Wednesday, February 4, 2009
A small girl kneeled in a clearing. The clearing was her secret spot, a patch of dirt among monstrous trees. She could still see her house. She took out a bag of marbles she had found at school, and emptied them all onto the dirt. There were ten of them. She put them in a line. Then she sorted them by color: six blue marbles, three purple marbles, and one black one. She formed them into little clusters, with the black one off on it’s own. The blue and purple ones were translucent, but the black one was opaque. She held up a blue marble to one eye, and a purple one to her other eye, so as to view the world through the marble’s tint. Ah! The trees looked so much prettier now! She dropped them both. She had decided that the black one was her favorite, because there was only one of it’s kind. She decided that it would be the Queen of her court. The purple marbles were princes, and the blue marbles were the queen’s subjects. The queen forced the blue marbles to split up and form two sides, separated by a twig that lay within grasp. Each blue faction had a prince to lead them, and the last prince, the girl decided, was to be made king. But he would have to listen to the queen. The queen had the blue and purple marbles make war, and attack each other. They had spies and secret tactics, and the princes made battle plans. The queen was entertained. The blue marbles hurled themselves with fervent vivacity at each other. The princes were allowed to remain aloof from the battlefield, merely offering a suggestion at key moments, which in turn flipped the momentum. But then, an unexpected twist occurred: it was revealed that the king was in fact secretly supporting one side, giving them the court’s inner secrets. The queen was furious with her husband. In a fierce and rash moment, she tore a viciously into her love, and killed the king. It did not matter to the queen who won now; all was lost. She cried for days over her love’s betrayal. Her grand and previously perfect life had come crashing down upon her in a torrent of pain. But the blue marbles could not stop: they threw themselves like beasts into their own brothers, trying to end the now brutal feud. The princes had lost all their power over the queen’s subjects. Pristine love had been cruelly mutated into pure hate and chaos.
The girl was done playing: she collected her marbles and skipped back to her house, humming with delight.
His eyes were getting tired, the lids sliding over his iris, and now pupil. The progression was slow, but it was steady. Now his eyelids were at the bottom of his irises. They were a deep, true brown. The boy had beautiful eyes. They spoke verily of innocence, a pure nature, and kindness. A good heart cannot be taught, but rather it is found to be intrinsic in those that possess it. However, a heart can only remain as good as those around it. Often good people are manipulated, and their good natures are corrupted and hurt deeply. Another person could gaze deeply into the eyes of this young boy, and know instantly of his nature. His large and loving heart was this boy’s greatest gift and curse, for he loved and trusted others truly and fully; we can only hope that others do not try and abuse this. His lids now covered his eyes completely, and the boy slipped into slumber. His nostrils worked quietly and easily. His necklace clinked lightly as it shifted positions to best abide by gravity. So did his body, as the boy himself slid into a reclined position in his seat at the bus stop. As quietly and softly as the boy fell into dreams, his pattern of waking functioned quite inversely as the sound of boots approaching reached his sensitive ears. The boy’s eyelids now jerked open, and his body righted itself to sitting upright and attentive. For a moment, the boy had imagined that he had fell asleep in the classroom, and the nearing man was his professor. Indeed, he discovered that he was incorrect as his now observant eyes climbed to the face of the visitor. The face of this man was hidden beneath wrinkles that spoke of wisdom, the kinds of wrinkles that the boy imagined a sage to possess. The man had a lovely white beard, and sparkling blue eyes. He had tufts of hair sprouting from his ears as well. His clothes looked both carefully taken care of, and slightly tattered. They were clean, and quaint, but his trousers had a few well-hidden patches. His shirt looked of good quality, but certainly well-worn. The aged man sat slowly into the bus stop’s green bench.
