A single plane flies across a pink-orange sky on a Thursday evening and can be seen darting in and out through the clouds before making a gentle landing on the surface of a lake in the middle of a forest. Unnoticed by anyone of importance, the plane sinks slowly till it is half submerged in the warm water that surrounds it eagerly. Neither the name of this forest nor the mysterious lake that sits in the middle of it is revealed to us, but our observations have confirmed the presence of the two lone passengers on board that plane. The first of the two passengers is a pilot who flies the plane because she cannot live a single day without being close to the sunrise and sunset. The other passenger is a solitary man who wears the same blue coat every day because he has been sleeping for years now and has not woken up since the day that he first closed his eyes on the plane.
As soon as the plane is stationary, the pilot walks out of the flight deck and finds an empty seat next to her solitary sleeping passenger. She glances at him and says, I’m going away with the sun when you wake. Do you think you’ll ever open your eyes again?
What a strange journey it’s been, he speaks to her through his dreams. You fly the plane well and I feel like I’ve been everywhere all at once.
The pilot turns away from her sleeping passenger and looks out of the little window behind her. The forest trees outside, with their leaves swaying noiselessly to an invisible breeze, stare back at her through the window. The pilot imagines the sounds that a forest full of shaking leaves would make but fails at her attempt because she hasn’t stepped out of her plane for such a long time now. Although we regret to inform you of our inability in determining the exact length of time that the pilot has been inside that plane, our rough estimation comes up to at least a decade.
I’ve learned to fly so that I could follow the sun back home, the pilot replies without looking away from the forest trees outside. The sun knows the way back home because the fortune teller down the road used to tell me so.
The sun knows the way back home? But home is a myth and home simply doesn’t exist, the sleeping passenger retorts and then yawns before turning over onto his other side. Your problem is, he continues sleepily, that you still hold onto the words of that mystic even though she knows nothing about the world beyond her spread of cards. I wonder if your fortune teller has even wandered down the street across the road? They never do, you know, because they were never an adventurous lot to begin with.
I believe her, the pilot says. I believe her even if nobody else does because she told me that home exists. After all, the place where all the suns in our universe comes from is home. Didn’t you know that? If only you were there with me when the fortune teller drew my cards for me. Then you’d know too.
For a moment, the pilot and the sleeping passenger don’t say anything more to each other. They stay so still that they could almost hear the sounds of the forest outside, the tree leaves shaking and rubbing against each other, the lake water forming ripples in the wind, and perhaps the occasional walker stumbling over a rock or a branch. The pilot wonders if it is possible for her to miss the world beyond the plane, but who knows? Would it still be possible for one to miss and long for the thing that one has forgotten?
Without warning, the sleeping passenger speaks through his dreams again and shatters the silence that hangs heavy in the plane. Following the sun back home may take a few lifetimes, he says. There’s a road that leads to the place that you’re looking for and it’s much, much, much shorter than the one that the sun takes you along. That road is short but a very strange one too. Should I tell you why?
You should, the pilot says with a small smile that the sleeping passenger doesn’t see. I’ll always listen to your stories because I haven’t heard one in years now.
This isn’t a story, the sleeping passenger says. That road is real, but I don’t believe anyone out there even remembers it now. The last time anyone walked along its stony path, they made a sudden left turn away from the road and wandered down towards an imaginary river stream and was then never seen or heard from again. Before this, people deviated from the path because they thought they heard their names being called from a distance, or they thought they saw animals long extinct jumping out of the grass, or they thought they’d found a person in danger hiding behind a tree. Either way, nobody has ever made it to the end of that stony path.
What is stranger still is that the stony path makes no branches or forks along its course but follows only one straight line that leads simply towards the place that everybody is looking for. But for some reason, everyone who finds themselves along that stony path will never be able to resist deviating from its straight course and whenever they deviate, they disappear without a trace. Perhaps people disappeared because they turned away from the path out of time, but who could’ve told them about those rules? I even once heard of a woman wandering away from the path because she thought she saw her shoes lying in the meadows on the right. Surprised, she looked down at her own feet immediately but finding her own shoes still there, decided anyway that it could do her no harm to investigate the identical pair that lay amongst the grass. What happened to her then was no diﬀerent from what happened to the others who followed that stony path before her.
