The sound of the wind, blowing across the gaps of the zigzag hill ranges. The river, gushing through with gusto, cutting and itself being cut by the rocky riverbed. The sky, a navy blue sheet with a million shining holes, allowing the light of the stars to pass through. Me, sitting on a large rock at the bank, feet dangling just above the flowing river.
I don't know how long I've been out here. An hour? Maybe. Maybe more. Who knows? There's no concept of time at a place like this. It's nighttime.
Just as I crane my neck upwards to look at the sea of stars, for the umpteenth time, trying to catch a glimpse of a falling meteor, I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around, and there she is. All I can see is a dark outline, a silhouette with a face. The starlight reflected from the surface of the water is shining in her eyes. She's smiling.
"Hi," she says."
Hey," I say.
"Can I join you?"
"Sure, it's a free rock."
She chuckles and takes my hand to prop herself up the rock, somewhat clumsily.
"So, how come you're out here by yourself at nearly 1 am?"
"Uh.. nothing? Just sitting here, taking it all in I guess."
She pauses a beat. I only just notice the shiny object in her hand as she says, "Yeah. It's breathtaking, isn't it? The river, the silence of the mountains, the stars. You could fall in love at this place."
I look up from the bottle in her hand to match her gaze, and say, "Add to that a pretty girl who brought you wine? Literally perfect."
She laughs out loud at that. And I realize that the harmony of the sounds of the wind, flowing water, silence, and her laugh, has woven together to create a melody that is as breathtaking as you could ever imagine.
I ask, "How come you're out here then?"
"I couldn't sleep. My aunt snores like a king. So I stepped outside the tent for some fresh air and saw a silhouette on the rock. Knew it had to be you."
"Haha. Been two days and you already know me so well."
"So.. you okay?"
I double-take. Pause a beat, then manage, " Sure. Yeah, I mean.. I don't know."
"It's okay.. we don't need to-"
"No it's.. fine. I just don't know how to answer that question anymore," I say and laugh a desperate laugh.
"You want to try?"
I take a swig, trying to find a few words that make enough sense.
"Okay.. I'm just.. it's like this weight that I've been carrying around. The weight of the world around."
"Of the world?" she says, and her eyes narrow as if to focus on something far away.
"Yeah just.. everywhere you see. There's pain, suffering, and.. death."
Death hangs in the air for a second. Finally she says, "I know. But I mean.. it's not your fault, is it?"
I let out a wry laugh. "I know it's not. But come on, does it not just get to you after a point?" I say, looking straight into her eyes now. "Every day there's a new crisis in a different part of the world. Doctors were getting beaten up last week, because they weren’t able to save some lives. Doctors? We’re beating up doctors now."
She looks away. Down at her feet and below, and sighs. "Yeah.. that was hard to watch."
"The week before that all we could see was Palestinian children dying for no reason. Thousands of families destroyed. And for what?" I say to the side of her head.
She says nothing. Either out of empathy that develops in sharing a moment of pain together, or because she's bummed about having her vibe killed.
Either way, I'm sort of on a roll. "It's pride month now, isn't it? And what is behind the virtue-signaling of corporations by pandering with rainbow logos? An increase in hate crimes against the queer community. I mean isn't it just so f*cking predictable?"
She immediately looks back at me, and I see a thin glisten in her eyes. She's tearing up, and I realize all of it gets to her just as it does to me. She's just better at hiding it than I am. And in that moment, I feel a connection between us, invisible, but no less real, that can only occur when you're afflicted with the same kind of pain.
She says, "I don't know what to tell you man. The world is fucked up. I'm fully with you on that. But.. what do you do?"
"That's the thing," I say, with an air of defeat. "We cannot do anything about it. And it breaks my heart. Me and my privilege. Sitting in one of the most beautiful places in the world, drinking expensive wine," I look at her now, "with a cute girl who's willing to listen to me."
She smiles, and then I smile. "Haha oh you."