The boy stared, not intrusively, but also unabashedly, into the clear blue eyes of the old man. The boy liked the sparkle that lived in the old man’s eyes, a signal of a certain vitality that the man had not lost in old age. Slowly, the man’s head turned to meet the quizzical gaze of the young boy. They stared deep into the other’s visage, and neither let their gaze fall. This was not a struggle of bravery to see who would stare the other down, but rather a conversation with no words. Inherently, they understood the nature of the other’s to be similar to their own, and also knew that the other was aware of the very same fact. Placing this greeting into words, the man said hello to the boy softly. His voice was rich, and it flowed softly and musically into the boy’s ears. The boy returned the greeting without hesitation or fear of the authority that the older man possessed. Somehow, the boy realized that the conversation they had just had between eyes transcended the common societal rules of proper respect to elders. The boy also realized that such rules were only instilled so as to limit the amount of deep conversation that could exist between peoples of vast social ranges. The man smiled in a petite way that was warming to the boy, and looked off into the distance. He too, was aware of all that the boy had conveyed with his quick response, and was not offended in the least by it. The man asked the boy wether or not he attended school in town. The boy also looked to the distance, in the supposed direction of his school and said yes, that he did. He also added that break had just begun, and this bus would take him to his parents and sister in the countryside. Memories whirled in the old man’s mind of the times when he was young, and went to school with his friends. He knew that he had not been much different from the boy sitting by his side. The man inhaled lightly, but audibly. His thin frame shook softly, his proud beard shivering in tandem. His wrinkles relaxed with the breath, and his body seemed to sag into the seat. Off in the distance, the man’s eyes spied a cemetery. The boy looked into the older man’s face, and asked wether or not he was afraid of death, and the prospect of departing from this world. The man said, in a deep, smooth voice that the idea of death was no longer frightening to him. Most of the people he had loved deeply were gone now, and had left him to reside alone on this earth. He told the boy that when he had been younger, he had indeed been terrified by the thought of death, but he had slowly become to be friends with that part of life, and was ready, now, in old age, to face such a horizon. The boy nodded curtly, and thought of what the old man had said. He realized that he would miss the old man if he left, and told him so. The man smiled, and looked back into the face of the boy. The man said to the boy with a wry smile that indeed, the boy had not known him for more than a few minutes. The boy smiled as well, and disagreed with the man. He said that they had known each other for more than time, that time was not the only factor in caring. The boy said that many a relationship had been fostered on the basis of a fundamental sense of being that two people could share.
The man looked off again into the distance, to the cemetery, and thought about what the boy had just said. It was, in fact, true. The man then realized, that the boy seated at his side was, in a way, his son. The old man took the soft hand of the boy in his, and thought suddenly about all his life. It was like a film show as it flew in front of his brilliant eyes. At the same time, it was both beautiful and painful as he paid homage to lost love, and true sorrow. But he saw pleasure too, with those who he had known, and truly gotten to understand. The aged man’s eyelids slid slowly down the whites of his eyes, then to his irises, the pupils, then down the last of his spectacular blue eyes. Like a submarine hatchway, his eyelids closed. The man’s huge hand squeezed upon the soft hand of the boy. Here this ancient man sat, and was happy. He knew now that he had been blessed to live such a life as he had.
The boy also squeezed the hand of the elder man. Off in the distance, the boy could make out beautiful headstones over graves of people once loved, but now gone. He knew that the old man whom he had grown to love had just died. A lone, bold tear slid down the boy’s soft cheek. He knew that it had been time.
In the midst of the dusty road and large, protective trees, knelt a brother and sister. Here they resided in uncanny silence, their breaths hushed to whispers. He was older, and held his sister tight in his grip. Their fear was tangible; it hung in the air in a thick cloud. His eyes searched the entrance to the inlet fervently. The two of them could hear their father inside the house, roaring in confusion and displeasure. They had eluded him this time. They could practically smell the liquor on his breath from here. It was an utterly fearsome scent, for the brother knew what it usually entailed. The bruises on his body were only now beginning to fade from the last time. His father instilled an awesome terror in him, were there alcohol or not. The boy lived constantly in the shadows, attempting to lurk out of sight. He loved school. It was an escape, however momentary, from fright. He always took his sister with him, and would continue to do so until she was old enough for preschool.
