Memoirs of a Lion

Submitted into Contest #164 in response to: Write a story about coming of age in a big city.... view prompt


Coming of Age Historical Fiction

It was finally time for me to move out and start living independently. I was not moving physically of course, but politically I was going to be on my own. For the first time, I was free to chart my own future and embark on a journey that most humans call adulthood.

I was born to a wealthy, aristocratic family, the sort who had an absolute belief that we had a duty to tame the world as we see fit. And like other similar families, I was placed in a distant land at a young age to spread their gospel. I was always painfully aware of my lack of natural talents, made more painful every time my parents reminded me of my “strategic” position or my importance to the family enterprise. Not that I saw or interacted with them all that often. A visit or letter every now and then, mostly about business, was all I had to remember they exist.

Life here was relatively tranquil at first, I was a small city of perhaps a few thousand people. My first task was to change that and attract more people to work and live here. Those who came in the early days were immigrants looking for work in the plantations and mines. I hardly got to know them since most went back to their countries after they earned enough money. It seemed they were also braving distant lands for their families just as I was.

I was not picky about who came to visit or stay, though they were invariably traders, the sort most likely attracted to a coastal city I guess. Their numbers exploded when my parents decided to designate me a “free port” city, an understated salvo to their business rivals. Traders loved it since not only could they pay lower taxes and duties with me, but they could also avoid paying any to the business rivals of my parents, which incidentally were rivals I inherited now too.

I got bigger and learned a great deal about the world’s languages and cultures from the new inhabitants. I got richer too though the lion share was always remitted back to my folks. I was told greater wealth usually preceded greater vices and temptations but alas, it was a warning I did not heed. Alcohol, gambling, drugs, I indulged in them all. It felt surreal how easily a single slip could snowball into such a giant mess so quickly. But parental intervention came in time, and I was quickly directed back to my main business of business.

My designation as a free port did not go unnoticed among our rivals, escalating tensions to the point of armed conflict. Aside from trade and business, my parents also wanted me to serve as a bulwark to protect our interests. I was to be the impregnable fortress of the region and to that end, they charged me with building the largest naval base in the world. I protested against further provocations, but my parents were quick to dismiss my concerns and admonished me that cowering from a conflict was a child’s response.

The naval base project exacted a staggering cost, but it kept me sober and occupied for the time being. I had hoped its completion would buy me some goodwill, but those wishes turned out to be as futile as the naval base itself. A week later, my parents announced they were getting a divorce.

It could be an awkward transition when a parent remarries, making sense of this new order required a lot of time and patience even under the best of circumstances. But it was not long before my siblings and I decided we were better off without our new, abusive stepparent.

I had a turbulent period of violence and disorder when we left. Accepting sibling authority, while thoroughly welcomed as a less authoritarian approach, was a complicated exercise that alternated between love and hate. I sometimes wonder if their admonishes for me to get my act together was out of love or their desire to avoid a source of embarrassment, or perhaps even a combination of the two. They were larger and more established cities so naturally I conceded often and was eager to follow their lead.

The early days on our own were marked with uncertainty, the euphoria of relative freedom quickly gave way to a terrifying recognition of our ineptitude. I realized just how difficult it was to replicate my past successes without the shadow of my parents’ prestige. I was a total mess, basic infrastructure like food, water, electricity and even a decent sewage system were nonexistent. My siblings helped with most of the funds and resources early on, but the help often came with an implicit expectation of greater gratitude and lesser opinions. Nevertheless, I found myself increasingly at odds with them over many political and economic issues.

My siblings held regular meetings to discuss the future of the region and even floated the idea of formalizing an official union. Like a naïve fool, I eagerly and freely voiced my thoughts at these meetings thinking they were valued. I later discovered that a few of them had been meeting in secret, the so called “grown-up” group, where the real decisions were being made. They might have touted that we had an equal say in our future, but I was mostly an afterthought to their plans. I think I was only included to prevent me from falling in with the “bad crowd”.

We decided that we should at the very least form a common market in which to trade freely. In theory, we agreed not to impose any tariffs or taxes, and aid in each other’s growth by providing loans for development. For reasons beyond me, their words not mine, I was inexplicably imposed with a whole list of trading restrictions with them and the wider world. Perhaps it was youthful anger, or simply anger, but I retaliated by withholding the loans I promised to some of them.

The heated argument that ensued was predictably ugly, my actions were laughably deemed to have crossed a line. I found myself unable to keep up with the charade of trust and cooperation any longer, and contemplated leaving and striking out on my own. They might have achieved their freedom, but I felt just as trapped as before. Their shadow proved to be just as suffocating as that of my parents, and I finally decided to fully declare my independence, which my siblings agreed to.

I was deeply saddened at the decision, a few of my residents even shed tears on my behalf, but I was convinced it was right for the moment. It was also a scary, and I knew I was now completely responsible for safeguarding my own independence. I decided to do so by prioritizing a robust economic growth with a strong military defense.

As I sought to strengthened my military and civil defense capabilities, there were no shortage of kits and advisors eagerly offering their expertise. I had to make many customizations to them however, being acutely aware to avoid any cosmetic efforts like in the past. Unlike then, I could no longer assume I had the protection of a superpower.

Without any natural resources to sell, I decided to focus on the later stages of the value chain. If I were to have a strong economy I would need to make myself indispensable to the world. That meant having well-trained and educated residents to establish high-tech industries that would be integral cogs in the global supply chain. It also meant creating a conducive environment to attract major corporations and countries to do business here.

Thankfully my location and role as a major port, a legacy of my parents, made it easy to convince the global flow of money to go through me. That recognition prompted me to get back in touch with my parents. They were considerably more open, and our conversations were less stressful now. They seemed like neither the domineering tyrants nor the infallible heroes that I remembered. Just ordinary beings with flaws, trying to make sense of their place in the world and do right by their children.

I hosted my siblings the other day too, speaking to them as equals now, confident to set boundaries and negotiate. It was not without contentious moments, but I was finally comfortable to realize that I never needed to apologize for taking care of my needs. We never really acknowledged or apologize for our past, but it was unnecessary. Afterall, we were finally moving forward. 

September 23, 2022 12:59

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