In answer to April's Writer's Challenge, Chip (chipka) posted a story entitled THE BIRDS OF GHAR.
I was thoroughly inspired!
This is a follow-on to Chip's tale, using his characters and his world.
Dira Em and The Birds of Ghar
In the year since Oros had told her he was leaving for the coast with Keb, Dira Em had done her best to come to terms with her heart. Childhood promises. For heaven's sake. Couldn't she have left them in childhood, instead of carrying a torch for Oros all these years? He was her other self, her soul mate, and yet he had chosen Keb and a new venture. "Business and buggery," she had called it that day, in that place of pain and dust and bird shit.
Her attachment, born of long-ago experiences and years of habit, seemed impossible to break. Oros was her heart. He was leaving today, and she would have to find a way to go on.
"Visit the grackles. When I'm gone. Will you come here and visit them?" he must have known, even as he asked it of her that day, what it would cost her to say yes. She had given him a non-answer, an "I'll try" that wasn't exactly a brush off but could have been. She had decided to go, had decided to refuse, many times over the past year. Now that he was leaving ... with Keb ... Dira thought she would leave the whole thing behind her. Never visit the Aviary. Never think of the temple filled with grackles. Grackles! Oh dear. How could she stay away? Well, tomorrow was soon enough to decide. Tomorrow he would be gone.
Dira awoke to the pale pink-gold of sunrise, eyes swollen, pillow stiff with dried tears, hating herself for still caring. She had a sense that she had spent all night dreaming of Oros, of their childhood connection, but it was nothing she could recall. No pictures, no lingering scent of memory, just a vague, dull, aching feeling of having been too busy, of having carried a heavy load for far too long.
Day after day Dira went about her business. The regular rhythm of work, home, friends, meals, gave her some measure of comfort, but every morning was the same. She woke at dawn, exhausted.
Leaving her stall at the market one afternoon, she walked homeward with Freya, listening to her friend chatter on about her children, her spouses, their easy life. She knew Freya was doing it to keep Dira from thinking too much.
"Thank you," Dira said, putting a light hand on Freya's arm as the story came to an end.
"For what?" all raised eyebrows and innocence, Freya shook her head. "Never mind, I know. And you're welcome, love. Shall I continue?"
"Please do. You chase the pain away." Dira tasted the familiar salt of tears in her throat.
As they turned at the end of Market, just where the river curved, an old weaver stepped out of the shadows. She had feathers braided into her hair in the old way, and her robes seemed ancient. Dira stopped to give the elder woman due respect.
"Ahya," Dira bowed her head a bit. The honorific came easily to her tongue.
"Chayen," her voice was breathy, high, but somehow as piercing as a crow's. "It is your refusal to remember that causes you such pain."
Dira glanced over at Freya, then back at the weaver.
Empty space greeted her. There was no one there.
"What is it, Dira?"
"Who was that weaver woman? Have you ever seen her before?"
How could she have disappeared so quickly? An elder like that ... not the sort of person who moved quickly.
Freya's oh-so-expressive eyebrows plunged. "What woman, love? I didn't see anyone unusual."
Dawn, and the echo of birdsong in the air. Dira woke, her heart yearning toward that sound. Had it been real?
Approaching the temple, Dira removed her shoes. It wasn't something she had planned to do, but in that place, alone, she felt compelled to honor the traditions. She hadn't brought any seed with her, and hoped they wouldn't notice the oversight.
Next time ...
If there was a next time, that is. She had no intention of coming every week, as Oros had done with Keb.
Another dawn, and the birdsong was real. It stayed with Dira even after she woke. She lay in bed enjoying the sound, eyes still closed, listening to the songs continuing in their different permutations as the dawn unraveled.
"Time to get up, Chayen," said a voice not far from her ear.
Dira sat up with a start. There was no one there, no birdsong, and the sun was just barely breaking the horizon.
The bundle on her back didn't seem as heavy as she thought it would. Shoes and socks off now, stashed in the pack with the rest of her supplies, Dira approached the dome. She didn't exactly have a plan, but had come prepared to stay as long as it took to unravel the mystery. Old weaver women who weren't there, voices, morning birdsong ... and this morning she had heard the unmistakable sound of a grackle's cry outside her bedroom window.