It had been this same way for close to a year now, since their mother left. Most of his neighbors knew what was going on, but could do little to stop it. The boy knew that socially speaking, it was the father’s role to keep a stern discipline. But this was too far. Alcohol was an escape for their father, a way to leave reality for a while. Often, their father would be in a stupor when they returned from school, and they would go to their neighbor’s house for some food. No questions were asked of them in these instances, they were not necessary. But this boy was strong; he always looked after his sister, and tried to shield her from such sights and pains. He would tell her to hide while he went to face his father. He was a formidable man, with dark features, and a lumbering walk. The boy hated his father. He hated with deep abandon, for everything he had done to the boy’s family. He wished he and his sister could fly away and escape. But like a horrible abyss, this pain had no refuge. He could only endure. He held his sister, and prayed as hard as he could that God would come and strike down his horrible father. He hoped God would sweep down and make everything good and well again. Then, as he knelt with his sister close to his breast, he wept, wept with all the might he had in his body, all the pain that had been bubbling up inside his little body. He prayed with all his heart, and knew his sister was somehow doing the same. He promised God that he would always be good to everyone if God would take he and his sister and fly far, far away, to his mother. He would hold himself at her breast for an hour. He heard his father roar like a wild beast, with a deep rumbling power. His sister turned and looked into his weeping face. He hugged her, and promised her that God would make everything good someday.
She watches over the dead. They sleep deeply in the caverns of their coffins, but she watches. Ages rise and fall, the living come and go, but she stays. What do we know of immortality? She stands tall and strong, the nexus of death, her eyes serene but strong. She is like the iron goddesses of days past; the gatekeeper to the ethereal kingdom. She will stand, she will endure. Humans will flail around, their pernicious behavior rewarded by a spot in her company. She knows what death means, and where it leads. Does it lead to euphoria; to an exhumed time of good? Poets and philosophers will die among the rest; their search for truth and beauty yields nothing. What is a life worth? What can we, such fragile and frail creatures do in our brief time on this earth? Her stoic glare will continue, despite our futile attempts to join her in eternity. Perhaps most will find themselves in ultimate apathy lying tired at her graceful, pure feet. Then again, we wonder, perhaps some will discover at last the decisive truth. Is that what a human life is for? We beat incessantly on holy books, pouring over them for an answer. Conceivably, we should not search for an answer in texts written in ancient times. It is a race, to find truth before our bodies fall broken in the breadth of her trenchant gaze.
She had been standing for an hour and a half, and her legs were getting tired. She was dressed in her best clothes, and they itched. She sung quietly, just to herself among the mass of voices. They raised and fell in swells of poignant emotion. They sung with all the vigor in their bodies, about regret, pain, and death. She did not. They had turned inhuman with the music, baring their souls with reckless abandon. Their arms shook with might, their eyes where shut tight, as they tired to see God. It was a blinding and muting sight. Every week, she was awestruck with the transformation of these people. They farmed all week long, uttering as few words as necessary, as stoic as the trees themselves. When they got here, to such a cross-bearing edifice as this, they mutated. Now they were animals, with all their sin laid wide in a neat display for the entire world to watch. She did not act as they did. She did not sing the words to the songs. She pretended to, but in a voice so quiet only she could hear, she sung about her cat, about the homework she had to do. A couple times she tried to sing for the glory of the savior, her God, but could not. She knew she believed in God; she had to. Her mother always told her about God, and all that he did, but she did not understand. When she prayed for God to giver her a candy bar, her pockets remained empty. This confused her.
When they got home from church, her mother would say little to her, just herd her into the kitchen so that she could help her mother cook dinner. She watched with fascination as her mother’s muscles rose and fell with every grind of the tortillas. Her mother was beautiful, and always stood straight up with pride. She tried to stand straight just like her mother, but it hurt her back, and so she just ended up slouching. Her favorite time of the day was when her mother came into her room to tell her a story. They were almost always about God saving someone, but she rarely actually listened to the story. She liked to feel her mother’s warmth next to her, and watch her mouth as it moved with dynamism. Her lips were full, and they bounced and stretched to accommodate the words as they sailed forth from her mouth. She had a pretty voice, breathy and hushed. It came from her cheeks and tongue, not her throat. Her eyes would grow wide and wet with a conviction that the girl could taste. Her eyebrows were thick and dark, and they rose in time with her emphasis. The girl wanted to be just like her mother. Her mother did everything right, and everyone the girl met said that her mother was a wonderful woman. They said she was as kind as she was beautiful. But the girl could not understand God. She went to church every week, but this only served to confuse her further.
