I’ve travelled the world for many years, meeting strangers along the way that ask to join me. They don’t stick around for long, but we’ve gone on fantastic journeys together. I’ve crossed mountains topped with fresh white snow, and carved through grassy, rolling hills with everyone from lovers to thieves. I take in every story they tell me, committing it to memory as if it were my own. If it weren’t for them, perhaps I would not continue to trek from horizon to horizon. My destination is never as interesting as the people I’ve met.
A while back, a woman sat with me, cradling a newborn baby tightly in her arms. She was nearly out of breath when she found me. She kept quiet most of the journey, looking about her cautiously. She drew into herself as if at any moment something would leap out at her and her son. When she thought someone was looking, she would draw her long chestnut hair over her skin like a curtain, hiding the purple and black blossoms that detailed her skin.
On a few occasions, though, I heard her sing lullabies to her restless son. The guarded strain of her face fell away, weaving notes together that were full of only love. Her voice was as delicate as a butterfly’s wings. I strained to hear it over the steady rumbling of our travel, but her emotion was enough to shake me at my core.
She left without ever looking back.
A young man also made his way to me, eyes brighter than the stars. He knew exactly where he wanted to go. He carried around a bundled stack of letters, taking them out when everyone else had fallen asleep and mumbling their words like a prayer under the glow of the moon. So entranced with love, the fields of flowers that we passed were duller than ash to him. Roses could not hold up to the flush of her cheeks or the softness of her lips. Soon before long, I knew her name as well as he.
After ten years of waiting to return home, I did not expect him to be the most willing to wait. He told jokes and laughed with the others, coaxing a smile out of the baby and loosening the tautness of the mother’s frame. He was like a fire that ceased to extinguish, ready to engulf everyone in his light.
“We’ll be there soon.” He repeated until everyone else was convinced all it would take was a blink. Soon enough, he was chasing after Caroline.
My favorite of all the travelers I’ve come across though was an orphaned boy. He crept up to me, covered in dirt. He had no money to give, but a heart that outweighed all of the gold he could offer. Unlike the runaway mother, who wished to be anywhere but home, or the lovesick man who wished to return home, the boy just wanted to be.
At the time, we were in the midst of an unforgiving winter. Though I could not provide him much, I kept him warmer than he would’ve been on the streets. He never asked anything of me but shelter and I gave it to him. It was all I could spare, but he continued to hold his chin up.
He never accepted that the world was unforgiving, even after it abused him. He had faith that things could turn around. He believed, just as the other two, that the capacity of love made every hurdle and misgiving in life manageable.
He left before the ice could melt. The shame of stowing away sickened him like a poison. The lingering threat of being cast out sent more chills down his back than the blistering cold. He would leave before anyone could make him.
I wish he hadn’t gone so soon.
I’ve always been limited in what I could do for others. I can guide them to where they want to go, but I am bound to a specific path. I cannot alter course on my own whim. I cannot check up on the friends I’ve made. My journeys are fantastic, but fleeting. My memories of them are only a minute glimpse of their lives. They sometimes come back, but otherwise I am left in the dark.
What happened to the mother and her son? Do her faded bruises still haunt her? Does she choke up whenever her child asks where his father is? I could imagine her happier than she ever was in my care, but it would be just a fantasy. Reality is something I can’t see past my confines.
And of the lover and his Caroline, did they find each other? After all of their waiting, were they able to reclaim the affections of the past?
Is the boy still alive?
While I’m left to wonder, more people stream in to drag me past it. I bear more tales, holding tiny, fragile pieces of a life. The more I push forward, the more I see, I wish to stop and catch my breath. For, no matter how many miles I cover or faces I see, nothing will make up for the steel heart that inhibits me from a passion like theirs.