Feeling tired every day was bad enough, but now she was feeling crazy, as well.
"Enough is enough," she thought. "This has got to stop."
She swung her supply bundle down to the floor, rolled her shoulders and loosened her neck muscles, picked up the pack in one hand, and walked through the temple door with a confidence she didn't necessarily feel.
Dira scattered seed on the floor in the center of the temple.
Walking a spiral out from that place to the edges of the dome, bare feet tracing a somehow-familiar path, she noticed that the grackles were swooping in and out in such a way that they wove a pattern around her.
She arrived at the end of her spiral at the place where she had begun. Light from the afternoon sun came in through the top of the dome. Dust motes swirling in the air, disturbed by grackle wings, formed a visible pattern. In and out, up and down, it was a weaving of sorts, and her spiral path had been the shuttle ...
Her mind calm for the first time in weeks, Dira unwrapped her bundle and set about clearing a space for herself at the edge of the room. There were alcoves set back into the walls all around the dome, giving guano-free private niches just the right size for one person each. On her last trip around the spiral she had counted. There were twenty-six spaces from which to choose, but somehow this one was the only perfect place.
As the sun set, Dira re-traced the spiral back to the center of the temple. She carefully swept up the few grains of seed left from the earlier visitation, picked up a grackle feather for her hair, walked the proper straight line back to the temple doorway, then back to her alcove.
Night time was for cleaning. She knew she couldn't do it all in one night, but she set out with brushes and buckets to set things right again. Now and then she would stop and marvel at what she was doing. How did she know where that closet was that held the brooms and pails? The powdered mixture she diluted with water and used to clean the floor did a great job. Was it luck that she found the right bag and knew where the well was located? Aside from those random thoughts, though, Dira worked as if in a trance. She didn't know how many nights it took, but eventually the temple floor was cleaned of the accumulated guano. It would be an easy matter now to keep it clean with only a bit of work each night.
Dawn, and birdsong was everywhere in the air. From songbirds to crows, every avian species she knew greeted Dira's first waking moments. She got out of bed, grabbed her bag of seed, and walked the straight path from the temple door to the center of the open-air dome. Measuring out the proper amount with her left hand, she scattered the seed, then walked the spiral path back to the beginning. Grackles came through the roof, their cries echoing around her head, each one taking a seed and winging its pattern around her.
"This is the voice of Bago," she thought. "This is the voice that will tell me what I need to know."
At sundown, Dira walked the spiral back to the center, carefully swept up the remaining seeds, braided another feather into her hair, and walked the straight path back to the main door once again. There was comfort in the action, and it healed a place in her heart she didn't know was bruised.
That night after her cleaning was done, the old weaver woman came to her.
"Ahya," Dira greeted her. "Did you bring me here?"
"Your heart brought you here, Chayen. I only reminded you that this is where you belonged, once."
"And now I belong here again, Ahya. This is where I need to be."
"You need to be here for a time, but not for a lifetime. You will be here for the fall of a single feather ... only long enough to learn what you need to know. When we gave up this place and moved back out into the world, I fear you were unprepared."
"What do you mean? I've been here before?"
The old woman cackled like a grackle. "Oh, you've been here before!" She laughed again, a crow delighted with something shiny. "You found the buckets, the cleaning powder. You have feathers braided into your hair. I see you haven't forgotten your time in this place. You used to complain about all the cleaning, but it's the meditation pattern, you see. You learned to love the ritual, the Voice. What have you learned since you've been back?"
"Learned?" Dira was unsure how to respond. "I only know that I feel at home here. I like keeping the place clean, and I feel happy to hear the grackles speaking to me. Before I came here I was having a terrible time ... well ... I suppose you know all about that."
"Indeed. And that is why you had to return. Your bond with the one you know as Oros was formed here, and would have continued here again if we had not abandoned the Aviary. In a different sort of life, the one you have now, your connection ... your idea of the connection ... became twisted. You thought your spiritual partner would be your life partner, your love, the father of your children, did you not?"
