Nico returned to his penthouse later than usual. He was a rich young man who lived a profligate life without a care in the world. His main goal in life was the maximization of self-pleasure. The pleasure of others was not important to him and their pain invisible. He was a hedonist and the trivial day to day matters of ordinary existence that kept others busy and engrossed in their lives held him no interest.
He made his way to the top floor, stumbling along the way, for he had made more merry than he was wont to and had filled his belly with generous sweet wine and sumptuous food. As soon as he entered the room, he slumped on the soft, squishy sofa with its inviting velvet cushions and fell into a profound slumber.
Next day, Nico woke up with a severe headache, his head heavy as a boulder. The afternoon sun was oozing through the silken yellow curtains, permeating the room with a placid brilliance. The breeze blew in languid and cool caressing his face as it meandered through the rooms. Nico sat on the couch, cradling his throbbing head in his hands. He was filled with a sudden emptiness in his heart. He felt as though all the pleasures of life had forsaken him, that the night had silently come upon him like a thief and robbed him his zest for life. He could no longer feel the buzz he used to feel when he thought of the indulgence that awaited him. He was unable to feel the rush of delight that would swell his heart when he thought of the gratifying hours that lay ahead. Instead, he felt sick, fatigued and joyless.
He squeezed his exploding head with his hands. His mind felt vacant and dark. The pain was so dreadful he wanted to bang his head on the walls. As he kept kneading his head with his hands, there flashed in the blackness of Nico’s mind, three questions. Who am I? Why am I here? How should I live? The questions kept recurring in his head like a tape set to repeat itself without end.
Nico had never pondered on these questions before, but they were now paramount in his mind. The more he thought of the questions, the more the answers eluded him. It was as though he was running in circles without any destination in sight. Meanwhile, his headache seemed to provide no respite. Soon he became so down in the dumps that he decided to end his life.
“I cannot carry on without knowing the answers. It is making me sick to my very bones. I cannot take it anymore. I must end it without delay!” he kept telling himself.
Nico was a man who had never known pain before. He had no idea of misery, of anguish, of being down in the deepest depths of dejection. For a man who always sails on a sea of pleasure, even the weakest of squalls is so unsettling that it can capsize his boat. Nico was such a man, and his life was about to be turned upside down.
The questions were consuming him alive. The answers were nowhere in sight. Nico resolved to wind up everything by jumping off the Golden Gate, an old suspension bridge just outside of town. He scuttled down the stairs and dashed to the road. The night had already shrouded the town in black. The road was deserted with hardly a man or motor visible.
Nico was thinking what to do next when a pair of lights came to view in the distance. It was a taxi, and within seconds it stopped before him.
“To the Golden Gate,” said Nico, plopping himself on the backseat.
The taxi raced through the empty roads on full throttle. Here and there, street lights flickered as they attempted to conquer the darkness of the night. A jumble of clouds drifted in the sky, every now and then eclipsing the gleaming dazzle of the spherical moon. A few stars peeped through the ebony void, trying to get a glimpse of the happenings in the world beneath them. Watching the sleeping city hurtling by him, Nico felt he was drifting into a stuporous daze as the taxi sped through the quiet roads towards his destination.
The taxi came to a halt before a golden lychgate that was wide open as though it was expecting someone. When Nico stepped down from the taxi, four people in black gowns wearing black hoods greeted him.
“Welcome sir, the preparations are complete. Only your presence is awaited,” said one of them, and held out his right hand, “This way, sir.”
Nico raised his eyebrows and squinted in surprise. But nonetheless, he followed them without questions. Soon he was standing before a large box with candles burning all around it. The people in black began chanting in a foreign tongue and Nico’s heart froze in a nameless dread. It was then he realized the box before him was a coffin and all around him was a cemetery.
Nico fled from the place, screaming “I am alive! I am not dead yet!”
The stillness of the graveyard was ripped apart by his shrill voice as he ran, his fleeting footsteps reverberating like drums across the headstones. Long skeletal arms, devoid of flesh, emerged from the crevices of dust-covered tombs and waved at the retreating figure of Nico, yearning for a morsel of his animated flesh, longing for a touch of his life, wanting to walk among the living once more.
Nico dashed through the gate and jumped into the backseat of the taxi. “Let’s go. Step on it! Take me away from this infernal place!” he yelled.
Once again the taxi raced through the empty roads on full throttle. The trees beside the lane cast eerie shadows in the speeding lights of the taxi. To Nico, they seemed like monsters reaching out their hands to pick up unsuspecting travelers, and he shuddered in fear.
