He was a decrepit figure; heat-crazed, parched, entranced in his thirst induced mania.

As he dragged himself onward, he left the imprint of a sagging spirit in his wake, the result of a suppurating left foot, too wasted for half measures. He had screwed his eyes into slits, to protect them against the intolerable glare. The most powerful glue in the universe—human will—held his dehydrated, emancipated body together. Three days and a lifetime ago, when he had finished the last of his food and emptied his water bottle, he had decided that he would not die.

And he hadn’t. It was as simple as that.

The dunes stretched endlessly all round him. He didn’t look up but dragged on, head bent to his chest. With his desperate and abnormal focus, he gave new meaning to ‘putting one foot in front of the other’. He wasn’t ready to give up his life yet. He shuffled along like a man possessed. His fanaticism for pushing on might have given the most rabid fundamentalist a few pointers.

He knew of no religion save one—that his life was precious. To give it up without a fight was intolerable. The fight in him was a testimony to his courage. It would be easier to give up when every bit of him demanded that he do so. All he had to do is lie down and die. There was no point prolonging his torture. The ultimate outcome of this fight was already decided. He just had to accept it the inevitable defeat.

No! he screamed to silence the insidious voices inside him, urging him to give up, making a virtue of it. No, he told those voices. No! I’m not done yet, dammit!

A precipitously tough life hadn’t tamed him—or to teach him how to give up. He dragged on, eyes screwed up, head bowed, limping painfully, knowing the only sin was to give in to the silky voice in head coaxing him to rest awhile. He would never get up if he sat down now. It was as certain as the ache in his bones.

He walked on.

It was instinct that threw his head up with a jerk. With as violent a movement, he lowered his head again. He had to escape the lie his eyes had painted in front of his eyes. He walked on, his eyes closed.

That’s a mirage, you fool! Your trials aren’t over yet. Walk on!! His cracked lips moved to mutter those words to unwilling ears.

Surreptitiously, he stole a glance, hoping against hope. Once again, his eyes scurried away in panic. The lie was still there—in glorious colour. He began to pray.

Fifty steps, fifty steps and then I’ll look again! He bargained with his panic. His terror whispered in his ear, mocking. Fifty steps, he told himself firmly. Surely, I can wait fifty steps. He began counting.

On the count of thirty-two, he heard the shrill cry of a raven. He sounded petulant, that raven, as if his favorite food had escaped and he had to make do with something below standard. The man lowered his head further and started counting aloud.

The raven cried again. The man was shouting now. He didn’t know he had begun to run. At fifty, he stood still as if he had taken root. He dared not lift his head… it mattered too much to him. For almost half an hour, the wasted man stood still, the sun beating mercilessly down on him. His sweat dried, adding to the countless white patches down his back. His legs stopped trembling. He sank down, unable to bear the burden any longer. He curled into a fetal position, his head buried between his arms, covering his eyes, ears and face.

Even in this moment of absolute irrationality, a luminously rational thought struck him.

“Isn’t it strange that while adversity only strengthened his resolve, the first possibility of a respite so weakens him?” he thought.

The question kept playing in his head over and over, keeping him so engrossed that he didn’t realize it was of himself he spoke. He was the detached observer, not the actor.

After an age, so it seemed to him, he moved one of his arms. Though he kept his eyes closed, his face was now uncovered. He felt the hot air rise off the sand and sear his already raw nostrils some more. His lungs, already on fire, burned a little more. He still didn’t dare to look. Strangely, he slept. The sand blew over him, covering him like a soft blanket.

An hour later, he opened his eyes. He felt stoic, almost indifferent. There was no thought of hope or giving up. He didn’t think what he would do if his glance confirmed the oasis. Equally, he didn’t think how he would get up to walk again if the vision turned out to be another mirage. He felt numb.

His eyes opened slowly. He focused them on the sand under his face, buying himself a few more minutes of delusion. When he couldn’t escape it anymore, he raised his glance and stared ahead. The vision was the truth. The oasis was barely ten paces away. There were houses there and trees. He saw a man leading a few goats.

He pinched himself. His brain had to accept the truth, there was no escape from it. From under his numbness came a feeling of such raw intensity, such fierce pride, that it threw him up into a sitting posture. The predominant emotion in him was not of relief, but of pride in his victory. It was the moment of the greatest joy a human being can experience.

I did not give up! Neither adversity nor has pain stopped me! I am the master of my life! I won!!

Having experienced that moment of incomparable, uncontainable joy and pride, of the ultimate freedom, his spirit flew away.

Its journey was complete, its purpose realized.


Re-posted. Originally posted in Nov 2011 at SerenelyRapt