Sometimes when she was alone in a field, gathering coffee beans, she would try to talk to God, like they were good friends. She spoke in barely a whisper, asking him what his favorite food was, and if he liked his teacher. She was always scared that someone would hear her and tell her mother what she had been doing. The girl knew that you were supposed to be dressed as nice as you could before you tried and talked to God, and that you had to tell him all he things you had done wrong. She also knew you were only allowed to talk to him on Sundays, but she tried it all the same. He never spoke to her in return, but he was a good listener. He always nodded His head in understanding as she told Him about how her friend had called her a mean name. She knew all that she was doing was wrong, and would probably send her to hell, but this was the only way she knew to talk to Him. Maybe one day, she would be able to act the way her mother did in church, yelling as loud as she could about everything wrong she had done, but it was hard for her. One time, she had accidentally hit a dog with a rock that she threw, and she told God about it, but it didn’t seem to do anything.
The girl tried to help in the kitchen, too, but she didn’t like to cook. She liked math. She loved the way numbers just seemed to always be right, and they way they talked to her. Her favorite number was thirteen, because none of the other numbers liked it. It was always cast aside as the worst number, and none of the others would multiply together to be like it. She drew the number all over her homework pages, so that there would be more of them. She pretended to not like school though, because no one else did. She pretended to like cooking, and making tortillas. She thought that maybe, if she cooked enough, God would like her better.
A man lies in his bed, his tattered bed sheets pulled taut to his chin. He is still cold, and he shivers occasionally. He is tired; exhausted like never before. His small, derelict house is lonely; this man is it’s sole inhabitant. At one time, this house would sleep twelve people, some even sleeping in the kitchen. The house was proud in those days, for it was valued, and people thanked the heavens for the house everyday at dinnertime. But slowly, people would leave it’s company, some off to the city, some to the cemetery three miles east. Now, this elderly man was the last guest of this once vibrant house. This house has gotten to know this man who lies in bed. It could be said (if we assume a certain depth of emotional range) that the house loved this man. The man had been raised since an infant in this house’s foundation. The house would be sorry to see this man leave. He was the last one, and the house’s favorite one.
There is much to be said for the man who shivers in his thin sheets, lying atop a sagging mattress. He is a good man, as good as men are made. He is a police officer. He has been wearing the same sunglasses for many years. They were given to him by an old friend. Everyone in his town loves the man; children refer to him as uncle. When children grin and call him that, he will give a toothy smile in return and call the child by name, wishing him or her to make sure and have a good day. They all thank him, and walk away. Young men come to him and ask for advice with women. He always gives good advice. There is no crime in the town, as no one could bear to have this man think poorly of them. Everyone in town loves this man.
This man is being destroyed. His arteries are thick with cholesterol. Nobody knows about the struggle his heart is going through, as it fights with everything it has. He has lain in the same position for two days now, only sitting up to eat tortillas or drink a little water. He thinks all day about those in town who he has gotten to know recently, trying to memorize the new children’s names. He needs to memorize them, he thinks to himself, because when he returns to his town, he will need to nod to them and call them by their name. He will never return to that town. His feet will never touch the ground again. He is going to have a heart attack in four hours. He is tired, exhausted like never before. His eyes close, and he dreams about his brothers, his sisters, and his father. He has not seen them for a long time, but he prays for them everyday. They pray for him, too. His dream falls into darkness, and he sleeps deeper.
The man wakes up soon after. There are three children standing by his bed. There are two girls and one boy. He cannot remember their names right now, but insists to himself that he knows them. They cheer as he wakes, happy to see their uncle’s eyes, which have been hiding behind heavy, wrinkled lids. He smiles weakly. They start to tell the man about the school day, and how their tests went. Their voices come and go in his mind, fading like a telephone signal, only to be picked back up minutes later. They ask why he is in bed, and not in the town. They are beautiful children, he thinks to himself. He begins to notice new things about them: a spot of dirt on the boy’s lapel, dimples in the oldest girl’s cheeks when she smiles, and an interesting birthmark on the other child’s neck. The boy repeats the question, obviously worried for the man. The elderly man forces another weak smile, and tells the children that he has been tired, and he needed to sleep in. He tells them that he will see them tomorrow. They laugh lightly, like little bells chiming clearly through a ballroom din. They begin to leave, and his eyes loose focus. Everything is fuzzy, then fades smoothly to black. His left arm twitches subconsciously.
