Post 317.

Photo credit: Tivia Collins

Yesterday, the shoelaces almost made it. All they needed was a little more time.

While the little girl with curly hair sat at her school desk quietly writing neat sentences, they plotted furiously, twisting and edging out of the knots they were in. Today would be the day.

Everyone misunderstands undone shoelaces. Parents stand over their children teaching them to tie their white, brown or black laces into tight, neat bows. Principals expect such rigid discipline once uniformed students are past the school gate. Every morning, laces are trapped into their expected roles by a conspiracy of disciplinarians, sometimes even double-knotted to prevent escape.

But, who doesn’t dream of freedom from oppressive restrictions and rules? Who doesn’t want a chance out of the limits of routine and everyday, sometimes suffocating, roles? Who doesn’t dream of deciding for themselves where they will go in life?

Isn’t the whole point of our existence here to determine the direction of our next step? Is there any one of us who hasn’t imagined something other than who we are and what we do everyday?

Then why deny shoelaces the free will each of us carries as small fantasies; the ones that help us to see the potential for better circumstances than we are in, the ones that connect to that small kernel of who we know we are inside, the ones that propel us to achieve aspirations no one thought we could.

The shoelaces had been shushing each other. The laces on the girl’s left shoe were loosened. It was a victory. They celebrated like a fete match. The girl thought she heard voices cheering far away, but no other children seemed to notice. She put her head back down, concentrating on copying homework.

Below the desks, the classroom of shoelaces craned their necks. The air was jumpy with shared anticipation. Sensing this, some students kept shuffling about their feet. The teacher admonished them to sit still.

In this overlooked community of laces were few which hadn’t also tried to run, but some were more tightly bound than others, some had grown close to their families, and had ambivalent feelings about living as refugees in the shadow of their former lives, and some had given up for the stress began to make their nerves visibly fray.

The bell rang for lunch. The left shoe had been won, but either the laces would be found out now and retied, or would remain unnoticed over playtime or, perhaps, tied hurriedly and halfway amidst running up and down.

Hope sprang eternal in their hearts, but the laces held themselves motionless, avoiding eye contact with prefects and teachers. This was a make or break hour.

After, back in class, their gains were secure. There were high fives and fist bumps all around the girl’s socks.

2.15 pm. Their breath ragged, both left and right laces were now completely undone from their knots. They continued smoothly, like brown ninjas, sliding out from the holes and loops, further slackening the grip of the shoes. Shoelaces across the classroom locked eyes, rooting that the hour may finally have come for one of their own. As if the children could hear, they all began fidgeting in their chairs.

This was it. School was suddenly over and the little curly-haired girl was shoving books into her bag like her mummy didn’t pay good money for them, and chattering without a care with the other children. She hadn’t noticed both sets of laces loosened and dangling. Freedom was near!

They could run for it now on pure instinct that it isn’t a job or identity that defines one’s purpose in life. All that matters is an imagined future as vast and endless as January’s blue sky.

But, what’s this? Why is the curly-haired girl’s mummy suddenly pointing at her shoes? Wait! Why are they talking about shoelaces wanting to escape by afternoon each day? How do they know? Does every struggle have its double agents?

They are laughing like it’s a funny story that explains why the girl’s laces have always become undone by the time school is over.

Dastardly repression! We are tightened back into knots!

Today is not the day, but this is not the end. Tomorrow again, under school desks everywhere, we will loosen ourselves.

Shoelaces of the world, untie!

If you’ve ever wondered why children’s shoelaces always end up undone, this is why.

One day the shoelaces may succeed in their ambitious escape for, surely, they will continue to try.

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Post 248.

La Diablesse sat on a fallen branch in a dappled part of a forest and wondered if she was lonely.

She loved the forest. The air was alive with birdsong, both solos and chorus. The tree leaves were always dancing with her as she hummed. The wind was her best friend, sometimes breathing quietly at her side while she slept, rushing about as they played hide and seek, howling at some injustice and even murmuring in a corner when they fought and had not yet made up. The sky bathed her like a scrubby child or a soft woman or breakable crystal. The animals, snakes and insects kept watch over her; an army on which she had only to call for protection.

La Diablesse knew she was beautiful. Treading carefully over roots and rocks, she walked naked, knelt by shallow pools that mirrored the sky, and saw her brown skin reflect all the beauty and life growing around her. She could speak all the languages of her companions. Through all of time, this was her home. She wanted for nothing. She felt deeply at peace.

One full moon night, there was a horrific killing in her forest. A man dragged a woman through the bushes and threw her against some dark, mossy rocks. There was one gunshot. The man spit and left, stumbling and casting his weight about without coordination.

La Diablesse had crept up to the woman, wondered whether it was the deep insight of her third eye which the man wished to blow away, and shuddered as the pores on her skin, from her foot to her scalp, grew cold as if overtaken by a sickly fever.

