THE BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY
A little boy sat on a rock that overlooked a verdant valley. The sun was rising. One side of the valley soaked up the sunlight as the darkness faded. The other side remained covered in the cold shadows of the approaching winter.
The eight-year-old dark-skinned child wore bedraggled clothes. Pants torn on both knees. Shirt ripped and stained with black spots. Hair matted and caked with dried mud. Face blackened with soot. He sat with a vacant gaze, his knees tucked to his chest, his barked bare feet perched on the rock. For four days, he had walked, walked away from his house that blazed in flame. Now he had nowhere to go.
For four days, the boy had cried and cried and cried, walking away from his house. He cried because his father and his mother and his little sister were inside the burning house. He cried because he was scared of the roars of the jets that dropped bombs on his village. He cried because fear and confusion pierced his little heart and his heart could take no more.
Now, after four days, his tears had dried. He just sat on the rock and stared down into the valley. It took him four days to realize he had nowhere to go.
Two days ago, the boy had felt pangs of hunger. He walked with a mass of people fleeing the burning village. But the boy left the crowd. He walked away from the road and into the woods. He wanted to be alone. He left the people behind because the people reminded him of his sister and his father and his mother.
The boy walked through the woods alone for two days. He found puddles of muddy water from which he drank. Then his stomach began to hurt. Soon he forgot about his hunger. Hunger no longer bothered him. He just kept walking. Soon he felt neither fear nor pain. The woods opened up to a valley below. There he found a rock lodged to the side of a cleft. And there he sat down. He could go no farther.
The wind blew. The sun arched over the boy. Then it sank behind the trees. Darkness came and surrounded the boy. The starry sky stretched over the valley. The moon rose. Then it arched across the sky and sank. The eastern sky became a pale purple-pink. Then the sun came up again.
The boy now lay next to the rock, his eyes closed, his hands opened with palms facing the sky, his tiny bare feet pointing toward the valley.
“Wake up, my child.”
Hearing the voice, the boy opened his eyes.
An old man wearing a saffron robe stood gazing down at him, his long white beard flowing with the breeze. “Now,” the old man said, “it is time for you to come with me.”
The boy felt something warm inside of him, just beneath his chest. He got up. He walked toward the old man.
The old man stood, smiling, holding a wooden staff. He placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Now, we shall go.”
The boy turned around. “Who is that boy lying next to the rock?” he asked. “He looks like me.”
“That boy beside the rock is no more,” the old man said. “He no longer has a name.” The old man took the boy by the hand. “From now on, I shall call you Shishya.”
“What name shall I call you?” the boy asked.
“Call me Bapu.”
The boy clenched Bapu’s steady hand, and led by the old man, the boy disappeared down into the verdant valley.
The boy’s body lay beside the rock, unmoving. Many suns and moons arched above his tiny body. Then the winter snow came and covered the little boy. Then spring came. Then summer came. Then autumn came. Many seasons circled over the boy until the boy no longer lay next to the rock. Only the rock remained, unmoving.
*** End ***