I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
-Ozymandias by Percy Shelley
He opened his eyes and groaned. Where was he? Painfully Richard sat up as his bones creaked and his muscles popped. How long had he been lying like that? He felt the gritty sand on his skin and tasted it in his mouth and knew that he was really in a desert. Even he couldn't be that imaginative.
How on Earth…? You don't just wake up and find yourself in the middle of a desert somewhere-there had to be some reason that he was there. Richard stood up and brushed the sand off of him about as well as anyone could rid themselves of the miniscule grains and began to walk searching for any sign of civilization. For what seemed like an eternity he was alone with the baking sun, the sound of his breathing, and his own footsteps. Why couldn't whoever brought him there at least have had the decency to leave him with a bottle of water?
Richard was never that lucky. He was that guy that always found the only puddle on the street and splashed his good khaki's in mud and could never think of the right thing to say ever. Of course he would be this unlucky. Of course he'd be the one that something like this had happened to. Anger fluttered through his mind as he remembered all of those times where he had gotten lost, or tricked into going somewhere as a joke, or had been on that bus that broke down on the middle of the interstate and trapped with the guy who insisted on chewing his gum loudly while he was going on about how much his day sucked. Well, didn't his day suck too? Wasn't he the one who had to be stuck there with him for the next however many hours it would take to resolve whatever problems the bus was having?
As he was walking it occurred to him, didn't that special he saw last year say something about cacti storing water? If he had a knife…he dug in his pockets and found his Swiss army knife. It would have to do. Now if he could only find some cacti…
Unfortunately there wasn't anything for as far as the eyes could see. So Richard debated his options-he could either rest or walk and keep attempting to find water or civilization. The second option, he decided was better because the temperature only kept rising and it was only going to get hotter and he was even going to get hotter and thirstier. Already his throat was scratchy and mouth was dry-the sand in his mouth was only making things worse.
Suddenly there was a noise not of his own creation. He stopped dead in his tracks. Where was it? He looked down and saw a lizard scurrying across the sand. That was good. It meant that there had to be water somewhere near. Richard ran as fast as he could until he bumped into something solid.
It was man who was holding a staff. Judging from the exotic light weight garment that Richard couldn't put a name to the man was native to the desert.
At first the man was yelling at him in a language that he didn't understand. It certainly wasn't a language that he had ever heard before.
Richard just looked at him, "I am sorry, but I do not speak your language."
The man then switched to yelling at him in broken English. "What you doing?! You crazy? Why do you run in clothes like that?"
In a placating gesture he held up his hands. "I don't know how I got here. I just woke up in the desert." He panted. "Please help me… I'm so thirsty!"
This time the man motioned. "Come." He led him to an oasis…a desert paradise. Nothing had ever looked so beautiful to him at that moment. The green looked so vibrant…so lively in comparison to the dulled shades of sand. There were grasses and trees and water…sweet sweet water. Was it safe?
As if to answer his unasked question he nodded and looked towards the flowing water. All attempts at politeness abandoned he ran to it, cupped his hands, and began gulping down the cool liquid. If felt as if life was restored to him-maybe it was because water was life, especially in a desert where every last drop was precious.
Once again the strange man said, "Come with me."
"Wait!" Richard exclaimed. "I don't know your name."
He turned and responded, "You may call me Basir-one who sees, for I have seen much," then he continued ahead without even looking back to see if Richard was following.
It was as if his feet were doing the thinking for him. Even if he hadn't wanted to follow he wouldn't have found the will to resist-that was very much clear by the strong impulse to follow. There was no fighting it, so he didn't bother.
He was lead through the oasis back into the desert and through the endless sand until they reached a spot with rocks jutting out of the ground.
"Behold." What exactly was he supposed to be seeing? He walked closer. The rocks were shaped unnaturally. Were they man made?
"You are here to observe- to see what you must." Why was he speaking so cryptically? He had seemed so normal before he started speaking in riddles.
"What is this?"
"You tell me."
He ran his hands through the rocks as he was thinking and was surprised at their smoothness. "Was this a building?"
Basir stared off into the distance. "There was once a people who lived for beauty. Their houses were made of alabaster and their temples were made of the finest marble that was always polished until the sun could be seen reflected off of the walls. Their Temples were the pride of the people. This was once one such temple." Then he looked sadly at Richard. "Because of their vanity and pride it is gone." To Richard the words sounded mournful. Did Basir have a connection to the place?
The marble was chipped and fractured from years of abuse and corrosion caused by sand but its beauty was still there. It reminded him of looking at the aged houses Richard used to pass as he traveled to work at the older part of town. Some of the houses were over a century old and had been dismissed as old and run down-he had been one of them. But now…he could also recall traces of their faded beauty in the trellises and the molding. This temple felt different, though. Perhaps it was the age or knowing that some ancient person could have stood where he was a thousand years ago. The thought gave him and odd sort of thrill. "Their vanity and pride caused their fall…" He muttered. "What do you mean?"
"What happens to any kingdom that is blinded by their own faults? Beauty was valued above all else and there was little that they would not do for beauty."
After an uncomfortable silence Basir spoke again. "Look into the marble and see your true self."
Peering into the marble he saw himself, but slightly warped-it was as if he was looking at his reflection in a moving body of water. Was Richard supposed to take the whole reflection thing literally? Or was that just a metaphor? What did it mean? Was it saying that was a lunatic? Or was it referring to some fault. He thought back to major faults and realized that all of them-his stubbornness and tendency to embellish the truth, included, could all be traced back to two traits-his vanity and his pride. Was he like those people, doomed to fall by his own doing?
"You have seen your true self?" He nodded.
"Do you like what you see?"
"I have been a fool."
Basir's response was a nod. "You are here to learn, but only you can teach yourself." Another cryptic comment, just what he needed.
"Who are you?"
"Have I not told you? I am Basir."
"I mean who are you…to this place?"
Basir himself was now staring at the marble. "I was once a prince of this land, but I have failed in my duty. Now I must watch and guide. Who is better at seeing another's fault than one whose faults are the same?"
"Now sleep!" Basir commanded. Why would he ask for him to fall asleep right there in the ruins?
Richard couldn't fight it. His eye lids felt as if they had been weighted and they closed on their own accord.
When they opened again Richard was comfortable and cool. Now he realized what a luxury air conditioning was. Wait a minute…air conditioning? A few seconds were spent excitedly taking in his surroundings. The white washed walls and red comforter confirmed what he already knew-he was in his own home. Maybe it was all a dream…
Richard got out of bed and stretched. He stared as sand poured out of his wrinkled clothes and off of the comforter.