The figures sit around the radio and the radio sits on a low flat rock in the middle of the starlit desert. A dim glow like the embers of a campfire seeps out from the radio and paints the figures in blue shadow. They are shapes at the edge of the light, maybe people, maybe illusions, spots of murk in the dim endless twilight. Above the sky is clear and the stars are far away and all around them storms churn. Lightning skips between black clouds. The thunder is more like a feeling than a sound, something deep and primal and full of thoughtless power.
From the radio, the sound of prayers. A thousand prayers, a million, billions, all at once and in every language that ever was, to any god that might have been, or might yet be, but none that are. Some of the prayers are tear-stained, others rushed, halfhearted, obligatory, profane. Sometimes one voice rises above the rest, just for an instant, loud and strong and full of something righteous, or hopeful, or maybe just afraid. Mostly the sound is like the ocean, or like the wind through the boughs of a dead tree.
The figures are dark and they sit upon the ground. They have a number. The number is greater than one, less than many. Perhaps twelve. Maybe half that. They sit and they listen to the radio and the thunder rattles their ancient bones.
It has been night in the desert as long as the desert has been.
One of the figures stirs, shifts a little where they are sitting. Moves a little closer to the radio. There is a voice, soft, full of sorrow. The figure leans a little forward. Listens a little louder. For a moment the voice is there and it is beautiful and the figure feels something like an aching, like a longing. And then the voice is gone and its absence is physical.
The figure sighs.
The figures sigh.
The one leans back and is again like all the others and they listen, half asleep, to the sound of the praying. They are not more tired now than they were before. They have never been more tired than they are now. They have longed for sleep since the beginning and have never known what it is to dream. Or they are dreaming now. Or they are a dream.
Sometimes the figures are aware of the cold. Sometimes they notice the sand beneath them. Mostly they sit and listen to the praying and think nothing and feel nothing and remember nothing because nothing has ever changed.
Somewhere it is raining. Someone is in bed and the rain is outside and the window is open and it is warm beneath the covers and dark outside but morning is coming. They are happy. This moment is good. It is not like all the moments that have come before. It may never be like this again.
Somewhere someone is dying. They are frightened. The road is long and they got lost, forget who they are and where they have been, but a part of them at least remembers where they are going. Where everyone is going. They are lying in a bed and there are people surrounding them and the people seem to know them but they do not know who the people are. The people all look alike, in the way that people sometimes do. Family. That’s the word for it. They are a family and they are alike and they rebel against this, each in their own way, each for their own reasons that are all the same. Life is just the prelude to death. Or so they hope, biting their lips, pushing back the dark the festers in the backs of their minds.
Somewhere someone is crying for the first time. They are young. They will not remember this, but the ones who made them will. They will remember the sound and how beautiful it is. Was. They are both tired, one more so, and they are afraid and they are happy and full of hope and love.
Somewhere it is raining and two people stumble inside and they are soaked but they are laughing. The water outside is cold and smells like the sky. The water in the shower is hot and sweet and clean and falls upon their skin and they smile at each other, feel something new and hesitant and good. Their bodies are the same yet individual. They are separate and they press themselves together and they can hear each other breathing and it is good and life means something and outside the rain soaks deep into the ground.
Somewhere someone is empty. The bathroom tiles are cold against their face. Their body is stiff and aching but they do not move. They are exhausted. They have been made to feel this way by others, others who did not want them to be there. Others who did not want them to be. People are afraid of wolves in the darkness, but sometimes all the wolves have gone away and the darkness is lit up by thin wires in glass orbs burning endlessly through the night. But the people are still afraid, and the fear doesn’t understand the burning wires. Part of them still lives in the woods, still hides in the dark, still snarls at any unfamiliar sound or shadow or scent.
Somewhere it is storming and someone’s heart is broken and the poetry of that is enough to remind them that the world is a big place and sometimes it is beautiful.
Somewhere many people sit in the same room, or stand, or kneel. They sing the same songs, or chant the same chants, or listen as one of them speaks to all the rest. Some of them are filled up by this. Some merely go through the motions. Some squirm at the words and hide beneath their skin and pray that one day they can leave this place and these people far behind.
Somewhere someone speaks aloud, even though they are alone. Hands clasped, spirit bent.
Somewhere someone is in ecstasy.
Somewhere someone writhes in pain.
Somewhere most people lie and sleep and dream and wake and go about their days.
Somewhere it is enough just to be alive.
The radio sits on a low flat rock in the middle of the desert and the figures sit around it and they listen to the sound of the praying. All around them storm clouds churn and lightning flashes but the rain will never reach them. The air is still around them and the sky above is clear and the stars are huge and far away and they sit in the sand and listen to the sound of the praying.