Words Arwa A.
Digital Art Alifiya S.
I like fancy prose and fancier chocolate, neuroscience and anthropology but most especially, blue; the hue of the world at its edges and in its depths, the tint of longing for the distances you never arrive in.
The following is a short story which weaves Rebecca Solnit’s “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”.
(The italicised parts belong to her)
The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that colour of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The colour of that distance is the colour of an emotion, the colour of solitude and of desire, the colour of there seen from here, the colour of where you are not. And the colour of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away on the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.
Day 2, World’s Edge
There was silence, and then there was that – the steady thrum of a shadow that had gone unnoticed (for the most part); lurking, waiting.
Day 5, World’s Edge
He couldn’t pinpoint when he had become cognizant of it but now that he was, he couldn’t quite shake it off. “Parasitic leech,” he absently thought. No. That wasn’t quite right – he hadn’t been harmed after all. “Commensalism, probably”, feeling absurdly proud of something he had remembered from his Life Sciences course years ago. It was a sobering sensation – watching your life flash before your eyes in the absence of death or an almost-death.
Notions of an elaborate ambush swept through his mind like a haze, never quite taking root. He allowed himself a smirk, being juvenile was a rare indulgence. He caught himself just as his shadow decided to make its presence known. So, it knew that he knew. Curious.
“You’ve been following me,” he called out tersely.
“I have,” came the decidedly tranquil voice. She continued, “I am your guide, of sorts.”
“A guide,” he repeated and amended, “A guide who followed me for the better part of five days.”
“Well, yes. People get lost. You aren’t the first one here you know,” The Voice flippantly stated.
“Here?” He found himself repeating her. Again. That had to stop.
“The World’s Edge, they like to call it. The only place you might get to see her,” The Voice continued, unaware of his inner turmoil.
“Well, that’s silly, as far as names go anyway” He scoffed, then added hastily, “And what’s wrong with wanting to see her?”
“Other than the fact that you aren’t the only who ventures here in search for the mystical her? No one has ever managed to catch her. A fruitless endeavour, really,” The Voice replied.
She couldn’t quite conceal her bitterness so he set the snare – the way a seasoned hunter might, the way he had, seasons ago – “Well, that might be because they’re too busy playing catch-the-guide with you,” he mocked.
Silence prevailed. He allowed himself his second triumphant smirk.
Day 12, World’s Edge
“I’m Zai,” he offered, not out of any particular interest to converse but the silence that had initially been welcome turned cloying; he ached for a reprieve.
“Zai,” The Voice echoed, “like Xylophone without the “lophone, huh?”
He was tricked out of a chuckle. It started out abrupt and uncertain but it mingled with her rich amusement and together they laughed till they could no more.
“Vermilia,” she tentatively added, deciding to spare him the etymology of her name.
“Vermilia?” he said incredulously. “So they call you, what? Vermy for short?”
“No! Hey, that’s not ni-“ Vermilia huffed.
“Must be Millie then,” he grinned. It widened when she didn’t attempt a rebuttal.
“Vermilion,” Vermilia said at last, “the hue of war and love and everything in-between.
Zai tensed, an imperceptible tick of his jaw.
Silence ensued, interrupted only by his suddenly heavy footfalls.
The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel. If sorrow and beauty are all tied up together, then perhaps maturity brings with it not…abstraction, but an aesthetic sense that partially redeems the losses time brings and finds beauty in the faraway.
Day 17, World’s Edge
“You’ve never mentioned why,” Vermilia softly inquired, belying the sizzling curiosity she strived to contain.
“I came here for her, yes, but not, not – “, he swallowed thickly, continuing, “for the reasons you might think. I don’t – she doesn’t represent sadness or emptiness or, or despair or anything. Well, not to me.”
“What is she then, Zai?” she asks.
A moment passes. He maps them, these moments – like constellations in their universe. Maybe someday they’ll take shape. Maybe someday he’ll bring himself to name it, them.
He nods as if prepared for such a probe. “She, Cyan, it’s all I’ve longed for. Not her, per se, it’s um the concept of distance and beauty in the faraway land, and I thought if just this once I caught something that I couldn’t get, it would make the other losses seem bearable –“, he rambles and Vermilia sucks in a breath.
“You were a soldier,” she cuts in, not unkindly.
He stills, “I am.”
“You’re the youngest we’ve had here.”
The silence doesn’t seem so stifling, Zai thinks.
We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance?
Day 22, World’s Edge
“Have you read The Alchemist?” Vermilia questions, her fifth one this day.
It’s endearing more than anything, the way she vacillates between topics, unmindful of anything but her innate curiosity. Zai considers the book amongst his favourites but he shakes his head anyway and waits. She doesn’t disappoint.
“Well, it’s by Paulo Coelho and it’s about a boy who slept under a sycamore tree near a church and had a dream about finding his treasure near The Pyramids but when he goes there, it isn’t there and he ends up finding his treasure under the sycamore tree. The point is –“ Vermilia trails off seeing the expression on his face.
“That’s what you got out of it? Santiago went on a journey, Vermilia. He learnt alchemy and fell in love and figured out the ‘Soul of The World’ and, and-“ he exclaims heatedly.
“All I’m saying is that the treasure was right there and he didn’t bother trying –“, Vermilia interjects placidly.
“Didn’t bother? Are you mad? He didn’t know about it, how could he?” Zai feels himself getting defensive and his fire increases.
“He should’ve known,” Vermilia insists in that quietly determined way of hers, “People really are blind to things that are right in front of them.”
“Resorting to clichés, now are we?” Zai sneers cruelly. He ignores the twinge from somewhere near his sternum and ploughs ahead, leaving stunned silence in his wake.
Day 31, World’s Edge
“Look, Vermilia, I,” Zai stops, cold; he’s no longer basking in her presence. The absence is acute.
He looks around, feeling foolish. He hasn’t ever been able to see her so really, he doesn’t have a point of reference.
He looks back once, where he thinks Vermilia should be, and ahead, where Cyan’s calling. He shivers, missing the warmth that distance never seemed to provide. The silence rang around as if to agree.
If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond.
Day 38, World’s Edge
Zai may have been slow on the uptake but when he finally figured it out, he did what any self-respecting person might – he turned around. He walked further away from the distance, away from Cyan, away, away, away.
The sun was setting and Zai would’ve described himself as the orbit and her, the sun, but that truly was a cliché and he was averse to hypocrisy. So, he did the next best thing.
“I’m Zai,” he says, dissipating the silence, and blinks; the onslaught of her particular brand of warmth a balm to his being, so he continues, “like zeitgeist, without the tgeist.”
“So they must be calling you Gigi, huh?” Vermilia teases.
The silence isn’t broken for a long, long time.