The boy opened the gift.
The boy opened the gift that his mother had given him for his birthday. It was his fifth birthday. It was the boy’s fifth birthday, and the boy was alone. The boy was alone except for the gift that his mother had left for him the night before near the place where he slept. The place where he slept in the small place where he lived alone with his mother. Where he was often alone. Where he was alone again on his fifth birthday except for the gift he had just opened.
The gift was a toy soldier that had movable hands and feet and arms and legs. Its head could turn around completely. The boy turned the toy soldier’s head around completely a few times and wondered what it would be like if he could turn his own head around completely. The boy turned his head as far as he could one way, then he turned his head as far as he could the other way. But the boy could not turn his head around completely as the toy soldier could.
The toy soldier wore the uniform of the army of the boy’s homeland. The boy recognized the uniform of the army of his homeland because two soldiers from the army of his homeland had taken his mother out the night before so she could do some work for them. The boy’s mother had yet to return home. The boy’s mother had yet to return home, but the boy still admired the dress uniform of the toy soldier. The dress uniform that matched the dress uniform that the two soldiers wore when they had taken his mother out to work the night before.
The boy’s mother had left the gift with the boy near his sleeping place the night before and told him not to open it until the next morning after he woke up. The boy’s mother made him promise not to open the gift until the next morning after he woke up.
The boy promised.
The boy’s mother made him swear that he would not open the gift until the next morning after he woke up.
The boy swore.
The two soldiers laughed.
The boy’s mother said the gift would be empty if the boy opened the gift before he woke up the next morning.
The boy asked how he could open the gift before he woke up.
The boy’s mother said what.
The boy said he would be asleep before he woke up, so how could he open the gift in his sleep before he woke up.
One of the soldiers laughed. The other soldier helped the boy’s mother into her coat.
The boy’s mother said just be a good boy and do what she said and don’t open the gift until the next morning.
The boy said okay.
The boy’s mother repeated that the gift would be empty if the boy opened the gift before he woke up the next morning.
The boy’s mother left with the two soldiers.
The boy’s mother left with the two soldiers, and she had not returned by the next morning. She had not returned by the next morning after the boy had woken up. After the boy had woken up and had not yet opened the gift just as his mother had told him not to.
The boy had not even thought once about opening the gift the night before after his mother had left with the two soldiers. The boy was filled with wonder about what kind of gift his mother had given him that could disappear if he opened it too soon. The boy tried to imagine what kind of gift could do that. But the boy had a limited imagination at only five years old, so he settled on the gift being a plant or animal that needed to grow through the night and would not be large enough to see until the next morning. The boy certainly did not yet have enough imagination to consider that his mother had told him what she had told him to make sure he did not open the gift until the morning of his birthday. After he would wake up the morning of his birthday all alone. All alone except for the gift that the boy waited to open until after he woke up.
After the boy played with the toy soldier for a time, he remembered his mother’s warning about the gift disappearing if he opened it before he woke up. The boy wondered how the toy soldier in the dress uniform could have disappeared if he had opened the gift before he woke up. At first the boy thought the toy soldier might be magic. Then the boy thought maybe God would have made it disappear if he had disobeyed his mother and opened the gift before he promised he would.
Then after playing with the toy soldier a little longer, the boy realized that his mother had probably told him the gift would disappear if he opened it before he woke up the next morning just to make sure he opened it on his birthday.
The boy was disappointed. The boy knew his mother knew that he would have done what she told him even without that special threat, and the threat had made the gift seem more special than it turned out to be. And the boy had been full of intrigue about what kind of gift could make itself disappear if opened too soon—even though he had forgotten his intrigue after waking the next morning and before opening the gift.
But the intrigue remained with the boy long after the disappointment wore off. Long after the boy forgot that his mother had made the gift seem more interesting than it was. Even when the boy became a young man and a man and an old man, he continued to think about things that could exist in a closed box in many states and appear in a different state when the box was opened depending on whether the box was opened at one time or another time. And he continued to think about how a closed box could determine the state of its contents based on moral considerations such as promises made regarding the box’s opening. The boy, the boy as a young man, the boy as a man, and the boy as an old man all pondered such things throughout their long lives, particularly on the day they celebrated their birthday, but at other times also, now and then. The boy, the young man, the man, and the old man never did discover anything clever or elaborate about the nature of the universe based on these musings, and they never told anyone about what they thought. But such thoughts challenged the boy’s imagination throughout his life, and they kept his mind occupied now and then and reminded him of the toy soldier he received as a gift from his mother. A gift he had received the night before but waited until the morning of his fifth birthday to open because he was the kind of boy who did what he was told whether or not his mother made intriguing threats about special properties of her gifts.
The boy put down the toy soldier and made his morning meal. He made his morning meal, and he ate his morning meal. The boy went about his daily routine, and he brought his toy soldier along. The boy did the work that he always did on days he did not have school, and the toy soldier accompanied the boy while he worked. The boy did not work very long. He did not work very long compared to how long he would work as a young man and as a man. But the boy could work more than most boys his age whether he was accompanied by a toy soldier or not.
At night, the boy was tired. He took his toy soldier to his sleeping place. His mother had not yet returned home. The boy guessed she was still working hard with the two soldiers, and he wondered if she would return home the next day.
The boy made the toy soldier comfortable, and the boy made himself comfortable, and the boy started to fall asleep.
In the moment before the boy fell asleep, he wondered if the toy solder would disappear before the boy woke up the next morning.
It did not.
To read more stories in the series, see the Becomes One Hundred Stories page.