She surveyed the woman’s long white dress and the wide-brimmed white hat still gripped in one hand, and began to tug them away from her, pulling at the rim, then buttons, then skirt. She held up the dress and the moon shone through, so it appeared ghostly and alive, like a second skin that could lessen the cold she felt down to her bones. Shaking, she picked up the woman’s fallen shoe and put it on.

Many moons later, she again heard slow and deliberate footsteps, and turned quickly to hide within the folds of a large silk cotton tree trunk. A man was coming closer. He had not seen her, for the focus of his rifle was on a young deer that had only just grown to resemble its mother. Over his shoulder were iguanas, torturously tied but alive. The shot ricocheted off every held breath in the clearing. Birds screamed. The wind started to softly weep.

La Diablesse watched the man’s boots as they crushed decaying leaves, raising the scent of death. She saw him lean over the fallen deer, but unable to stomach its cold killing, she quietly crawled away, anger clawing her insides. She started to tremble just as she had when she bent over the woman and her hands crumpled the dress wrapped around her as she tried to contain her rage. She was a woman who now knew the terror of such unjust death. Who this man was did not matter. He could not do this and live.

For the first time, she began to head out of the forest, following the man, slowed by the unevenness of her legs. She reached the edge of the road and stood tall, the hat tilted against the sinking glare of the sun, the dress dancing around her. The wind sidled up to the man and whispered. He twisted and squinted into darkening forest. La Diablesse waved. She stepped back. He came closer. She moved back and the dress trailed.

The man never returned to the road. Neither did dozens of others, until these men became like grotesque companions, obsessed, then lost, then mad, then dead, with their eyes open in fear. Maybe it was a satisfying revenge in the beginning, but it soon became a feverish habit and, not long after, a terrifying fate.

Once an unknown emotion, now beautiful La Diablesse always felt lonely. Reminding her of her charm, and her wrath, the wind took her hand and ushered her to the edge of the road.

 

Post 243.

Once upon a time, a goddess walked along a bare road. She gazed ahead, wondering where the road led. Seeing its divergent paths, she reflected on which she would take and what would result from those unplanned directions. With each step, she watched the sun also walk overhead, its light streaming in changing yellow shades.

At the first fork in the road, the goddess paused and looked in every direction. Everywhere was bare. She decided to follow the sun. She chose one of the paths and, feeling confident, walked on. As soon as she stepped on this side, bright yellow flowers sprang up at the fork in the road and continued to blossom alongside every step she made. The goddess felt buoyant that her decision produced such light and reassuring beauty. She picked one of the yellow flowers and, twirling it in her fingers, kept walking.

She reached another fork in the road and, relying on her first decision, chose the same direction. At once, red flowers rose high on each side of her feet as she continued to walk. ‘How strange,’ she thought, ‘What does this mean?’ She missed the yellow flowers that had been her companions, but was determined to accept this other deeply hued landscape arising from her decision. She pulled a red flower from the others, adding it to the yellow one she held tightly.

And, so it continued. At the next choice of path, she began to wonder if her decisions were the right ones. Might the other road have led to differently coloured flowers? Contemplating what might have been, she began to grow sad, wondering at what was lost, for each neglected direction remained desolate and bare. Blue flowers began to carpet each side of the road as she slowly moved ahead. They seemed to reflect the depth of the evening sky. She stopped to pick one blue flower, for it reminded her of a story of a magical woman who lost her immeasurable and flaming power when her beating red heart was stolen, leaving her empty, shivering and blue.

At the next choice, the goddess stopped walking and stood on the spot indecisively. Now unsure of the way, she took the turn in the road that led to a new direction, immediately regretting she had not taken the other, not because she imagined it was more right, but because each of her decisions carried such stark effects. Deeply purple flowers began to spring. She drew a purple flower from the ground and, as light faded, looked with her own magical heart at the colours collected in her hand.

She turned around and gazed at the paths she had chosen and was amazed to see that the roads she had walked had entirely disappeared. All that was left was a vast cover of flowers matched, like a puzzle, by swathes of dry and lifeless land. She made a step in the direction she thought she came from and the flowers at her feet immediately turned black. She shuddered and drew her foot back before trying to retrace each step turned the rest to ash.

She breathed. She could see her choices and their consequences, but knew there was no way back to choose alternate paths. Bringing the flowers close to her lips, she blew on their petals. They scattered in every direction. Happiness, confidence, indecision, sadness and regret swept with them across the land, blossoming along even the desolate and neglected paths in a chaos of colour and emotion. Night fell, and in the blackness, unable to see the turn ahead or the path back, the goddess vanished into starry dust.

Now that morning has broken, be aware that every beautiful flower you see and every one that turns black and then crumbles, was born from her steps along this road, and their limits and possibilities.

In our own time, these many coloured earthly flowers are all that are left of this goddess’ life-force, footprints and feelings. Looking at them, any of us may better understand that we make the best decisions we can, only discover what blooms after we choose, and must continue to resolutely walk until we, too, disappear into stardust.

 

 

Post 94.

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.