Fiction Saturday – “A Conversation By The River” – Conclusion
“Some Monks pray while farming, some while cooking, or writing. I walk. I walk without a physical destination. Today I am here. I think I am here to talk with you.”
“And with the fish?”
“Yes – And with the fish. Walking is my way of praying. Each step is a prayer – a prayer for understanding and for thanks.”
I was getting confused with all of this.
“’Thanks? For what?” The Monk smiled at me and I relaxed.
“I give thanks for each step because I know that a time will come when I can no longer walk and the steps will have to be taken by someone else. Aren’t you thankful for something – your life? For your mother and father, for your home, your friends, and for this lovely spot by the river?”
“I guess so. I never thought about it before. Now that you put it all that way though I guess I do have a bunch of stuff to be thankful for.”
“Good. Now let’s be quiet so this fish and I can talk things out.”
The Monk and the fish might have been talking, but I didn’t hear anything. I stayed quiet because I know that you are supposed to be quiet while fishing and I didn’t want to scare the Monk’s fish.
It seemed to me like we were going to be there all day when the Monk broke the silence.
“That fish,” he said, “Makes a very good case for himself. Much better than me. Tonight I go hungry. My young friend I might as well be on my way.”
“You’re leaving? Where are you going to go?”
“Like I said earlier, I m going nowhere and everywhere as well, but I think I will start by going through your village. How far is it from here?
“The village is around that bend in the path and then an hour – less for you – you take bigger steps than me.” While I spoke he gathered together his things. He pulled his empty hook from the river, dried it and the twine on his red sash before carefully folding it and wrapping it around his body and over his shoulder. I wondered how many times he had done this before when a fish out talked him. When everything was in its place he stood up and bowed to me.
“It has been a pleasure to have spent this time with you and I wish you wisdom and happiness as you grow.”
He started across the grass toward the path. I hurried after him.
“Mr. Monk, can I walk with you awhile? My house is that way too, around the bend.”
“Of course, my friend. Let us both pray with each step we take.”
He was taller than me and I had to take more steps to keep up with him. He saw me trying to keep up and he slowed down to make it easier for me.
“What will you do when you get to the village?”
“I will beg. I am sure that some kind person will feed me and give me a place to sleep tonight. There is almost always someone in each village I visit. People are good.”
We walked on.
“This path goes on all the way to The Great Ocean they say. What will you do when you get to the end of the path?”
“I will turn around and walk back to the Monastery high up in the mountains. It is my home.”
“How long have you been walking?” He looked down at me.
“I began my prayer when I was no bigger than you. It is my entire life, my prayer.”
I was amazed. I could not imagine leaving everything behind and walking for such a long time. He was an old man compared to me – older than my father.
“I’m sorry that I ask you so many questions, but I’ve never really talked with a Monk before.”
“There is no need to apologize. How else can you learn? I ask questions all the time.”
We rounded the bend in the path and up ahead I could see where the path split. One part went on to the village. The other led to our farm.
“This looks like where we part ways. I go on to the village and you to your home. Again, I thank you for our time together.”
I had an idea. I had one more question.
“Do you have to go to the village tonight, a rule or something? I’m asking because my mother and father are kind people and I’m sure that they would be happy to give you something to eat and a warm and dry place to sleep. Would you come with me? I’m sure they won’t be upset.”
“Even your father who thinks we Monks are all wealthy?”
“Yes, I’m sure. He likes to go fishing too. You two could talk about that. But I don’t think he talks with the fish. He uses bits of bread as bait. Please come there with me.” The Monk paused. He looked at me and at the path into the village.
“Young man, every road that I walk splits, and I have often wondered where my life would be if I chose to take that other pathway. My prayer is in my step, not in the road beneath my feet. All roads go somewhere. This road,” he said, pointing off down the path, “It goes to your village and eventually to The Great Ocean. But this other path would take us to your farm and your family. The village and the ocean will be there tomorrow, but if I go that way today I will miss the gift of seeing your family. That chance is only mine for today, never to return.”
He sat down in the dust and looked at both paths.
“I need to think and pray. Give me a moment.”
I watched him close his eyes. He folded his legs like I had seen him do when he first came and sat by the riverbank. I said a prayer of my own that he would come with me.
After a couple of minutes the Monk opened his eyes. He smiled at me.
“My young friend, you prayed. I could feel it. It was a very good prayer. You prayed and I listened for the Wisdom to tell me what to do.”
“What did you hear?” I could feel my heart pounding in my chest.
I heard that you are an honest and truthful boy and that I am blessed by having this time with you today. Today is not done and there is more time to share.”
“Does that mean you’ll come back to my home with me?”
The Monk held out his hand to me.
“It does. Now help me up and let me get this dust off my robe. I don’t want your father to think that I am there to beg.”