There is a myth that exists around bonfires in West African tribes. A certain legend that, in the century we live in today, would be deemed an old Shaman's tale said simply to attract tourists to Africa.
The legend goes thus,
'Walk underneath the undying star,
To gain just a small measure,
Walk in direction of that which is far,
And you will find the greatest treasure'
I am not a myth buster nor a prospective tourist. I am not one of those khakee shorts, bright-purple shirt-wearing types with a camera around my head. No, I am someone who revels in the advent of technology, who seeks to answer some of science's greatest questions. It's almost a clinical madness that drives me, a madness that began as Curiosity's younger brother. Young, wild immature, yet innocent and awestruck by possibilities.
This legend came to my ears by way of research on another book I was writing : 'The Emergency of a New Religion : Technology'. I believe that the progress we have made to reach the stage of scientific accomplishment today is possibly one of the greatest stories of mankind, and technology is our greatest treasure. So, when I came across this legend, it was rather disconcerting to see people still harboured beliefs in an old tale possibly brewed to lull children to sleep.
However, something held my interest in the matter. The 'greatest treasure' was not my point of interest. No, it was the journey one would have to take in order to reach this destination, this 'greatest treasure'. Why give such ominous directions to a fictional treasure? This is probably the rest of a lack of GPS systems in those days.
The more I thought about it, though, the more it held my interest. My scientific mind took a a backseat as a more fictional and unrealistic curioisty took over. Upon further inquiry into the subject, I discovered that a certain uncharted desert in Africa was the source of this, and other related myth.
So, here I am, standing in the middle of the 'Damacan', a desert that, while it may have been uncharted, did not escape the blog entry of one particular Mr. 'IKnowTheTruth84', a rather interesting choice for an Internet identity.
No other records of this desert exist, except for that one entry. So I prepared myself as best as I could. I had the latest smartphone, a jacket, and a flask of water that contained no water really as I chose to fill up on extra natteries for my phone, along with other paraphernelia. I'm sure if I were to find myself in the need of water, I could easily look up the nearest settlement.
According to the legend, I needed to move in the direction of the 'undying star', which refers to the North star. An electronic compass in my hand provided me with sharper direction, and so I proceeded due north. As I walked under the surpsingly calm sun, I went over all my research on this legend, checking myth-reporting websites on this for more information. Apparently, the treasure is a small bucket of kittens.
The Internet is filled with trolls; trolls and cats.
As I found myself engrossed in the bright display of my phone, I didn't notice that my feet started to dig deeper into the sound. When I did, I was stuck halfway into a quick sand pit, sinking even deeper!
Flinging my hands all around, my smartphone and compass flying off into opposite ends of this camoflauged pit, I started to sink even deeper. I started screaming even more frantically as I saw my phone sink and disappear into the bit. I yelled for help but no one could hear me, because no one was out here.
And then I saw him; I saw a man with no eyes, standing in front of me. I stopped moving as I tried to make sense of what I was looking at. Perhaps I'm hallucinating, because he seemed to float above the sand. His head was round, with no eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. It was just a round, featureless ball of skin attached to a body. And then it extended its hand out to me. A hand without any arm attaching it to his body.
I immediately grasped for his floaty hand even though I thought he was an apparition. Surprisingly, I held on. He pulled me out of the pit effortlessly, hurling me onto the regular desert sand. I yelled in pain as I realized my shoes were no longer with me. The fiery touch of the burning sand erupted at the soles of my feet. Bearing it with all my pain, I asked the man, "What are you?", but he did not respond. He could not. But then suddenly he faced towards the horizon (or seemed to face there), where a large sand dune blocked further view. And then two eyes and a mouth appeared, and he said, "Look beyond the horizon", and then he disappeared.
I started walking towards the dune, or atleast tried to before my feet felt like they were stepping on red-hot coal. I took off my jacket and tore it apart at the seams, wrapping it around my feet. It did not help much but it was something. I suddenly realized how much I had been sweating, and for the first time, I felt the blazing breath of the sun on my body, and for the first time too, I realized a world around me.
I trudged towards the dune, and I did so for the next one hour. Without my phone and compass, I had no one to call for help and nowehre to go. I felt lost and alone, ..new feelings, or rather, latent feelings.
The sun never seemed to set, giving rise to thirst. I immediately pulled out my flask of water and then I opened it over my mouth, anticipating the sweet release of water. But all that entered my mouth were batteries, causing hard coughs in order to spit them out. I sighed, and carried on walking further.
Another hour or so later, I reached the foot of this rather steep dune. My thirst was maddening, my feet's temporary shoes torn with wear, and my spirit almost broken.
"Just a little more", I said to myself, but it didn't help. The moment I started to climb, I tumbled back down, sand falling all over me and into my parched mouth and burning throat. The thirst was unbearable. Even under the bright light around me, I started to see darkness shroud me in its cape.
This was how it would end. For all my life spent rotting in the glory of iPads, computers, phones, and so on, sacrificing all personal human interaction for anonymous interaction, I have nothing that brings a sweet tear to my eye. And this fact, that I had not truly lived, brought real tears.
"I will die having done nothing," I said out loud as I started close my eyes, possibly for the last time.
And then he appeared again. This time, with ears, and a nose. The 'Prohphet', as I would like to say, or my 'Guardian', picked me up and carried me to the edge of the dune in strong arms.
My fingers felt like they were burning, and then, as I reached the top, I realized something. There was no 'Guardian' or 'Prophet'. As I looked around, I realized I had been dragging myself up unconsciously. And as this dawned on me, I reached the precipice of the dune. And beyond the horizon, I saw something amazing. Something brilliant. Something to save me;
I saw water.
A whole darned ocean right before my eyes. As I threw myself down the dune, rolling and rolling into the blue nourisher of life, laughing madly with tears running out of my eyes, I realized what the legend truly meant.
Immersing myself in the water, drinking as much as I could, in the distance I heard a ship's warning bell, and in my mind I said the truth : "I know it now. I know what the greatest treasure is.."