Dira bit back the salt tears but the burden became too heavy and she let them flow.
"I did, Ahya."
"It is an understandable mistake, my dear. You and he were close, and you shared such a strong spiritual bond in the days when we occupied this place. At the end of Bago's natural lifespan the two of you had been here several times together. Your connection is of the heart, and when you were here there was no confusion as to what that meant. Do you doubt that your friend loves you?"
"No Ahya, I know he loves me, but he loves Keb more!" The tears were flowing strong now. Sadness, abandonment, anger, grief ... it felt as if they were leaving her body with every sob.
"Chayen, he loves you as he has always loved you, but his love for Keb is of a different sort. There is nothing wrong with that love, it is as it should be, and it takes away nothing from how he feels about you. The only error is that you thought it would be different, that it would mean something it has never meant.
I will leave you now, Chayen ... my child ... but I will return before you leave this place."
Alone again, Dira wept as she had never wept in her life, for once letting the tears fall rather than storing them up as if they were something she might need later.
Dira was up before the dawn, waiting to greet the birdsong and the arrival of the grackles. The Aviary floor was clean, and she had enough seed for one more worship weaving. She smiled at the sun streaming in through the temple dome, knowing this would be her last morning in this place. She was ready to leave, ready to move on.
Straight path into the center.
Scatter the seed.
Walk the spiral path back out to the edge of the dome, listening to the grackles calling her name, writing her life in the air.
This time when she was done she didn't stop at the main temple doorway, but kept going. As she walked down the Aviary steps, the sun in her face, she saw a figure silhouetted at the outer gate.
"Ahya," Dira bowed her head. "It has been an honor and a joy to see you in this lifetime."
"And you, my Chayen."
"I had hoped to open the Aviary again, but that isn't going to happen, is it?"
"No, child. Everyone has their natural lifespan, even Bago. She has flown free into Her next lifetime, and now you are free to do the same, as am I."
The feathers braided into the old woman's hair seemed to shimmer, and she was gone. A black crow was sitting on the gatepost where there hadn't been one before.
The bird lifted its wings and flew off, cawing as it went ... Chayen! Chayen!
As I said, the inspiration for this story came from Chip.
Bill took the picture of the grackle.
Apr 21, 2013 9:00:17 pmby Chipka Homepage »
This is excellent! It moves like a grackle in a way: have you noticed how they strut and appear to move really fast, but when you stop and actually watch them, they're not moving any faster than any other birds? (Unless they're stealing something!) This story has that feel. It's short, and so you think that it's going somewhere really quickly, but as you read it, the words reveal that it's walking at a slower pace, a more contemplative place. To make it even better, I had no clue there were weaver women in this world, OR that Dira had a market stall or a good friend, other than Oros. Funny how that works. This is quite gripping, as faemike says, and it's comforting and gentle. A bit like bread that's still warm.
I like the spiral that Dira took to the center of the temple, and the fact that the grackles themselves were weaving patterns. This is so intriguing, so rich, so well done! Thank you for posting this: it's brilliant. So tender! It's making a trip into my favorites.
I like the image too: the grackle is...well...how can you not like those little people. Such fashion sense! I think this is one of those long-tailed grackles (Boat tail, I think they're called.) And the "temple" is superb. I like it better than the one I used (an actual temple, just north of Chicago, but it's still too new!) That particular temple has yet to arrive in my gallery, but I have about 5 or 6 photos of it, and it's funny that in your shot of Bago's temple, and mine, the bottom isn't really revealed...mine is cropped off completely, and it looks as if you were standing right there looking up, while your grackle-ish host was posing and being all pretty for the camera (grackles are shameless when you point cameras at them. They know they're handsome birds.)
This is brilliant! Perfect work all around.
Apr 24, 2013 12:46:54 amby wysiwig Homepage »
I just knew Dira would return to the aviary. There was just something unresolved in her story. You have brought resolution in a superb piece of writing. The ritual, the mystery of the old weaver woman and a realization that there are different types of love are all wonderfully described. Great work.