The quiet whistling threatened to bring the world around me to a bending solace, but the only thing that happened was the disapproved grunting of the girl I carried. I brought my whistle down, and let it hang on my neck as a reminder of my being. I shuffled my back and re-shifted the weight of the girl I carried. I found her huddled on the ground on the road side. She seemed to be praying to a tombstone of sorts, a small shrine erected out of the dirt and left to the elements. If I didn’t find her then, she probably would have died. Her clothes were ragged and from how shriveled she looked she was probably planning to stay by that shrine for the rest of her days. I knew she was alive from the way she moaned and moved about on my back. At least I hoped so.
The dangling of the whistle on my neck accompanied with the wind made a small clacking sound every time I stepped. It resounded in my ears something rhythmic, like the flow of my being as it went along. It made me relaxed in an otherwise completely desolate roadside, and it made my mind wander.
“Who are you?” The girl on my back had awoken. Her voice was starch, but it wasn’t bad enough that I couldn’t understand. Her hair was filled with dirt and branches when I had found her, but it was long enough to make me think that she wasn’t a low-bred. Black, just like the powder used to subjugate nations.
“You asked me who I am. That’s who I am.” I felt the girl breath softly, her body shifting forward and then back, almost as if trying to figure out how to relax. I didn’t figure that she was very old, but she also wasn’t too young to not know about placing trust in strangers. But she was high-bred, and children of that kind tend to be treated with impunity. However, she was tired, and that may have helped softened any hostility she might normally have for strange men carrying her.
“How about you? Who are you?”
“That’s who I was.” She was wide awake, and yet her voice was only a whisper. She was wistfully away from where we were, from where she belonged. That much I could tell in the way she slouched on my back, and in the way she never struggled to get away from me.
“Are you a friend of my parents?”
“Not at all. It doesn’t matter what I do, or who I am, but… I’m no one you know.”
“So why are you carrying me then?” The dirt road ahead of me was beginning to sink. The rainy season had passed, that much I knew. I shifted my weight again and began walking slightly off the road. I carried with me no other possessions than the few coins I had in my shirt.
“You seemed like you were going to die. I’m no murderer, though, I’m also not a saint.”
“How long has it been?
“It hasn’t been very long since I picked you up–”
“Since they died.” I wanted to look back, to see her eyes, to see her expression and to see what world she was seeing through her tiny eyes. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. They belonged to her, and to peer into her world would be to take everything away from her. I could only listen, and to let her live her own world. I could only stand as someone to be dragged into it, not forcefully enter, such was always the way.
“Your friend? Or your parents? The ones buried back there, right?” Although I couldn’t see or feel, I knew she nodded.
“I think I have forgotten how long it has been since they have died.”
“Surely it’s been a while. That grave is half destroyed. Only half of what it used to be.”
“But even then. I am whole. I was never around for when it happened.” Her words gave me more weight, it made her more… Human, in a sense. Innocence, and pity. Those words came to me upon hearing her talk, and those words are only ever associated with those of people. Her innocence of the world around her, and the pity I carried for her, were undeniably human. Almost as if looking at an infant, I could tell that there were things that she didn’t know, and things that she thought she did. Lightly I brought us back to the main road. The sun was hiding somewhere in the clouds and even the winds seemed to stop pervading my being. It was almost as if having her with me on this road made it a different reality, a different setting for what cannot be unchanged.
“Have you ever lost anyone in your life?”
“We all have haven’t we?”
“Do you ever wish you could find them again? The people you lost?”
“Sometimes. But, that’s the whole point isn’t it? To lose someone, and to have someone. They’re synonymous with each other.”
“The same. They’re the same.” She muffled something in her breath and laid her head lightly on my back. She lowered all her guards. She was getting comfortable, that much I could tell. But I had no time to leisure in comfort. I brought with me the best clothes I had, along with all my strength and courage before I came upon this road. The town nestled itself on many horizons behind me, and surely Marianne had figured this as well. We were walking up the road, not down. And I was selfishly bringing her with me, to indulge in something she had no business in.
“Do you wish to make me a concubine? Or sell me to work in the fields?”
“Where did you even learn that?”
“My servant told me stories before he had arrived at my home. He was the one who informed me of the world that I live in.”
“So you really were a high-bred. I had an itching feeling. Girl like you shouldn’t be out on the streets praying, no less dying.”
“And now I am a girl being carried by a strange man.”
“Stranger. Not strange man.” I almost laughed at that. A bit of levity never killed the ruler. Surely hadn’t killed me yet. I mulled over the words she had told me, of the small snippet of life she let me live in. I smiled at that thought. Of having someone work for you, of having someone talk to you about worldly things. I had to be all of that, all on my own.
“My servant told me that the world is filled with violent people. He also told me that there were people who did things for others because if they did not they would be killed. He told me that the world is a dangerous place that if I were to ever go out that people would want to take me and use me to make more money. He said that the only thing they want is to make more money. Do you want to make more money?”
“Not at all. I think your servant knows what he’s talking about, but don’t think that the entire world is like that. After all, you’re not like that right?” I felt her shake her head.
“Besides. You found your way on the road, praying to… Whoever it was you were praying to, and I found you. And I can tell you that I don’t have any desire to get more money.” I felt the coins in my shirt again. The road ahead started smoothing out which meant the end of the road. The end of the border, or the start of the border. Either way we were heading to a place where no one would know.
