There is no way for Robert to see. He can’t find his path. His feet stumble over each other. The scarf is wrapped so tightly around his head that he thinks he’s bleeding. Sand beats against his eyelids and he has no way to block it. The goggles are lost.
The water is gone.
The path is hidden.
He does not know what keeps him moving forward except this feeling of being pushed. He can’t let himself fall down and give up. He will keep going. He will find it.
He stumbles and tries to breathe and that is his life for nearly sixteen days.
He should be dead, and yet every morning he feels the sun rise, and every evening he feels the sun set. The only way he tells days apart from nights is when the color around him changes from yellow to black.
Every night, he stops to rest for a while. He doesn’t sleep. He thinks about where he came from and where he’s trying to go. He tries to create a solution in his mind, but always remembers he has no way to fix anything. He’s alone and riding the edge of death.
The wind never stops blowing. It will die down for a few moments, but Robert has come to believe that it’s just collecting its strength. The wind pushes Robert from side-to-side and often makes him turn away from the direction his feet are taking him. The wind carries the sand and pelts Robert with it.
Before he lost the goggles, it was much easier for Robert to walk in a straight line. He had a compass and was going north. Robert entered the desert and began this journey because he had heard many tales of a group of people who dwelt in a small village in the heart of the desert. The stories said they didn’t like the outside world, but if an outsider was strong enough to make it through the desert and find them, they would welcome the outsider as one of their own.
Within one day of entering the desert, Robert tripped and fell hard. The compass disappeared from his hand, his goggles flew off his head, and two bottles of water rolled away. It was impossible to try to find any of the items he lost, so he just kept walking. He tried his best to keep heading north, but he soon learned he couldn’t watch the sun. He had to keep his eyes closed nearly all the time. After a few days, he decided to just keep walking in whatever direction the wind pushed him. He believed that if he didn’t give up, he would find something.
All of his life Robert had searched for something to bring a greater meaning to his life. Now, at fifty-six-years-old, he feels he’s never made the right decisions. He never could find his path. Sometimes, he thinks he was running away from it.
He tries to remember his reflection, and imagines what he must look like now. His skin is leathery, lined by age and sunlight. His beard is short and a mix of brown and grey hairs. He wore cotton clothing from head-to-toe that was white and light brown, but was now filthy. His sandals are dark brown and well made. He also has a satchel strapped across his chest. It used to be full of water and food. Now it had only a few papers and pictures.
Robert cannot remember what day it is or how long he’s been in the desert. Time seems to have no meaning to him. In the back of his mind, he knows he is lost. He will never get out of the desert. But he will not lie down and die. He will keep moving until he physically can no longer go on. The desert will have to deliberately kill him. He won’t lie down and accept it.
Just before dawn on the sixteenth day, Robert is staggering along in his usual way, when suddenly the sand disappears from beneath him and there is a straight drop. He, of course, does not see it coming. The wind and the sand make him keep his eyes closed almost constantly. If he had been able to see, he would have noticed the enormous trench from a hundred yards away.
Instead, with his eyes closed, he steps out with his right foot and finds no ground to place it on. He falls. He howls. He hits water.
He’s in a deep, dirty pool made from digging a hole in the sand. Robert flounders and instinctively tries to find the surface. He doesn’t yet know what’s happened to him. Once his head comes up, he breathes deeply for the first time in days, and does his best to stay afloat. There is no wind here. It’s very calm, and dark, and cool.
His feet can’t touch the bottom of the pool, and he can’t see which way the shore his. He is weak and desperate, so he starts swimming east, though he doesn’t know that. After about seven strokes, his feet hit the bottom. He is greatly relieved and crawls to the shore. He tries to stand and look around, but he is weak. He falls to his knees, and then lies on his back.
He can see the stars. They’re beautiful dots of light in the deepest darkness.
Robert closes his eyes. He feels calmer than he’s ever felt in his life. He thinks he could sleep now.
A voice breaks the calm. “Why do you fight so hard?”
Robert sits upright and spins around onto his knees. He thinks the darkness around him has gotten blacker. He sees nothing and hears nothing but his breath. He says, “Who’s there?” and his shocked by the sound of his voice. It is so hoarse that his words are barely understandable. For some reason he rubs his throat.
