Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Goddess of The Birds

The old woman leaned forward as far as she could, wincing in pain with the strain that the effort was putting on her back. She lifted the large heavy bag full of seeds and she placed it on the silver metal cart. She took in a deep breath, grunting slightly, and then she took a second breath. She leaned over again and grabbed the second bag and placed it on top of the first one. There were little beads of sweat forming on her forehead, like tiny transparent pearls freely arranged over a pink desert of ancient skin. The woman took another deep breath and then another. She then leaned forward for a third time and pulled up the third bag and placed it on top of the other two. All three bags were now secure inside the metal cart. She took a couple of steps backward, stumbling slightly, and she sat down on the steps that came down to the garage. She was breathing heavily. She sat there quietly, breathing and sweating, for several minutes. The little pearls of sweat had turned to transparent rivers that now made trails through the cracked landscape of her forehead. She took out a handkerchief and wiped all the sweat away. She stood up carefully once again and pressed a button on the side of the wall to make the garage door open. She bent over to grab hold of the cart and she started to push it forward. She walked out onto the sidewalk, then she took out her remote control and pressed the button that made the door come back down, and then she turned towards the east, letting her eyes wander over the distant buildings and the few stray clouds. She stayed there, in front of the closed garage door, for a few more minutes, as if contemplating her next steps carefully. Then she slowly started to move up the wide cement sidewalk.
It was a clear and sunny afternoon. The wind was soft and gentle, making the trees sway slightly as if dancing to slow music. Cars passed by every so often and there were people walking here and there but the street was mostly silent. The woman pushed the cart slowly, resting every few minutes and looking up at the bright blue sky. She smiled and her eyes shone with recognition every time she saw the blue vastness that reigned above her. Then it was time to move the cart again. When she came to the first intersection, she slid the cart down to the street, walked a few steps and looked in all directions. There were no cars coming but she still took a little bit of time to breathe, making sure that she would not run out of energy in the middle of the street. When she felt sufficiently strong, she started to push the cart again. She moved very slowly from one corner to the other, still looking in all directions. The next block had even more trees, thick with dark leaves and solid branches, and the woman welcomed the shade. She was wearing a large, thick beige coat and a blue handkerchief around her head. Her hair was bright white and her skin was a mixture of pink and pasty white. Her eyes drooped slightly to the side and her mouth moved slightly from side to side as she walked, as if it followed its own mysterious wishes.
The old woman crossed another intersection slowly and then a third, before arriving at the place where she had to turn towards the park. She followed the same procedure as before, but there was more traffic here. As she reached the middle of the street, a red convertible came fast towards her, braking at the very last possible moment, just a few feet away from her little black shoes. The man inside the car ran his hand over his clean shaven head in a gesture of impatience. The woman tried to move a little faster. The man turned the wheel and drove around her. The woman simply shook her head and kept on pushing on the silver cart. Again she moved slowly down a long sidewalk. She could see the tall trees of the park in the distance and the gray cement archway that marked her destination. She kept on pushing slowly, resting more often now, feeling the sweat dripping down her face and starting to sting her eyes. When she reached the main street in front of the park, there were several cars stopped at the light. She waited for the next one, hoping there would be fewer cars by then. By the time the next red light came around, there were even more cars waiting, but she decided to move anyway. She slid down onto the street and slowly moved in front of the waiting cars. Without looking, she could sense that the light about to change. She pushed as hard as she could but it was too late. Some cars were honking in the back and the motors were rumbling. She didn’t turn to look, she simply kept on moving. As she made it to the edge of the sidewalk, the cars zoomed by in desperation. She pushed the cart up and crossed the archway, her bent back straining with the great effort of every little step.
