You are a simple inhabitant of the village, with no special vocation, no distinction to single you out. Yet you are, one fine day, singled out, selected to meet the recluse. It goes without saying that you’ve never met him before, and that he couldn’t possibly know you, but there it is. In fact, the real origin of the request had a vagueness equal to its urgency. Spreading like a most powerful rumor, it passed through every house, made consecutive noses twitch, tongues wag, and finally passed on to you, all eyes watching. You don’t even remember who it finally was that broke the news to you, nor did it seem to matter much, for everyone assumed the request to be a mandate beyond their reckoning, beyond your apprehension, and indifferent to the sudden social curiosity of the recluse himself. Even your wife’s pleading goodbye knew no expression could argue with the circumstance. So you went out past the village and its gently tended farmland, and through the thickly wooded forest.
Following a set of directions as scattered as those rumors which impelled you on this bizarre errand, you finally see the first marks of his territory. You see, he does not simply live in a house-no, his way of life cannot be so easily defined. Despite his abject seclusion, it was certainly apparent that he was not lacking in ingenuity, nor subtlety. After rummaging through his premises, you blundered into other . . . indications, it seems right now the only way you can describe them, indications of his presence, and sense of humor.
Gradually, as you enter more concrete places, the prospect of meeting him provokes a deeply distressed anticipation in you, pushes you though the unreasonably tangled underbrush. Days pass. You invariably leave traces of your own, and start to fall into a paranoid suspicion of his cat-and-mouse tactics. “The recluse is stalking me,” you say on bad days, “just as I get closer, he is taking one mocking step back, an ironic hand extended.” In retaliation I exercise the last bit of humor I can summon and invest my little encampments with similar hints of that clever self consciousness the recluse employs. Years pass.
Now I am helplessly lost, I still haven’t met him. Even more often now, I stumble upon his damned hovels, empty except for those equally damned little jokes. I cannot go home, having fallen prey to a compulsion common to some men, one which insists more desperately with each disappointment. So I continue searching, with a homesick heart, dreaming of the old life. “But I have abandoned my life,” you say, “You left him safely dwelling in the village long ago.”
Sometimes, late at night, you long to summon the old life from the now distant village, if not to help you find the dissolving shadow in the woods, at least to shake the hand of the life you left behind.