The path-walker

30 June 2000 | Fiction, Prose

A short story from Sisustus (‘Interior decoration’, Tammi, 2000)

I do not know where I came from. Suddenly, I was just there. I stood on my feet. They support me. I look out of my eyes. I do not see them.

Sounds arrive in my ears. Moment by moment, I distinguish them better. I see the landscape through which I am walking. I distinguish the trees from each other. The path runs between them, and I stare at them, as if staring into a twilight that, when you look more closely, splits into trees, bushes, birds. I feel the roots through the soles of my shoes. I feel the softness of the moss, the pine-cones and the little stones.

Some people walk along a road, trudge across fields or splash about in water. Others sit where they are and stare, and others again run, child-shaped, through the bushes. Each of us has our fate, even if we do not know it.

I could have been born to sit behind a desk, to gaze at the room that opens out before me or wait for someone. Forever, and nothing else. I could have been born to run round a race-track or to sleep all my life. But it is my lot to walk along a path. Perhaps you will sometimes have seen people like me: I am a path-walker.

The path begins to rise, and I rise with it. On top of the hill we stop, but only for a moment. We circle a large stone and descend toward a stream which flows through the leafy forest.

I have never drunk water. There are people who empty their bowels and people who eat. I do not empty my bowels or eat. At least, not so far.

It is permissible to know about things. It is as permissible as seeing and hearing sounds. With the help of my eyes, I observe human destinies. Sometimes I even hear them. Everything that is possible is permissible.

I am not permitted to see beyond the heavens or to hear sounds which cannot be heard. That is not possible. When I am in a good mood, it is not possible to be in a bad one. That is not permissible, then. But in a moment it may certainly be. Things like this do not depend on me.

I pass three berry-pickers, crouching in the undergrowth, close to one another. I do not envy them. Their stooped figures appear beside a tussock. They are born there and, having picked for their allotted time, they die. That is their destiny. It is no worse that other people’s.

I am hardly a kilometre old, but I already know all sorts of things. Knowledge slithers in through my eyes like a snake. I know that I am unable to run. If I raise my leg too high, I strike my thigh against something impenetrable. It does not hurt. It is like a boulder against which I may one day rest when no one is looking. I say this because my destiny is different. I do not wish to be considered a rester-on-a-boulder.

Perhaps I could run with low steps – but the thought makes me feel ill. I am a path-walker. Nothing else.

Singing, on the other hand, turns out well. I sing when a song comes into my mouth. It is the most extraordinary of things. Song wells up in my throat and moves me so that the tears flow from my eyes. I sing of joy and sorrow. I cannot do anything about them.

There are oncomers in the world, but their lives are short. Shorter than anyone else’s. If I encounter them on a bend in the path where the forest is dense, they may live for a second or two. In open spaces, they live longer. In spite of this, some of the oncomers look happy, as if the sorrows of the world did not concern them at all for the brief moment of their lives. Others look more sombre.

Some of those who run are reborn. They may run past me two or three times, as if mocking fate. From them I have understood that some paths run in circles.

Perhaps, then, there is a life after destiny. It might be possible for me, too, if I did not walk so straight. But one day the lumberjacks will come – I have heard the buzz of the saw and seen trees falling – the forestry-vehicle drivers will arrive and fell the forest. Then even those who walk in circles will lose their way. But before it happens, I shall already have reached the edge of the forest.

Of the hunters I meet, some are in firing position. Some wander around, a rifle on their shoulder. Others form chains with yet others. They succumb to invisibility once they are lost to my view. I have no acquaintances, but I almost greeted one of the circle-walkers when he had run past me for the third time. I imagined how it would feel to walk with him.

Those who live with someone else live with someone else. Those who live with one person today and another tomorrow live with one person today and another tomorrow. If a path runs past a house, it is possible to stop and look in through the window. It is permissible to knock on the door and, if you do not feel a compelling need to continue your journey, you can drink a cup of coffee.

There is not the shadow of a doubt that some path-walkers become coffee-drinkers. I too could change from a walker to a liver-within-four-walls, if it were my destiny. Anything is possible. Absolutely anything at all is possible.

I already know that you cannot take the same step twice. I have tried to walk backwards, but then I feel a wall behind my back. This could be called freedom. I am permitted to go forward because I cannot go back. And I never feel lazy. Existence is going forwards.

People sit in front of the TV because they sit in front of the TV. How do I know? Have I ever been anything but a path-walker? I know things that astonish me. I have fantasies about other kinds of destiny. They do not affect my lot this way or that.

As the path turns, I turn to follow it. Perceiving other people’s realities is not easy. When the path runs close to a road, I see someone sitting in a car. In his opinion, he is a wheel-turner or a traveller-toward-his-destination. Perhaps we are both right. We have a tendency to be. What we see we believe to be true, and what we don’t does not exist.

If I knew the names of all the plants in this forest, the structure and characteristics of the soil, if I understood the significance of every leaf-vein and the families and classes of insect, I would not be in the least surprised. It would be as natural as breathing. If the forest were congruent with my mind, I would understand what I see and hear merely by inspecting my mind. Then I would no longer have reason to fear the edge of the forest. Then nothing would change even when my breathing stops. My breathing would merely stop.

But toward me come insects whose names I do not know and events whose character I do not understand. Illogicalities trouble me as I walk along the path. I cannot step off it or suddenly follow some completely different road. It is logical, but the world does not act as I do, and that makes me sad. And when I remember it, I close my eyes and imagine I am walking on a cloud. Fantasies are true. They lighten your mood.

I also have memories. What happens to them when I reach the edge of the forest is sad. For their sake, I dig my heels into the earth and I leave two deep grooves behind me as the wall pushes my body forward. Because of my memory, I have something to lose.

But I am young. I have only been walking for a day.

In the dark, the paths disappear. So do I. I cannot see the path and do not know where I am, unless the night is light. I cannot believe that one night I may have to walk in pitch darkness, seeking the direction of my destiny like the unborn, who pushes through darkness. But if the world is open, my direction is right.

When I turn, there is no one behind me. I feel the forward-moving stone against my cheek. If I were to resist, I would be smashed under it or be hurled across the paths without a single step. That is why I have decided to walk myself. It shows dignity.

At crossroads, I can choose a path from among others running in the same direction, although I do not know where they lead. If I knew, it would perhaps not be possible to speak of freedom. In that case, my life would be as complete as that of a person who is born motionless in the middle of a clearing where nothing ever happens.

Translated by Hildi Hawkins


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