The voice came from Robert’s left. He stands up and squints. The voice was loud and it echoed. He couldn’t recognize it. He thought he should.
“Why do you fight it so hard?”
Robert crinkled his forehead. He said, “I don’t understand,” still in his hoarse whisper.
“You walked all this way when you don’t even know what you’re looking for.”
“I’m looking for an experience, something that will change my life, that will change who I am.”
“That is not something you search for and find. That is something that finds you.”
Robert looked down, and then up at the stars. “Well I grew tired of waiting.”
“That wasn’t for you to decide.”
Robert looked back into the darkness in front of him. “I don’t decide when I am tired?”
“No.” The voice paused. “It isn’t in your hands to decide how long your patience should last. You just have to wait.”
“How long will it, the experience, take to find me?” Robert’s voice was getting louder because the hoarseness was slowly edging away. Robert didn’t notice, though. He wanted an answer. He shifted from one foot to another while he waited. He was about to speak again, but the voice spoke first.
“You cannot measure it. It’s impossible to put such a thing into those limits. It will come when it is ready.”
Robert squinted into the darkness again as another question came into his mind. “What did you say I was fighting?”
“You are trying to control it, to tell it what to do, to understand it, but all these things you cannot do. Time runs the course of your life. You have to learn to stop struggling against it.”
Robert was staring at the stars again. When he looked down, he realized how much blacker his surroundings were. He could barely see his own feet in the sand, and his footsteps from the pool were lost in the darkness. He started to see dots of light in the distance coming forward. “What do I do now?”
“You accept, or you struggle.”
Robert didn’t know what to say.
“Do you want to go back into the sands and the winds? Do you want to spend the rest of your time searching for an experience when you could be having one?”
Robert again didn’t know what to say. He was looking down towards his feet, but he couldn’t see them.
“If you go back out into the desert, you will never come out again. Your life will forever be made up of you wandering blindly against the wind and the sand and the sun, with no one to comfort you, and with no one for you to comfort. Time will not exist for you. Every day and every night will be the same. You will be nothing. You can go back out there, to struggle, or you can accept the fact that you cannot always decide what experiences make up your life. You have to learn to understand what I am saying. You cannot control time and the experiences it brings to you. Time will bring to you all that you could ever need and want. If you fight against it, you will not win. You will only be in agony.”
“I want to accept…but I don’t know how.”
“I can show you.”
Robert thought, “Yes,” but he did not say anything. He felt something, a power, surround his body, and he finally understood what he should do, and what had happened.
Robert loved a woman a long time ago, when he was a young man. He wanted her to be his companion throughout his life, but she didn’t want to live his life. There were things she wanted to accomplish for herself, and he wouldn’t support her. He was too selfish and short-sighted. He believed everything she wanted was a waste of time, and that there was so much more life to live. She couldn’t agree, and they broke each other’s hearts.
He’d been with others throughout the years, but he never loved again, and he never had a family. He gave up something he needed in his life, and because of that, he spent his life searching for something to fill the hole his great love left behind.
“You’re an old man now, Robert. You need to stop fighting.”
“Where do I go now? What do I do?”
“What?” He said it desperately, as loud as his voice would let him.
There was no response because Robert knew the answer. The blackness around him darkened and the far-off lights were brightening.
“When will I die?”
“You’ve been dead a long time. You just couldn’t accept it.”
“Why did I fall into that…that pit?”
“You needed to stop wandering. You would have stayed in that wasteland forever. Sometimes people need a push.”
“What happens now?”
Robert rubbed his hands together. “I’m frightened of it. I…I…”
“I understand, but you don’t need to be scared. You just have to accept it, to trust in the perpetuity of time. It will absorb you, and, together, you will go on forever.”
Though quite timid, Robert knew his time had come. He knew he died. He thought the journey would only be a few days in the desert, and he was ill-prepared. One day, he could no longer walk on. He drank the last of his water and fell asleep.
Robert let out a breath and then watched the stars come closer to him. His fear felt close to consuming him.
“Do not be afraid. Time is eternal. You are eternal. Only your life has ended.”