The Mountain and Muhammad

The first time I saw him was at base camp. I had been preparing for months, of course. Ropes, axe, crampons, provisions, oxygen. He had... well, a jacket, at least. He looked like he was going for a winter stroll in the city. He asked if I was going to climb. I said yes. He said he'd catch up with me later. I laughed.

The second time was just as reality began to set in. The climb was difficult, yes, but it seemed manageable. Now, surrounded by ice, I wasn't so sure. Could I really make it? Startled from my rumination, I saw him walking towards me – down the mountain. I rubbed my eyes. He was still there. I asked what he was doing. He said he forgot something and needed to go back.

The third time, I had settled into a steady rhythm. I saw him at the end of a long valley. I was not surprised this time. He asked how I was going. I said fine. He said he admired my dedication. I said I admired his climbing ability. He laughed and said he wasn't a climber.

The fourth time, I was struggling up the sheer ice, a zombie powered by exhaustion. He was there, of course, resting on a nearby step. He asked if he could climb with me a while. I nodded. I wondered if he already knew as my foot slipped and the mountain fell away from me.

I felt it, then, in the creases of his hand. The mountain, aeons of rock and ice, worn and folded until it was no more substantial than paper. To me, it had seemed a forbidden monument, a tower reaching to the foundations of heaven. To him, it was a frosty staircase. He was looking at me. I stepped back onto the mountain. He smiled.

The fifth time, the last time, I was nearing the summit. It had seemed so far once, and so close now. How could these two feelings describe the same journey? He was standing just ahead of me. I asked if he was going to the summit. "What summit?" He asked.

I walked on, alone, the mountain shrinking beneath my feet.