Atop

Originally published in The Creative Zine

If he were someone else, the view from the summit would look magical; almost heavenly. Standing atop the highest peak in his line of vision (for there were taller peaks behind him), a part of him wanted to experience the rush of happiness that follows an achievement. After all, he had braved through the agonisingly cold winds that were so sharp he was afraid they would cut through the thick layers he was wearing and tear through his skin. 


It had taken days to reach the peak; anxious, frustrating, excruciating months where he had felt so close to giving up, of turning around and climbing down (even though after a point it was impossible to do so), of never to look back. And, yet, he had trudged onward; motivated by the desperate need to achieve, to outperform others, to rise above the crowd. 
 

Was it megalomania? Perhaps. But then, as he would tell himself repeatedly, wasn’t that the chief reason behind some of the greatest success stories?
 

So, he had resolutely walked ahead, not caring about the difficulties around him. The only thing in his sight was the summit. And the moment of finding himself standing atop it, looking at the world and everyone it contained at his feet; a world that he had conquered. 
Everything else was background noise. 

 

He did celebrate every hundred-meter milestone he crossed. The winds and the altitude prohibited him from doing a victory dance, but he did give himself a pat on his back and rewarded himself with a look around himself to see how far he had come. Take that, world! he would say under his breath. And, after the brief interval, he would put that minor celebration behind him and continue the arduous climb to the top. 
 

Around him, people had started giving up. The friends he had started this journey with would call out to him from a few paces behind him; asking, and some even begging, him for help. But he had the excuse of the strong winds making their voices inaudible. And, telling himself the power of his ambition was far greater than assisting his friends in the big scheme of things, he moved on. 
 

He did encounter his fair share of difficulties. A current of wind slapping at him almost made him fall off the hill. At another point, a wrong footing he made almost resulted in him slipping. But, at both these times, he stopped, let the reality of where he was, and carried on.
Eventually, he reached the top. He had many taller summits to climb; summits which, atop the peak he was, he was momentarily ignoring. He wanted to savour this moment. A vista of snow-capped mountain ranges spread out in front of him. His ambition, his need to achieve had finally bore fruit. He felt accomplished, he felt delighted…

 

Only until he looked down several meters below. On a wide landing, he saw the companions he had walked past on his way to glory sitting in a group around a feeble fire. The landing they were on was wide enough for three camps. Watching his companions – snuggled in their duvets wrapped around themselves, drinking hot beverages from their cups – standing atop the peak felt…
 

Empty. 
 

He raised his head to look around him. The picturesque view in front of him, which he had only imagined until today, had not but a few moments before seemed majestic. And, yet, reaching farther than any of those sitting below, he found the sense of glory fleeting; evanescing into a kind of longing.
 

Longing for something – or maybe someplace – he didn’t know. 
 

Meanwhile, a couple more people had managed to conquer the taller peaks towering behind him. That little desire which had driven him to keep moving told him he shouldn’t stop; that where he was, as high as it may seem, was but a pitstop. Maybe a significant milestone, but without a doubt a pitstop. As this realisation grew and strengthened in his mind, so did the longing to…
 

Not be here. 
 

Maybe for a second, the ambition he had held more important than anything else in his life took a backseat; and what supplanted it in the driver’s seat was a sense of yearning. Yearning to break the ceiling of whatever was containing him. Looking down into that group of people, a few of whom had retired into their camps, he wondered what that was. Icy winds assailed him. He was shivering, but, in his thoughts, he didn’t realise it. 
 

And, just like that, that yearning was replaced with that same need; that need to keep striving, that need to keep achieving. It took him a few seconds to restore the determination with which he had started this arduous journey. He gave one last look to the people below, the friends he had left behind in pursuit of his ambition, turned around carefully (making sure he wouldn’t slip), and started making his way onward.