The young man got to his feet and paced a well worn circle around the wooden foldable chair on which he had been seated. A blackbird circled overhead, then settled on the back of the vacated chair with a flutter of its wings and began silently preening. The young man, his hands clasped behind his back, his face set in grim determination, paid the bird no heed as he continued to pace.
“What seems to be the problem?”
The question startled the young man, who spun round trying to see who had spoken. Nobody ever came there. Nobody ever spoke to him. The large expanse of dusty ground on which the chair stood was otherwise empty. No trees, no flowers, no animals and, above all, no people. He resumed his pacing.
“You can’t deny there’s a problem,” the voice said.
It was then that he spotted the bird. A scruffy specimen, its head drooped, its wings lackluster, its eyes watery and glassy. The creature turned its head in his direction and opened its beak as if to speak.
“You are not happy, are you?” it said, its question rhetorical.
“Is that so self evident?” he replied, swallowing his surprise at this talking bird.
The bird nodded.
“It’s hard to explain,” the young man said. He would have pursued his round, but he wondered if that might appear rude. Instead, swaying unsteadily on the spot, cautious not to step beyond the circle, he struggled to find the right words. “Once, there was a beginning, right?”
The bird remained silent, its mournful eyes staring at him, waiting.
“The creation they call it. Before there was nothing and after there was everything…”
The idea was unfinished, but the need to move was so strong he resumed his pacing in silence, the bird swivelling its head to follow him.
“One sole person witnessed that event, if you can call that a person.” He halted a moment, lost in thought. “By the time you and I came on the scene the die had long been cast. We arrived too late.”
“How so?” the bird asked, spreading its wings as if it were about to fly off, only to settle again.
“A path is determined by its starting point,” the young man replied, kicking up a cloud of dust with his bare feet. “If we had been there, maybe the path would have been different, perhaps better.”
“But you weren’t.”
“No,” the young man said with a sigh, “but if we had been…”
“Instead we are bound to follow the path traced out for us,” he said, his voice sounding bitter.
The bird rose brusquely in the air and plunged directly at the young man’s head, causing him to stagger back as he threw up his hands to protect his face.
“You see,” the bird said, resuming its position on the chair back.
The young man sank to one knee confused, one hand on the ground to steady himself, the other shakily assessing the damage to his head. No harm done, it would seem. The bird must have swerved at the last moment. Glancing down at his hand planted in the dust, he realised to his horror that he knelt several yards outside the familiar circle. His breath caught in his throat as panic seized him and his muscles locked in place.
“What were you saying about the path?” the bird asked.