"The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder - waif, a nothing, a no man."
- Thomas Carlyle
He was a wanderer. He was a dreamer. Listless, in some sense frail of soul and uncertain of spirit, a poet cast away on the seas. Driven by waves and wind, his vistas ever-changing, he moved through the world waiting for the seventh wave, the one that would take him finally to land.
The sky was clearing now, the last drops of rain moving into the East, leaving behind the smell of damp earth and ozone. In the distance, a last rumble of thunder echoed from the hills and died away. He walked on, moving in the same familiar rhythm. Thump, thud, thump...
Lights ahead. He paused, shifted his load, stood. Dare he?
In the puddle at his feet, a reflection. He saw in his own face the memory of his travels, recalled every step, every conversation, everyone who called him, everything that drove him. He could see his beginning, but could not see his end. He looked up, walked. It was what he did.
It was a small town. They always were. Here a bank, there a fast food "restaurant". Here, some benches, Everywhere was rush, even on the edge of the town. He sat, stretched. The roof tiles glowed in the last of the light. He lifted his face to greet the last warmth, enjoyed the salmon-coloured sky spreading to the West, pink and apricot, painted by a brush no mere human artist could wield. He stretched again, gathered his thoughts and looked about him.
Someone was watching him - a smartly-dressed man, leaning against the wall close to the doorway of a bar across the street. He looked comfortable, so maybe he'd been watching for a while. The walking man had ignored him at first, thinking him just another denizen of this spick-and-span town, in his city suit and shiny shoes. Now their eyes met. City man started to move, hesitated. The walking man just sat, eased his feet in his boots.
"Hey, how are you doing there?" city man called.
"I'm fine, just resting." The walking man smiled, pointed to his feet, his mud-spattered boots.
City man crossed the road. "Have you been hiking?" He stood tall, but the walking man could see his bowed shoulders, the tired eyes, his body language rebelling against his slick wardrobe and slightly superior manner.
"Sure, for a while now. Here, sit down." He moved his pack between his feet, brushed the seat, smiled. "Just watching the sunset."
The man looked up. It was something he was clearly not accustomed to. "It's beautiful." He relaxed for a moment, but stopped short of a smile.
"Do you fancy a drink?" He indicated the bar across the street.
The walking man shook his head. "No thanks, I'm just resting a while and enjoying the air."
"So where are you going?"
The walking man nodded up toward the sunset. "There." There was a smile in his voice, his eyes shone and his face crinkled with it.
"What's there, that's so important?"
"Ah, the future, more places, more people."
The city man thought for a moment, sat down. "So what is it you do?"
"Oh, I walk. I meet people, enjoy life."
"That's your life? You don't have a job?" There was a degree of shock in his voice. "Life is here, in the cities, that's where the good jobs are." He indicated the town around him with a sweep of his arm, and laughed.
The walking man made a moue. He'd heard this tale before. "Bright lights and fast cars, money and fancy bars?" He paused, and the shadow of a frown flit across his features. "Been there".
"Oh, what happened, you lose your job?"
"No, I realised I'd lost my life in the city lights, let them blind me to the real world. I discovered that things were changing me, eroding me." He fell quiet, and the city man nodded and relaxed a little.
Together they listened to the sunset. Finally the city man stirred and blinked, as though returning from a trance. He looked into the walking man's eyes. "It's been nice meeting you, but right now, I need a drink." He smiled and offered his hand.
The walking man shook it, noticed at the same moment the softness of the skin, and the hidden strength within. "Take care."
"Thank you. I mean that."
The man smiled and walked across the street, and the walking man could not help but realise that, as the city man passed the doorway of the bar, his head was held higher.
Hope, there was always hope, even for the prisoner. He stood up and he walked off. It was what he did.
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