When the young man woke up he found himself back at the edge of the valley wall that he had previously tried to climb. How he had landed he was not sure, but now he found himself curled in a fetal position. Everything had seemed so real but now the memories faded like fog in a steady rain. Even the headache that had pulled him out of his dream, which had felt like a bullet shredding his brain, had receded to a dull roar. Was it of this world or the one he just exited?
As his senses joined him in in the land of the living, he became faintly aware of something dancing on his arm. The weight of it was small, but he could feel two sets of tiny claws jumping around. He lifted his head, looked at his arm, and was surprised to see a sparrow looking down at him. The sparrow lacked any sign of fear at the man’s movement; on the contrary, when it noticed the man looking back at him it pecked at his shoulder as if it wanted to play. Slowly the man turned over, and the bird followed hopping from arm to chest until it was standing on his chest. They looked at each other curiously. The sparrow hopped a couple steps until it was almost standing on the man’s throat. The man laughed as the bird hopped back to its original position on his chest.
“You’re quite the friendly bird, aren’t you?” the man asked. The bird cocked its head to the side as if analyzing the man’s words for meaning. When the sparrow seemed to comprehend the words, it fell over on the man’s chest.
He looked at the sparrow stunned. He reached out with his finger and prodded it, expecting it to wake up at any moment. The bird lay still on its side though, the only movement being the movement it made when he poked at it. Terrified by its sudden death he quickly flung it from his body and jumped to his feet brushing off his chest as if it left some visible evidence of its expiration. For a long moment all he could do was stare at the dead bird until a voice drew him out of his dark reverie.
“Nothing can live as long as it is dead in this world, son,” the old man opined. The young man had forgotten about his companion, and this sudden reminder of the old man’s presence startled him.
“What the hell just happened?” he asked.
“Death has visited you, and I daresay it’s not the first time,” the old man answered. “Nor shall it be the last, most likely.”
As was his experience prior to his ill-fated climb of the rock wall, the old man spoke in unintelligible riddles. While he previously found this talk to be extremely unhelpful, he now found it to be extremely irritating. He, however suppressed the urge to comment on his frustration. It was possible the old man was merely senile, but it was hard to determine if he was unstable as well. There was no use in waking his ire when there was no other living person in sight.
“So where did you go?” the old man asked.
“Huh?” The young man had to shift his perception from his experience with the sparrow to determine what the man was referencing. “Did I go somewhere?” he asked when understanding caught up to him.
“What do you consider you?”
“I am…” he started to say, but cut off his train of thought. This felt like another meaningless riddle, but there also seemed to be lucidity in the question. What makes me, me? he thought. It was a question he wondered if he had ever asked himself before. Is he merely the sum of the bones, muscles, tissue, and mass that comprise his body? Or is he the sum of all the experiences that had shaped him into who he is at this moment? At this time he didn’t recall those experiences though, nor did he know how those experiences affect who he is. At the moment all he knew was the physical world around him. “…me. This body is what makes me.”
“What is a home?” the old man responded. He jumped down off of the rock on which he sat and walked over to the young man.
The young man didn’t know what to make of this, and with the old man walking toward him he lost the capacity to ponder his words. He turned to look toward the other side of the canyon and heaved an exasperated sigh.
“A home is where the heart is, is it not?” The old man finally said. “But what is the heart? Is it a piece of flesh that beats in your chest, or is it an essence? If you’re not at home where is your heart? It’s a duality problem isn’t it? It really depends which heart you speak of. If you’re away from home the flesh that beats in your chest cannot be home or it would stop beating.”
The young man had hardly been listening to the old man, but his words had drawn the young man’s hand up to his chest. He felt nothing. He looked up at the old man with a look of horror. “I don’t feel anything.”