It has been as enlightening an occasion as I can recall; the acquaintance of an odd fellow who accompanied me last night during the loneliest piece of my evening walk. A stretch where trees on one side lean and lock branches with the opposing side to form a dark and hollow tunnel; a blackness so complete the dirt path disappears beneath the feet of those who tread there. The reputation of such a treacherous and loathsome section of road has in my opinion become greatly exaggerated, but certainly the man who claims not to have overheard villagers swapping stories would be either half-deaf or teetering on the edge of oblivion. I suspect, as in all burgs, it is no coincidence that as the ale flows freely so do the lips of men. If there is one word describing what can be seen and touched, then man will craft ten for the intangible; neither good nor bad, it is his nature and he cannot escape it. With sufficiently diluted minds they gather outside taverns in the wee hours of morn, arms stretched overhead casting eerie shadows, patiently waiting a turn to express an interpretation of what transpires in the tunnel. A pauper’s therapy more or less, where each delights in how it might feel to wield control over a slice of life when he is told from a cradle such hope is nonexistent for their kind. For generations I suppose there is no consideration given to time outside work and how unknowingly they’ve handed that slice over to spirits in tall glasses. Before I digress completely, suffice it to say one grizzly rendition feeds another until the rising of the sun gathers them home. Perhaps it also bears mention there were no spirits involved in the meeting of this odd fellow a few nights earlier.
He appeared from nowhere or perhaps from everywhere at once, an apparition gathered from unruly parts of a wayward wind or fashioned from the slimmest splinters of time. I supposed the later, as closer inspection revealed a striking resemblance to a better version of me; his face ironed free of wrinkles, belly still flush with his chest, and a good measure of freedom remaining in his gait. Neither of us acknowledged the other, yet his steps found synch with mine, like two soldiers marching into battle, minds filled with certain dread, the details of which too morbid to speak. As any good townsman or merchant will attest, I am not often given to the kind of foolishness that allows for speaking the mind of another, but I believe on both parts this meeting carried an air of duty rather than preference for good fun.
Leaving the light of day behind instantly he lost sight of me and I of him, only plodding steps and beating hearts indicated the presence of another. Having shared nary a word between us none was designated to assign a pace and each struggled for control. Void of words, expression, or body language, I recall an overwhelming air of aggression bellowing from the young man. The lack of elegance and grace shall keep me from describing it as dance, as the man gripped my arm in such a manner as to issue a challenge, like one young boy coerces another to wrestle. I never understood completely, or even partially, this primordial urge to establish dominance over another, but if the man expected his work easy, I supposed it was my duty he should meet with disappointment. I meant for him to understand that not being given to such inclinations is an entirely different matter than being found incapable.
Determining the source of such vile anger for a complete stranger was as complex equation as I have set about solving, but lost all pertinence when he struck the first blow, catching me squarely in the forehead and bridge of the nose. Devoid of daylight I could not confirm the onset of double-vision, but felt reasonably sure good sense and manners were left behind to bake in the sun. His father failed to instill in him the philosophy that a measure of respect was due even a stranger. If barbarism and thuggery were his primary means of communication I intended to speak to him clearly, extracting respect where it had not been offered. Consumed with a rush of adrenaline I unleashed a flurry of blows I supposed would break the young man of his habit.
As it were, this stranger was skilled in the art of brawling, as if such things could be carefully and meticulously sewn into the fabric of one’s being. His treacherous tactics drained from me every ounce of courage and strength I summoned from reserve. We clutched and struck at the other for what seemed like hours, each grabbing a handful of conscience yet finding it impossible to even bend the opposition’s resolve. I suppose we covered each square inch of the tunnel three times over before emerging on the far side still locked in battle. A sliver of remaining daylight exposed each to be crippled, bruised, and bloody; a matched set of fiery eyes mere inches apart. Deep within his I discovered a great many things, but suppose he found in mine something so terrible and disturbing that he feared facing it would destroy him completely. He leapt from me and dissolved as quickly and eerily as he appeared.
Sound sleep has eluded me three nights running and I can assume a handful more as I recall subtle details of my encounter with this strange and odd fellow. There lies a connecting point between us, where past and present collide; he is most assuredly me as my former self who came looking for what became of him. Deep into the predawn hours between shots of brandy, small revelations befall me. In this slightly altered state his jealous and aggressive nature seems quite understandable. I had known him forever; his conscience transparent as a pane of glass. How reckless and random were his thoughts and actions, but all the while understanding the intricacies of every circumstance that transformed something wild and uninhibited into a universally acceptable gentleman. From his perspective he saw absolutely nothing at all he recognized as himself. How completely and utterly disheartening it must be to feel you’ve been erased completely from existence.
I search for him now and again on my evening walks, folded between the bark and meat of a tree that lines the side of the road, hopping from one cloud to another, or even a hint of his scent on a warm summer breeze, but I suppose there is no compulsion for him to visit again. I believe he was genuinely and completely crushed in the ‘me’ he found. Never would I ask him to bear that level of disappointment again. Someday, if the winds are perfectly aligned to coincide with the passing of time as it synchronously moves forward for some and backward for others, should we meet again, I would wish him to know one thing—despite what I allow the world as a whole to see, there is much more of him lingering than is apparent from the surface.