of town until she could no longer see him.
And then she went to work at a kiosk selling calculators and it was hard to hold on to the memory of the man (as it is hard for a little girl to hold on to anything) and she soon forgot him, and then her crayons ran out and the little bit of color faded from her life.
She stopped taking walks. Why walk to walk? She hated her job and wished she had something of her own to sell, and it had been a while now since the crayons had been used up. It hurt to smile. She stopped. Like everyone in Fogville, she saw the world in black and white.
Then, one day on her way to work, she looked up and caught a hint of blue. Then the clouds parted for an instant and the yellow ball blinked and her face was alighted, and she smiled. She remembered that there was more to life than making money, more to life than sell! sell! sell!
And each day on, a little more blue came through, and with the brightening sky came an improvement in her mood. And color, color everywhere began to sprout, it began to bloom! Suddenly, unexpectedly, there were flowers! There were all sorts of flowers everywhere!
Some people, suppressing smiles, wearing dealing frowns, condemned the uprising of color. “We could be overwhelmed!” they cried. “Who knows where this will lead?” And others were overjoyed. “The flowers smell so good, and they are everywhere! How can you say it isn’t beautiful!” The angry answered, “Beautiful is a word like happiness. Beauty—happiness: there are no such things. If they exist, where are they? Where can I buy them? Who has them for sale?”
And always close, hidden in her kiosk of calculators, was the girl. Now, finally, Mali found the courage to shout.
She shouted, “What a ridiculous discussion!” And she started to laugh. "Ha-ha! Ha-ha! Ha-ha!" It felt so good. "Ha-ha! You fools! Ha-ha! Ha-ha!" It felt like ... she could not find the words to describe the feeling. If she had known what fireworks were, perhaps she would have compared laughter to those explosions of color, but instead of in the sky the explosions were inside her. Fountainheads of flowering sparks purple and white and red and blue and yellow and pink: all the best colors were exploding inside her. Boom! Boom! "Ha-ha! Ha-ha!"
“Stop that!” they cried, some of them, and others joined in the laughing. “She’s right,” they said. “Who cares? Let’s nobody work today. Let’s run around and play. Let’s pick flowers and put them in our hair and tie bracelets and necklaces and let nobody care. I’m tired of business. I’m tired of sell! sell! sell! It’s time to play, laugh and say goodbye to the gray. Worthless work can wait until another day. Ha-ha! Ha-ha!”
And on a hill
High above the land
Sat, looking down, the man.
He could see all the towns
He had been through
And the flowers blooming
And his dream come true.