Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Birdcatchers

If you were to be in possession of keen eyes, you might just see them, Emilio and Grandpapa walking upon the dirty streets of Rome. Grandpapa walks in all too calloused form, spared only in his heart, he taps his makeshift cane in shaky rhythm to his own shuffling steps that attempt to lead, but fail miserably to fall ahead of, Emilio's own bouncy trot.

"Hurry Grandpapa!"

Grandpapa waves weakly and follows the child's voice, his final treasure, the progeny of a drunken man's promises and his own daughter's last breath. Grandpapa knows his own time is soon and shudders forth with chattering teeth in spite of what he feels to be the warmth of the sun's own veering death.

"Hurry Grandpapa!"

Grandpapa hears the boy, Emilio's body, casting itself forth by waves to recede and cycle further and further until he can heed the boy no longer. Grandpapa is not worried, he can hear the fountain of one of the many city's shady squares and knows that they have at last arrived.

"Emilio! Emilio! You musn't stray too far and leave your Grandpapa! He shall never find you!"

The patter again recedes bringing forth Emilio in rapid breaths, the salvage of his many voyages to and fro.

"Will you teach me? Will you? Will you? You promised Grandpapa! You promised to teach me to be a birdcatcher!"

"Yes Emilio, yes, your Grandpapa must teach you to be a bird catcher, you must learn Emilio, but you must first be silent and give Grandpapa the bread we have brought. You must be silent Emilio. You must not startle the birds."

"Yes Grandpapa, and then what happens, do we eat the birds?"

"No Emilio, you must never eat the bird. When you eat the bird, Emilio, you shall gain the taste of it, you will never again be able to be still Emilio, you shall never again be silent, you shall always be tasting the bird and your hands will grow greedy and slow."

"I don't understand Grandpapa. We do not eat the birds?"

Grandpapa shakes his head.

"No Emilio, the bird is small, it is not enough. You must sell the bird Emilio. You must go to the street with wagons and sell the bird to the men with cages. They will give you coins, Emilio. Coins with which you can buy bread. Enough Emilio, for you and the birds."

As the boy considers this his Grandpapa asks:

"Now are you ready Emilio? Are you ready to watch your Grandpapa?" 

Even Grandpapa can feel the force of Emilio's rapid nods.

With a finger to his lips, the old man hunches legs splayed and listens; his crooked back bent painfully at an awkward angle. He listens for the coo. Grandpapa cannot use his tapping cane. He must breathe through his mouth, quietly, as if tasting the air for the birds' direction. Grandpapa reaches into his bread bag knowing that it shall never be enough. The last of his grace is spent in the subtle action of the bread-flicking wrist. Grandpapa waits and listens for the coo.

He can feel them, Emilio's eyes must be like saucers in anticipation. For what may be the first time in his life, Grandpapa is proud. Grandpapa knows the birds, his hands dart forth for the neck of the fattest coo amongst the crumbs. He feels the tips of his fingers just graze the neck, his grasp too far wayward for the bird's own veering right. With an awful pop, his arms quiver with the recoil in searing agony, as Grandpapa's own wandering eyes squeeze shut in pain.

Grandpapa's pain does not register in Emilio's tiny mind choked to capacity with the anticipation, he cannot yet appreciate his grandpapa's struggle. Emilio does not know age; Emilio does not know blindness.

"Do you see now Emilio? Do you see? You must see Emilio! You must try like your Grandpapa! You must be silent Emilio! You must feel the birds! Know the bread Emilio! We have far too little!"

In the primordial instinct of the boy's heart he knows now that some form of torch has been passed and that his own time has now come. Emilio is to be a birdcatcher. Emilio knows that he must do like his Grandpapa, he must feel the birds, he must know the bread, he must be silent.

Emilio sees his Grandpapa sit upon the edge of the fountain in silence waiting for him to show that he has learned; but Emilio does not yet know the birds, and his hands always fall short over the course of the final hours. With tears of frustration, Emilio looks to his Grandpapa and sees his lips moving silently in words of encouragement. They repeat like a chant, a prayer, and from them Emilio finds his strength. A deep breath drawn from across the southern wind flows through the boy with a tremor and in that moment Emilio hears only the breath, the water, and the birds. Emilio is to be a birdcatcher. With a thrust, the birdcatcher's hands move forth with graceful desperation, and as if clutching hard the rapid wings of some magnificent angel, he raises them toward the orange light of the setting sun in exalted glory to show his Grandpapa who is nodding in shuddering time with the youth's own cheers.

"Do you see? Do you see? I did it Grandpapa! I did it!"

"Yes Emilio! Yes! I have seen you! You have learned and now you must never go hungry again!"