Recently, a river in Balandra told Ziya this story:
Once upon a time there was a little river who wanted to be a linguist. She knew that only fancy people at the United Nations or in stuffy universities got to be linguists, but she didn’t care. Even if she was only a small river on a small island, she was ambitious beyond anyone’s expectation.
Little river had already begun to make her way all over the island, rushing out of rocks, flowing slowly through settlements, leaping off little cliffs, bubbling through forests and meandering her way along villages. She did this because she loved to listen to the languages of her world as they were being spoken by all the people who lived on her island, and even by the birds and animals.
Soon, she learned all the languages that there were to know, from Yoruba, Urdu and Bhojpuri to English and French Patois. Little river also came categorise the sounds of many hundreds of birds, the buzz of thousands of insects and the day and night-time calls of mammals. Yet little river felt that there was so much more for her to learn.
One day as she was running quickly along the edge of the island, humming to herself in six languages, she heard the most remarkable sound. It was like many different words were being said, all at different pitches, all with different accents. She slowed in wonder and wound her way closer, listening as the noise got louder and more jumbled, like a Saturday morning market. Just as she thought she discovered their source, she hit a wall of rocks too high for her to reach over and too deep and solid for her to flow under or crack through. Little river sank back, stared at the rocks for a long time and could not figure out what to do. She began to cry, thinking her dreams had ended. Even the flowers’ whispered consolations could not stop her tears.
She cried so much that the sky, who usually minds nobody’s business but her own, noticed little river’s broken heart, wrapped her in her arms and began to wail for her. Their weeping continued until river began to realise that sky’s tears had filled her and made her tall. Through her sorrow, little river became powerful and strong. She lifted her wet eyes to the rocks and, without pausing to feel fear or doubt, leapt over them, cascaded over a cliff, skidded down a hill and tumbled in sharp curves toward the sea. Breathless, she plunged head first into the vast ocean.
‘Hello, little river’, said the sea in ten thousand tongues. ‘Hello’, said little river, proud that she knew a few. ‘So, you are a linguist?’ ‘Yes’, said little river, ‘and you know all the ancient and new languages ever spoken. How can I learn them too?’ ‘Simply drink me’, said the sea, ‘and I will drink your island’s languages from you’. Each opened her mouth and began to fill with the other. Little river twisted in currents she never knew existed, and heard the sounds of people and animals who no longer roamed the earth as well as those who still visited the world’s oceans and rivers. She wove through them all, soaking up knowledge beyond her dreams.
And so, today, whenever people, birds and animals want to learn languages and knowledge, they visit little river’s mouth, where she still fills with the ocean and where the ocean still drinks her in, and in these visits, it is best to just sit quietly and listen.