Once Upon A Time

A valley village was divided almost in two, with 53% of the people, the Havelots, born on the side of the village that housed the river.  The remaining 47% of the people, the Havenots, were born and lived on the other side, behind a great wall.  The wall contained a small gate, through which the Havenots could access the river one time per month, after dark, for half an hour, for free.  The Havelots were divided themselves over whether this was fair: some said the Havenots should be given more access, others said “What do they expect?  They’re getting free access to what we have to work and pay for!!”

For this was true, the Havelots did work and pay for the upkeep and access to the river.  They each paid one gilder per month for river maintenance, and one hundred gilders per month to maintain the great wall and pay the guards at the gate.  The guards trained for months to learn how to give the Havenots restricted access; not all the Havenots could come in at once lest they overwhelm the wall, so the guards learned to question them for hours about their worthiness to have access.  Once the beseeching Havenots said the proper sequence of words (a sequence known only to the guards and the Havelots), the Havenots were allowed in, one at a time, and were expected to be properly grateful, humble, and quiet.  Very often, especially to Havenots new to the process, they had not thought to bring the proper vessels, so while they could drink freely for half an hour, they had nothing to bring home for the month remaining.

The great wall was indeed great, but had been built many years ago when people began recognizing the need to conserve the purity of what they considered the greatest river in all the land.  The wall had breaches, most from the side of the Havenots but a few, puzzlingly, from the side of the Havelots.  It was said that most of the Havenots believed the wall should come down, and this made sense, but Havelots whispered about certain neighbors, who could be heard late at night cursing the wall and the expense of its upkeep, and bemoaning the cost of paying the guards.  These same neighbors, it was said, could not be trusted to report a daytime sighting of a Havenot, and legend was that some even had helped Havenots through a wall breach.   The Havelots could be heard discussing these things in the local Fine Dining Establishment.  “Damn bleeding ‘Lots, cheapening their birthright.  The ‘Nots can’t be trusted in, they’ll muck it up, they should work like we do,” said one portly Havelot.  “Eh, they do sir,” said his companion.  “I can see them from my high window– they toil away, they do, but I’ve heard they make scarce more than several gilders, and could pay naught on maintenance fees for the wall and the guards’ pay, reckon.”

Over on the Havenots’ side, in the Park by the Dried Up Tributary, a different conversation took place.  “I’d take a shiv to that one guard given half a chance, I would,” said one.  “Ah, shut your piehole man, it’s not the guard’s fault, it’s the Havelots,’ said his friend.  “They think we’re undeserving,  they think we don’t work hard.  They sleep just fine at night, knowing our kids are thirsty, and that we worry day and night about how we’ll cook without water.  They say we can’t afford the maintenance fees, and they don’t want to let us in unless we can show we can pay.  I say we take a shiv to the wall.  No wall equals no guards equals no maintenance fees.”  His friend, stunned, said, “That’s it.  It’s that simple, isn’t it?”

The Havenots, more accustomed to using all their energy merely subsisting, appealed to the ruler of all the land, talked to the guards, and put up posters: “No Wall, No Guards, No Fees.”  The problem, they soon saw, was that as old and battered as it was, the wall was yet strong and people were accustomed to it.  Businesses were set up along the wall on both sides and it was decorated and venerated in song and legend.  It was entrenched in the culture of both sides.  And the guards, most of whom were sympathetic, had no interest in giving up their good pay and their own access to the river.  The ruler of all the land pretended to have an interest, but the hidden truth was that he would not be re-elected without the support of the Havelots.  In secret sessions he won the Havelots’ permission to expand Havenot access to the river for a fee.  Havenots would pay, they were promised, a small percentage of their income for increased access to the river.

The Havenots were appeased; the wall would not come down and in fact, part of what they paid would go toward its maintenance, but at least they would have water for cooking and their children would no longer thirst endlessly.  And the Havelots were appeased; the water-sucking Havenots would no longer have free access, at least they would be paying something, though some of the Havelots grumbled about the pitiably low fees charged.

With increased, though still limited,  access, and new revenue, more guards were needed and hired.  Contractors were paid to buttress and paint the wall.  The original slogan, “No wall, no guards, no fees,” became laughably naive-sounding as the wall grew ever more robust and the guards were unionized.  People on both sides of the wall became accustomed to the shiny strong wall and abundance of guards.

Peace seemed likely for a time but for the sharp divide in the loudest voice of each side.  A small crew of Havelots began organizing to protest the inequity of fees: Havelots paid 101 gilders every month for unlimited access, while Havenots paid only 2 gilders a month for access one day each week.  “We should be paying the same rate!!” said the most unhappy Havelots.  “They pay half a gilder a day, we should pay half a gilder a day!”  Meanwhile, the unhappiest Havenots did the math: the average Havelot salary was over 1,000 gilders a month.  That meant the Havelots paid about ten percent of their income, while Havenots paid twenty five percent.   “Two gilders is too much!” They cried.  “Up the access or lower the rate!!”

Both sides were aware of other river valleys without a wall.  The Havelots just knew those rivers must be tainted, the banks awash in litter.  The Havenots knew these valleys existed but really, it seemed like a fairy tale.  A place where every person had access?  Unbelievable.  A place where no one had ever thought to build a wall– what kind of place is that?

(Austria, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the U.K., and forty plus other countries, are places like that.)