The sixteenth day of the crossing – when there is a will, there is a way

It was dawn in the desert. Away from the caravan, seated on the sand with a cup of fresh coffee in my hands, I watched the caravanner training his hawk. Ingrid, the astronomer, approached me. She wanted to know why I moved away from camp every morning and kept watching the flight of the bird. I said I did not know why, but there was something in it that fascinated me. I said perhaps it was the fact that, despite the barrenness of the desert, of the unlikely and the impossible for many, the hawk always returned with a prey. I added that was likely due to the instinct of survival of the bird, of biologic determinism; however, I had the feeling the bird managed to get its food because it believed it would find it. Ingrid said: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” That sentence had a strong impact on me, for the range of interpretations it allowed. I mentioned it to the astronomer. She lifted the sleeve of her shirt and showed me a tattoo on the forearm. She said it was a Viking symbol known as Inguz. It represented this message. In addition, she had also heard this message in Chinese philosophy, and went further to explain that, in fact, it is present in all traditions. I immediately disagreed. Not so much as to the ubiquity of the truth, but to the fact that the will becomes necessarily a way. Ingrid just shrugged. She excused herself because the caravan wouldn’t take long to leave, and she had some packing to do. I saw when the hawk returned to the caravanner with a small rodent held by its talons.

It did not take long for the caravan to follow its course. I saved a place next to me for Ingrid to pair her camel to mine, but she did not do it. She preferred, once again, to ride next to the astrologer with whom she had spoken a couple of days ago. I could not understand that, because she, as an astronomer, turned her nose up at astrology. Jealous, but without admitting it, I decided to ride on that day with no one next to me. The hours passed on drowsily until the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes came by, riding her black stallion, Wind. We rode for a while without uttering a word until I broke the silence. I asked if she did not think senseless that a scientist like Ingrid enjoyed talking to a mystic like the astrologer. With her eyes set in the horizon, the woman said: “Opposites do not attract, but explain one another.”

I said she was mistaken. Constellations, the theoretical foundation of astrology, are, in fact, mere optical illusions formed from the point of view of who is on Earth. Looking the sky from Mars or Saturn, the same stars will be part of constellations that do not exist for an observer from Earth. In fact, constellations are pieces of fiction created by human imagination from the illusion of a gaze. I said that Ingrid knew that. However, I was shocked to see she insisted in talking to the astrologer. The beautiful woman explained: “What fascinates her is not astrology in itself, but the sincere devotion and commitment of the astrologer to his trade.” She paused and added: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Next, the made a smooth motion with the reins of the horse and moved away.

We continued for a few more hours until an order was given, in the middle of the day, to halt for a brief rest and a light meal. One who believes the desert is only sand is mistaken. We were warned that, for the remainder of the day, we would pass through a stretch known as “Forest of Rocks”, because of the huge rocks that were on the way. I grabbed some dates and sat on the sand. Next to me, a man about my age was also seated. He had caught my attention because of his sad eyes. I offered him a date, which he politely refused with a lifeless smile. I said I had joined the caravan to meet the wise dervish, who “knew many secrets of heaven and earth”, and who lived at the oasis. He told me he had close relatives who also lived at the oasis and were weavers. He looked at me with gloomy eyes and confessed he expected to arrive at the oasis in order to be buried by his relatives. Dumbfounded, I wanted to know if he had been assailed by an incurable disease. The man said no. He told me he was in good health but did not see a point in continuing to live. Because he supported himself with money he inherited from his father, who had been a skilled rug trader, he thought it more sensible to say farewell to life rather than to keep squandering his assets day in day out without a reason to live. He would leave his money to those who had a zest for life. Solomon was his name. 

I asked many questions, more with the purpose of leading him to having second thoughts than out of curiosity. He told me that after his father passed away, he had taken over his business. His lack of business skill led him to pass on the stores in order not to go bankrupt. A good amount of money was left, a little bit of which was being drained every single day, yet he had found no reason for joy of any kind. Therefore, he had made a decision, not because he was sad, but because it was the one decision that made sense in his life.

