The Sun was setting behind the rocky mountain summit, painting everything its rays touched into a glimmering shine of the day’s goodbye. Everything slowed down; even the clouds froze, respecting the moment. Everything felt like goodbye, and thatâ€™s exactly what it was for him. An unwelcome, but long waited for goodbye. He smelled the air, trying to feel it as strongly as ever, trying to remember it fully and profoundly, although he knew it will all be forgotten soon. Maybe somehow these memories will follow me, he thought. Maybe the way you go determines your next destination. It was a nice, comforting thought but, there was no way to know.
In the end, your final breaths strip you from anything but your true self. There is no role-playing, no pretending, no ego… just pure, honest you, whatever that might be. Another comforting thought, at least for him. Earth moved a bit more and exposed more of its night side to the sun, allowing this one to drown in its own darkness and give a chance to other stars, at least for the night. They were small and distant, but they turned the night sky into something magnificent, something worth waiting for; an amazing theatre of Chaos and Order that never ceased to amaze, at least those few aware enough to look up from time to time. He came here to die; he wanted his last breaths to feel this mountain air he loved so much. He wanted to see the stars and feel the breeze on his face as the healthy cells of his body surrender to the sick ones.
People struggle and fight to live; they instinctively protect that unknown force that tells us we are alive, but truthfully, most of us don’t really know what the fight is about. Sure, we want to live, but why? What makes our lives so important? He didn’t know the answer, not for sure, but he believed it has something to do with wonder. That was the feeling growing in him whenever he felt most alive. Wonder.
Looking up at the first stars of the night â€“ wonder was again the strongest emotion he felt. He didn’t believe in God, but seeing this much beauty, he believed in something. Chance couldn’t create something so beautiful, that was the gist of his believes now.
Up here there were no crickets, no birds, nothing but the air, its movements and the sound it makes as it touches the ground around him. He could almost hear his own heartbeats and probably sometime soon, he will hear it stop.
Chege was struggling with the only big box he brought with him, as the door bell rang. He lowered the damn thing with a grunt, wondering should he open the door or just ignore the bell; walking towards it at the same time. He was here to be alone, but he was still himself and as always, he was curious. Through the glass part of the front doors, he could see a shape of the person on the other side. He opened the door.
– Hello – she said smiling.
– Hello – he repeated.
– I’m Lara… I live down in the village. I walk here almost every day, so I though to welcome the newcomer.
– Very kind of you… Lara – he said.
She was still smiling, and it made him nervous. She was young, maybe 25, 26 years old… and pretty, he noticed, trying not to.
– I baked some chestnut cookies for you – she said – I hope you like them. That’s my favourite recipe.
He said nothing, taken by surprise and conflicting thoughts fighting in his head. He wanted to invite her in, enjoy her smile a while longer, but his reason warned him against it. He came here to be alone.
Lara seamed confused now, her smile replaced by a worrisome frown.
– I’m sorry – Chege said, with a sudden feeling of guilt in his voice – I’m just unpacking and the house is in terrible mess, and…
– I understand – she said, handing him the small basket – I’ll see you soon, then…
He closed the doors as she was leaving, suddenly feeling tired and lonely. And very, very rude, he told himself; although he knew he did the right thing. He left the basket on the kitchen table and continued with unpacking, stopping only when his lungs couldn’t take any more. Couple of hours later, most things were unpacked, his workroom, laptop and printer ready and most of his clothes spread on the bed. He felt absolutely drained and knew that this day was over for him. He went down to the kitchen, took his pills and then noticed the basket with cookies. He uncovered it and smiled. On the plate with cookies, a small note said:
“Welcome to Highills, your first neighbour, Lara!”, with a little drawn heart added on the side.
It was an easy climb; he was up here many times before. He knew every corner of the forest below and he remembered every large rock up here. His muscles listened to him today and he was grateful for that. He planed his days here carefully, allowing plenty of rest and possible rainy days when he wouldn’t be able to climb. He was in the shadow of the mountain now, and he knew he won’t see the sun until he reaches the second highest peak, just south of the summit. He wasn’t interested in the summit, although he climbed it at least a hundred times before.
Some three hundred meters under the highest point of the mountain lay a small meadow with the last line of trees on the way up. There he will camp tonight and on that spot he will declare his surrender. It was a very special place, but more importantly, it had the greatest view ever; mountain peak on one side, lakes, forest and the sea on the other. No matter how many times he sat there, he could never get tired of it, there was so much to soak in, so much beauty sprawled there for those brave and respectful enough to climb up here.
He was glad to have the place all for himself (most of the times he wouldn’t meet another human being for days) but he wondered why the majority of people ignore this beauty. He shrugged at that, and smiled at his own thoughts, suddenly aware that he had those exact same thoughts every time he was here.
He reached the top of the ridge and nearly lost his footing as the view hit him. The sun was setting on his right side, and everything cast shadows somehow sideways. It was surreal and beautiful; one of those moments that nature loves to shock you with, if one only cares to look. The valley was vast and coloured with forests and rivers. On this side of it there were no villages and he had to look very hard to notice any trace of human activities. He hoped it will always stay this way. There was no better place on this Earth to watch the night sky, he though the first time he camped here and, although he has seen good few beautiful places since, his opinion remained unshaken. There is a magic that happens only once, when you discover a place special to you. You might never really learn why it affected you in such a way, but it would only increase its hold. That would be the place your thoughts go whenever life gets unbearable; you own hidden shelter from the World and it’s rules, obligations and cruelty.
For him, it was this mountain and this very spot, right under the summit. He didn’t know why it was so special to him. Of course, he knew a thousand reasons why this place is special, but not one why it is his own, special special place. It was raining first time he reached this spot. He was soaked and tired and he started regretting wasting his weekend like that, when suddenly sun broke through the clouds and the late-spring sun-rays warmed him in a second, from the inside out. He felt as if, at that very moment, he realized what really matters in life and how little we need to feel happy and at home; as if we need the misery and bitterness simply to be able to feel the joy easier. Whatever the reason might be, he was happy then, and he was happy every time he came back.
And weirdly enough, he was happy now, knowing that he won’t be coming back next year. Instead of feeling sad about it, it added a bit of depth to the experience. Another little magical trick of this mountain.
He set up his tent quickly, and then just sat there in silence, noticing the gradual shift from sunset to night; observing how colour slowly faded from everything around him, giving in to the absence of sunlight.
And then the planets came, one by one. Venus first, slowly drifting above the hidden Sun. Then Saturn, followed by stars, the brightest ones first, and then the shy ones. Soon, entire sky was a beautiful dome of starlight; a majestic light-show, millions upon millions of years old, stopping by on this small, remote planet in the middle of nowhere.
This is so much bigger than us, he thought, looking up at that vast plain where everything that ever happens is happening. And here we are, in the midst of it all, small, inquisitive and beautiful. He fell asleep with that very though floating in his mind; he slept well.