I cannot imagine there to be any reason why I’d need to take that short road, the pilot says and turns once more towards the little window behind her. After all, I still have four lifetimes left, you know. I count them to myself every single time that I fly the plane and I want to fill them all with my longest journeys. So if it does take that much longer to follow the sun back home, I have the time to spare.
The pilot continues staring blankly at the forest trees outside, and she convinces herself that they’re dancing only for her.
Perhaps it’s for the best if you don’t take that stony path, the sleeping passenger says in agreement. Because if you stopped flying the plane one day, there’d be nobody to wake me up from this endless sleep. You do remember that I’m depending on you to wake me up one day, don’t you? You’re to wake me up on the day that a cattleheart butterfly lands on the wings of your plane and only then you must wake me up.
I’ll wake you up on the day that a cattleheart butterfly lands on the wings of the plane, the pilot promises her sleeping passenger.
The sleeping passenger stirs slightly in his sleep but doesn’t wake. There is something else that I feel I must tell you, he says through his dreams. I feel I must tell you that I’m glad you’re not taking the shorter road home because you’d never make it to the end.
No, you wouldn’t, he says. You’re not the type who’d be able to walk straight ahead without falling oﬀ the path. You’re likely to see something bright flashing from the corner of your eye and you’d turn towards it without thinking twice. How else would you have been able to fly after the sunrise and sunset for so long without rest? You’re precisely the type to follow the light even if the light prevents you from seeing the place that it’s casting its glow on.
The pilot laughs softly so that the sleeping passenger doesn’t hear. This road must be a long recurring dream that you can’t escape from, she says kindly. Sometimes, we spend so long dreaming that we forget to switch back to our waking self when the dream ends, don’t you think? I once had a dream that refused to leave me whenever I fell asleep and, in that dream, I’d spend hours swimming through an ocean aimlessly. Or was it a very large lake? Regardless, I’d swim and swim till I felt something hard scrape against my right ankle. Then I’d reach my hand into the cold water, and I’d feel around for the object that stopped me from going further forwards, but I’d always feel nothing in there but water. This revelation would shock me so much that I’d start screaming in fear and the water would whirl round me angrily till I stopped screaming. Truthfully, I’m still worried about this old dream finding me today, but I’ve stopped dreaming about water since then. The road must be the same type of dream for you. I think you see yourself every time as somebody new when that stony path appears in your dreams, and you’d walk down its familiar course over and over again through new eyes. It’ll disappear one day though, and it’ll disappear the way that the figures in your dreams disappear whenever they steer oﬀ the path.
It wasn’t a dream, the sleeping passenger says. Because people have disappeared oﬀ that stony path.
The pilot says nothing in response this time. She looks down at her shoes and wonders about the woman in the sleeping passenger’s dream, the one who wandered oﬀ the stony path in search of a pair of shoes she wasn’t missing. Am I also searching for something that I’m not missing? The pilot asks herself. Have I been flying after the sun every day for a home that has never been absent all this time? A home that was never once absent. I think this home would be warm and blue, surrounded by large banana trees that would let me sleep beneath their leaves when the sun above got too bright and hot. But I think this home would also be a pale peach house where a bell hangs over the doors and windows so that even the wind sings when it announces its arrival. There may also be the possibility of my dreams speaking to me because what if this home was at the bottom of the ocean?
That is, the very same ocean I swam through night after night during those days when I thought the ocean-dream a recurring nightmare. If the home that was never once absent belonged under the ocean, it’d be the darkest place I’ll come to know. I don’t think the place that I’m looking for is in the heart of the ocean because I cannot live without the sun on my skin and my hair. Even if the sun rays poured down on me only through glass panes, I still cannot live without its light. Sometimes I think I’m mad because I think like I am madness, like I’m a rain-heavy sky, flowering with huge clusters of clouds. No one else knows this but I’m really not much good because I’ve been flying for so long and I still don’t know where I am. And how could I not know where I am when I’ve been following the fortune teller’s directions and keeping the sun in my sights all this time? There’s something very unnatural about all this and my fixations may ruin me someday in the future. I’m reminded now of somebody I knew two lifetimes ago because they told me once that these hours I spend flying will never return to me again but I can’t stop myself anyway.
Stop talking so much to yourself, the passenger speaks through his dreams again. Because if you must know, I always hear you. You can hear everything through dreams.