In a short time, the taxi came to halt before a golden kissing gate that led to a lush green park. Nico was confounded but decided to get down anyway. In the middle of the park was a tree that glittered in the shimmering lights of the moon and clouds dancing in the sky. And below the tree were four little boys.
Nico approached the boys curious about their business at such a late hour. The twinkling lights on the tree turned out to be fruits. The boys were busy trying to get their hands on the tantalizing delicacies that eluded their persistent attempts to gather them.
When they saw Nico, they cried out, “Please help us. You can reach them.”
There was something strange about the boys. Their faces bore a striking resemblance to kittens; their eyes had the misty innocence and tender moistness of a newborn cat, and their ears were decidedly furry and pointed. Nico was able to discern a few flimsy, almost translucent whiskers sprouting around their smiling lips. He was instantly drawn to the kitten-like boys, and his heart melted with affection for the first time. Never before had Nico felt such emotion towards anyone except himself. At once he raised his hands, plucked the fruits one by one and gave them to the boys. And he felt a great wave of happiness surge forth inside him, casting aside the boulder that was in his head, and his head no longer ached. The little boys were tugging at him, offering their fruits, inviting him to partake the harvest with them.
The taxi honked reminding Nico that this was not the place he had asked the driver to take him. He had to make a deliberate effort to go back for he felt an indescribable content in the presence of the little boys. He dragged himself away, gazing back wistfully as they waved at him.
“Please get in. I apologize. I believe this is the not the Golden Gate you wished to go,” said the driver.
And once more the taxi raced through the empty roads on full throttle. A meteor zoomed across the heavens and tumbled over the far horizon, erupting into otherworldly flames. Numerous stars emerged out of the shadowy abyss of space and infused the expanding darkness with their iridescent coruscations.
By and by, the taxi came to a stop before a golden turnstile which led to a bridge spanning a gurgling brook. The whole place was suffused with the susurrus of a million fluttering wings.
“You have reached your destination.”
“What do you mean? That is not the Golden Gate.”
“The Golden Gate you want to go is on the other side. You just need to cross over. I cannot drive you there,” said the driver as he dropped Nico and sped away into the darkness.
Already bewildered by the events of the night, Nico decided he had nothing to lose by crossing the bridge. But traversing to the other side was no easy task as innumerable butterflies lay resting over the entire pathway. If he was not careful, many would be either maimed or killed. Standing there before the colorful carpet of quivering life, Nico’s heart was filled with compassion for the gentle and benign creatures, living their lives unaware of his power to damage and destroy their existence. He swore he would not disturb or injure a single butterfly and made his way across the bridge with utmost mindfulness, bit by bit, at a snail’s pace. At length, he was on the other side and sighed with relief and danced with joy that his dextrous maneuvering had succeeded.
An odd-looking man with a pointed beard and horns on his head like that of a goat welcomed him.
“Your journey is done. You have finally arrived,” said the man, his big owl-like eyes, full of laughter, peering at Nico.
“What do you mean? I don’t see the Golden Gate anywhere,” said Nico, perplexed and pupils wide open.
“Don’t worry. You will soon be there. But that was not where you really wanted to go. What your soul needed was the answers to your questions.”
“How did this journey help in that?” Nico said, scratching his head.
“You answered it yourself. In your actions were the answers.”
Nico stood still clasping his hands together, pondering on the weird man’s words. “How?” he said at last.
“Who am I? You are alive. You answered it at the cemetery when you fled from that place. Why am I here? You are here to help and rejoice with other beings like yourself. You answered it at the park when you came to the aid of the little boys. How should I live? Live as though other lives matter. Tread gently on this earth so you don’t trample others, who are on the same journey as you. Live and let live. You answered it when you crossed the bridge without hurting the butterflies,” said the man, his big owl-like eyes, full of laughter, peering again at Nico.
Nico stood speechless, utterly stunned by his words.
“Now to the Golden Gate, the bridge that you wanted to go.” The man waved his hands and revealed a door out of thin air.
Without a word, Nico stepped out and found himself standing on the Golden Gate, the old suspension bridge that he had planned to jump from to end his life. But then he no longer had the desire to do so. He felt full of life and vigor. In his mind, he had become a new person. He knew who he was, why he was here and how he should live his life. He had the answers. Tomorrow would be a new day, and he would be a new man. Nico walked away from the Golden Gate, with a euphoric spring in his step. Behind him, the night was fading and the dawn was breaking, flooding the bridge with a glorious golden glow.
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