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Several years later
Somewhere in the continent that was North America



And tell me everything, tell chain by chain,
and link by link, and step by step;
sharpen the knives you kept hidden away,
thrust them into my breast, into my hands,
like a torrent of sunbursts,
an Amazon of buried jaguars,
and leave me cry: hours, days and years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

And give me silence, give me water, hope.



In the thin light before dawn I stand on the open road, looking down it, the endless length of asphalt pitted and cracked. I stand still long enough that there is a whine from my right hand side.

"Shh, Gaueko," I say absently, dropping my hand onto his head. I think that this is the right road. Once I would have known; but it is harder to remember, now, than it once was.

Sometimes now I think that human stupidity is a survival mechanism; that if humans remembered enough, felt more, they could not live. In the first months after I fell again, I was nothing but a screaming void. There are scars on this body - my body - from that time. Some I gave myself; some were given to me. I tried, many times that first year, to die. But always, always, I would find myself blessed with rescue. You're lucky, boy, said the man whose cart came between me and the horse whose hooves I had tried to fall under. I laughed for a long time; they said I was in shock, and gave me brandy.

Luck.

After that I went from place to place in search of magic. Not to turn me back; I knew that I was bound in this body. Not just because of Management's magic, but because the universe, I have learned, is an appreciator of irony, and that al-Shairan should be a man is too great a joke. No, I went in search of death, and found none. Not for me, at least. I have blood on my hands from that time, when my despair turned to fury. I think about those deaths more than I have thought about the ones that came before, though they were so many. Perhaps it is because I know more of pain, now, than I did. I thought I knew it all; but I have found that it is much harder to bear in a body. I was a star, once; a falcon, a desert wind, a great cry. And now I am this.

I have not lost all that I am. I am weak, but I am still brilliant. I know enough that I could make myself a king, in time. There is no need for me to live as a vagrant. I could manipulate and kill and cheat and steal, and I could make men love me. I could. But I think I would not enjoy it, or not for very long, and I...

Since I have been a man, I have been sick several times, fevers and vomiting and common colds, but I think now I have caught the worst sort of disease man has. I find myself thinking of the future, and wondering if I am doomed to stay alive, if I may as well live. It is - hope, or something like it.

Which brings me to this road. It is a very long way south, and there is very little reason to think I should have any reason to find what I am seeking. And yet, and yet... For the first time I can remember, I am not thinking of death.

"Come, Gaueko," I say, shouldering my pack, and with the sun rising I walk out.

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