I walked on the right.
I always had done. I’d been walking on the right for as long as I could remember. I don’t know when I started, nor where this long walk led to, but I saw no reason to change. The arrows under my feet pointed me onward, and there were others around me who also walked right. So I saw no reason to change.
And then I did something. I am not sure why I did it at that moment, or why I had never done it before.
I looked left.
And I saw it. Another path, not too different from the one I walked upon, running parallel to it. How long had that path been there? Had it just come to be, joining up next to this path a moment ago? Or had it always been there?
And then it hit me: it was a path on the left. Such a thing…it seemed odd to see it even exist, let alone be a step away.
It looked, in many ways, identical to the path on the right that I walked upon. Except for two things: the arrows on this other path pointed in the opposite direction to mine. And the other difference: well, the path I walked on was full of people walking silently onward, just like me. But the path on the left was empty.
I tried to ignore the path. It was scary to me, for some reason. It seemed to be the opposite of everything I ever knew. I had always walked on the right, surrounded by my fellow people. This path on the left…it was just wrong. It quite simply went the wrong way. No wonder why nobody walked upon it!
But I couldn’t ignore it. It was too late. I was already…how shall I say it? Curious. Now that I had seen the path on the left, I began to wonder about other things too. Did anybody else see it? Were they ignoring it? But then, nobody had ever told me that it was wrong. In fact, nobody had ever spoken to me at all.
Bump. I felt the person behind me knock into my back, felt their eyes burn on my neck. Immediately I sped up. That had been my fault. I’d slowed down. I had to keep walking. There was nothing else…wasn’t there?
I shook my head. Of course there is nothing else! I told myself, Why should there be? Stop asking questions and just keep walking!
But it was too late. It was like a window had opened in my mind, and I couldn’t close it. I didn’t want to. I just had to know. What was so wrong with this path on the left? What was so special about walking on the right anyway? It wasn’t as if the destination going this way was anything special. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if there was a destination at all. Maybe it went on forever, and I’d keep walking until I could walk no more…the empty path on the left remained by my side, as though it were waiting.
What would happen if I walked on the left? No, no it wasn’t not worth knowing. What if something really bad happened? What if I could never come back to the right? I didn’t want to be alone…
But I didn’t want to keep walking this way. With every step I took, it felt more and more wrong. Like I was lying to myself. Just one step…I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and set one foot on the left.
Nothing happened. I pulled my other foot across. I opened my eyes. I stood alone on the new path. And for the first time that I could remember in my life, I was standing still. I looked around. Now I stood on the left, I could see the faces of the other people. They were still walking on the right side. Except, no: now I was facing the other way, I was on the right, and they were all on the left. It was as if the world had rotated under my feet.
And their faces: they were all different, but the one thing they had in common was how they all stared at me as the passed. Some of them looked blankly at me. Some smiled and nodded, and I nodded back. Some muttered under their breath to the next nearest person. And some were openly angry at me, growling and spitting at my feet.
I shrunk back. I didn’t like this attention. Especially the angry people: they hurt me the most. Why were they angry at me? Maybe, if I go went to the other side, I could blend back in? Maybe then they would leave me alone.
But I couldn’t. I could never go back. Even though it hurt, standing on this side felt right. Going back was not an option.
I stood up straight and began walking. Not the same way as the others, but the opposite way. So they could all see me. And I could see them. My legs shook in terror, but I forced myself to keep walking despite the endless stream of eyes and whispers. One person swore at me, but then the person next to her winked at me. I could only wonder why some people liked what I did while some people hated me for it. I wasn’t harming anyone. I wasn’t convincing anyone to do the same thing as me. All I did was walked. Just like them. Only in the opposite direction.
A fist lashed out of the crowd and struck me on the cheek. I stumbled and fell on the path, stars popping in my eyes. I head a scuffle of feet and some angry yells. A hand laid on my shoulder, and I looked up.
It was another person. She smiled and held out a hand. I looked down. Her feet were firmly set on the same path as me. I took her hand, and she pulled me up to her feet. Together we kept walking.
Another person stepped over to this side. Then another. And another couple. People were stepping out and walking our way everywhere. I saw one man burst into tears when he stepped across. From the crowd on the left, I saw less angry faces. They could no longer ignore the people who walked a different way to them, and they were looking around at each other now, talking. Soon both sides were full of conversation and laughter. Some stopped to talk, some standing on opposite sides of the paths to while others jumped back and forth across the paths without a second thought. Soon people were walking in any direction they wished, regardless of what path they wished.
Someone grabbed my hand, and I turned. An old man held my hand in both of his, smiling and nodding. He patted me on the back and walked away.
I looked up, back and forth through the swirling crowd. I had completely forgotten which way I had been walking. It was impossible to tell which way was left or right now. And neither did it matter.
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