THE BEGINNING is the end.
Dawn is just about to break, I awaken from a deep sleep. The sleep was dark, I dreamt of demons and devils running after me. My life is at its lowest ebb. I am unhappy.
Tired I rise to my feet, slowly limp out of my hut, into the little dirt track dragging its way across the outer hamlets far away from the nearest, secluded, village. Dim twilight prevails. My head hangs and the story of my life briefly replays itself in my memory.
I remember the child, carefree, sanguine. The happy family that was its home, the humble abode that housed their love. The carefreeness.
I remember standing up like an impatient tree into manhood, searching for the sun, but my crown got lost in the dizzying clouds, pregnant with temptation. Then came the fall.
It was not the bacteria that killed my wife, it was the aching heart that closed its eyes to me, full of regret and disappointment. It was not the whispers of untrue friends that led my children astray, but the missing guidance of a self-absorbed father. It was not my friends who abandoned me, but I who abandoned what I could have been. Even my foes deserted me, they have nothing left to shame. Twenty years later, I emerge, destitute, beggar, soulless, lifeless, into the cool dark morning before the sun…
Dawn is for new beginnings. The hour before dawn shall be my coronation. Death. And should dawn come before, then let me start anew on the other side. These are my thoughts this morning, dark fruits of that dream. For once in your life be a man, and put an end to it.
Wearily I return into the hut. For some reason I wait until I smell it. Then I re-emerge into the slow brightening twilight of fore-dawn, a dagger in my hand. Why exactly have I come out into the open to do it? I do not know. Maybe simply because I want to die facing the sky, the big all-seeing eye.
Poised and ready, one last time scenes from my life rush like a highspeed freight-train across the charred landscape of my memory, then I raise my blade, firm, gripping with both hands… point it towards my innards… I close my eyes.
No last prayer awakens in my soul. No final thought. No closure. All I want is the deep dark plunge, the sharp pain, the flowing warmth of exit, the blurred eternity of death.
That moment when you are about to say goodbye to a familiar place, when you stand on the hilltop like Lot’s wife, knowing you should hurry on, don’t look back, yet unable to resist the last goodbye. It is the moment of betrayal that brings about the reversal of fortune. How long did I perch on the brink of that moment, looking at the end of my life?
Everything drew itself into one spot, like a raincloud, and suddenly it was time. I bend my knees, steel myself for the hard, fast plunge into the lightless waterfall. Did I breathe in or out? …
Dimly, as though from far away, I hear footsteps.
Footsteps? I have never heard footsteps down in these deserted outlands, at such an early hour, before. Am I sure? Have I heard right? I wish to set off on my journey into solitude… in solitude.
I listen. For a long time I hear nothing. My resolve is not brittle, it turns around again and refocuses on its way. But, softly, I hear them again – slightly louder. Footsteps. Yes. Frozen like a statue, I manage to blink a few moments later when he appears… an old man with a walking rod, his head completely bald. I recognise him. It is the hermit.
My knees are still bent, the cold steel still points to me, the sacrifice, when he reaches me. He stops. He looks at me in the grey twilight. I see a look of surprise grow on his face.
“Son?…” he asks, starled. “What are you doing?”
I look into his eyes. Within me something akin to emotion refuses to stir. Serenely I say:
“I am about to kill myself, oh hermit…”
“To kill yourself?” I hear the surprise also in his voice. “But why”
Serenely still, I reply:
“My life is empty, meaningless. I have lost it all, wife, family, everything. Friends, money, life’s work. With them went my will to work too. Now I too must depart.”
It is an odd feeling to speak into eyes that steadily grow softer the harder your words become. It is quite distracting, because you begin to wonder why.
“My son, are you satisfied with this decision?”
“Indeed, oh hermit, I am.”
He smiled, as though he were the keeper of a secret.
“But child – “
“You have lived twice the length of my life, it is true, yet call me not child, for I do know what I am doing.”
“It is not knowing what you are doing that matters, my son, but knowing why you are doing what you are doing.”
