The man climbed the rocky slope with the labrador on his back. After reaching the top, he took a deep breath, kneeled with some difficulty and released the dog. Then he just stood there, in awe of the celestial blue sight in front of him.
After weeks travelling by foot, he had finally reached his destination: a tall granite cliff overseeing what had once been called the Atlantic ocean. Seeing, smelling and hearing the sea filled his soul with something akin to joy. The dog ran around him and barked for what must have been the first time in days.
“Calm down buddy, that water’s not for drinking.”
Isolation and hunger had taken their toll on the man: he was moving a little slower with each passing week, his thin frame threatening to collapse under the weight of his backpack. He sat close to the edge of the cliff; the dog lied down next to him and rested its head on his lap. The outline of the animal’s ribs was visible against its skin.
The man had come across his companion while searching for food in a deserted town to the South, after many months walking along the empty roads. He had no idea how the poor creature could still be alive, but ever since their chance encounter they had become inseparable friends.
How long had it been since he had seen a walking, breathing human being? Two (maybe three) years? His last real conversation had been with his brother as he drifted in and out of consciousness. For some reason, the two of them had lasted longer than everyone else. “I’m thirsty,” his sibling had said just before succumbing to the fever.
Reaching into his bag, the man took out a small music player he had been saving for a special occasion. The battery was nearly dead and there was no power anywhere, no way to recharge the damn thing. Then he took out his very last chocolate (still wrapped in its original silver packaging). He stared at it for a full minute before breaking it in half and giving one piece to his four-legged friend.
“Go on, eat it. You look a bit on the thin side you know.”
He watched as the dog chomped on the chocolate, chewing loudly and licking the crumbs off the ground. Then he ate his piece with his eyes closed. The expiry date was several years old but it still tasted better than most other things they ate.
The man put the headphones on, wiped the nascent tears from his eyes and pressed play. After a few seconds, the soothing voice of Sinatra sang to him,
“Out of the tree of life I just picked me a plum,
You came along and everything’s starting to hum,
Still it’s a real good bet, the best is yet to come
Best is yet to come and babe, won’t that be fine?”
If you had been there, you would have seen a man sitting alone at the edge of a cliff, watching the sunset fall over the sea. A smile on his lips and half of an untouched cookie lying next to him on the ground.
The music played for twelve minutes. It was twice as long as he had hoped for.
* “The Best is Yet to Come” (1959) composed by Cy Coleman, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh.