The streets were at their darkest, the moon – in hiding. As the young man made his way along the favelas, he could feel the cold air all around him.

Odd, but one should imagine that these aspects, characteristic of misery and hopelessness, would envelop his body, burrowing deeper into the corners of the mind, heart and soul. Leaving him as numb, dirty and vanished within, but it wasn’t so. He, himself was projecting this state outwards, it surrounded each crooked street and shack, this truly felt like the coldest of nights.

As he made his way along these dark paths, indifferent towards all, he heard a faint melody playing in the distance. There was something about it that caught his attention, he decided to seek it out. As the tune grew louder and louder, his heart beat all the quicker. And in turning  a corner, he saw a man standing by a lonely street-sign with a harmonica in his hands, playing that sweet and slow, high-pitched melody that captivated him so.

This stranger’s clothes were ragged and old through wear, but impeccably clean. On his head – a tattered dark blue flat cap. After several more minutes of music, the stranger turned towards his new audience member, nodding as if to acknowledge the young man’s presence and then, turned to walk away. Approaching one of the dark alleys, the lone musician gestured the young man to keep up, to follow him.

Neither spoke a word as they made their way through the night. Time passed, streets passed but the silence remained, compelling both sides. Eventually, they walked up to one of the countless thousands of shacks and went in. His home, if you could call it that, was shabby-looking. There were two old chairs and a small blue table alongside the wall, a cot and a cupboard with what resembled to be a sink.

As the young man sat down, two dirty jars were placed on the table and some sort of moonshine poured into them. The stranger then took up his makeshift glass and began to speak:

”Your heart – it’s beaten, and bruised. I know this. You have lost taste for air, you see no point in breathing anymore. You feel that heavy weight, holding your soul in grief, leaving you too tired to look up, too tired to smile, too tired and weak to push it off. As it destroys you, the only option you see left before you is to join in, hoping that if you help, it will all end faster, but it won’t. It doesn’t matter how far you’re willing to crush yourself, you’ll never truly manage. Mankind has endured much suffering. And he is still here. We can never be fully broken, I know this, you know this… Man knows this. It is Law.”

Sitting there in shock, the young man could not believe what this stranger, this street musician was telling him. ”How? How do you know this? You’ve just…brought my thoughts out into existence, so transparent, so fluent.. You’ve given them flesh..”

With this, the stranger smiled, ” My friend… did you not get a good look at the streets? That lingering absence of light and the coldness around, did you not feel it? They were projections of your inner self. As above, so below. The inner is the outer. The melody that caught your attention, I know it not. I could feel all around me what your heart wanted to say, and I played it for you. You have to listen sometimes, as quiet as the voice within can be, it is still there, always. I merely heard it from afar, and it asked for help.”

Confused, the young man asked, ” But how can you help me? We have never met, we do not know each other. Our lives have no connection, they’ve played out differently. We’ve experienced unrelated moments, so how can you possibly hope to understand where I am and at that, help me?”

”Simple… it is true that we have not lived the same lives, but we do share the same emotions, we’ve experienced the same feelings. Joy, sadness, anger, embarrassment, love, hate, hope and despair…we’re both quite familiar with them. Although they have been expressed through different circumstances, they remain as what they are – life’s ingredients, beautiful and vicious.”

After a long silence, the young guest spoke, ” …but what is this all for? I agree with you…but I keep thinking that this is a game. Life’s never-ending game, that we have no hope in winning…”

This statement had a great effect upon the stranger. The man’s eyes lit up so vividly, it felt as if they pierced through whatever mental and emotional distance had been left between the two. ”We do not play to win, we play merely for the act itself! Win or lose, it will not matter, as long as you’ve had the courage to play in the first place. Life IS a game, the way I see it, a game of chess. Think of it this way; throughout the board you find the pawns, the bishops, the rooks, the knights, the Queen and of course, the King. Now imagine, if Life – the challenging player, manages to get to your King, it’s all over for you. You must protect him, using all pieces at your disposal; the King is your pulse, your want to live. The Queen… she is love. With her by your side you find your love of life, the love you can give and share. Beware the opponent’s Queen, she can be very dangerous, we both know that she can move whichever way she pleases, therein lies the peril.”

With this, the stranger leaned back into his chair and slowly drank from his jar, the young man followed suit. It was refreshing, both the drink and the talk, soon enough the jars were refilled and they both sat there in deep thought. ” Do you know what happens when you lose your King?”  Knowing, that this was exactly what had been on his guests mind. ”…I lose? It’s over?…”

”Yes, and no. You do lose, but it’s not really over, remember what I told you, you can never really lose! All you have to do, is to put the pieces back onto the board and start over.” The stranger said this with such ease and delight, that his guest could not help but to smile at the simplicity of his view on Life. He was right though; everything was as simple, it was just the human mind that loved to toy with the owner’s emotions. Mankind too often was so drunk with feeling superior over all other living beings, that his mind had become clouded and detached from Truth. He had been trying too hard in finding a meaning behind all that happened. They just do, and they must, there was little point in dwelling on them for too long.

” I can see that you must find parts of all this somewhat difficult to perceive, but believe me, I’ve had my rounds in this game. Some matches were exceedingly difficult, but with each new one I’ve played, I enjoyed them all the more. You must seek to learn and benefit from every movement you and Life make, for then you truly live. Even in suffering there is happiness, a certain joy in being alive and feeling what it all means for you. It holds up a mirror to who you are. Time moves on. So do we all, everything changes, there’s the beauty.”

Finishing the last of the drink, the stranger stood up. He had the sincerest and most peaceful expression on his face. One that stated that this man had been familiar with Life and it’s surprises. It was that of someone with his own tricks up his sleeve.

As they were heading out, the young man passed a half-broken mirror and caught a glimpse of his reflection. He had to smile – he wore the same expression as the stranger.

Outside, the sun was high up above them, warming the air and bathing the streets in light. They were lively and comforting, but to his dismay, they were still dirty. He turned towards the old man and saw that he had his hand stretched out towards him, holding a broom. ”Time to clean up your mess.”