…The snow was dry and solid, severe winds made it so compact, that it required effort to take a step and fix the crampons. The spike of the ice-axe rammed into the snow with a creak and easily slipped out. The Western side of the Elbrus peak looked like a friendly glaring white hill in the background of the bright blue sky. A cloud was anchored on it, and this idyllic view meant the storm was raging up there. It seemed the peak was not far off – at that moment we were separated from it with one and a half kilometers of a continuous overpowering ourselves, the headache, exhausting tiredness, sleeplessness, bitter air and the splendor of the merciless mountains.
We were surrounded with the blinding greyness of the fog. It was snowing, but still not cold. It was daytime, but seemed impossible to move forward – after ascending with our rucksacks for adaptation, we descended 200 meters and put up the tent. (it was so hard to ascend, and now go down!!! This is a real savageness, indeed!). Though, we left hanging ropes in the most difficult places, so tomorrow ascending the ice-wall would take half an hour – an hour, but not three hours as was today. We stayed in our sleeping bags and everybody was busy with their own thoughts. Oleg was caught with a cold sore – yesterday he was not careful enough when applying the ointment on his lips, and today’s freezing temperature completed the sun’s effect – his lips were swollen, chapped and seemed to cause him strong pain. From time to time sleepiness came on and some total apathy appeared to be hanging in the air. Quite soon it became hot in the tent and I could not understand my condition, which was even more tiring than if I was not well. If I close my eyes, I immediately see the images of the last few days… step by step up the boundless snow fields of Elbrus – we move up, roped team, I am in the middle… ten steps, rest… my life is broken into pieces, and each piece is ten steps long… The plastic boots “Asolo” seem to be the heaviest weights, attached to my feet, one hundred steps – a longer rest, I just crash on my side and on the rucksack onto the snow and remain lying there with my wide open mouth trying to get air that lacks oxygen. My heart is ponding, I close my eyes, relax my body and devour every moment of this rest… why is it impossible even to have rest, to nap, as soon as I close my eyes, it is all back again – I am ascending, and what’s the worst is that I feel tired from this obsessive image as much as from the reality! I shudder, try to fight the tiredness and think of something pleasant… I close my eyes… I am again climbing… the guys discuss something, look at the mountain through the binoculars… a terrible zone of cracks that nearly sucked me into the chasm – there suddenly opened emptiness under my foot, snow parted, I lost my balance and fell to the right, but did not get through into the chasm, being held by the rope I stuck in the snow upside down with my hands behind the back under the weight of the snow. It is impossible to throw off the rucksack, I am hanging and laughing loud – I understand that the guys will pull me out, I am not scared, but I feel scared now… the sky is dark-blue… all is spinning in my eyes, it is tiring, this bloody altitude sickness…
– You must make yourself busy with something, – somebody’s voice snatches me out of the delirious mirage – ah, Andrey disturbs me. – The best way to adapt is to find something to do. For example, to build a wind shield around the tent (What??! Hell, no…), or to sew up something, or talk, but if you lie as you do, you will get tired even more – this is strange, but this is reality.
Every movement causes an abominable pulsating headache. I shook my head in an attempt to fight the headache and nearly howled from the sharp pain.
– Here, have it. – Andrey hands me a couple of tablets.
– What is it?
– Have it, don’t be afraid, this is cyanide, you’ll feel better…
This is not funny… pain relief? I take them and make a heroic act, raising on my elbows in the sleeping bag and sitting down.
– What were you looking for in Mexico? – I ask Oleg in order just to talk.
He looks at me attentively, as if studying, and suddenly a smile breaks out through his outward inapproachability and lips, swollen with the cold sore. He might have felt that it is more than curiosity on my part.
– Knowledge that could take me outside this world’s boundaries.
– Why there?
– You definitely read Castaneda? – and after my affirmative nod he continued, – I wanted to find the magicians. I thought if I come to those places and manage to create the intention, I would be able to contact them. (Mm-yeah… is all good in his head? I bloody got into these mountains… what if he is going to look for the world of magicians…) But either my intention was lousy or all the magicians had already disappeared – nothing happened. Week after week I shifted from one place to another in this wild and not very friendly country, but I met nobody connected in any way with magic. I met only ordinary people that had totally immersed in the chores of everyday life. It was impossible to live in the cities because of the noise and dirt, living in the tourist centers was pointless and expensive, outside of the cities and far from tourists – was not safe. I can tell you a lot about these trips, but it is all insignificant as I have not been interested in travelling in the common sense of this word. I visited nearly all the places, described by Castaneda except those that were not named. You can imagine my disappointment that I found only ordinary places, ordinary life and the crowds of drugged tourists. I thought I was ready for it, but as it turned out – I was not.
