We walked together, my guide and I, for four and a half hours in a silence enforced by our lack of shared language. Occasionally we exchanged smiles as a way of acknowledging our brief fellowship but the walk was all uphill and he set a demanding pace such that conversation would have been difficult even were it possible. Perhaps, in retrospect, the exertion, the jet-lag and the decreasing oxygen levels might account, in part, for the overwhelming euphoria that was to follow.
The path under our feet was a crackling bed of red and orange leaves and we were encased in a chamber of rich greenery but I did not become fully aware of the colour of everything until we emerged out into the blue at the top. And then it was as though I was seeing colour for the first time.
It was not only the colour, though. The air was suddenly full of impossibly sweet aromas and when a bird’s feather fell on my shoulder from above I felt it as clearly as had it been a brick. I sensed the heartbeat of the universe, but it is not fully possible to put the experience into words. The planet stretched out below us in all directions and a thousand miles of sky likewise above. Yet I could see clearly beyond it all. I knew, at that moment, that my silent companion and I were the only two humans in existence, and that we were being permitted a brief glimpse into the universal enigma.
It was somewhere within that instant that I saw God.
I speak of instants when, in truth, I have no idea of how long I had stood there. And then my guide pointed to his watch before pointing back down the hill. He reached into his backpack and handed me a beer. I remember what an incongruous act that seemed to be, under the circumstances, and I carefully examined the labeling half expecting to find secret code revealing further insights into the universe. But it was just a beer. I drank it in one swallow.
I could not tell whether or not he was sharing any of the emotion that had mysteriously engulfed me. The expression of contented well being with which he had begun the day would remain with him until the end of it. I suppose that I was disappointed, to a degree, that as we made our way back down the track the impact of the experience was not as clearly visible in his demeanor as it must have been in mine.
I suppose he had seen God four or five times that week.
The light was beginning to fade by the time we reached the bottom. When we shook hands I realised that it was the first time we had actually touched and I could confirm that he was, indeed, human. He gave me one final smile and a nod that I took to be an acknowledgement of our shared experience. I suppose then that he caught the train back to his home and to his wife and children and would see no reason to think further on the matter.
Later a light rain was beginning to fall as I walked alone through the crowded Tokyo streets to my hotel and I felt the magic begin to wash away from me. That night, as I stood beneath the shower it was as though I was rinsing the remains of the truth from my body before dressing again in my disguise and returning to the world.