Long dusty fingers lined in deep creases with the kind of dirt that no amount of lather or effort can wash clean, pinched a cigarette between two wooden fingernails as he strode across the craggy asphalt. It was still day, but only by the slimmest definition for the sun was swallowed by the horizon leaving behind traces of a warm spectrum. Oranges, pinks, and then, above that, red and purple and, across his view, directly ahead, the black of the evening.

He’d been walking for too long and this was the last smoke from a pack bought in a nameless town of dust back on yesterday’s forward march. Nothing appeared on the horizon but the seamless dark, so this would be his last butt for a decent spell. The idea didn’t sit well with him. There were countless nights behind him like this, where he would set down his knapsack and curl under the unflinching spark of the the stars as the cold sunk into his still, aching form – no dim orange glow from the tip of a smoke to answer the shine of his celestial cousins. Instead, the open black would swallow him, but he didn’t mind this, or the cold or the quick glances from the Heavens as they swirl in beautiful disinterest above. He felt small in those moments, yes, but not in desperate need of much beyond another smoke to guide him into his only rest, that slumber where he rejoined the earth. 

He would awake at dawn, light turning the backs of his eyelids red and his first waking moments would be shaded light blue, as if overnight the world had been turned pale and flooded by the endless indigo of the sky. But that was ahead of him a piece, and there was still a chance a driver might stop to offer him a rest and conversation . It was admittedly an unlikely oasis on this desolate stretch of dry country, where even a passing cloud was a desert flower in bloom vibrantly, quickly, gone. All that seemed alive around him were those lights above, the firmament of unforgiving attention to time, discipline and constant movement. We live and die under this indifference, love and dream and search desperately for meaning by staring at them for centuries; posing questions, dancing, crying and hoping. Yet they move as he does on this road, the path determined and unimaginable, but progress made each day regardless. 

Now it was dark with only the barest hint of purple still embracing the land behind him and it didn’t matter. The cigarette now gone, the filter flicked somewhere into the past among the stones brought to sandy surface by eons of imperceptible trembling, it lived now with those rocks that had crested to catch a glimpse of the infinite above and would, like them, be reduced to dust by wind and time. He shared no kinship with the stones, beyond an immunity to the cold and his birth from the darkest of places. 

A light fell on him from headlights then – his shadow slowly stepping long from the dark – and he turned, wondering if the driver would decide to take him to the next town. Another cigarette would be fine, but it wasn’t required. Nothing was but the next step.