For as long as I remember, this mountaintop has been my home. Sitting atop my humble nest of rock and the shirts off of men and women’s backs, I meditate until a new student arises over the mountain’s crest. Today a man in a yellow shirt arrived, side by side with a donkey carrying all of his necessary gear. That same donkey that had been here as long as I have been. I’m sure of it. I watched him approach me, my eyes half closed, to maintain the impression of me being a deep trance. He then spoke that same phrase everybody has for centuries, the language being the only thing that changed between them. This man spoke English.
“Oh man of the mountain, give me wisdom,” the yellow shirted man said.
I opened my eyes fully and looked at him. A middle aged man dressed in a yellow shirt depicting some sort of college regalia, American. The shirt fit loosely over him, he had lost some weight from the climb. They all do, assuming that the cold indifference of the mountain hadn’t killed or scared them. I paid little attention to the man, instead my eyes drifted towards his burro companion, who had begun nibbling at the brush down the path. I’ve had centuries of cold feet, but today, I reassured myself, today was the day that I would finally confront this strange mule.
“Would you give your shirt off your back to help a man in need?” I asked, the words coming out of my lips automatically.
The man in the yellow shirt followed my gaze in confusion. Still trained on the donkey, he looked at my confused. I said nothing. I always say nothing, mostly because it’s fun to watch them figure it out. A few moments passed when it clicked within his mind, quicker than most I’d say. He took off his shirt and handed it to me. A hairy man with more hair on his chest than skin. The flesh on his abdomen hadn’t fully adjusted to his change in weight and it dropped a little, like a partially stuff pillowcase. I took the shirt, my gaze drifting back to the donkey, and then stuff the shirt beneath me onto the hunk of shirts of shirts from those seeking my wisdom, and shifted my weight. As I worked out how to confront the mule, my mind began speaking words of wisdom. I had seen his type before, many of times: middle life crisis, fear of death, depressed from wasting their first half of their lives at a dead end job, most likely divorced after a decade and a half of a fading marriage only held together for so long by the children between them. So my mouth began spewing the wisdom I’d give so many men like him before.
“Life is a journey of a thousand forks…” my lips began saying.
Hey there fellow immortal, I rehearsed my address to the donkey, what brings you around these parts? Nope, too causal. Why would a donkey like you spend so much time hiking the same trail over and over again? You okay bud? Too presumptuous. Oh immortal ass, teach me your ways. Was ass considered an offensive term to donkeys? I continued to search for an opening line while my mouth continued to spew boilerplate wisdom until the man appeared enlightened, or at least satisfied.
“… do not make haste of the journey, and do not dwell on the missed paths.” My lips concluded. The man looked at me, seemingly impressed by whatever I had just said and smiled.
“Thank you wiseman,” he said. “It is clear to me now.”
I nodded. The man began walking away towards the donkey when I felt my heart rate raise.
“Wait,” I said. I couldn’t believe I was about to do this. “I must consult with your donkey companion.”
“Uh, yes sir,” the man said.
I stood up from my nest of cloth and stone, my joints popped as I lifted myself from the pile. My legs had become stiff and atrophied from decades of inactivity. I cursed myself beneath my breath for not getting up and moving every once in a decade as I had promised myself the last time I had left my roost two centuries ago. Using my legs as if for the first time, I hobbled past the man to the burro. I placed my hand on it for support.
The donkey paid no attention to me. Its neck hung towards the ground as it munched upon the spots of green brush between the stones that made up most of the mountain top. Embarrassed and not wanting to make a fool of myself than I already had, I concocted a little quest to send the shirtless man on.
“Before you depart, you must embrace the mountain’s gifts,” I said to the man. He looked at me confused, but I said nothing. He let his confusion guide him as his brain tried to piece together my nonsense and let us be as he wondered around the mountain top. When plenty of space filled between us, only then did I confront the donkey.
“It’s strange seeing another immortal soul around these parts,” I said. “Why do you do what you do?”
The donkey said nothing, it just continued grazing.
“You know we immortals don’t have to eat, why do you eat? Are you ignoring me?”
It ignored me.
“Can’t you just like hey-haw or something if you understand me?” I asked. “God, I sound like an ass. Oh shit, I didn’t mean it that way.” I grew flustered. “Look, I just want to know what you get out of this.”
The donkey answered with a dismissive bray. I gave up and watched the donkey go about its business. I watched as it nibbled on the grass, as the pots and pans on its back rattled with every footstep, and it took its time to just be. As the air drew colder and the sun’s lighting darker, I soaked it all in until the man returned to us.
“I now see,” the man said.
“I do too,” I answered, still watching the mule as it just existed on the mountain top.
The man shivered. “Can I have my shirt back?” He asked.
I looked at him with a stern expression.
“Alright then,” he said seemingly getting my message. “Best to get going. Thank you wiseman.”
I nodded and looked at the donkey which had finished its feast of ferns and looked up at the man. The man returned to the donkey and pulled a jacket out of one of the sacks. He took the reigns and began guiding the mule down the mountain side. I watched until they disappeared over a ridge far down below. The sun’s rays now filling the sky with orange and red, I returned to my roost and closed my eyes. Meditating upon the wisdom of the donkey.
This story was originally submitted to this writing prompt.