I say nothing. Neither does she. We sit in silence, passing the bottle around.
It is the kind of shared silence which is not forced, one which is not uncomfortable, and one which allows the existence of understanding that goes beyond any need for spoken words.
A few minutes go by, when she says, "Hey. Look up. At the stars. Isn't it breathtaking?"
I follow her gaze upwards. And it is spectacular. I'm at a loss for words. "Yeah it is. It really is," I say and after a beat I add "I'm sorry," but in a whisper that she does not seem to hear.
Instead she says, "Hey you wanna hear something really cool? About how life and universe are tangled with each other? Fair warning, it is a bit nerdy."
"Uhh hell yes? Of course I do."
"Okay.. okay. Here we go. *Clears throat* So you know the universe is expanding right?"
"Yes. Yes it is. And probably infinitely. Okay and also, it is expanding faster than the speed of light."
"It is? Wait, how is that even possible? Isn’t light the fastest thing in the universe?"
"Yes, that’s right. Light is the fastest thing that can travel WITHIN the universe. But the universe itself can do whatever it likes."
"Haha just. Trust me on that one. Anyway, so imagine there is a star at one end of the universe and we're at the other end. And the space between us is expanding faster than light. So do you know what will happen?"
"Wait, wait! I know this one. The light from that star will never reach us! Which means we will never be able to see it. Right?" I say, ecstatic to have got something right.
"That's right!" She grabs my hand as she says that. I look at her, pleasantly surprised, and smile. She is smiling as well.
"Anyway so for all intents and purposes, that star, for us, does not exist. It never was or never will be in a place where we could interact with it in any possible way, okay? It is outside what we call the observable universe," she says, using air quotes for the observable universe. I'm not sure why.
"Uh, okay.. I understand. I think. So there could be countless objects in our universe that we will never be able to see, right?"
"Exactly. Well, almost. If we cannot observe or interact or prove the existence of something, we cannot really claim it exists."
"Okay so it doesn't exist?"
"No but it could! So everything that is outside of this horizon, it is plausible to say, is part of a different universe."
I look at her, dumbfounded. "What are you saying to me right now? I-" but she interrupts and adds "And! And.. so it may also be plausible to say, that our observable universe, the reason that our universe looks like the way it does... is because we are here to measure it."
I stare at her face. I have no words. "I- you… wow. I cannot believe what you just said. Holy f*cking hell! God!"
She laughs, and then I laugh. "Right? It's mindblowing, isn't it? This is the kinda stuff I think about when I want to escape reality."
I shake my head. Still unable to comprehend the magnitude of her theory.
I sigh, and say, "I think if enough people spent enough time just sitting, you know, just taking a moment. Reflecting about.. what it means to be alive on this planet, just floating around in space, people would be a bit nicer to each other?"
She holds my gaze for a second and it feels like she is seeing right through me. "Yeah. Yeah I do think they would."
"So why don’t they?"
"I don’t know. They don’t want to, I guess, Some don’t get to."
I sigh, again. "You’re right. It is a privilege. That we get to sit here, healthy and safe, and talk about these things."
She gives my hand a squeeze, which makes me remember that we've been holding hands all this while.
"You don’t have to feel guilty about your privilege, okay? You did not choose it."
"I know, I know. I just.. wish I could do more."
"Yeah. Me too."
"But the status quo is established. The rich keep getting richer, and the poor, poorer. And that’s the root of every major problem in the world. The system is an enabler."
She lets go of my hand and turns to face me, still smiling."So what are you proposing huh? A revolution?"
"Hey I’m not proposing anything. I’m just saying that is what it will take. A coup, if you will."
At that, she laughs. And takes the last swig of the bottle."Come on," she says and grabs my hand and hops off the rock. "Let's dance." She pulls out her phone starts playing Tiny Dancer.
And so we do. Under the shimmering sky, between the green mountains, across the roaring river, to the rhythm of Elton John.
We dance until we are lost.