Can you hear the thoughts of those that are far away too? The pilot asks curiously. What about the people who aren’t on this plane and the people who are living somewhere beyond this forest?
The sleeping passenger moves his right arm, fidgets about restlessly and then stops when he finds himself in a cozy position again. I can hear everything, he confirms. Borders and distances don’t exist in dreams, or have you forgotten? When you’ve dwelled as long as I have in this dream state, you find yourself everywhere at once! To be quite honest with you, I wasn’t used to this odd sensation at first and I struggled a lot because I couldn’t drown out the noises and I never knew where I was at any given time. I’d walk into an empty room only to hear a conversation between two people who weren’t there, or I’d find myself sitting on a park bench with a typewriter on my lap and a thunderstorm enveloping me. But I was saved one day when I found, in a very peculiar dream where I was an old rocking chair, a compass that directed my every step faithfully and so I adopted it as a constant companion throughout my dream journeys.
Tell me what the compass looks like, the pilot suggests because she knows that her sleeping passenger enjoys nothing more than to be asked questions about the stories he tells. Or you could show it to me, she adds.
My left coat pocket, he says. I keep the compass in there and you can take a look at it if you want. Only make sure to return it or I’ll be lost amongst those confusing layers of dreams again.
I’ll take a look at it tomorrow, the pilot says. It’s time for us to leave again.
Outside, the sun is setting slowly beneath the forest trees that are still swaying gently from left to right and right to left. The bright orange glow of the sunset pours in through the windows of the plane and lights up the passive faces of the pilot and the sleeping passenger.
It was never my intention to say this to you, but I feel I must today, the sleeping passenger announces, stopping the pilot from standing up momentarily. Perhaps this is something you’ve noticed or something you haven’t, but do you know that you’ve been flying along the same route for years and years now? Your plane takes oﬀ from this very lake every sunrise and we fly through the same neighborhoods and houses and people only to return to this lake again with the sunset. Why do you persist along this same path every single day?
Because I’m following the sun back home, the pilot answers her sleeping passenger matter-of-factly. And this is the same route that the sun takes every single day so what else can I do but follow it without question? If the fortune teller knows something that we don’t, then all I can do is trust her and keep flying because one day, I’ll find myself there before I know it.
Find yourself there? The sleeping passenger asks in confusion.
The pilot smiles and places a hand on the door that opens into the flight deck. Home, she says. I’ll find myself home again one day. Even if it takes up the rest of my lifetimes, I’ll never stop looking for that place.
Before we set oﬀ for the skies again, the sleeping passenger says through a murky dream, I must admit that I made a mistake when I said you’d be the type to wander oﬀ the stony path. I realize now that you wouldn’t. You’re the only pilot I know who wouldn’t stop chasing after sun even if it meant flying along the same course for the rest of your life. So while you search without end for that place called home, I’ll stay here dreaming and I’ll wait for the day that something in the clouds sends you flying oﬀ course because I believe it’ll take you somewhere you never even knew was possible.
Keep sleeping and dreaming, you’re safe here. At least till the day that a cattleheart butterfly lands on the wings of the plane, the pilot says.
At least till that day, the sleeping passenger agrees.
The pilot pushes the door to the flight deck open and steps into that small, familiar space. She begins the ascent of her plane slowly and as she does so, she thinks once more about the stony path in the sleeping passenger’s dream. Maybe I’ve been walking along that stony path all this time without realizing it, she thinks. Maybe the stony path is a short path that doesn’t lead anywhere and is the type of path you’d need to wander oﬀ of in order to find yourself somewhere. How should I know though? Every day is strange enough because this is the same day as it was yesterday and yesterday was the same day as it was the day before. Just like the stony path, my days don’t ever end, and all my lifetimes stretch themselves out before me infinitely. Perhaps the last of my four lifetimes are also filled with the same days in the same place but I’ll find out one day. But some days, I think I know why I don’t stop and give up on this senseless hope: because it could be today. It could happen the next minute from now. The sun would rise in the wrong direction and the wind would sweep me oﬀ my feet, and I’d wake up suddenly in a lifetime where I’ve finally found home.
From the place where we stand watching, we can gladly assure you that the plane has taken oﬀ successfully and is once more flying safely through the clouds.