Beyond That Hill

I made it. From afar, scaling this hill seemed an insurmountable task, but here I am, atop the hillside that separates my secluded valley from what lay beyond. And, to my delight, the sun has yet to set. Soft shades of orange float across the evening sky, fading into a burst of vermillion light upon touching the horizon. Finally, a moment of respite. This day has been oh so long, and my body has complained every step of the way. I reach for my backpack, undo the clasps, and let it fall to the grass. Relief, I can breathe again. Inhaling deeply, I feel the fresh mountain air caressing my lungs, endowing a deep sense of tranquility. And then, gently, I ease into a comfortable position, with my back to the ground and arms spread wide.

As I lay there in a comfortable daze, I see ominous shadows race across the vast landscape, covering it in a veil of darkness. The scale has shifted. And yet, there are no signs of struggle, only peaceful resignation, and acceptance. It is as if the sun is happy to oblige with its given role, appreciating what it has and allowing the night to get its share of exposure. I wish I could be like that. I wish that I could accept my fate with grace instead of fleeing like a spoiled child. And yet, here I am, at the boundary between my people and a world I was never supposed to know.

I lean back on my shoulders and turn my head to regard the village. The tiny rooftops and roads glow golden in the last rays of the day, creating a picturesque image of my hometown. That puny village down there was my home for the last 16 years. Still, the smallness of scale is by far outweighed by the hearts of the people living down there. Will continue living there forever, as will their children and their children’s children. In our culture, there is no such thing as leaving. Why would you leave when everything you need is right here? I wonder. Can’t say I know the answer. But what I do know is that once I tread beyond this hill, there will be no going back. Never again, never will I get to see the proud look on my brother’s face as I show him my latest short story, nor the little twinkle in my mother’s eyes as I tell her about a girl I fancy. 

Tomorrow, as my father awakes for his morning walk, he will step into my room to take me with him. It is my birthday, after all. But, alas, he will be met with an empty bed and neatly folded clothes. I can see it before me, the furrowing of his brows signaling disappointment but, more than anything else, sadness. Moisture trickles down my eyes, and though I try to keep it from going further than that, I soon find myself bawling.

I love him. I love my father so much, as do I the rest of my family. But they do not understand. They do not understand that I must see what lay beyond that hill. I asked my father once, “Fa, what is out there?” He waved his hands dismissively and responded curtly, “It doesn’t matter since you won’t ever go there”. I think he didn’t know, either. And somehow, he manages to live with not knowing, as does the rest of the village. But I can’t.

Tomorrow is my 17th birthday. The day I become an adult according to the village code. Becoming an adult means I shall enter a ritual of bonding, becoming one with the spirit of the land. They have all done it. My father, mother, and older brother, and I can see the eagerness in their eyes when we discuss it. Yesterday, my brother tried explaining: “It’s like, it’s like the bond of a close-knit family, only that the entire valley will become your family. The water, the earth, and all the creatures that inhabit it. I know them. And tomorrow, my dear brother, you will get to know them as well”. As he ended his passionate speech, he took a firm hold of my shoulder, smiling. 

What I wanted to tell him, but which I naturally never did, is that I cannot stay here with them. It is not a matter of wanting; I simply can’t. For them, it seems a small matter that the bonding part means I cannot leave the valley, ever. But for me, it means everything. I feel it burning deep in my chest, the desire to explore, the call to adventure. 

They will go looking for me. However, it is futile, for tomorrow, when the sun hits the summit, I shall be far gone from this place. Never to return. The sun has now completely faded. I reach into my backpack to remove a blanket that I spread across the grass. And, as I lay there, the moment before the blackness completely dominates my view, I am overcome with a realization. Though my doubts are many, one thing I know for sure. 

Beyond that hill lays my fate.

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