When I arrive at the tower, Abaoaqu is already there. Then again, he’s always there. You just can’t see him unless you know where to look. I squint my eyes where he rests, and I see the slight distortion he makes in the sunlight.
“Hello, Aba” I greet him.
I feel him smile a warm smile back at me. “Hello, old friend. You here to try to climb the tower again?” It’s more of a statement than a question. He points his transparent reptilian head toward the dilapidated tower.
“Yes,” I reply. “And today I will make it to the top.”
“Yes,” he agrees with a nod. “Today, I believe you will. Are you ready to begin?”
I sigh and take one more look at the tower. It appears ancient. Some say it has existed since the dawn of time. Others say it is gaudy and new. There is a rumor that its appearance changes from person to person, so I can’t be sure. To me, it’s made of pure hewn stone, cracked with the years of sitting in the unrelenting sun. Its crown is in the heavens; even if it were a clear day, I could not see the top. Leading to the top is a single spiral staircase, also made of stone.
They say that at the top of the tower lies each person’s ultimate dream. Its treasures are only reached by the slow and plodding climb up the spiral stairs. I have never reached the top to confirm. Neither has anyone else I’ve known. There’s a rumor that a man reached the top a long time ago, but he was never heard from again. They say he walks among the clouds now.
It is sad that the majority of people who walk by ignore Aba and the tower. They are such a queer site. I want to yell at them: “There is a tower! You need to climb it! Your dreams live at its top!” But people know the stories, and many choose to ignore them. I cannot. I must not.
I turn back to Aba. “Yes, I believe I am ready.”
He grunts as he stands on his six legs. Aba is at least old as the tower, but it only shows through his long white beard. One time, after one of my many failed attempts to reach the top, I asked him how old he was. He just smiled his warm smile and replied “Ancient.” He doesn’t like to talk about himself.
A door at the foot of the tower swings open. “Good luck,” he tells me.
He follows me to the entrance.
I know what comes next. I’ve walked this path a hundred times before. I step through the threshold, and Aba follows me. “You’ll never make it to the top,” he whispers in my ear. I shrug him off and begin my journey up the tower.
The stairs are cold and hard and dull. Each footstep echoes and reminds me of all the times I’ve failed before. Fear, fatigue, and injury have all been my enemy, but this time I will conquer them all. Behind me, I hear Aba’s voice say “No, you won’t.” He follows me so close I can feel his breath on my neck. He is reading my thoughts now. I know he doesn’t mean what he says. It’s just his job.
“What makes you think this time will be different? You’ve failed so many times before. Have you suddenly become stronger? Are you now braver?”
“Every failure brings you closer to succeeding, Aba.”
“Only a fool keeps going after he knows he’s beaten. Is that what you are, old friend, a fool?”
“If I must be a fool to reach the top, then yes I am.”
“Indeed you are. The biggest of them all.”
It continues like this for a while. The sun goes down and comes back up. The further up the tower we go, the less transparent and more vibrant Aba becomes. He is now semisolid and is a bluish-grey color, and his beard is shorter and brown. He becomes more forceful.
“Better men than you have tried to climb this tower. What makes you think that you’re special?”
“I am not special, Aba. Lots of men reach for their dreams. Even if I am the humblest of them all, I still deserve a chance.”
“You deserve nothing. You’ve had your chance — worse, you’ve had many chances. You’ve failed. Yet you keep wasting your time with these efforts. Why do you persist?”
“Chasing your dreams is never a waste of time. Each step is the foundation from which you take the next. Climbing these stairs has taught me that.”
He snorts and I feel the back of my neck get wet. I don’t mind. He’s just doing what he’s supposed to do.
My legs are weak and yet I climb. My stomach growls, but I still climb. Another day passes as I push through the cloud layer. Aba is completely solid now and a bright teal color. His beard is completely gone. He is sprier.
“No one believes you can do this. Everyone is sick of watching you fail.”
“They may be, but I’m not climbing for them. I’m climbing for me.”
“You don’t believe you can do this. You’re lying to yourself, and the worst part is, you know it.”
I stop for a second. “You are right, Aba. I don’t know I can do this. Nobody does. But I do believe I have to try; if I don’t try, how can I hold my head up? How do I look in a mirror?”
He scowls and I continue to climb. After more time passes, I can begin to see the top for the first time. A wave of vertigo and excitement sweeps over me. Aba speaks again. He is as young as I’ve ever seen him, and the brightness of his teal coat is now almost blinding.
“What if you succeed?”
“What do you mean?”
“Exactly that. The summit is within reach. What if you make it?”
“My dream comes true.”
“What if your dream comes with a consequence? The last person who reached the top was never heard from again. What if your dream isn’t what you are expecting? You’ve never seen it before; how can you be certain you even want it?”
I hesitate. He sees his opening.
“What reason will you have to climb my tower anymore? Something you’ve dedicated your whole life to is gone if you reach the top. Are you just filling one hole only to create another?”
I think about this long and hard. He has a point. I don’t know what dreams bring. I’ve never been successful before in any aspect of my life. Do dreams fill the holes in your soul, or do they just cause you to be aware of different ones? If I make it to the top and am not satisfied, will there be another tower for me to climb?
For the first time in my climb, doubt enters my mind. Aba sees it and sadness crosses his face. He and I both know the next part. “Hop on my back,” he tells me.
I hop on. He rushes down the steps at blazing speeds while I hold his neck. His skin grows pale and turns translucent. I feel his beard spring out and shift from bushy to silky white until it is trailing behind us. I close my eyes and only open them when I hear the slam of the door behind me.
I hop off. He gives me a nudge with his head. “You almost made the top. You’ll get it next time.”
I smile at my old friend. “Yes, I believe I will.”