HUMILITY

Tears of exhaustion slid out from her skin and down her torso. They beaded on her forehead, fell, and stung her eyes. She found a rock and sat upon it and tried to slow her breathing. She unclipped a canteen from her belt and doused her lips with the water inside.

She looked at her watch. It had been nearly three days now since she had arrived at the base of the mountain and found where the trail began. She remembered what the elder in the city had told her. "The mountain," he spat from a tongue well marinated in old teas, "is more than just a symbol to this city."

The man had sat down on a plain and rickety wooden chair as he said it. He motioned for Lysa to sit in the identical chair across from him. He continued as she sat, "There was a legend about that mountain. Many years ago it originated, while the Gods still searched the Earth." Lysa stared at him curiously. "It was said that one of the Gods became frustrated at man's arrogance. It created the mountain, large and monumental, to dwarf the nearby village. That's this village, now a city," he explained. "But it didn't work; men trekked to the mountain's peak and felt nothing but superiority above the Gods themselves. That God was irritated at its failure, and it decided to put humility on the mountaintop in order to stop the pride of those who scaled it."

Lysa questioned, "Humility?"

"Yes," said the elder. "Humility. A phenomenon of the Gods, it isn't an object or a knowledge that can be given from one man to another."

"And you have taken this journey, to the mountain's peak? You've seen this humility for yourself?"

"In my younger years," laughed the elder. It sounded more like a fit of coughs. Lysa's puzzled, doubtful look persisted. "Don't worry, it's there."

This city was one of the most prosperous and populated cities in the world and, just so, it was located beside one of the largest and grandest mountains in the region. A strange mountain, it stood alone in an otherwise smooth geography. Lysa had taken a flight here specifically to see this man. He always seemed to go by "elder"; Lysa had never learned his name. He was short, shorter than she was. He wore a loose and plain gray t-shirt and black slacks that hung down past his ankles. He wore nothing on his feet. Also notably absent was hair - the man was bald, and his spotted head shone dully in the natural afternoon light that poured in from the wide glass windows. He lived in a spacious apartment on the top floor of a great skyscraper. The living space was provided to him for free by someone personally grateful to him for his sharing of wisdom. The lack of proper furnishings combined with the omnipresent smell of herbs and tea gave it a peculiar rustic quality despite the urban scenery outside.

During a fit of particular crankiness, Lysa's mother had instigated an argument with her. That's what Lysa would have maintained, anyway. In truth the argument was a product of their combined efforts. The subject of it was trivial, it pertained to Lysa's love life. Her mother wished to control who she could love and Lysa wished her mother would approve regardless of who the love belonged to. Her mother, nerves raw from her many years of raising an arrogant Lysa alone, had shouted: "You need to learn some damned respect!"

Antagonistically, Lysa had told her mother that she would, in fact, do her best to do just that. She talked with people held in high esteem for their wisdom and questioned them about respect, and over time it transformed from something of a sarcasm into a genuine and passionate search for understanding. Lysa found this man she was talking to now through the recommendation of one woman she'd conferred with previously. On the phone, this elder had told her that he knew exactly where she could find what she was looking for. He demanded that she see him in person.

Lysa rubbed the sweat and the hair from her eyes and looked up the face of the mountain. She estimated that she was only a few hours away from the top. She stowed the canteen back on her belt, took one more deep breath, and stood back on aching legs.

The climb was, relatively speaking, an easy one. There was a clear trail that was meticulously maintained, and the weather had stayed uneventful. She had brought only the essentials with her in her backpack, so the weight she carried was not excessive. Aside from the exertion, the most exhausting part of the journey was certainly the lack of company; even the fauna was sparse. She had come alone, just like the elder had suggested. "Anything else," he'd insisted, "would be sacrilege."

Time passed slowly as Lysa ascended. The sun seemed to be rising with her, regaining its midday glory out of its night-long slumber. She took a final few steps and arrived at what she judged to be the highest point. The clouds were closer here, what few of them hung over her. She looked over the city sprawl and at the surrounding countryside and roads from nearly two kilometers up. The view was gorgeous and for a moment Lysa despised her negligence to bring a camera.

When Lysa was in the city searching for the address that the elder had given her on the telephone, the sheer scale of it had struck her as magnificent. The mammoth human structures towered like giants overhead, the marvels of human engineering. The numerous human vehicles propelled themselves along broad avenues with oils carefully extracted through human industry. The determined human businesspeople hailed cabs and primmed suits on their way to participate in the ambitious markets of human commerce.

Now the city reminded Lysa of an ant farm she had kept in middle school. She remembered how the ants couldn't keep her attention for very long, that their lives appeared so insignificant and drab. They danced from space to space within the tunnels they'd created, tending to their various little responsibilities. She'd grown tired of the exhibit and its monotony and dumped it out onto the lawn after only a few days.

She stared from the mountain for several moments, transfixed by the difference in perspective. What was once a dazzling show of competence had become tiny. She remembered the time she spent in that city. She imagined that she could spot herself down there, through the window, in the top of the skyscraper she recognized as the apartments that the elder lived in. She imagined the speck that she might see if she could squint hard enough. She imagined how small she was.

Lysa began her return to the base of the mountain.

Written by Sophie Kirschner