The man swaggered.
He never walked or ambled like other folk, swaggering was his thing. On top of the swagger, a puffed up chest proudly thrusted. The physical stance and presence of the man silently challenged all who crossed his path.
He puffed and preened, insinuated his importance into very air that they breathed, until each person he chanced to meet felt in awe of him. These lesser folk would whisper about his mightiness in hushed tones. Some fled from his long shadow before they could be exposed as naked, unworthy, feeble...envious.
One day the man swaggered past a small child playing in a cool clear stream. The child laughed and splashed the man's expensive shiny shoes.
The man puffed out his chest, folded his brow into a furrow and wagged a fat finger at the child. "Don't you know who I am?," he said.
"Umm, people call you 'The Big Man', why don't you come and play in the stream with me, it's fun!" giggled the child.
"I am too important to play in streams, and you have wet my shoes," the man bellowed.
The child laughed again and the man felt his heart lift and fill with the simple joy of a long forgotten childhood. The child's laughter insinuated itself into the very air that the man breathed. A tickle of laughter bubbled in the pit of the puffed up chest, but the man clapped his hand over his mouth to suppress it. It would never do to be seen laughing in public. He had an image to uphold.
The man's wet feet marched him home, and once inside, he barricaded the door with every available stick of furniture. Red faced and sweating, he caught a glimpse of a little man across the hallway. What was this man doing in his house?
Swaggering forward, he was annoyed to see the little man copy his movement. How dare the impudent little wretch!
The man rolled up his sleeves, puffed out his chest and prepared to strike the little man hard across the face. The little man mirrored his every action and all of a sudden it became horribly clear that the little man was in fact his own reflection in the looking glass.
But how could this be? Everyone knew he was the big man, a man of swagger and puff, a man of stature. The man raised a trembling hand to his brow and feared his life of importance was over. "It was that child, that damned child!" he wailed aloud.
Clawing aside the barricade, he opened the door and raced back to the stream. The child had gone...but the laughter remained. It whispered in his ears, tugged at his heart strings and encouraged the tickle of laughter in his puffed up chest to swell, grow and erupt from his mouth like a shower of diamonds. The man kicked off his shoes, peeled off his socks and splashed into the stream.
People from miles around heard his laughter on the breeze and in the very air they breathed. Carried on wings of joy, they ran to join him in the cool clear stream.
And from that day forward, they no longer whispered in hushed tones, or ran from the man's shadow. Instead, they lived with him as equals and they all grew strong and tall.
The little man was was at last truly big. He and all the folks often laughed and splashed in the stream...and the child led them.