In much the same way he did every day at this time an elderly man walked hurriedly up the narrow lane, careful not to make eye contact with anyone, cursing under his breath this fate that had befallen him, silently resentful of the passers-by who were clearly more fortunate than himself. Today was like any other day for him. The breeze felt too cold and the sky was too white and blinding. The air was uncomfortably humid and each step seemed to bring a little more discomfort than the step before it. This had been going on for many years now.
It wasn't only the walking that had become progressively more difficult but the burden of life itself seemed to compound as today's troubles were heaped upon yesterday's troubles which were piled upon the troubles from the day before that. This progression went back as far as the man could remember. Things might have been better or different at some point in time but any memory of that was long gone. Even the narrow lane he was now walking on somehow seemed steeper and more foreboding than it had in previous times though he couldn't work out in his mind how this could possibly be true. There were many things he was unable to work out in his mind.
How many years now? How many years had it been since he had made the decision to walk this particular path at the exclusion of all others? Of course the answer to this question had long since faded from his memory. It really wasn't important anyway. He told himself this frequently. It wasn't important that there may have been other less cumbersome paths that would have been more kind to him over the years. It was useless to consider that indeed there may still be other options available, even now, after all that had happened. No. The decision had been made and that was that. Or was it?
In what had lately become a very rare occurrence – so rare that he could not recall the last time it had happened - a fresh and interesting thought appeared in his mind, a mind that had been repeating the same dreary and pointless cycle of thoughts for decades, a mind unable and unwilling to escape the inertia of it’s own bleak and self-defeating momentum. This thought came to him as a result of the previous question about his decision to tread this very path that he found himself on right now. Admittedly he had never questioned this decision before and admittedly this path had robbed him of his vitality, his youth, his optimism, his compassion, and an infinite number of other precious things that were now beyond the scope of his ability to remember them. Truly, the oppressiveness and weariness of this path could never be overstated.
The thought he had was this: Had he actually made the decision to travel this route he had been traveling for all of these years? Had it been a conscious choice? In what was an equally rare occurrence the man suddenly slowed his pace as he continued to make his way up the long and winding lane. He had walked this way thousands, maybe tens of thousands of times and how seldom it was that he ever actually slowed down. It was the unpleasantness of the surroundings that usually had him moving along as quickly as he possibly could, hoping to arrive at a more agreeable destination but (now that he thought about it) never actually achieving that.
No… He was sure of it. He had never actually made the decision to travel on this unfriendly, insufferable path. The decision had somehow been made for him. Almost everyone traveled this same path, which seemed to be the only reason – as far as he could tell – that anyone traveled this path at all.
By this time the man had stopped in his tracks and was standing completely, absolutely, still. This was much more than a rare occurrence. This – in fact – was something that had never happened before in the man’s history. Suddenly his surroundings seemed alien and hostile, even more so than before, and the sky became dark. Something like fear gripped him but it was stronger than any fear he had known before. It came over him with such ferocity and quickness that the term ‘fear’ was inadequate to describe exactly what he was feeling. Maybe this was it. Maybe death was approaching. But...there was this sound, far off in the distance, very faint. It was a sound so improbable - indeed impossible - given where he was.
The strangeness of such a sound in these surroundings was enough to rid the man of the crippling fear he had experienced just seconds prior to hearing it. Surely he must be losing his mind. It was faint but he could now begin to recognize what he was hearing, such a beautiful sound that it was. Music…Mozart? Beethoven? He couldn’t tell. He had never had much skill in identifying composers. And how many years had it been since he had heard music? The real question however, was how in the world was it possible to be hearing music in this environment. It was physically impossible and he knew this.
But something about the improbability of what was occurring sparked a flood of insight and realization about many of the questions that had appeared in his mind over the past few minutes or hours – whichever the case was – he wasn’t sure now, answers about the path and his choices and his present condition and other wonderful and fascinating things that he had no context for. The sky was no longer dark and his surroundings no longer seemed hostile but rather the exact opposite. Bright white light was pervading the atmosphere at a gradually increasing rate. The trees (which usually seemed like looming, malicious beasts of prey) now seemed not only friendly and welcoming, but almost sacred. He felt as if they - along with every plant, flower, and blade of grass - were smiling warmly at him, unmistakably aware of his own presence and miraculous beyond description. And this music...this symphony of music…so strange and out of place, becoming clearer and louder and more confusing, but the concept of confusing was becoming a moot point as events continued to unfold.
The light became even brighter and the music even louder; unbearably bright, and now impossibly loud. Everything else began to recede into the background. And then…
The morning sunlight flooded into the bedroom as Ben slowly opened his eyes, grinning and quite pleased with himself for changing the dial last night on his alarm clock radio from the hard rock station to classical.