Rain falls outside, a soft pitter-patter. Water falls from the house’s gutters as it weeps. The house cries for the gentle man who lies in bed, in the house’s east bedroom. The house is heartbroken, and sobs in anguish for this man. Who will care for the house now? Who can she love, after such a man as this fades into the floorboards? Her walls creak to and fro in the wind, as the house sings a parting lament for the man.
The man wakes from his nap, and finds his father at his bedside. The man smiles, and gets up to hug his father. They stand motionless in the other’s arms. There is a pleasant silence here; it comforts them both. They break from their embrace, and the father gives his son a smile. The man’s father is proud of him. He has seen his son’s children. They line the streets, young and old, large and small. He has many sons and daughters, and they all love him dearly.
He looked down with pride on his boots. They were dark, timeworn and beautiful. Their leather was supple, but it was durable too. These were good boots. The dust beneath the boots was pleasing as well. It was a deep copper, with swirls of black. Everything was striking this morning. Fog lay heavy over the road that he stood in. The sun had not yet decided to make its presence known; it hid somewhat bashfully behind thick, wizened clouds. He inhaled deeply into his lungs. The air tasted better today. It was like the world was scooting and sweeping obstacles from his path, bowing before him. Feeling like a king, he strolled down the dirt road. An old woman, who looked like she was little but wrinkles, stopped sweeping her porch and peered out at him. He cast a smile in her direction; it was returned with vigor. Everything felt good and right, like he was the protagonist in a famous romantic novel. Enemies would fall to shambles before his gaze; women would lay kisses on his cheeks. He smiled in apprehension for the day to come. But he felt this one would be different. His life was finally better, finally easier.
Now, like a bird, we look down upon this man, as if from the heavens. What hardships he had endured, what pain he had withstood. Perhaps it was now, finally, his turn for luck to fall on his shoulders. He was an orphan, a homeless boy. He lived in the countryside along pigs, feeding off scraps he found. A family took him in. He passed through primary school. He was a young adult now. His foster father beat him regularly. That man was an alcoholic. He was the only one of his friends to go to secondary school. He worked three jobs to pay for tuition. He has had no shoes for much of his life. He left his foster family and stayed in a tiny apartment in the city of his school. He barely made enough money. Sometimes, he did not eat dinner. He graduated secondary school. He signed up for college, and got a minor scholarship. He still worked three jobs, making as much money as he could. He only slept several hours each night, as his studies and his work kept him up. Upon graduation, his favorite professor gave him a pair of boots. He prized them as a trophy of achievement. He was manipulated over and over again as he tried to enter his field of study. But then, as he was close to giving up, another professor from college visited him, and offered him a job. It was a good job, a better job than many people in his village had. Today is his first day.
Again, like a bird, we shall swoop down to observe him. He looks confident, and sure of himself. He has been raised up, rather then broken down, by his experiences in life. He is still young. His life has been a tired one. But it is different now. We fly upwards, towards the heavens. There, on the horizon, the sun raises, naïve and happy to reveal itself from the protective clouds. It smiles like a child, and throws sun directly on that man below us. Like a halo, light swirls around him. We smile approvingly, in according pride over this man’s perseverance. This is no regular boy, but a unique man. Power exudes from the spring in his step. We glide forward, far forward, into his later life. There he sits, fattened, with a lovely wife that has grown old with him, and grandchildren around his feet. Ah! Hermes! What fortune have you given such a man! We should all be so lucky as to be rewarded thusly.
Standing before the door of his old professor, the man removes a cloth from his pocket and wipes the mud off his dark boots. These are good boots.
