We started out on parallel paths, me a few steps behind you.
The terrain was rocky, but quite charming. And we had each other for encouragement, you to reassure me that the path continued on, me to remind you to keep going forward. Even as the paths began to diverge, we were still within view, still close enough to shout across, still feeling the comfort of a shared experience.
Then one day, my path turned sharply to the left, and as I looked across the growing distance, I could see that yours had veered to the right. You were a speck in my periphery, only just barely visible, waving a cheery goodbye and wishing me the best on my now separate journey. You didn’t understand why I would turn left, while I could clearly see why you would want to turn right. It looked like a beautiful place to walk. But the space between our paths was now so wide, and the rough ground in between so impassable, that to take a different route I would have to go back to the beginning. And I wasn’t sure the path would still remain when I got there. So I continued on, now alone.
It wasn’t the most calm of journeys. The storms were frequent and violent now; the worst of our shared travels had been looming clouds that never quite seemed to burst. And in the stillness of the aftermath, the pleasant scent of freshly fallen rain, I felt relieved, but never unguarded. The sun would soon be out again, but it would never be something that I could count on. Far at the edge of my field of vision, where you had turned, the sun always seemed to be shining. I could see it more clearly than I should have been able to, from so far away. A rustic paradise of sorts; green fields and lush forests, wild creatures who politely kept their distance, simple and traditional. Many travellers had taken the path before you, it was well-worn and safe to walk. There was no danger of having to turn back, and when you reached the end, many would be there to welcome and congratulate you.
My path was not without its beauty as well, though beauty of a different sort. It led me through a city of glass and concrete mixed with nature, modern, sometimes isolating. The path itself was faint and had many twists and forks, and places where the faded footprints of the occasional travellers crossed each other and mingled and turned in every direction, as if they couldn’t decide which way was the right way to go. I followed it as best as I could, sometimes stepping backwards when an obstacle obscured the route I’d chosen. I heard news of your journey, moving more quickly and smoothly than you’d expected. The weather remained temperate and you wondered whether the rain would ever come. I responded in kind, telling you about the brief moments of happiness among the struggle.
They were there, and they were real, those brief moments. And so I kept going.
Beneath my feet the path grew fainter still, though I was unable to take notice; I was tired and drained and it was hardly surprising that it grew more and more difficult to find my way. And then the day came where there was no longer a path to follow. It had happened so slowly, so subtly, that I didn’t even know when it had disappeared. I looked behind me, but there was no clear place to turn back, no hint of the right direction.
I kept walking. There was nothing else to do.
I knew that you must be doing well on your journey, perhaps by now had arrived at your destination. Even as I wandered through the narrow roads, between the buildings that I had once thought beautiful and tall and majestic, that now quietly loomed over me like spectres of my poor decisions, I was certain that you still spared a thought for me every now and then. That you’d like to hear from me. That you’d like to tell me how happy you were.
I had stopped looking for footsteps, let go of any efforts to find my path again. Every now and then, I looked for a way out of this place, but the streets and alleys all turned inward. I could hear other travellers, faintly, but never encountered one, and never could be quite sure that they were really there. The skies were dark, but the storms no longer came. All was soft and still. And then, a turn I had never taken before, the smallest pinpoint of light in the distance. No footsteps to guide me, but that no longer mattered. I followed the new route, and it led me out of the ruins of the city that had once seemed a wonderfully impossible challenge. Out of civilization, as it were, and into sunlight and emptiness.
I looked around me. No trace of my path, as expected, and now the city seemed a faint shadow behind me. Perhaps it had never really existed. But I could see the place that you had walked towards. It was not my path to follow, but perhaps you’d take me in, do whatever you could for me, and point me in a new direction of my own. You’d tell me all about your journey, and ask me about mine. It would be just as if we were once again travelling together.
Long ago I’d turned left where I should have turned right, and now it was better to be lost than to be found.
I waved at the place where you had once disappeared, spoke words of well-wishes that you would never hear, turned away and walked off into the distance.