Soon came the command for the caravan to leave. Concerned with Solomon, I continued to ride next to him. I tried to continue a conversation, but his responses became monosyllabic until silence reigned for the remainder of the day, while we crossed a rocky stretch of the desert. There were many rocks. Some were huge, as tall as a building. We were at the end of this stretch when the sun set. We stopped to set up camp in front of a set of rocks that formed an odd-looking cave. We were told not to enter the cave, because of reports of travelers who had done so and were never found again. 

I moved away from Solomon to do some chores. During supper, I was helping myself to a vegetable stew when I heard a shot. Surprise, chaos, lots of yelling. From afar I saw two man fighting, rolling on the sand. They were struggling for the possession of a revolver. They were Solomon and the caravanner.

Many crew members went over to help out in the situation. No one had been injured. The caravanner had prevented Solomon from committing suicide. He had not been able to wait until arriving at the oasis for his relatives to bury him; his sadness was stronger than his will. He would have fulfilled his intent if it were not for the prompt intervention of the caravanner. When I arrived to where they were, Solomon was sobbing strongly. I sat next to him and hugged him. Many people came close. I said they could go as I would look after him. We were left alone. I let him cry until his heart became empty. They say we cry when the soul is overflowing with emotions. Little by little, he calmed down; I laid him on the sand. After I don’t know how long, the caravan was ready to sleep. Solomon remined awake, his eyes fixed on the stars that decorated the desert sky. This is when the beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes came close. 

Without saying a word, she sang beautiful songs. Music seemed to mollify the environment. She danced smoothly around the man. When my eyes asked her why she was doing that, her lips articulated, soundlessly: “To clean up the air.” Then, she kneeled next to him. Making circular movements with her empty hands and continuing to sing, she sent good vibes to Solomon. Noticing that he was calmer, she asked if he would like to go for a walk with her. The man nodded in agreement. She asked him to stand up and accompany her. They were going to the cave. There was something waiting for him in there. Solomon refused, and said he was afraid. The woman gave her hand for him to hold and said: “Hold and trust. I will be next to you.” She motioned with her head for me to go along. I thought about mentioning the dangers we had been warned about regarding the cave, but the firm resolve the woman with blue eyes conveyed was overpowering.

She whistled a soft tune when we entered the cave. We stopped for a while, so that our eyes got used to the darkness. We walked around the rocks that formed a labyrinth until we reached a point where a sort of door seemed to be formed. She said that only Solomon could enter. Next, she added: “Someone you have deserted is waiting for you. It is an important, long expected encounter.” 

Before he went in, the woman said: “You will be asked about what the generating factor of your despondency is.” Solomon interrupted her and asked what a generating factor was. She explained: “Generating factor is the virus that was inoculated in you; it is the reason why you gave up on your life.” And made an important remark: “This encounter will be propelled by truth. In here, delusion fades away.” She paused briefly and continued: “It is your soul you will be talking to, your forgotten, repressed half, hidden in the dark corners of yourself. It is saddened by the dreams that were denied. This makes it weakened and unbalanced. Only the soul can enlighten your steps, renew your ideas and sow joy in your heart. When we neglect the soul, we abandon ourselves to the radicality of the ego. Then, sooner or later depending on our sensitivity, we fall apart like a building whose foundations are no longer able to support walls and ceilings.” She paused and then explained: “This is not entirely bad, if we can seize the opportunity to rebuild the home we live in. We dwell in the home we have built. The ego is the bricklayer; the soul, the engineer. They should work together. This is what turns a shack into an impregnable fortress. The power of building one’s own beauty and solidity has always been and will always be yours.”

