I was the last passenger on the bus. The night’s stars looked down at the small vehicle lazily making its way down the empty highway. The driver sat at the steering wheel with slumped shoulders. I could tell he was on the brink of falling asleep. I whispered a prayer to Morpheus to keep the driver conscious at least until I get off. After sitting for six hours in this unventilated vehicle, the last thing I wanted was to die in an accident of carelessness.
Though I did see some form of satirical irony. After spending the last week escaping from dangerous people, hours of running and all the sleepless nights, to just have it end in such a banal death was too much: All because the driver was overtaxed.
If my will had any power over life’s event, I would not die tonight.
The sudden stop of the bus shook me from my pondering. I looked out the window and saw that we were in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees. Without the rumbling of the engine, I could hear a distant wolf howling.
“Last stop. Get off here.” The driver mumbled between yawns. He opened the door to prove he was serious.
“It’s the middle of nowhere! Where am I supposed to go?” I cried, pointing outside as if he hadn’t already noticed our surroundings.
Indeed, the driver shrugged, not even bothering to use words. Out of stubbornness, I sat still, crossing my arms. He could read what he wanted from my body language.
It took a long five minutes before he let out a heavy sigh and replied:
“There’s a village up this path. You can get a room for the night.”
With a violent flourish, I grabbed my duffle bag from the overhead compartment. If it hadn’t slipped out of my grasp and stumbled on the ground, I’m sure my displeasure would have made a graver impression on the driver.
With my gaze averted I stepped out of the bus. It quickly drove off in the night, leaving me behind in the chilly night. I heard the wolf howl once again. I didn’t want to become his midnight snack, so I started up the road mentioned by the driver. Between my red coat and duffle bag, I felt a bit like little red riding hood on her way to grandmother’s house. There were many other details that would nullify my imagery but I needed a distraction. Being from the city, I found it unsettling to be in a strange forest at night. My imagination saw monsters in shadows that revealed themselves to be squirrels or birds. This reminded me of a picture I once saw. At first, I noticed a cup. However, after shifting my perception, I saw two faces looking at each other. It seemed like the world was full of simplicity awaiting our multi faceted perceptions.
It was when I was thinking over the philosophical implications of such a picture that I came to a brick wall with a door big enough to allow a dinosaur to walk through. I actually took a moment to imagine a stegosaurus staggering from the past to enter this village.
A more human sized door was found and I quickly approached it. I pushed the door carefully and was glad to find it unlocked. There was a mature looking man walking around with a flashlight, nonchalantly swinging it left and right. He wore jeans and a heavy sweater against the slight chill of the night. What caught my attention was that he wasn’t wearing shoes. There was nothing to protect his feet from the land.
The man with the trimmed beard didn’t look surprise or bothered at seeing me. His flashlight covered me in blinding light. Blinking against the glare, I heard a sound as if he were about to scold a child out of bed after curfew.
“Do you need a place to stay for the night?” He asked. His tone was actually very friendly.
“Yes. My bus dropped me off here. The driver said I could find a place for the night and take the next bus in the morning.” I explained.
The man slowly nodded as he lowered his light from my face.
“Sure thing. We just have one rule here. No shoes or socks or sandals. Nothing on your feet, while you are on our lands.” His voice kept its friendly tone. The strange request didn’t even shake or disturb me. Because I was so tired, I immediately started to unlace my boots.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why this one rule?” I asked, trying to get my fingers through the knots of the laces. I was past the point of exhaustion and could barely keep my eyes open, let alone control my motor skills.
“For a stranger who’s only staying the night, there’s not much to say. We don’t reveal secrets easily here. But one thing I’ll tell you,” he started and flashed his light on his feet as he lifted his left foot. “We are very connected to our land.”
Wrapped in darkness with such a small beam of light, I wasn’t certain what my eyes were seeing. His feet were dark with years of walking on bare earth. Hairy toes with yellowed toenails wiggled lightly at my attention. These were details to be expected. What my exhausted eyes could not quite grasp were the roots, thick and brown that went from the sole of his raised foot, down into the earth.
There was no time for my mind to process the sight before the man helped me out of my old boots and wool socks. As my feet touched the bare earth, I felt a shiver of cold run up my spine. Then, there was a strange pinch from both my feet. Where it started, inside coming out or outside coming in, I wasn’t certain. Looking down I saw thin weak roots that connected me to the land.
