The little boy skipped through the forest as surefooted as someone who has been on the trail a thousand times blindfolded. I had to run to keep up with him.
He was leading me to the waters, so I paused for breath and drained the remaining drops of water from my canteen, but not without a second thought.
"Hurry up," he whooped from somewhere far ahead of me.
I stumbled after him, praying once again (to any God that cared to listen) I wasn't being misled.
In my mind, I was convinced we were heading in the wrong direction. The cave from where the waters had gushed forth relentlessly, we had long ago lost somewhere in the wilderness behind us. The boy had said the best water would be found downstream, and although he was merely a child, he lent a certain conviction to his words and I had found myself incapable of doubting him.
But that was then. Now I realised that with each step forward, the roar of the waterfall had subsided imperceptibly. At first it had reduced to the gentle gurgling of a little stream, and then there had been the occasional swish of water lapping over pebbles. And even that had died away when I wasn't paying attention. When I asked the boy about it, he said we had to leave all the noise behind and that the growing silence meant we were on the right path.
Now and then I heard the sound of a drop of water falling but we were so far away from the waters now I was convinced it was just the voices in my head playing tricks with my mind. We had come so far ahead now that even if I were to retrace my steps, I wouldn't be able to make it back alive.
Lost in these morbid thoughts I continued to plough ahead, head drooping so low in misery I didn't notice the little boy jumping up and down excitedly ahead of me nor did I hear him whisper out my name. He grabbed my hand when I reached him and pushed through a lump of overgrown weeds.
On the other side was water, clear as day and quieter than silence. It lay in a narrow pool that stretched endlessly up and down the forest. The water was so still it felt sacrosanct to disturb it, I thought for a fleeting instant, before putting my lips to its cool, shiny surface and hungrily swallowing it in huge mouthfuls.
Only when I was satiated did I lift my head and the waters returned to a stillness that did not seem incongruous to its nature. It carried in it the reflections of the clear skies and snow-capped mountains, as if a whole other universe existed peacefully in its confines, mirroring the one above, so you couldn't tell which one was real and which was merely an echo.
I asked the little boy about it. And he said one was the other and vice versa too, so it didn't really matter which was which. Because, he explained, if you left the noise behind and stared long enough at your reflection, it would reveal your true soul.
(Tale originally published on Saturday, August 31, 2013)