Laughter echoed into the dimly-lit hallway, joyful sounds traveling on rays of light spilling from the opening. A shadowed form approached the source of the noise, eager to enter the inner area where the others had gathered. He moved slowly through the doorway in efforts to remain unnoticed, though it wasn’t long before someone in the group saw him and announced his presence. They all turned in greeting and beckoned for him to join their small circle of chairs. Leaning on a nearby pillar, the young male looked at those he considered family and began to exchange stories and smiles with everyone.
As the evening drew on, the topics ranged from enjoyable experiences to tales of struggle or woe. Perhaps this was what the young man enjoyed most about his friends; there was never an effort to disguise or mask what was really going on in their lives. It was an honest and real assessment, one that could be trusted above testimonies or bad reports elsewhere. Selflessness is not a simple request, nor should it be taken advantage of when offered freely.
One of the family members sitting at the small table rose from their perch and began to stack dishes into her arms. Seeing that there were too many for the female to manage, the young man moved to the nearest pile of plates and began to collect them as well. The girl smiled at him in approval, then headed toward the small kitchen area at the end of the room. Once the male had gathered the remaining pieces, he walked over and began stacking the dishes near where the girl stood; her arms now half-covered in soapy water as she repeatedly plunged them into the sink.
They stood there doing dishes for several moments, still listening to the comments made near the table. The man wiped his hands and moved to a chair; one of the older boys had an instrument in his hands and was attempting a strange dance he had seen in his travels. He shuffled around making up words to his tuneless song, though the rest of the family wondered if the awkward movements were slightly exaggerated. Nonetheless, the entire room was soon filled with laughter once again, the spectacle much too embarrassing to ignore.
The young man smiled and laughed with them the whole time; while a casual observer would find this normal, another family member saw his expression jubilant one moment and somber the next. It was often this way with him, she noted, his quiet appraisal and enjoyment set carefully behind a protective layer all around him. While everyone deserved to keep their thoughts to themselves, she couldn’t help but wonder if he held back for their benefit instead of his own. She could only guess what was on his mind, pieces of conversations prior running through her head as he had carefully explained struggles back home.
It was a time of indecision and turmoil that plagued him, confidence weakened through the methodic removal of his passions. One week the target would be his wares, others his friendships, or even still his very opinions; each attack seeming to rob him of precious motivation and desire. Regardless of where he lay his head, shadows fell on his heart and eclipsed his day-to-day activities; much like a dark cloud relentlessly pursues a sunny meadow. Perhaps his outlook was changing without justification, or perhaps not. His desire for purpose and pure motivation was still there, so she hoped that the troubles had not robbed him of that which he cared most for.
Her thoughts were interrupted as another member of their party entered the room. The woman smiled and waved as she entered, her studious attire draped over her arm in exchange for the more comfortable garb she now wore. Each member of the group greeted her in turn, several of them rising to offer a hug or more personal greeting. The young man smiled warmly from his place near the back of the room, and he saw her composure change slightly as the she made her way over to the sink. Both girls exchanged friendly greetings and were quickly discussing the events of the last few days; the young man smiled again, always knowing that the two would become better friends as time went on.
He turned his head and caught the gaze of the younger female at the table, her face showing that she had been watching the interaction as he had. His face scrunched slightly, twisting into a wry grin seconds later that made her smile back at him. They turned their attentions back to the group, laughter again breaking through any amount of pondering that would be done that night. As the evening drew on, the light seemed to grow steadily brighter in that little room, the cares and concerns of elsewhere drowned out in the warmth of time spent with family.
* * *
The young man awoke, instantly aware that he was no longer in the company of his family. The cool air quickly found its way to the perspiration that had built up on his skin, and he lay there shivering for a few moments as he was pulled impassively from his slumber. He rose and exited his tent, being careful not to alert the watchful senses of his friend sitting on a rock at the edge of camp. After walking a short distance from the group of tents, the young man slowed his steps and began to let his mind wander. He wanted to head back and talk with his friends, to awaken them at once and hear their voices, but he knew that it would do no good if he did. It always helped to speak with them even when the discussions turned somber – some of their closest moments had been while fighting alongside one another through hard times – but this was a matter he could not bring before any of them yet.
He slowly sank to the ground, the reality of the distance and separation he felt from them no longer held back by his dreams. Tilting his head back, he stared into the vast nothingness filled with stars above him. Could the tiny points of light listen, he would have asked their opinions of him; whether they thought he was being too attached to those he longed for, or why he sometimes wished he could have changed things as years knowing them had passed. He was tempted to voice his questions out loud, though the futility stopped him before he could begin. A few small tears splashed noiselessly into the grass around him, the moisture from his body mixing with the dew that had gathered while he slept.
For what seemed like hours the young man sat silently on that hill, the shadows cast by his slender frame barely moving as time itself drew breath while he thought. His only option was to continue, he mused, the still quiet voice in the back of his head urging him to make the most of the time he had before him. Brushing his cheek and standing once more, the young man took one last look at the sky and sighed heavily. Fatigue had caught up with him at last, his mind subdued by the release memories served. The moments would return in his dreams, of that he was certain, but perhaps tonight he would be able to rest in peace.
He moved quietly back to camp, glancing at his friend one last time before crawling into his tent. He shed his outer cloak and pulled the covers over his slender frame, shivering slightly from the cool night air. Another day had already begun, but the walk had helped and perhaps a few hours would allow him to slow his racing mind a little bit longer…