There was an Emptiness
There was an emptiness in the heart of the group. I felt it most keenly at night, when my dreams would not come. We had been travelling through empty lands so long that we had begun to forget the cities we all came from, to forget the noise that mankind made wherever they existed.
On the snowy passes and on the shores of the icy rivers we had forgotten that we had been – once – people. That someone would have said Oh, I like this better than that and that another would have listened and answered with But surely a thinking man would prefer that over anything else. That we would have come to blows and fallen in love over such empty words, debating concepts whose existence had become utterly doubtful. Cars, smart phones, TV shows. Those were illusions to us as we had been taken over by an emptiness more complete and more physical.
We were on a mad quest. We had joked about it in the beginning, but by now nobody doubted the reality of it. Shangri La. A paradise, hidden deep in these inhabitable, inhospitable mountains. We would find it, if not today then tomorrow. We had exchanged one set of illusions for another, more suited to our circumstances, and fed on the emptiness in the soul we shared.
At night – every night – I dreamed that we met a woman who carried something wrapped in cloth. She set it down and removed the cloth with the flourish of a magician. It was our soul underneath and it looked like one of the butter temples the monks made to represent the heavenly architecture. We sat down and ate our soul and I only woke up when I had eaten the last bite.
I had no doubt that we had become completely mad. At the same time I had no doubt that our quest was true and necessary. The city of Shangri La, the earthly paradise, where no man had to suffer. What else is there to look for in this world?
Our gestures, our very faces and their expressions became massive in this featureless land. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I had watched a shift in the plates of the earth or a brief smile on the face of the rugged woman next to me. I saw the movements of generations of Mongol tribes in the way our Tibetan guide lifted his arm to point at something.
In the evenings we sometimes sang and turned into birds that flew in the sounds like in the wind. For some time the emptiness receded like the tide, but then we sat around the butter temple again and we ate until there was nothing left to eat.
We became convinced that demons were real when we felt evil thoughts claw through the emptiness of our minds. How unobstructed they were swimming there, with fanned claws and wide eyes. We watched them eat our remaining memories, because by now we could turn our eyes inside and see our minds as plain as we could see the mountains and the narrow paths we had to take.
We watched each other’s fears for amusement as we walked. We had become completely mad by now, but because it had happened to all of us, it was not madness any more.
One night the woman with the cloth did not disappear while we ate. She stepped behind me and wrapped the cloth around my head so that I could no longer see. She took my hand and pulled me up and forward, making me stumble along behind her. She took me far through an empty land and when she pulled the cloth from my head, I stood before a wizened man with a monk’s face who wore an immaculate Western style suit and opened a door in the rock for me.
Shangri La, he said as I walked through the door into a backstreet of my hometown. I saw a beggar getting ignored as masses of people waltzed and crushed by to see a movie or buy useless things. I saw a couple ignoring what they did not say as they led an inoffensive conversation. I saw a liar leading a group of people along. I saw people who saw the madness for what it was driven mad by it. I saw the world rush into the emptiness I had – so painfully – created and saw many hands reaching for the half-eaten butter temple.
I saw the door close behind me and clawed at it with my fingers, wedging them inside the crack before it slammed shut. I am now trying to get it open again. I assume this will take quite a long time.