There was once a palace and in that palace lived people who had no idea they lived there. This is because the Queen’s town criers were always telling them they were poor.
‘You’re poor,’ they said at midday with their huge bells tolling. ‘You’re poor.’
In fact the people had plenty to eat and beautiful gilded roofs over their heads, but the town criers made them itchy with doubt. Were they poor? They eyed each other’s goods jealously, and compared the gloss of their horse’s coats.
The town criers offered loans, and greedily, gratefully, the palace people applied.
Outside the palace walls, wretched people starved, and worked all day to make amazing cloths and trinkets. They farmed prawns and chickens. They didn’t get to eat any chickens or prawns themselves. They ate rice.
Nothing the palace people did made them feel truly happy. It was a shame.
The Queen sometimes waved from her balcony or from her horse. She waved one handed, grimacing with the weight of obligation. She took no delight in the love of the people. Everyone could see this very clearly, but it was very important to pretend they didn’t notice.
She began to dodder, to age, and soon her open, airily waving hand became a desperate fist. She shook her fist at anyone who came near her, and the public still pretended that she was having a jolly good time and so were they.
Close up you could see that as she sat in her carriage, waving her fist, she was crying. But nobody ever got close enough to see. Close up, a subject could see the soft folds, the delicate bruises and wrinkles that made up this human being.