Sunday, April 26, 2009
Short fiction: "Walking and Running"
Whispers form. I feel them like breath. I see them dancing, creating, forgetting. The images are sharp and clear. The running man looks so free: head up, legs up, eyes forward, lungs filled with air. He passes above the walking man: head down, great burden on his back, dust in his eyes. Soon the running man is gone. The walking man toils on and grows old.
As a child, my father tried to teach me to throw a ball, but I could not learn. "You are too small yet," he said. "In time we will try again." I feel like a child again.
Rain brings me into sudden consciousness, descending from black clouds, swiftly slicing the air to pierce the thirsty earth below. I shut my eyes from the storm. A clap of thunder and it is over. Was it ever really here?
All around me I see small ponds where once there were only mirages. Are they mirages still? Tiny flowers sprout before my eyes, blossom and fade. As quickly as the rain, the ponds disappear. I press my hand against the soft mud, but when at last I pull it back again, the ground is dry once more. "There is life there," I say, my voice cracking like the earth before me. "Even there."
Time passes. I do not know how long. "You should have drunk when the rains came; that is what they were for." The voice is not my own, and the meanings of the words come and go. I try to speak, to tell the stranger of what I have seen. "Do not speak now. Rest, for you are close to death. There is an oasis near."
Dizzy, I rise to follow, later realizing that I am not so much walking as being carried. I am immersed in cool water. A salve of some kind covers my skin, tingling until the pain of my burns subsides. The mist before my eyes begins to thin. There is sweet fruit in my mouth.
I become aware once again of my host standing before me, a gentle smile stretched across his serene, brown face. "How can I repay your kindness?" The words fall out of my mouth with pieces of fruit.
"Tell me what you wanted to say before. What did you see in this land?" His clothing is foreign, but he speaks fluently, with no accent. He has gathered wood, from where I cannot tell. As he prepares a fire for the cold night, he patiently repeats his question. "What visions have been revealed to you this day?"
"I have seen many things..." I hesitate, uncertain, until I see it in his eyes: he already knows. He is only testing my comprehension. I examine the vision of the running man and the walking man, searching within myself for meaning. "The body is a burden to the soul. With it, one can never truly be free." I suddenly wish that I could be free, that I had been left alone to die.
"Do not despair." His voice is quiet and soothing, and at once I realize that my interpretation has been too hastily made. There is still much I must learn.
The night grows colder, and though the fire has been lit, I cannot help but shiver. The stranger senses my discomfort and moves closer, putting his thick, warm arms around me. At his touch, all weariness leaves me, and my eyelids grow heavy and fall.
"Papa, papa!" I am home again, with all of my children around me. There are tears in their eyes, and in mine as well.
"We thought you were lost," says my wife. Her voice breaks with relief, and I pledge to her never to wander again. She tells me of the stranger who carried me home in his arms, and in her prayers I hear her give thanks to God for our angel.
Soon I return to work, head down, heavy burden on my back, dust in my eyes. And with every step, I thank God to be running so fast.