The man took my hand and walked me through the town. There were only dirt roads to be seen. Silhouettes of shacks bordered the roads. In the gloom of the night, he brought me to a humble looking home. I was quickly ushered into a room and put to sleep.
“You have nothing to worry about now. Tomorrow, you’ll wake up, refreshed and ready to continue on your way.” The man’s voice was so reassuring and I was so terribly exhausted that quickly, sleep found me to be a willing bedmate.
A wild thirst shook me from my slumber. My eyes rapidly opened to scan the dark room. My throat felt like it was lined with tree bark. My lips cracked as I moved my lazy tongue over them. It was clear to me that waiting for the morning to come wasn’t a possibility. I sat up, waiting until my eyes made sense of the dark shapes. The soft light of the stars helped me see a low table by the window with a cup and a jug of what I hoped to be water.
Standing up, I panicked as I felt something under my feet. Sitting on the bed, I blindly felt with my hand under my feet. The thin roots connecting me to the ground were there, digging into my skin. After a little bit of rest, I realized how absurd this was. It was hard for me to believe what I was touching.
Following my thirst, I walked to the water jug. I was overly aware of each step I took. As my left foot broke contact with the ground, I could feel the roots stretch to accommodate the motion, then shrink back as the foot returned to the earth. There was no pain or discomfort. It was a simple feeling of unfamiliarity; like after getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist.
I poured myself a cup of water and drained it instantly. My whole body shivered with pleasure and asked for more. After drinking two more cups of water, I felt a calm satisfaction settle in me, starting with my throat that was previously so dry. My gaze lazily wandered out the window. I could have looked at the other crude looking building or the lush garden. What caught my attention would have made anyone look twice. A girl was by the apple tree, huddled, her knees to her chest and dressed in a thin dress.
I quickly dressed and ran out to offer any assistance. I brought a sweater to give her some warmth. Standing in the doorway I stopped dead in my tracks. There was a moment of hesitation. I was in a strange village, all alone. Who was I to swoop down and save the damsel in distress? I was no hero. In fact, I was the anti-hero; always one to play it safe. At the first sign of trouble back home, I ran away; taking the first bus that would go as far away as possible.
My shoulders slumped as I realized that I wasn’t going to help the girl under the apple tree. I sighed deeply as I took one last look at her. I froze when I noticed that she was looking at me. By the light of the stars I saw her dirty face covered in bruises. Her eyes were curious about me but more strongly, they were pleading me to come to her. It was more than safety she was looking for. I sensed that this small girl was hungry for human contact. She needed to be acknowledged and touched or else she would vanish into nothingness. Through the roots in my feet, I sensed this cry for help. It was a hunger so violent that it shook my own core. I never imagined someone feeling so forgotten by the whole of existence. That is, until a stranger comes along and notices her. A stranger with enough sympathy to grab a sweater and be prepared to offer it to her. Unfortunately for this nocturnal nymph, it is a stranger who is ruled by his cowardice. So instead of covering her broken, shivering body, this stranger simply stares, and then goes back to bed.
I spent an hour urging my mind to forget the image of the girl under the apple tree. The remainder of my night was restless with wild dreams and more struggles to forget. When my body demanded water, I ignored the cries, fearing the view from the window. When dawn finally embraced the sky, I quickly washed myself and prepared to leave. I tried to pay the man for the room. He refused my money and wished me luck on my adventures. By the tone of his voice, I wondered if he knew what happened.
I did not stay long enough to find out. After a quiet meal with the man, I gathered my belongings and took the road out of the village, keeping my eyes downcast. I was eager to have this chapter of my life become a distant memory. As I took quick strides towards the exit, I made promises to myself to never recall this village and its strange connection to the earth. Mostly, I vowed to forget the girl under the apple tree. Even though I knew that the feeling of loneliness that she shared with me would take a lot to forget.
I was one step away from being free to put my boots back on. I looked back for half a heartbeat then took that last step. As I felt the roots snap from my feet, a high pitched scream resonated in my head. It filled each of my cells until the pain of this scream was all my senses could register. It was such a sound of raw pain stemming from emptiness. The kind of emptiness brought about by loneliness. I ran, clutching my head in pain and knowing the source of such a heartbreaking scream.
I found the bus stop and finally got back on the road. I was grateful to be sitting in this stuffy bus. I didn’t care where it took me, as long as it was far away from the madness I left behind.
What does it take to be strong enough? Can you find it within yourself to do what is right?
Life in the question and remember to follow your bliss~
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