What dunes are there that stand silent for centuries? Do the desert winds not take and remake them; in a chaos perfectly ordered down to the tiniest grain conscripted by the breeze? Yes, it is so to the man with the eyes to see it. Yet these eyes cannot themselves look outward, but are rolled behind into the skull, that the desert within is watched in ways the desert without cannot be. All of this he knew, but his own name still escaped him.
The path was long and winding, the sand packed down by proximity to the river, where he’d guessed the ghosts of an age long past had traveled to and fro. He dared not touch the water, for it reflected the sunless star-filled sky the entire two weeks he was present here, though it was much more than just a reflection. The waters seemed a sky unto themselves, their own stars and constellations opposite those of the sky above him, which shone silvery light onto the windless dunes remade only by his footsteps.
He had no reflection to gaze upon, but he remembered what he looked like. His hair was still a graying black, his eyes were still a piercing blue, though both had a purplish hue absent from where he had last come from. He was clothed in austere tan robes, rough yet rugged, which wrapped around his sharp pointed jaw. He almost looked like… an Arab. What is an Arab? What was an Arab? The tense change was a terse reminder of his absence of orientation.
His sandals kept his feet from sinking into the sand, though he’d long forgotten the coarseness of the grains. Even mythical deserts are disappointingly dreary. Not a soul was present, at least none that he’d seen since he’d awoken here. He dreamed of places away from here, of forgotten forests, of long-lost lakes, of missing mountains. Home. Heimat. Where the waters were clearer than a mystics mind and the snow purer than the spirit of a stillborn babe. Forests, Lakes, Mountains, Home, Waters, Snow, what were these things? Why had he lost them?
He rounded a curve in the road where the river winded to his left. A patch of palm trees stood above a tiny pool just beside the bank. There was a hooded man there, washing his feet in the water. He too was robed, though his were a distant dark brown beyond what these lands seemed to supply. He turned up his hooded head but did not move. The nameless man was intrigued, though not excited. Excitement seemed impossible in a land such as this. He continued his pace, and resolved to rest with the man.
The nameless man sat on a rock with a flat surface, and took off his sandals to wash his feet in the pool. The hooded man gazed up at the nameless man, and took off his hood. He was bald as the Matterhorn, his features forced into an elderly frown that seemed neither disapproving nor disgusted. Some things frown as a part of their being; it only matters if they’re frowning within.
“I’ve been waiting for you.” The bald frowning man said to the nameless man. The nameless man looked down at his feet, soaking in the starry waters of the pool.
“I think I know you have.” He said, though he knew not why he believed such a thing. The bald man nodded.
“You followed in my footsteps. You saw things I was not fated to see. Yet you died a young death, not so much like me.” The rhyme seemed intentional, and the bald man cracked an uncharacteristic grin. The nameless man did not smile yet he found humor in the verse.
“What made me worth waiting for?” The nameless man asked, looking into the bald man’s eyes. They seemed bright yet it was unlike the stars surrounding them above and below. His were a brightness of fire.
“Because we were two of one kind, though you do not exist outside of me. Yet I do not exist outside of another, who I met. He did not exist outside of a third, and so on and so forth. We have played this plenty of times. I have greeted you in different guises, in different ages and times, before this was a desert and before the stars within it were white from the fiery fury in my eyes.” The Bald man said, and the nameless man felt it was true.
“Then my name matters not, as it was never mine.” He said, and the bald man nodded.
“Yet it is a part of the ritual, the passing of the torch if you will. Where you remember yourself and sit where I sit, so I can continue on my journey. You will wait for he who followed you. You will not tire of waiting. I did not, this rest is a blessed part of the journey. A respite we never received before we came here.” The bald man said, and the nameless man stroked his pointy chin.
“Did we not believe the path branched out in infinite directions?” The nameless man asked. The bald man nodded.
“Only because we forgot the inferiority of infinity and its infeasibility. All is one my friend, though the one invents itself and is indefinable. Do you understand?” The bald man asked, his sage voice strangely soothing as it sourced from his sour visage.
“Hamlet.” Was all the nameless man said. The bald man nodded and smiled.
“Yes. He who writes his own play into existence. And by virtue of that position, wrote all dramas before and after. Hamlet was the one we read, though he’s come into being in different guises; his flesh made of more than paper, his blood made of more than ink.” The bald man placed his arms on his knees, massaging them like they were tired.
“I’m remembering, at least I think. I know it’s not yet mine to have, not all of it. Though we played a role, right? We did what we were supposed to, played our parts?” The nameless man asked, though anxiety was absent his voice.
“Yes we did, Francis. Our time here has passed. You remember me, yes? Though we never met in flesh and blood, few knew me as you did. I was greatly pleased when you finished it, like you were a son I wished I’d had.” The bald man said, the warmth of his smile overtaking the fire in his eyes, and a radiant glow enveloped the now named man, untinged by the darkness it had in his life.
“Yes, I do. Oswald. You were the last I thought of before I betrayed myself. I see, at least what I think I’m supposed to. I’m sorry I didn’t do more.” Francis said, rising from his seat as Oswald did the same opposite him.
“You have nothing to be penitent for, you played your part as I did mine. Another will meet you, who you will know as I have known you. We will meet again, as we have countless times before.” Oswald walked over and embraced his student, and the warmth enveloped them both.
And so sat Francis where Oswald had before, as the bald man resumed his journey. It wasn’t long until he had left Francis’ sight and his eyes once again turned inward, that the desert within was kept at bay.