I wrote this blog during my second week of walking, near Madison, WI. I think of him everyday and know he’s where he wants to be.
I kicked a stone into the pond and watched the ripples expand, then disappear. Sitting on a bench that over looked a brilliant sunset, I let a foul mood fall over me. My feet were bleeding, I had at least four more miles to walk, and to top it off, no one seemed to care. I had been hoping that I would have raised much more money than I had as I neared the two week mark in my walk. Nothing seemed to be going to plan. As the frown grew heavier on my face, I suddenly heard someone walking behind me.
“Evening, brother!” said a boy about my age. He too had a large backpack, wore hiking clothes, and looked dirty and tired. His face was sunken in and rather skeletal. His eyes were half open and had large black bags beneath them. A knitted cap was covering up all his hair and his eye brows were thin and short, as if they had been recently shaven. My mood didn’t improve much as he sat down next to me on the bench and put his bag by his feet. He looked over at me and gave me wide smile.
“I’m not your brother…” I murmured looking down at my own bag, preparing to leave.
“Sure we are, eh!” he said with a misty voice, pointing to my backpack.
“Yeah?!” I snapped, unable to put up with his nonsense. “Really? Well if we’re brothers, then we share a mother, eh? And who would she be?”
He looked rather taken aback, but he softened as he smiled and pointed out to the lake. “Mother Nature, of course!”
“Of course… And our father?” I asked, actually a bit excited to hear his answer.
“Well, I suppose the Open Road, eh? We’re half earth, half concrete…stone and road! ” He laughed, finishing it off with a tiny cough.
“Okay.” I said, having enough as I stood up. “Well, it was nice to meet you, brother.”
As I walked away he asked, “Where are you walking to?”
I turned around. He was looking up at me with sincere interest in his eyes. “Um. To Miami, I guess.”
“Miami!” he exclaimed. “I suppose you’ll see the ocean then, eh?” His smile began to fade as he added, “I’ve always wanted to see the ocean…before I…I always felt seeing the ocean would feel like going home, you know?”
I thought back to when I lived in San Diego last summer and how I felt when I would visit the ocean. “Yeah… I guess it does.” His eyes were a bit watery and in the setting light I could see just how thin his face was. “How about you?” I asked, pointing to his pack. “Where are you walking to?” I sat back down on the bench as he explained that he hadn’t seen his parents in four years and was walking back home to see them. I asked him why he hadn’t visited them in so long and he simply shrugged and said, “For reasons outside our control, I guess, eh?”
For the next half hour we talked about our journeys and the people we’ve met. I told him about my troubles with fundraising and keeping the focus on the goal. He talked about how he had always wanted to walk across America while he was growing up and he had just finally decided to do it one day. For a few minutes we were quiet, both staring at the pond, the sun now emitting violent shades of red and orange.
“Well,” he said, rising slowly, letting his arms take most of the strain of standing up. “I think it’s about time for me to head on. But you wanna promise me something?” He asked as he straightened up, placing his pack on the bench. He began to rummage through it.
“Uh. Sure…” I answered.
“Well…don’t get me wrong, its good to have goals and things to work towards…” He started, not looking up from searching his bag. “But I think you should just care less about that stuff and put more stock in the little things, you know?”
“Like what?” I slowly said, my frustration slowly returning.
He gave a quiet laugh, looking up from his bag. “I dunno… Like…” He trailed off, thinking. “Like, eating an apple!” he shouted suddenly and blushed slightly. “Or doing a little dance. Or skipping rocks. Or singing a song. Or…going on a walk!” He threw up his hands and laughed loudly. His laughter was cut short by a small coughing fit. “Just…” he said, clearing his throat, “Just have some fun for yourself.” He was now staring past the contents in his bag, into something much deeper. He seemed to be talking more to himself at this point. “Don’t let people tell you those things don’t matter… Those are the things in life worth living for…” A small bead of sweat was running down the side of his face when he suddenly said, “Aha! Found it!” He pulled out something small in his hand and started closing up his bag. “Is it getting hotter out?” he asked me, as more sweat fell down his face.
“Um… I don’t think so?” I answered. It actually seemed to be getting cooler out as the sun dropped below the water. A thick mist was issuing from around the lake and creeped towards our bench.
“Hmmm…” He said quietly, wiping the sweat and taking off the knitted cap. I had been wrong. The cap hadn’t been covering his hair, seeing that he didn’t have any at all. His head was completely bald, making his face look even more gaunt. He gave another small cough and I noticed he had begun to shiver. I started to say something but he cut me off by extending his hand. “It was nice meeting you. I’ll venture to say we’ll probably never see each other again…but…” He said in his misty voice, giving a shrug, “I guess you never know where our roads may lead us. Especially when we share the same blue sky.”
Unsure of what to say, I extended my own hand as well. Like everything else about him, his fingers were thin and bony and I tried not to squeeze too hard. While we shook hands, a white hospital band fell from beneath his sleeve and hung loosely around his wrist. As I loosened my grip to let go of his hand, I felt his fingers slip something into my own.
“Goodbye, brother…” He said quietly as he turned and headed towards the West. I looked down into the palm of my hand, where a small stone now rested. It was milky white, smooth, and looked like it could have come from a riverbed; except for the fact that there was small strip of jet black asphalt tar that wrapped around the stone’s lower half. Stone and road. I looked up in time to see my brother disappear into the fog, our parents clutched tightly in my hand.