The desert of Ninh belonged to the Bardo, an intermediary place, a nowhere between somewheres. With hot winds spilling sand down its golden dunes, it seemed to go on forever. The sky was blue and bright. Standing on the crest of a dune as a surfer stands on the crest of a wave, Miracle looked out at this eternal corridor with eyes as wide and absent as some nocturnal animal. His black robe whipped around his legs, making a solitary sound that joined in the soft symphony being played by the rushing wind and the tinkling sand.
He had lived here so long that birth was a bad habit he could scarcely recall. Even beginning to remember it would be a sign that he was slipping, loosing his grip on this now, which was eternal. He stood on his dune staring at the far off horizon where gold met blue in a thin line, an invisible line which was neither sky, nor sand, but an infinitely small space between the two, a space like this place, the desert of Ninh, a nothing between somethings.
A distinctive characteristic of this desert was that there was no sun. The sky itself gave off its own illumination, as did the dunes. There were no markers by which to count the passage of time or determine cardinal directions. Night never fell and stars never shone. The heat was intense nonetheless, and uniformly distributed throughout the vast expanse. It was this uniformity which made it most uncomfortable, a complete lack of fluctuation, the absence of change. The winds neither cooled nor warmed. Nor did they ever cease to blow. This too was difficult to endure. One may enjoy the wind as it comes and goes, but when it never ebbs, but continually speaks in ones ear, it becomes like an unscratchable itch. Thirst too could be counted upon to drive a being without great resolve from the desert of Ninh. The only escape was to leave this corridor, to choose a somewhere that could ease the thirst and allow for peace and comfort.
Miracle had developed a habit for enduring discomforts and allowing pain to be a companion. It traveled with him through the unchanging desert. If he walked with it as he had been trained to do, the landscape remained unchanged. Vaguely, he remembered the day that reality first bent and melted like silver in the forge. It was a vision that bled into his mind from the edges, slowly creeping in like a shadow. This was the thing which he must try not to do, but it was happening without his consent, coming over him the way sleep descends upon every weary traveler. A room with a clean wooden floor and a tidy little bed. A table with an opened book and a burning white candle dripping with wax. A window overlooking a garden where men in earthen colored robes weeded and tied vines to trellises. A yellow rose turning its face up at him from its bed beneath the windowsill. And then a palm that he is studying, he is tracing the lines with his eyes, and then his own palm, his own lines and everything around them, it all begins to drip and melt like the candle on the table.
That’s when he had somersaulted, tumbled freely, swallowing himself endlessly before awakening in the desert. At that time he had welcomed the transition. Now that the forms of things left behind were calling him, he felt eager for them. He hungered to look upon the face of a yellow rose without understanding what it was, where it had been, why he should long to return to it.
These memories sent him roaming in search of that state he had left behind so long ago. His footsteps quickened. His pupils diminished in size. He took out the old senses which he had relied on whilst inhabiting that once familiar region, the habits that make a world. Pushing pain aside, he took thirst by the hand. Thirst would lead him to water. Thirst changed the terrain, calling for something until it came rolling in like the tide. Dunes gave away to flat terrain, sand parted for small jagged rocks and then for boulders. The horizon disappeared, replaced by looming purple mountains. A sun glittered over its peaks.
Here, beyond the border of the desert of Ninh, he found his dead body where he had left it, in a bundle upon the monastery floor. The candle still burned on the table. He looked at his crumpled shape curled like a fetus on the gray stones beneath him and then he found himself at the window. In the twilight outside, a spider tip toed across the roses face, prowling for a kill. His gaze fell into its most secret folds, traveling into its depths, into the heart of a flower, its smell enveloping him. Tumbling, falling, laughing for a moment, embraced by a familiar warmth until suddenly he was curled like a fetus again, adrift in a warm sea, listening to the pulsing heart beat of a yellow rose. This was a somewhere, a drink for a parched something.