Thought is the enemy of blind resolve. Why is he talking to me? Obligating me to a logical answer. A trap. I cannot kill myself until I free myself from it. For conviction, standing on irrefutable clarity, is my justifier. This proud I am, and he knows it. I see it in his amused eyes watching mine, challenging me to convince him too. I mustn’t, I know. But it seems to me the last duty I owe a failed life. I want to die proudly. Nobody had ever asked me this question. I want to find the answer to it before I go, not for him but for me, that I may go in peace. Everybody might plain know what he is doing – but the deeper reason? Did I not know it?
I am a bit irritated by the fact that no clear-cut answer jumps out of my observant soul immediately, and that I have to think it out. It makes me a bit uneasy, such a simple statement.
My arms lower under the weight of thought, I raise them up again, reposition the blade. I wish I had not done that, for he notices everything, down to my thoughts and the movement in my heart. I can see it in his curious eyes.
“But I know very well why I am doing what I am doing, oh hermit.”
“I have already said it all to you, but I will flesh it out now, father. You see, I had a beautiful childhood, a quiet youth, the journey of manhood began well. I married a beautiful woman. I had no reason to stray from the path. But I did. In the beginning I had life, now I have lifelessness. I have heard that the beginning is the end, but not in my life. My life ends in nothing. My beloved wife is dead, she died from the inner loneliness and pain into which I thrust her. My sons and daughters are monsters and thieves. My people have ostracized me, my friends deserted me, my wealth squandered, my fame evaporated.
“Even enemies… Hermit, do you know what it means when enemies no longer concern themselves with one? That is the ultimate mark of meaninglessness.”
“Don’t you think you can start all over again?” asks the hermit tenderly. “Start afresh? Pick up the threads? Build anew?” His tone, though tender, is conversational, as if we were talking about the weather.
I shake my head, I’m not sure if wearily or angrily.
“No, hermit, there are no threads to pick up. There is no foundation upon which to build anew. I must go. These reasons suffice.”
“Life is a gift, my friend,” says the hermit. “Measure it not according to what happens on the outside, but by the forces within your soul. And there is so much life in your soul, my son. This I see.”
His words are getting too close to home. I am trying to block them out, but it is not easy. They are penetrant, threatening to inject into me a dose of reflection. Seeds of new life, warmth, vitality. But I don’t want the pain that comes with the warmth. I don’t want the exertion that the vitality demands. I don’t want the new thoughts of reflection that a fresh lease of life would bring. I am afraid.
Afraid. Surprised I gaze at this recognition, almost amused, wondering how and why I missed that point all along. Quickly following upon the trite amusement is seriousness, as I feel my consciousness slip into the pool of fear in which my subconscious has been drowning all along. I am afraid. I had all these things before and I wandered away, into the darkness. No. Let me alone. I don’t want life that will remind me of my sins, and demand that I atone, and put me back on the crossroad where I fell before, demanding that I choose again.
Oh, no. I fear.
Leave me alone in my pitifulness and self-pity. Leave me in my dejection and self-pity. I don’t want responsibility. My inner life is weak. I don’t want to take another shot at life. I might lose again. I want to die.
Like bolts of lightning, flashes of clarity, these thoughts, these intuitive perceptions surge through me, shaking me. Goodbye and welcome. He is smiling, the hermit! I have to face him one last time.
“Let me be, Hermit,” I breathe out wearily. “I am a nobody, a nothing, life has passed me by, I am finished. Depression and despair are all I have now. The deep clear confusion of seeing no way forward. “
“If you see no way forward, then stand still… but don’t plunge into the abyss.”
I shake my head. “I am tired… of life.”
Now he shakes his head. “I would put it differently. I would say that you have merely decided that you are tired of life. Is that not so?”
For a moment our eyes remained locked on each other. Then, without warning, he turns back to the road and begins to walk away, continuing on his journey. The sun is pushing up from the valley, the hermit reaches the hill’s zenith and then quickly begins to descend. I watch him disappear, the sun appear.
Now I look down at the knife which I still hold in my hand. Curious, but I’m suddenly wandering why exactly I picked it up in the first place.
– Che Chidi Chukwumerije..