The trees and bushes in the park were looking specially bright green, and they outlined the clear sky with their greenness. There were a few men and women in roller-skates and music was coming from a small black boombox on the side of the road. The old woman smiled and a young woman smiled back at her, as she danced to the muffled beat coming from the small speakers. The old woman reached the corner and spotted a green bench. She pulled the cart over and slowly bent her body down to sit. Cars were passing by in here as well, and people in bicycles and joggers with little white wires coming out of their ears and couples walking hand in hand and a few kids running back and forth and ahead of their nervous parents. The woman breathed slowly and deliberately. She closed her eyes for a moment and the cars became suns that traveled through great nebulae of purple and green and the people were like great birds that traveled across the empty wastelands of space, where their voices had lost their meaning and had turned into complex songs of silver light and solid cold stone. She opened her eyes again and there were more joggers running by her and an old man wearing a gray beret. The old woman sighed and pushed herself up once again.
She pushed the cart down the angled sidewalk, letting her eyes wander over the curved tree branches, the bench where a family was laughing and having a picnic, the statue where an old homeless man was asleep, his sunburnt face helpless against the sun. She reached the final intersection where the street was very wide and it was impossible to know when cars were coming. She slid the cart onto the street once again and she made her way over to the other side, as quickly as she could. A couple of cars had to wait for her but there was no honking and that allowed the old woman to breathe easier. She reached the corner and she started to push her cart up the curved slope that led to the lake. Here there was no sidewalk and she simply had to trust that the cars coming behind her would spot her in time and slowly move around her. The woman moved even more slowly here because of the slope and because she was now feeling very tired. The sweat was stinging her eyes fiercely now and she didn’t want to stop to wipe it all away. Slowly, ever so slowly, she made it to the little parking lot and the wooden building where people rented the boats. She turned towards the left and pushed the cart up onto the cement path that surrounded the lake. There she rested, standing up, supporting her weight on the handles of the cart. She brought out her handkerchief and wiped the sweat away from her face. The water was calm, shiny and smooth. There were several couples out on the boats and many people walking up and down the path. A man in a light brown jacket walked by her and nodded in greeting. She raised her trembling hand and waved back. She smiled and started to move once again.
She reached a long stretch of grass that ran parallel to the edge of the lake. A trio of ducks was swimming just a couple of feet away from the muddy shore. There were tall light green leaves that sprouted straight out of the water. A little white dog passed by her, exploring the path and the grass with its tiny nose. The old woman took a very deep breath and then another. She looked all around her and nodded, satisfied and ready. The woman then reached inside the cart and pulled out the first heavy bag. She ripped up the top with her little wrinkled hands and she walked with the open bag towards the grass. There, she slowly flipped the bag over, walking on the edge of the path as the seeds started to fall from the gaping hole. A great cloud of dust was formed as the seeds poured onto the grass like brown and yellow rain. Immediately, the birds started to come: great flocks of pigeons and large seagulls, gray and white. They came in waves upon waves filled with enthusiasm and they collided with each other in great masses, forming a complex moving carpet of constant feathery excitement and eager hunger and need. The woman let the seeds rain down slowly, walking from one edge of the grassy section to the other, making sure the food was spread as evenly as possibly, in a long dusty offering of yellow and brown and black. As soon as one bag was finished, she came back to the cart and opened the second. The birds were now three layers thick and the sound they made was like a great orchestra of madness led by a crazed invisible conductor bathed in the waters of desire. The birds jumped deep into the mountains of seed, without fear or hesitation, grabbed some on their beaks, jumped back, swallowed, then jumped in again, ready for more. And even as the second bag was already empty, there were more flocks of pigeons coming over the green calm surface of the lake, called over by silent, invisible beacons. The woman opened the third and final bag and repeated her calm and methodical procedure. More seagulls came and more pigeons came, and even some other wild birds that were hungry enough to dive into the loud and fierce chaos that surrounded the mountains of seed.
The old woman stood back and watched the eager birds with a great smile. She nodded her head and looked up at the sky, then at the mountain, then at the lake and once again at the birds. For a moment her skin was not as cracked, her face was not as pasty, her hair was not as white. For a moment, the intense hunger for life that sang voraciously in a thousand voices flowed straight into her old weak body and, in the great open mirror that was the shining lake, she could see that she had returned safely from the deep pits of darkness once again. She laughed softly to herself, a little laugh of simple triumph and victory, and then she turned back towards the cart. It was getting late and she had a long walk home.

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