IsBob, while chained to an opulent hitching post in front of the Tyrent Estate, watched the world amuse itself with people engaged in merriment and wildlife frolicking about. His master forbade him from speaking to passersby. This was a non-issue as IsBob, who had never spoken a word his entire life, could only share a woeful expression with passing strangers who held stern looks of disapproval and whose words were filled with contempt. “An unruly naive, no doubt,” said one man. “As useless as a blind man’s eyes,” wagered another.
The real irony of IsBob’s situation was that he was being punished not for what he had said, but rather for what he had not said.
“Is this how you treat my property?” the master of the house demanded, staring first at IsBob and then at the spilt canister of varnish that had stained a very expensive rug imported from a faraway land.
IsBob stood there head down, speechless, while holding a varnish-stained rag.
“Speak!” the master demanded.
IsBob could say nothing.
“Speak, finally!” the master demanded again.
The master then ordered two servants to chain the disobedient IsBob to the hitching post out front. “Let everyone see what an ungrateful, troublesome sort I have as my ward.”
That was yesterday and three meals ago. IsBob’s stomach growled now and then enough to interrupt his thoughts of finding his place in the world. The Tyrent Estate was the only place he had ever known. His parents were born into it, and their parents before them.
Now IsBob could see activity from the estate across the boulevard. Two brawny fellows wrestled a tall and sturdy bookcase, finally setting it down near the curb and attaching to its front a sign that read ‘free’. He had seen this practice before. In the past, even his master had tasked servants to haul similar objects to the curb – a table or a chair – and each with a signage that read ‘free’. In no time, such objects would disappear, sometimes over night, but mostly that same day. Reflecting on such occasions usually set IsBob’s mind wandering, imagining where the objects had gone to. But now he found himself consumed by the word ‘free’ and wishing that he could experience the idea of ‘free’. Am I less than any household object, he wondered. Why shouldn’t I be free as well?
Suddenly, IsBob was overcome by an extraordinary notion. He dug his index finger in a nearby mud puddle, scooping up silt several times and writing across his white servant’s smock the word ‘free’.
Now as people passed by, they gave expressions of either curiosity or shrewdness.
“He must be infected with some malady,” suggested one man.
“Nonetheless,” said another, speaking through a blotchy beard, “a fair bargain.”
Bargain, thought IsBob. Is there a greater bargain than helping a man become free?
“He must have some value,“ said the man with the beard.
Value, again IsBob thought. Of course I have value. I am a man.
“He’ll come with me,” said the bearded man as he broke the chain tethering IsBob to the post. “He’ll fetch a decent price down at the market, just from his well-dressed appearance alone.”
“His benefactor must be quite wealthy to do away with this servant and his expensive garment,” the other man surmised.
“Nevertheless,” said the bearded man, “free is free.”
IsBob began to realize that his own notion of ‘free’ was misguided. He slowly began to understand that no man can be free until he, and he alone, frees himself from the grip of Tyrent and others like him. Unable to voice his protest, IsBob followed clumsily behind his new master while imagining how much less free he had always been when compared to that of a common house cat.