The Book

A man sits alone in a bank of empty seats at the airport. Weary and frustrated, he flicks mindlessly from email to email, the dim light of his phone flickering with each swipe, his hunched shadow dancing on the wall behind him. Words shimmer across his eyes but nothing sinks in. This latest flight delay has defeated him.

A woman approaches the terminal, her arms cradling a journal. She peers through the early morning haze and spies the man. She smiles and navigates the rows of empty seats and sits beside him.

Annoyed, he looks at her, his eyes begging to know why, with all of these empty seats, she chose to sit next to him. He just wants to be alone. She watches him, still smiling and places the journal on her lap, opening it up to the first page.

Uncommitted to his fiction of busyness, the man’s curiosity is piqued as the woman flicks from page to page, smiling and nodding. Finally, she closes the book and looks up at the man, her eyes locking onto his.

“Would you like a look?” she asks.

“Uhhh, sure,” he replies, disarmed by her question. She hands him the tome and watches him expectantly.

Surprised by its weight, the man opens the book, scans and flips through it in less than a minute. He closes it and turns his attention to the woman.

“I don’t get it,” he says. The woman’s smile widens. “It’s just five pictures. No words. Nothing.”

The woman takes the book back and opens it so the man can see it, like the way a kindergarten teacher does to a group of children.

“Sometimes you need to look for the meaning in things. See this,” she says, pointing to an image of sunlight streaming through clouds. “It is the sky.”

“I can see that,” grunts the man wearily.

“The sky represents trust,” continues the woman, still smiling. “It has never missed a day, it guides us and warms us. It is constant. Reliable. Reliability is the backbone of trust. By being reliable, we become trustworthy”

The man opens his mouth to speak but pauses, reflecting on the woman’s words. “OK, what about the next one then?”

“What is a forest?” the woman asks, her fingers tracing an image of a verdant tree-line, half shrouded in mist.

“Trees? Bush? Animals?”

“Yes and no. A forest is the sum of individual parts. It is the essence of collaboration. Each tree, each shrub, each vine needs the other to survive. Isolated they wither and die but together, in unison, they thrive.”

“That makes sense,” says the man, understanding creeping into his voice. “So this one, the lights in the night sky, what does this mean?”

“It is beautiful is it not?” the woman sighs as she studies the page. The man nods. “For generations, people have travelled from across the world to steal a glimpse of the Northern Lights, marvelling at the majesty of this natural wonder.”

“Okay. But what’s the point?” asks the man.

“We spend our days mired in the humdrum of life, always looking for inspiration. We become burdened with the pressure we put on ourselves and fail to see that inspiration is everywhere — all we need do is open our eyes.”

The man watches enthralled as the woman flips the page once more, her finger resting on an image of a serene lake. He sits expectantly, his hands clutching at themselves, waiting to catch the truth that falls from her lips.

“This… This is my favourite,” admits the woman. “A lake can be many things. It is a home for some, a food source for others. It houses entire ecosystems and mirrors the environment around it, its depth reflecting the surface world perfectly.”

“I don’t understand,” murmurs the man, visibly straining to comprehend the woman’s words.

“Just that,” she answers, grinning. “Understanding, deep understanding, comes from knowledge and reflection. We need to scour the depths of it, gather as much information as we can and then reflect on it. Only then will we be able to truly understand anything.”

The man shifts in his seat, excited by all that he’s heard. No longer weary, he wants desperately to know more and reaches to turn the page. “The cliff!” he exclaims. “I know, the cliff means we’re on the edge of a precipice. We’re vulnerable and hanging on by our fingertips.”

“Nothing nearly so dramatic,” the woman chuckles. “A cliff is made of stone — severe and treacherous. But the cliff is adaptable. It moulds itself to the world around it. Wind and water shape its face while plants, animals and even humans fill its heart. It is constant and strong but changes when it needs to.”

The woman exhales, closes the book and rests it in her lap. The two sit in silence for a moment.

“It’s amazing what you can find in simply five pictures isn’t it,” she says finally.

“It really is, I never thought it possible,” says the man.

“Imagine if you could find all this in one place,” she says, placing the book on the seat beside her.

A voice crackles over the airport speakers announcing flight details and the man turns to look at the departure board. “Well, this is me. It’s been nice talking to you,” he says, returning his attention to the woman. But she is gone. Only the book remains. He picks it up, takes one more glance around the terminal, then flicks through the book again.