For some time he was silent, looking down, as if it was hard for him to continue and it evoked a trusting fondness in me, because he was searching, no matter this search was close to craziness, still it caused more response, than deliberate and quiet life, absorbing the Mankind in its waste of energy and time for improving living conditions and attempts of feeling satisfied from what had been obtained. The image of one of my ex friends emerged in my mind. She was hanging around with me everywhere and seemed to be of the same sort like me, then very quickly she married and suddenly found the meaning of the life in furnishing and making comfortable and beautiful the living-room, hall, kitchen, bathroom… then in getting rid of her husband, who became too boring for her, at the same time she did not want to share with him anything of their belongings- neither a curtain, or a lampshade, or a bookshelf…
– Nearly two years of unsuccessful search led me at last to one ordinary place. There were no distinguished buildings, no special beauty of nature, but there was something magnetically attractive. It was a small town on the North of Mexico, I passed it on my way and I did not even remember the name of the place. I tried to find it out later, but no luck. I came to this town late one morning, and soon it should become very hot there. I had lunch in some lousy snack bar and went to have a look around. (Still there is too much discontent in him, disappointment, there is no joy of quest, it’s more like a painful strain). I thought it was time to return home regardless of my decision never to return until I achieve my goal. But these two years have exhausted me too much. They contained delusion and pain from devastation of my visionary hopes and more and more often it triggered the wish to quit it and become an ordinary person. These thoughts made me feel even worse, but I could not carry on with my searches, at the same time did not want to stop as it seemed to be equal with committing suicide.
– Why did you think only there you could find what you were looking for?
– Because it appealed me there, because Castaneda studied there.
– But when you saw reality, did you still think only there you could find your goal?
– I don’t know what it seemed to me, I don’t remember. Or I don’t want to remember. Everything must have mixed – both hope, ambition, aspiration, and the fear to lose my last support, because I was sure I will find it.
– So what happened in that town?
Oleg was looking at the tent wall, apparently thinking whether to tell me or not. His face was very serious and I stayed motionless in order to keep the balance of this thinking on my side. Andrey was not interested in this conversation at all. At first he pretended that he was listening to us, but then he could not resist his drowsiness and fell asleep half sitting up, with his mouth open, which looked so funny. But Oleg seemed to notice nothing.
– I found what I was looking for.
– Yes, I found what I was so unsuccessfully looking for in the ancient ruins and mysterious mountains for the last two years, I found it in this god-forgotten place.
– So what did you find?
– You will think I am crazy…:) Though, it does not matter. Now everything is lost, nothing has any meaning and it is not going to change anything if you think that I am crazy… I was slowly going down the street, thinking where to hide from the heat, but there was no park or anything to sit down in the shade. For the last few days I did not sleep well, had nightmares, I was often sitting on a balcony, smoking cigarettes one after another… I got into a slum area, my head was so heavy, I thought I was going to faint, this must have been heat stroke. I stopped and leaned on a rough stone wall. As if from under the ground there emerged a small, barefooted, dirty girl with scratches on her knees. She compassionately looked at me with her big beautiful eyes and invited me to follow her with a gesture. I did not understand anything because of the noise in my head and moved forward, concentrating my glance on her dirty yellow dress. It didn’t take long. She pushed a small rusty gate with her dark hand, and I found myself in a not very large orchard. I immediately wanted to sit down in the shade, but the girl pulled me insistently to go inside the house. I do not remember this house, but I remember it was dark and cool in there. As soon as I came into the hall, I felt absolutely weak, for a few moments could not see – maybe because I came from the bright outside. The girl shouted something and her clear voice echoed in the house. I heard somebody’s steps and felt the support of strong and pleasant hands. I was taken into a room and placed into an armchair. Soon I felt better and could see the surroundings and who brought me there.
This was a woman – a strong, shortish Indian or a half-blood Indian. Her face was strict, but friendly, even though it had no smile. On broken Spanish she told me she was going to bring me some water. I stayed alone in the dim-lit room and suddenly felt scared – where am I? I came up to the window, moved aside the wooden blinds, but saw only an orchard and a high wall not so far off. The woman soon returned with a bowl of cold water and asked me what I was doing in this town. I told I was on my way. I did not want to frighten her with stories of looking for magicians and shamans, I already had my bitter experience – the locals only laughed at me when I was asking them something like “do you know how I can find the way to a shaman?” But she knew this was why I came here. I was drinking sweet and sour water and my body was getting heavier and heavier. I wanted to sleep and she let me go down to the mattress, which seemed to be very comfortable in spite of being rough. For some time I heard her voice, either singing something, or slowly speaking in some unknown language, it entwined in me and generated the feeling of being absolutely secure. And suddenly I found myself in a deserted place, but it was not a dream! It was hard to believe, but it was not a dream.
Andrey snored while turning on the other side and Oleg stopped for a few moments, but continued, casting a sly glance at me.
– I had lucid dreams before for a few times, I know what they are like, but THIS was different, this was reality. I was in that desert exactly like I am with you now. I had full control of my body, I could look at everything I wanted to, I touched the dry stony ground, I pinched myself and I did all other things to ensure this was not a dream. I had no doubts and I have no doubts now that it was not a dream, – he said it with passion, – though if it was a dream, it would be so much better, I would not suffer, I would return home and become an ordinary person… I was walking in the desert, there were mountains far off and I knew something was going to happen, but I felt scared, because I had been waiting for it for so long. Very soon I saw somebody walking towards me. When only a few meters were there between us, I could at last see him distinctly. This Indian was in working clothes, as if he stopped working in the field just for a moment to have a chat with me, and then he would return to what he had been doing. He came up to me close by, and bloody hell – he looked exactly how I imagined the magicians from the Castaneda books! I shall never forget his eyes, these were the eyes of God! (Still, mate, you definitely gaga…). He told me just a few phrases – “you can go with me, and then you will never return, but at the moment your father is dying of cancer and there is nobody around him to relieve his suffering”. At that moment such a strong heartache and incredible pity towards my father engulfed me that I was ready to cry. This was a real shock – how could I move forward while knowing that right now my father, who gave me LIFE, was dying in suffering? And how could I refuse this only chance to become free from a dull, stupid life and leave for the eternity? I could not make a choice and lost my chance…
Oleg ceased talking and looked absolutely grim, as if he re-experienced his tragedy again. I suddenly understood he had not spoken about it to anybody else. I was the first one to know his imaginary or real story, but what was not imaginary – was his suffering that did not let him talk.
– When I came back to life after that bloodcurdling duality, I found myself sitting on a pavement near a rough wall, surrounded by local children. They must have thought that I was drunk and laughed at my clumsiness. My ears were full of ringing, all my body was aching, as if I was bitten, my legs did not support me… With great difficulty I returned to my hotel, and I did not meet anybody on my way to ask for help. In the hotel I fell on my bed and got into a deep sleep. I did not know how long I was sleeping, but I woke up in another town, another hotel and another bed. I could not remember how I got here. It looks to me I was insane when I got to the bus, then I was drinking beer… lots of beer… then I was talking with somebody… and somebody brought me here. I did not even tidy myself up, just took my rucksack and head over heels rushed to the reception clerk to ask when I arrived here. The clerk handed me his book, and at the same time this rat gave a sign to a boy to call the police. In the book I saw my signature against the date which did not help me to clarify anything – I could not remember anything at all. It made me furious, I demanded from the clerk for something I did not know what myself, and maybe I would even fight with him if I was not afraid of the police, which was supposed to arrive at any moment. I raced out of the hotel, grabbed the first taxi I met, came to the railway station, and only then I thought – what made me think the clerk called the police? Some no-ending series of phantasmagoria and senseless behaviour… absurdity, nearly insanity… nothing else interested me in this country, and soon I went home.
– And what about your father? Was it true he was terminally ill?
– That was true, but here I was also late. When I returned, I came only to the funeral wake.
After this story I perceived Oleg even more somberly. I was sure everything he had told me was the most ordinary hallucination – he must have eaten something there in Mexico, there is a lot of different poisons there. Having these serious doubts in Oleg’s psychic health, I decided to discuss it with Andrey, because ascending is not a stroll in the park, where at any moment you can return home.