Kiran’s feet ached. She had been walking for many miles and was no closer to her destination. Hiking through the wilderness by herself had seemed like a good idea at first. It was the break she needed from the maddening pace of her life. The whole thing felt much less charming now that she was covered in sweat and grime, surrounded by a distinct lack of civilization on all sides and finding herself fighting the temptation to check her phone for social media updates from her friends.
It was a beautiful view, though. Mountains looming in the distance, still carrying a few last remnants of winter snow on their peaks. Trees huddled together in clumps along the way, whispering softly to each other as a warm breeze blew over them. Verdant beauty stood bathed in the golden glow of the sun, and Kiran wanted to bask in it, to lose herself in it. But she was restless. This trek hadn’t brought her the peace of mind she was looking for.
“A kingdom that stretches to the ends of the earth, a land without any boundaries.”
Kiran almost jumped out of her skin at the sound of the rasping voice. She looked over to see an old man, sitting cross-legged on a large rock barely twenty feet from her. She as quite certain he hadn’t been there a moment ago, yet he seemed to have been sitting there for ages. His unkempt hair, leathery skin and bedraggled clothes had a uniform grayish-brown tinge to them, the original colors lost to time and the elements. Only his eyes stood out, blue as the sky on a summer’s day and filled with what Kiran could only describe as serenity.
The old man seemed relaxed, his sinewy body completely at ease despite his stony perch. He seemed to be speaking to himself, or perhaps to the trees. Kiran wasn’t entirely sure if she wanted to know.
“It is lovely, isn’t it?” he said, fixing his bright blue eyes on her.
Kiran smiled a little awkwardly, shifting her feet. “Ah, yes. It’s very beautiful.”
The man nodded, then appeared to lose interest in her. Kiran decided it was time to get a move on.
“So, where are you going?” the man asked, looking at nothing in particular.
He lifted his head. “Your hike. How long is it?”
Kiran wasn’t sure how much she wanted to tell him. “I’ve got a long way to go yet. I’m…meeting up with some friends a few miles down.” She pointed toward a dense clump of trees in the distance.
The old man smiled knowingly. “Of course. You must be eager to see them.”
Kiran scratched at her arm. “Yes. I am. They should be here in a few hours.”
The man nodded and closed his eyes. “A pity. So focused on the destination that the journey is lost on you.”
She blinked. “Excuse me?”
“All you see is the surface. Trees. Rocks. Mountains. It’s just a background to you, something to look at on the way to an endpoint. You don’t see it for what it is. Don’t appreciate it for its own sake.
You’re going to see your friends soon. Or perhaps you’re not. Perhaps you’ll continue on alone until you reach the next town. Check into a hotel. Sit down in a cozy room, all of this but a memory. An item to check off a list.”
He looked back at her, his eyes so blue and so serene, making his haggard face look decades younger.
“I wish you well. Maybe one day you will see what I see. A glorious kingdom that exists everywhere but belongs nowhere.”
There was a rustling noise as a flock of birds took to the air, flying in unison. Kiran’s eyes darted upward. When she looked back at the rock, it was empty. There was no trace of the strange disheveled man.
For a few moments, Kiran stood there in awe. Then, she slowly walked over to the rock and climbed onto it. She slipped off her backpack and put it down on the grass. She noticed, almost for the first time, just how vibrant all the colors around her seemed. There was no real hurry, she supposed, to get to the next town. Maybe she could afford to spend a little time to just sit there and soak everything in.
To bask in the beauty of the world that existed all around her, but belonged nowhere.