Long ago, I met a traveler. I first saw him in his garden, kneeling over an exotic-looking flower, its blossom the color of lemon, like a babe wrapped in a blanket, sleeping peacefully. I’d seen him leaning over that flower, as he picked the weeds that grew around it, pinching them between his thumb and forefinger and pulling them off, his lips moving all the while.
Intrigued, I walked close to his fence and pretended I was trying to peek around the curb, as if I was waiting for the bus. I heard the old man say:
“…swam in the oceans of Ganymede and spoke to its people, who think of the outside world as an impossibility.”
With the corner of my eye, I watched him as he watered the flower, as he carefully watered it with a hose. Not too little, not too much, I thought.
“I swam in the midst of the great sandstorms of Jupiter, each swipe of my hand lasting for a century.”
I watched him lean back, his gaze fixed upon the flower. His eyes trailed the crimson veins on its petals. I gazed upon them too and saw them dance before my very eyes, their motions forming a hypnotic pattern.
Deeply entranced, I suddenly realized that the old man was looking at me. His eyes were a uniformly milky white color, pupil and all, betraying his Martian heritage.
“I left the barren wasteland I’d called home, foolishly thinking that the rest of the universe would make a far better place to live than where I’d come from.”
Looking at that man’s eyes, I felt a chill slither down my spine.
“Like a fool, I mistook its cold, unfeeling majesty for beauty.”
I reached inside my jacket pocket, with trembling fingers. Without taking my eyes off the old man, I found my packet of cigarettes, took one out and lit up.
The tip glowed white-hot for only a moment. And in that glow, I saw the things the old man had: There were nebulae in the snow, smoke the color of fresh rose petals. I flicked the ash from the tip and saw comet dust, lazily drifting across the void, gliding on solar winds.
“I searched for home across the spiral arm of the galaxy. I sought to live with the strange tribes that inhabit the distant stars.”
I took another drag from my cigarette. The tension was slowly releasing from my muscles. The fear was subsiding. The traveler’s eyes grew dim, their terrible glow faded.
“But in every destination, every place I turned, one thing was apparent. There was glory in the universe. There was complexity and beauty. But there was no longing to stay, no joy to sustain my exhausted spirit. The things I had seen and the stories I heard would have been lost as I died of old age during my trek through the void, never once having known home; had I not found the flower.
“Its beauty was the beacon that led me through the great asteroid fields of Saturn, when my ship failed me for the final time. Its scent, somehow bypassing my helmet was what reminded me of home. I saw it bloom and I knew that I should give up my futile search; that I should head home. But home was gone.”
And just like that, as if following some cue rehearsed a thousand times, the flower blossomed. I saw it grow, saw it stretch its petals out. I gasped as I watched its core, a perfect, raw red, greet the sun. We stood there watching it for a long while, as the rays of the setting sun struck it, causing it to produce an image that unfolded before our very eyes. It became not just the story of the flower, but the story of other things, as well.
I saw suns erupt into being and fade. I saw black holes swallow space, in their nihilistic quest to eliminate being, slowly collapsing into themselves. I heard the secret language of comets and the snarls of galaxies, as they enveloped each other, locked in mortal combat.
“So I thought long and hard and I realized that home was no place I could discover. That I would never find it there, in the darkness and the cold. I needed to be with people I’d known, that I could share my stories, people that would speak my language.
“Home is where you can unburden the stories you carry.”
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