He happily dies with the sky in his eye.
He lived in a little hut by a winding river. Having stopped looking at calenders awhile back, he did not know how long he had lived there. He only remembered that one day the smoke in the city, and the noise of the city, and the cunning of the city, had driven him out. He reached this place quite by accident really. He had put a few dollars in his pocket and got on a strange bus with no number on its head and it had stopped by a stream for more than an hour. The driver was nowhere to be found. So there was nothing else to do but to follow the stream and see where it went. He walked by the stream till it began to widen a little.
The water looked soft and clear as it ran over well polished pebbles. He scooped up a mouthful and drank deep. In the city it would have meant instant diarrhea, but this water actually smelt sweet and earthy; the way water must have tasted a couple of thousand years ago before rivers were raped by the industry of man.
When he awoke, he saw the first rays of the sun playing gently on the surface of the water. Although he was certifiably lost, he couldn’t help getting lost in the moment. The river flowed onwards and he was drawn to follow it. For miles he trailed it, stopping for a drink when he wanted; or sitting by the bank with feet dangling in the shallows when he was tired. Then, as the day began to wane, he saw it. Hidden by the shadow of a big tree. It was small and looked uninhabited. He tapped on the front door. Who could be living out here in the middle of nowhere? And did he want to meet such a person? He did notice a pair of abandoned worn out old boots encrusted with mud, its tips buried in the soft sand. He knocked again.
There was no answer.
Maybe whoever it was went out to get something. From where? – he thought. Was there a 7-11 around the corner? He doubted it, but then again one never knew with 7-11’s. A guy would come up and open a store with doors that were never locked in the middle of nowhere. All the people passing by would decide to stay there because the guy sold everything they needed. Why move around so much themselves? And voila – before long you had a street, neighborhood, town, city, metropolis. All modern civilizations can trace their roots back to a convenience store, he reckoned. He knocked again and turned the handle.
The door creaked and opened. Now, years since that fateful day, the door still creaks every time he or the others step in.
The strangest thing was that in this isolation he has had more people to talk to than he did in the city. They began arriving a week after he got there. They were wanderers like himself, led there by a series of strange inexplicable events. He caught fish every morning with a makeshift rod. With his sneakers safely out of reach of the water he rolled up his pants and waded in where the water was darker. Sometimes he caught one, sometimes as many as fifty. He didn’t have any ice to keep it fresh in but that didn’t matter. His morning fishing became an indicator of how his day would go.
If he caught 1 or 2 fish, he would be alone that day. But if he caught more than 3, he would have company. Sometimes as many as 10 people would come wandering in together on days when the fish seemed to literally jump into his hands. It was always the same story, they came, they rested, he fed them and they left after a day or two. They gave him gifts, shavers, clothes, soap and sundries. Some of them even came back and stayed awhile.
In the evenings he swam in the river. Floating on his back he loved to watch the sun set behind the sprawling branches. Then he’d go up to his shed and talk to his visitors if he had any; or read some of the books they left behind.
Years passed, and he never wearied of this existence. The constant gurgling of the water was the soundtrack to his life. He felt like a nomad with a semi-permanent residence. He repaired the shed with materials from the jungle around; he built a little birdhouse for the mynas in the trees. For years he fell to thinking that the shed had been his all along.
Then, one evening as always, he placed his sneakers by the waterline and dove into the water. Looking up at the skies he felt his breath leave his body for the last time as he floated down the river.
A young girl knocks on the door of the old shed. No one lives here she thinks and settles in. She too is weary of the city and decides to stay, barely noticing the worn out old sneakers by the water.