The Sphinx never says yes, nor does he ever say no. He says everything in-between, none of which means a thing. Like many powerful animals, he spends much of his time resting, waiting for his distractions to approach him. His occupation is to stand guard in front of a tomb, which his impressive size allows him to do.
As a guardian, he guards not only his charge but also himself. Any attempt to approach him or his tomb is subjected to the same, merciless test, although in the case of his personal space, the riddles are harder, even impossible, to solve. Whatever the angle of approach, the Sphinx never truly opens himself up, only appearing to open before closing like a trap.
He is known to guard the dead, who in their physical paralysis are in need of protection, lest their riches be stolen and their bodies defiled to the point of no return. The Sphinx does not believe in ownership, but is happy to provide a service based on the beliefs of others.
The Sphinx believes himself to be in constant motion, like a planet or a shark, moving ahead into a future of potentiality, when in fact he is always sitting down, bolted to a pedestal of unresolved issues.
When it comes to dealing with others, of whom there is no shortage in his line of work, ceaselessly approached as he is by explorers, tomb raiders and lost tourists, the Sphinx has a failsafe strategy. The strategy is of staggering simplicity: he draws them in by seeming to invest without ever investing at all.
The Sphinx has noticed that others are rarely immune to his allure and solid force, and when he poses them his riddles, they quickly mistake this for interest in the contents of their minds. Because the Sphinx is large and has an air of authority, those who approach him assume that he will treat them kindly, that he will be mindful of their hopes, and their fragility.
But the Sphinx doesn’t care, doesn’t have the capacity for selflessness others project onto him. The mistake others make is thinking that a guardian can always be trusted.
The Sphinx’s lion body puts him in direct relation with the sun, this bright, paternal star, blinding those below it with its fire, and causing them, in their blindness, to feel as though there were no other star in the sky but him.
For the most part, the Sphinx can’t understand why people see him this way, but he doesn’t try particularly hard to dissuade them. If pressed, he’d have to admit that it feels nice to be looked at with doting eyes by those standing below him; that it excites him to see them hesitate, to witness their respect and attempts to woo him.
But, ultimately, this is all there can be had from the situation. The Sphinx is not a straight-forward person; he cannot, in a context of intimate expectation, speak his mind, so he talks around his worries in a way that places the fault with the other person. What he wants is not to resolve a problem, but to show the other person that any connection would be useless to pursue.
The Sphinx wants to be left alone by those who want him to change. At heart, he considers himself a solitary person, functioning best in a state of isolation.
He lives at a great enough distance from other Sphinxes that he can allow himself to call them friends. Those Sphinxes guard their own monuments, which helps the matter greatly. Anyone not guarding a tomb or shrine is suspicious to the Sphinx, who worries that such an unattached agent will have designs on what he’s guarding, will expect to be shared with, or made a priority.
People are vultures, thinks the Sphinx, and he spends his nights devising further unsolvable riddles to keep himself safe from anyone attractive enough to bypass his better instincts.
According to those who have known him, the Sphinx is a time-waster; not of his own time, of course, but of the time of those who stand in front of his large stone body asking to come in, and whom he feeds puzzle after puzzle, knowing full well what they don’t know, that no matter how many of his tests they pass, they will never be allowed in. He wastes their time to the point of exhaustion, waiting for them to leave.
The Sphinx is not confrontational, and will simply remain a silent, ungenerous wall until those who attempt to enter what he is guarding simply give up.
What the Sphinx is really afraid of, however, is the seemingly endless list of demands others are capable of making: “Guard this for me, make sure nothing about it is allowed to change,” they say, which is fine, but then they also say, “We expect you to know who you are, and who you will have become by the age of five hundred and thirty.” The Sphinx is put in charge of keeping things as they are, yet he barely knows who he is.
He is suspicious of the moon, who changes constantly for the sake of another, changes according to rotational whims and the light of the sun, and the Sphinx thinks that this doesn’t evoke a lot of integrity. Changing to accommodate an other cannot possibly lead to a fulfilling life.
One night at sunset, a traveller burdened with heavy bags stops in front of the Sphinx and, rather than ask for admission, falls asleep on the warm stone of his paw for three consecutive nights. Befuddled, the Sphinx sits silently and observes the small body on his paw. The traveller’s innocent faith confuses him.
When the traveller wakes, he asks for admission to the tomb the Sphinx is guarding.
“I have come,” he says, “to visit the remains of my father, so as to learn about myself.”
The Sphinx, who learns about himself in the process of withholding from others, finds this laughable. But the traveller is attractive, with an intriguing seriousness about his face, and the Sphinx hasn’t played with anyone in a while. The Sphinx poses the most difficult riddles he possesses, and the traveller sits cross-legged on the sand to think.
The Sphinx watches and finds pleasure in this new toy of a person, with his serious face and well-formed back. The traveller’s candour seems to warm a cold part of him, though only temporarily. Soon, the Sphinx loses interest and returns to old patterns as he deploys his familiar push-and-pull routine.
When the traveller, who is used to resistance, says to the Sphinx, “I know what you’re doing,” the Sphinx feigns ignorance, replying, “I have better things to do than defend myself to you.”
When the traveller lays out the contents of his bags in front of the Sphinx and announces that he is unarmed, unwilling to cause pain, the Sphinx laughs and says, “You are small, I am gargantuan. What about you could possibly scare me?”
The traveller opens his chest and reveals a burning heart beating fast between his lungs.
“This is who I am,” he says. “Your riddles cannot be solved. All that proves to me is that you are stuck. But I see who you have the potential to be, and I see that it is time for you to change, to become a better version of yourself. Let me help you. I am not here to deceive you, my intentions are kind.”
To this, the Sphinx says nothing, seals his stone lips and closes access to the traveller, who, after all, doesn’t know him at all, how could he? It is not yet time to change, the Sphinx thinks, not at the behest of this scruffy, diminutive tramp. The traveller’s eyes are pale as fish, and his arms open wide like the desert.
“No,” says the Sphinx, but only to himself. To the traveller, he says nothing. The puzzle no longer matters, the traveller has failed and will not enter the tomb he came to visit. The Sphinx’s stone tail whips the sand and his paws cling to the status quo. Thus, he believes himself to be moving, never settling, the dust always flying around him.
“I am who I am,” says the Sphinx, to himself and anyone who’ll listen. “I am this way, I cannot be otherwise, it would be a compromise, a violation of my serenity.”
The traveller has picked up his heavy bags, draped a cloth over the flames in his heart, and leaves small footprints in the sand as he heads off seeking another tomb in which he hopes to find his father’s remains.
“The mistake lies in permitting the fact that your stars seem so like my stars to foster the illusion of their sharing a sky, when both our stars are in fact scattered in separate deserts, and are nothing but dying rocks and glimmering sand.”