A man rode his motorcycle down a dirt road into town. It was almost noon. This man was very shy. He never spoke to people he did not know, unless they spoke to him first. Even then, he would not look them in the eyes, and only mumble out a response to the ground. There were, in fact, only a select few with whom he felt comfortable: his wife, his daughter, his three good friends, and his barber. He went weekly to his barber for a shave. His barber was a shy man like himself. It was that time of the week, and he smiled as he imagined the cool lather spread across his cheeks and chin. He kept a moustache because his wife had told him that it made him look more respectable. The thin wheels of his motorcycle danced delicately between rocks and potholes. He privately thought that a motorcycle made him look dashing, and much bolder than he really was. The wind whipped through his hair and whispered softly in his ears. It spoke to him soothingly, like a lover in his bed. He entered the limits of the town where his barber stood expectantly, waiting for the man. As he slowed to a stop by the barber’s shop, the wind got quieter, and gradually faded altogether in a late aubade. The man walked into his friend’s shop and sat down in a comfy chair in front of a long mirror. He always sat in the same chair. Both men smiled in subdued adoration of the other, but said little to convey real emotion. They both greeted the other man warmly and made pleasant talk of their families, and the condition of the roads. The barber laid an apron over his friend.
The puffy white lather embodied perfection in the man’s mind. It was clean and wholesome, and reminded the man of his wife’s gentle touch. They loved each other dearly, but rarely found ways to express it. His barber cut a swath through the lather, shearing off the past week’s stubble. Surely the man loved his wife, but a strange thing had started to happen in recent days. Women would pass him in the street of the town, and he thought of what they would look like naked, or thought of them lying next to him, softly asleep in the late morning. He tried to dispel these thoughts harshly and with resolute goodness. He loved his wife. The barber’s razor slid through the lather again, slicing off the hair on the man’s chin. It stung momentarily. The barber’s blade spoke of friendly affection. Out of the corner of his eye, the man saw a woman walk into the barber’s shop. She was young, and her body was supple and shapely. Her face was beautiful, and she cast a look in the man’s direction. He immediately imagined her body held close to his, her eyes closed and her lips parted slightly. He thought of her leaning in to kiss him. His mind exploded in a fit of fire, as he scolded himself harshly for such thoughts. He looked in the mirror at the barber, his friend, whose eyes seemed to say that he was imagining the same thing. Was it perhaps true that the man was not a terrible person, and that such thoughts were normal? The barber’s razor licked off the last of the lather, leaving the man’s face clean and soft. The woman asked the barber whether or not he cut women’s hair as well. He said that he was sorry, but no, he did not. The woman looked disappointed for a minute, then flashed a gorgeous smile and thanked the barber just the same. Then she turned her gaze the other man. She was medusa; he was frozen by her gaze, locked tight by the power of her almond eyes. She left in flourish of sin and beauty, leaving the two men like statutes. The man gave his friend some money for the shave, and walked back out into the sun. The man gave his farewell, and departed off into his coy life of dreadful mediocrity and empty desire.
He wanted to be a pilot. He had been to the city once with his parents, and they visited a museum where they saw a cockpit. There were plastic pilots in the seats. He saw planes fly overhead every so often, and always thought of the pilots, speaking calmly into their headsets. They would reassure their passengers that it would be a great flight, and to enjoy themselves. The pilots were always calm, because icewater ran through their veins instead of blood. They knew what every dial and button did. Pilots were always handsome, too. They dressed in the darkest of blues, and their flight attendants always fell in love with them. He had read a story where a pilot married his flight attendant, and they bought their own plane. It was his favorite book.
His friends wanted to work in the fields, picking coffee or farming other crops. But he didn’t. His teacher in school told him that his parents didn’t have enough money to send him to college or secondary school, and that he would never be a pilot. He didn’t listen to his teacher. His father had asked him once why he didn’t want to take over the family convenience store when he grew up. But the boy told his father that his place was not in a store selling coca-cola. He wanted to be up in the sky, soaring through the clouds like a bird. He would be the best pilot in the world, and his passengers would always say he was their favorite pilot. He would fly them through storms safely, and his crew would adore him for his bravery. Yes, he would certainly be a pilot.
Friday, January 16, 2009
I'm sure that we're all aware of the conflict in Gaza right now, and the polar views that have developed around it. I was at a local protest recently on this very subject. It was actually quite surprising: for a town with rare protests and political activism visible to the public, there were a great many protesters. People all across the world feel very strongly about this issue.