Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wild Birds

Kikio spoke no Cantonese. Wi had no Japanese to speak of. They both spoke a kind of English. They had met by grace of accident a week earlier on a high mountain trail in a remote part of New Zealand. There were hesitant smiles and flashing eyes. Both were raised courteous in families of wealth; both had gentle manners and soft voices.

They agreed almost immediately to jump together from the highest cliff they could find.

Wi, tall and tan with long eyelashes and toothy grin, kept her hair short, the style of one of her favorite movie stars. "We hold hands?"

Kikio, looking over the lip of the 900 meter cliff on which they stood, said "No. Room, need room." She spread her arms wide and took several steps to the side. The wings of her flying suit made her look like a brilliant moth. She only came up to Wi's chin but her suit displayed her wiry perfect body, flexible and toned by a lifetime of yoga and acrobatic exercises.

They moved up to the edge together. They might have been some kind of alien insects, both thin in brightly colored striped suites, each with a small hump in the center of their backs, parachutes they would not deploy until the last possible moment.

They looked into each others' eyes and grinned. "Three two one," said Wi. They leaned forward together and dropped like brilliant spears into the space below.

They lost sight of each other almost right away. After landing, each went in search of the other. They scoured news reports, looking for accident or death notices. Each knew that if the other had failed to land safely, her body might never be found in the ravines and forest valleys of those mountains.

For each, panic soon eased to concern and then curiosity. Each returned to her home. Loving the silences between them, they had never talked about their families or where they came from, so they had no idea where to look. They didn't even know each other's last names.

Still, an ache lingered. As they grew older, each knew it was ridiculous, childish even, to try to preserve that fleeting sense of connection they had felt on discovering one another.

Kikio returned to Tokyo, where she struggled to establish herself professionally. She finished her education with a degree in urban planning. She worked as a city planner, first in Otsu in the Shiga Prefecture, then, as her reputation grew, in Kyoto. She wrote poetry. She studied the western poets. Her favorite was this one, by Wordsworth,

Not seldom did we stop to watch some tuft
Of dandelion seed or thistle's beard
That skimmed the surface of the dead calm lake,
Suddenly halting now -- a lifeless stand!

 She had lovers, but chose never to marry. Each time she met an attractive man, she secretly asked herself, "Is this man like Wi? Will he disappoint, as Wi never did? Will he disappear, as she certainly did?"

Wi, for her part, after spending a year in Germany and traveling in the Netherlands, returned to her family home in Jiaxing, a suburb of Shanghai. Her father, whose fortune was in textiles and who owned a number of clothing factories in Nanjing and other inland cities, welcomed her home with news of the death of her brother and mother. An accident, he said, though Wi knew it was otherwise. Her father had enemies; it was why he had sent her abroad in the first place.

He tried to convince her to leave again, offering to pay for an advanced degree in a school of her choice in the US. She refused politely and promptly disappeared, going to live with a girl she knew in Suzhou. Because she had money, she was promptly recruited into the heroin trafficking trade. She welcomed this. She never touched that or other drugs, but she was a skilled organizer and soon she ran export operations.

Both suffered from recurring dreams of falling into deep nothingness. Each, upon waking from these dreams, remembered only the last image: a highly colored bird winging into the darkness below, feathers shuddering as if its speed were too great to sustain; as if, were it to spread its wings fully, it would be blown apart like the seed head of a wild flower, to a million stars by the mouth of a child.

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