“I never got to go outside very much. Have you been outside a lot?”
“Can’t say I have, but I can’t really say much for everybody else. Compared to you, it might seem like a lot. But it really isn’t. Instead, I’ll say that I’ve lived my life.”
“Is this part of your life?” I noticed the road smoothing over. I could almost smell it now, the roar of the raging river that existed just below the bridge. The life that existed just beyond the reality that Marianne and I knew of.
“Maybe not so much. But, now that it’s happened, it can’t help but be a part of my life.”
“Do you like your life?” The road had finally ended, and in front of us was a wooden bridge connecting the end of this cliff to the other. I peered over with Marianne on my back and saw the rapids engulfing everything in its path. Disembodied trees and sharp rocks jutted out of the waves, proving well to intimidate all those ill of spirit. I felt Marianne grab my shoulder and vault her head over. I didn’t know what expression she was making, nor did I want to know.
“I’ve had a good run, that’s for sure. I lived my life the way I could, living modestly for the most part. You’ll never understand, but for people like me, that modesty, that’s our constitution. It lets us wake up in the morning.”
“I think… I have had a good run as well.” She slouched her head down onto my back, pushing all her weight on me, and her voice became a soft whisper. I didn’t look back, but I knew that her eyes were lying in darkness, and her body was waiting to be permeated across the arid earth. I brought her down from my back, a little way away from the entrance of the bridge, and watched as she awoken from her feigned slumber. She stared at me with a phlegmatic soul. Her entire being although high-bred now seemed much lower than even me. At least then I could relate with her more, at least than I could see where she was coming from. No matter how much she may have had in the life she once led, it all amounts to dust and charcoal once it crumbles. And it always crumbles. But to ignore what is left remaining, the dust and charcoal, is to be a fool. I smiled as I realized this. The roughness of one’s skin can only ever be hardened through repetitive trial, likewise to one’s character. And once that roughness fades, a beautiful diamond lays in wait. She may have lacked the latter, but her folly of the former was strangely alluring. Her journey, her story, is something that she will always hold as her own. It’ll be everything she has left and yet that small fragment of her life is much larger than anything she can hold. She fumbles with it, unable to grasp it with her fragile hands, just like an infant.
“Then we both agree. We’ve both had good runs. But now is not the time to revel in those times.”
“Have you not brought yourself here to end your life?” The sun that had previously been hiding somewhere behind us, poked through the clouds and slowly beamed its way to the bridge. I walked over, and nuzzled the wooden supports. The bridge swung.
“For you to have figured that out, I concede my pride.”
“My servant told me that those without reason usually go to bridges to fall off them.”
“Once again, your servant proves to be most intelligible. But sometimes that intelligence has to be altered. I’ll show you how.” I walked on the bridge, and began crossing. Once half way, I turned to Marianne, who watched in silence. I cleared my throat, and yelled over, “If you wish to understand me, why not follow me?” She tried to yell, but knew her voice could not ride along the miniscule energy her body held. I could see her expression concede to the fragility of her age as she reluctantly crossed. It was surprisingly life like, filled with worry and genuine concern over what would have happened if her body would have been swept by what lay below. I waited for her half way across, and once she arrived she said, “You do not seem very dishonest. You did not start walking once I had.”
“Surely if I did, you wouldn’t have tolerated it. But, you’re more clever than you put yourself to be. I must have confused you for a puppet the first time you spoke.” I looked down to see the raging rapids once again. Such a scene hadn’t frightened me, and without knowing I had conceded all my trust in the bridge. It’s old darkened wood seemed to want to bend with my step, but as I continued along, my steps became lighter, and the rough stringent surface of the wood prevailed.
“If you wish to understand, why not follow me?” I smiled, but she remained cold as stone. I couldn’t come to understand what was flowing through her head, and so as she disappeared into her mind, I brought the whistle on my neck to my mouth and blew. The sound of the whistle clashed with the tides below, converging into what could only be considered as a mess of melody. But I continued, and I blew, softer this time, I tried to play with the sounds surrounding us, and eventually, my whistle became like the wind. It flew from one ear to the other seamlessly and it produced a sound that threatened to bring me to solace. I smiled as I brought my whistle away from my mouth and inspected the inscriptions on the body. I was just a man and a whistle. And yet, I was only half of what I was.
“Where will you bring me?”
“Somewhere away. Away from that life that can only be described now as youthful discretion. Even for me.”
“But to leave a life behind means to die.” She was watching the rapids now.
“That is only one of many meanings. To leave a life behind can mean to be reborn, but, like I said before, I’m not a saint. So the way I’ll have to enact this rebirth, is through this bridge.” I began walking. I didn’t stop for Marianne nor did I look back to her. I kept walking until I had arrived at the end of the bridge, and once I had looked back, I saw her quietly lagging behind.
“I do not know whether you will bring me to a life better than the one I have, or have had, but I think I wish to be reborn too.”
“Well, if that’s your wish, then I guess I have no choice but to grant it. If a man and a whistle will suffice your troubles, then please indulge.” I didn’t wait for her answer, but continued walking towards the new road that sprawled itself to us. I didn’t need to look back or wait to know that Marianne was following. I brought my whistle to my mouth again, and then started once again. The song of solace.