She made a motion with her head for him to proceed. Solomon hesitated for a moment looking at the woman, who gave him a smile filled with confidence. He let go of her hand and crossed the door. We waited for a time I cannot gauge until he returned. That had been a silent conversation, in the quietness of a heart that had to be heard. Solomon had his face moist from the tears. It was hard for him to speak on account of his crying. The woman waited with infinite patience until he calmed down. Filled with emotions, the man said that, alone with his soul, he recalled he had always wanted to be a teacher. The idea of expanding and sharing knowledge had always fascinated him. The possibility of being in a classroom and teaching children and adults was appealing to him. However, he could not stand up to his father, a man who, despite being loving, was strict and dominating. He thought he had the right to decide what was best for his son. Perpetuating generations in the rug trade was his, not Solomon’s wish. Solomon’s dream was teaching. However, time passed, and Solomon was never strong enough to set his wish in motion. And had nothing to live for.

The woman with blue eyes asked him to look to the side. There was another door we had not noticed. She said: “Your father is in there, hidden in the dark. Use a flashlight to illuminate all the corners.” The man said he had no flashlight. The woman suggested: “The flashlight comes into our possession when we replace the fear of failing or disappointing others for the will to be ourselves. It is the courage to be unique. In our differences lie all the light, the power and the beauty of the self.”

Noticing that he was afraid, she instructed him: “Don’t be afraid of fear. Fear is a gap that exists in us all, waiting to be filled by courage. Then, everything is transformed.” And she added: “Moreover, the angels of the desert will keep you and enlighten you whenever you need and pray for it.” She paused and then encouraged him: “Go! I will be here when you come back. However, more importantly, you have to know you will always have yourself to accompany you, rejoice and be fascinated with.”

Solomon took a deep breath and crossed the other door. After a few minutes of absolute silence, we heard him cry. He spoke from inside: “It is my father, he is here. But everything is too dark.” The woman continued to guide him: “Increase the glow of the flashlight. To do that, do not look at your father with sorrow, animosity or resentment. And bear no guilt, either towards him or your own self. There is no guilt. Look at your father with gratitude, mercy, sympathy, kindness, generosity. He did the best he could at that time. Look at your father with love. With all the love there is in life.” She paused and, as if she could imagine the scene, advised: “Hold him tightly close to you!”

Little by little the sobs tapered off until they sounded like whispers I could not understand. Then, I heard laughs with joy. After a little while, Solomon came back. Mixing tears with smiles, I realized that the Solomon who had returned was different from the Solomon who had gone. His gaze bore a light that dissipated the darkness of the cave. Thankful, he told the woman about the conversation he just had with his father: “We have forgiven ourselves. He, for being authoritarian; me, for having allowed domination. I freed myself; we freed ourselves. I feel worthy; we are at peace.” She responded with a smile. We left the cave.

We sat on the desert sand. We still needed some time to settle all the ideas each one had brought from the cave. Solomon broke the silence. He said when he arrived at the oasis, he would set up a small school to teach illiterate adults how to read and write. And because there were gaps in the education of children who lived there, he would also teach them remedial classes. He said he no longer wanted to die; he was now enchanted by life. He cracked a beautiful smile, said he needed to rest and, happy, withdrew to his tent.

I told the woman with lapis-lazuli eyes that I was impressed with the change Solomon had undergone. She shrugged and said: “Now he has something to live for.” Looking at the stars, she added: “When we live our dreams, we become pleasant, light, confident individuals. The soul propels us. Hence, joy is our companion.” She asked me to look at the stars too and continued: “Will is the power that sets all virtues in motion, which, in turn, should guide our choices. Love is the will one has to be a good place for the other to rest; faith is the will to set the universe in motion within you and through me; sincerity is the will to live truth the way I understand it. Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Dazzled by the stars that illustrated those words, I let myself be taken by reflection for a moment. When I looked to the side, I was not surprised by the scene that had repeated itself again and again in the desert nights, the beautiful woman was no longer there. She had vanished into thin air.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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