Safe from the sun, on the edges of the desert, under the canopy of their cafe Hunter and Bain watch Shi Xiu negotiate with a street trader by a cluster of huge, old trees. As he chants prices at her, she simply stares at the packet of spinach rolls in her hands, passing them from palm to palm, weighing, as it were, their fate. Eventually the trader appears to give up and moves on to the other customers jostling around the stand. Shi Xiu reaches into the pocket of her black tunic, retrieves a flat disk of black gold and presses it in to one of the trader’s still outstretched hands, before drifting back towards her companions.
The time is not important, nor the year.
Bain: I love watching her do that.
Hunter: You wish you could do the same.
Bain: Oh yes, I get all flustered. I can’t focus.
Hunter. I’ve noticed that.
Bain: Do you think it’s because she knows what she wants?
Hunter: You mean her quiet confidence?
Bain: Of course.
Hunter shrugged: Food is just subsistence to her. She judges its value according to her need.
Bain, laughing: That’s cold!
Hunter: Not really, she just has other things to think about.
Bain: So she has a greater purpose?
Hunter: I don’t mean that.
Bain: No, but you’re referring to a previous conversation, ‘what gives true meaning to life?’.
Hunter: No. That’s just a human preoccupation. There is no meaning, as such.
Bain: You have the luxury of thinking that because you can’t die.
Hunter: I can, you know that. I can be murdered, or burnt.
Bain: Hmm. Actually I’m pretty sure you could find a way out of those two inconveniences.
Hunter: Well, perhaps, but I’m not an eternal being.
Bain: But you’re close enough. And you have meaning, your great task.
Hunter: My only task. It’s what I was created to do.
Bain: But aren’t human’s created with a task?
Hunter: Hah, to mess up the universe and slaughter millions of your own kind, and any other living being that gets in its way?
Bain, shifts uncomfortably in his seat: That’s a little unfair, ignoring music, art, science, literature and the love of small furry animals. I was thinking of survival.
Hunter: I’m not sure that’s a purpose exactly, more of a state of being.
Bain: But if we lived forever, life would become meaningless.
Hunter: If that’s true, then ‘become’ is the significant word. A state of being, such as survival, is a species level purpose.
Bain: Well, perhaps I mean ‘be’ meaningless.
Hunter: But that’s relative. Meaningless in relation to what? Something else must be meaningful.
Bain: No, that doesn’t make sense. The one doesn’t rely on the existence of the other. Meaninglessness can exist without the existence of meaning itself.
Hunter: That’s just playing with words. If you’re questioning meaning in life it has to be at the architect level, not the decor that fills in the design.
Bain: You mean the Great Architect in the sky.
Hunter: No, that’s too literal. Meaning can be a state of being, or a purpose. I have a purpose, so that’s my meaning.
Bain: But if I lived forever, I would get bored.
Hunter: You only say that because your context is that you live your life knowing there’s an ending at some point. If you knew one did not exist you wouldn’t chase the distractions of self-indulgence.
Bain: That’s a thinly veiled dig at what I do after every adventure with you.
Hunter: Acknowledgement perhaps, but you seem to have given up on that.
Bain: Well, not entirely, but travelling with you, through the meta-universe, it made me question everything I had ever known. It was like being punched in the stomach, repeatedly. I didn’t cope with it at first. I was so sick, but I didn’t want you to know. I suppose the drinking, and it’s more pleasurable consequences allowed me to think less about it.
Hunter: But grown used to it.
Bain: Let’s say I suspend my disbelief. Humans aren’t meant to travel like that. But I fool myself I can help you at best, even at worst I get to see the most incredible places, and creatures. And I’ve never been so terrified, but knowing we can return, then move on makes all the difference.
Hunter: So is that enough meaning? If you did this forever, would it be meaning enough?
Bain: I don’t know, but perhaps the secret is in the long view.
Hunter nodded, observing the gently swaying trees that arched over Shi Xiu’s receding form, as she sought a quiet place close to her companions, to rest in the shade of the hot, hot day.