Ahead of the man, the road reached straight ahead to the horizon. Behind the man, a straight line of footprints in the dust bore testament to his passing.
The man became aware of an echo to his footfalls. A second foot was falling along with each of the man’s own. The man took some paces to think about it. Thinking too quickly might burn the energy needed to sustain such a metronomic gait.
There were definitely two feet falling for each of the man’s own. Therefore someone else was walking in step. The man turned his head from the point where the road touched the horizon. Another man walked beside him.
The other man looked back. His head was bare. He hadn’t shaved for a week. His hair and clothes were tinted red by the dust of the road.
The man might have been looking in a mirror.
The other man spoke, showing no regard for the morsels of endurance he was diverting from his feet.
“I hope it’s there.”
The tone demanded an answer. The man looked at the other man for half a dozen paces, loathe to waste effort on speech but loathe to snub a companion of the road.
“You hope what’s there?”
Had the man been more practised in conversation, the answer would not have taken the form of a question that invited further conversation but it was too late to take the words back now.
The other man must have had more regard for his endurance than he had so far shown, because he did not answer in words. He jerked his chin at the horizon.
The man turned his head back to where it had been before the other man fell in beside him. Grey clouds were massing over the road ahead. Before long, they would blot out the sun blazing down on his head. Rain would sluice the dust off him and turn it to mud beneath his feet. The man would be soaked to the skin until he emerged from under the clouds and the sun burned the water off him.
A hint of colour stained the grey sky. It reached out from itself, arching across the sky as it spread across the spectrum from red to violet.
The man had not meant to speak, but the rainbow drew the words from him.
“It’s more than that,” said the other man. “So much more.”
This time, the man refrained from speaking. He kept his eyes on the arch hovering ahead of them. The other man would explain himself or he would not.
The other man chose to explain. “That’s refuge. That’s what that is.”
The man looked away from the rainbow and back to the other man, wishing to know what he meant. Before the man’s head finished turning, the man heard the absence of the second footfall.
The man walked alone.