Opula was unlike any other city. It had a population of millions, yet one could walk through its garden streets and never brush another’s arm or coat, and one could speak with a neighbor in whispers with no trouble hearing and being heard, and one could say a greeting in a wide-open space and hear the nearest five or six passersby reply in a soft, friendly tone, “How beautiful to see you!” Everyone seen in the city was beautiful: their elaborate hair, their delicate posture and gestures, their make-up, their deep-colored clothes—everything about the denizens was crafted for the finest presentation. They went to work, not at a rush, but at a stroll, so that everyone they met might have a chance to see how fine they looked and then say, “How beautiful to see you!” And when they worked inside, they worked in front of clear windows where the light could expose their fineness for all to see and savor just the same.
One would think they took hours to make up their hair and faces. “How could they find the time?” foreigners would ask.
A denizen, a high-thinker whose job it was to think beautiful thoughts, might answer: “Beauty and time are incommensurable. I mean that one cannot measure the other, and there is no trade between them. Beauty is indifferent to time, and what has time got to do with beauty?”
The foreigners might think that such an odd response missed the question. And it did. What the high-thinker did not say is that, in Opula, the time it would take to make things beautiful was not time spent by the beautiful. For there were millions of people in Opula, but only thousands were seen. The beautiful walked out on the streets and whispered politely in the public spaces and stood in the windows for all to see. The rest, however, were never seen, and it was they who paid the price of time for beauty.
When a beautiful man went home at the end of his day at work, he went to a place underground. There others washed him, fed him his vitamins and minerals for lovely skin and smooth hair, arrayed him in fine robes. The next day these countless others roused him from bed. They washed him, fed him, arrayed him. They fixed his hair and face to be as splendid as it had been the day before. And then they sent him off to go above ground, a representative of them all, their beautiful creation for all the world to see and praise. But they themselves remained to work all day in the darkness where no windows let the light expose their unfinished looks.
The Opula that the foreigner saw was a city of masked men and women, of men and women who are themselves living masks for the masses below. The city itself wore a mask, so to speak, made of thousands of masks.
This world is all symbol.