Ilya une fois….
Ilya une fois….
I rode my bike down the dusty bone-white dirt road, clouds trailing after me as I sped to outpace the shrieking silence and the overwhelming noise from home. I sped faster and faster, fire pulsing through my legs and lungs burning as I pumped down on the pedals.
Gotta get away. Gotta get away.
If I just rode fast enough, if I just reached that perfect speed quick enough, I could break through the barriers of sound and silence turned up too loud that were fencing me in on all sides everywhere I went. Just a little faster. Just a little faster. Just a little more push and I could finally break away from it all; I could finally break free from it all and get away-
The road curved too sharp and, going as fast as I was, I screeched and skidded too soon, sliding along the dirt that had a minute ago seemed so smooth but now grated rough against raw nerves as it dug into my bared legs and through the clothing on my side. I slid along the ground for a few feet, bike and all, then eventually came to a crumbling stop beneath a cloud of white clay dust and dappled patterns of shade from the sycamore trees forming palisades and flying buttresses along the quiet country lane.
Stillness settled over me. The cloud dispersed gradually and I continued to lay motionless on the ground, staring up at the mosaic dancing patterns of light through the starry fan-like leaves shining in various shades of green. Chalky dust filled my nose and caked thick on my tongue. The click-click-click-click-clicking of my slowly spinning bike wheel harmonized in mid-air with the rising and falling droned wa-wa-waaaaa pitches of cicadas in swampy midsummer heat. Faint bird chirruppings staccatoed here and there, and as I lay silent I gradually became aware of the rush of my own blood throughout me as my body tried to shake off the adrenaline still pumping through me. There was also a faint thunder underlying it all coming from somewhere in the distance that I started to pick up on after a few minutes of quiet. Curious, I started to move to pick myself up off the ground and instantly regretted it. Laying still I hadn’t realize how hurt I was, but now that I was in motion it felt like every muscle was screaming at me to lay back down again. Worried that a car might come, I soldiered through the aches, picked up my bike, and limped on over to the side of the road. Dotted clumps of something wet and so deep red it almost appeared black against the light, dry surface of the road caught my eye. After staring at it for a second trying to figure out what it was I realized it was blood. My blood. I checked myself all over and saw the same dark wetness showing through a film of dust in damp clumps on my left calf. I sighed because it meant I would probably have to go back home sometime soon, but decided I would try my luck at one of the houses along the way, see if I could find anyone at home there who would be willing to let me wash up and put on a band-aid.
I limped along down the road, hoping I could run across a house soon. The low-level roar I had heard before was getting louder and louder and, looking up, I saw another bend in the shady lane approaching. At the bend there was a cleared space with no trees save for one that towered in the empty patch and whose black boughs seemed to be swaying in a breeze only it could feel. The sound was coming from the tree, and the closer I got the less it sounded like thunder and the more it sounded like a cacophony of squawks and screeches and hoarse crying screams.
As I walked up closer to the bend I saw a simple cow-proof gate that blocked off the road from the cleared area and realized with a start that the tree I had seen rising up like an ivory tower from the clearing was dead- it had been struck through the middle by lightning. Apart from the deep charred scar through its center, the rest of it had turned a deathly white, its branches like the fingers of a corpse who had died from fright, frozen by rigor mortis for eternity in a splayed claw. There were no leaves on the tree at all, and what I had thought were boughs swaying in the wind were hundreds of black turkey vultures all hawking, flapping, and jostling each other on the tree’s dead branches. The sound was coming from all of them, all crowded about on the tree and seemingly waiting, watching as they did something that was going on down on the ground beneath them.
Fascinated by what could have caused such a parliament among these huge birds- the most I had ever seen at once was three of them gathered around a particularly large roadkill- I quietly moved closer to the gate to see what it was that had them all so rapt. As I crept up I saw that there were a few of the vultures awkwardly hopping about the ground as well, flapping their giant white-tipped wings every so often to give them better balance. One of them had its back to me and was perched on top of a strange-looking mound, its shoulders hunched up as if it was bending over. The other birds hopped and dragged around it as if they were following secret ley lines, and occasionally moved in to stretch their bumpy red necks out towards the mound as if trying to pick at something, then would croak and pull back, flapping and dancing some more as they did. Drawing closer still, I suddenly gasped as I realized that the mound they were so intent on was the rigid, bloated decomposing corpse of a pregnant goat.
Raw heads suddenly shot up and swiveled in my direction, and the cacophony of croaks and throaty hawking sounds increased to a symphony of violent screams. Terrified, I began to back away from the horde of giant vultures, running through my head any possible advice I could have been given in my life for what to do in case of a vulture attack. All I could think of was Hitchcock’s film “The Birds,” and that did nothing to calm me down in the face of all these suddenly hostile, screaming, six-foot-wing-span aviators.
The one that had been hunched over on top of the goat carcass straightened up and turned my way. It cocked its bald head to the side, examining me with tiny, beady eyes, then flapped out its huge wings to their full reach, stretching out the long white feathers at their tips like fingers reaching to embrace. It half-flapped them a couple times, then hopped down from the dead body and did a strange little hop-shuffle my way, cocked its head at me once more, then eyed me up and down as the clamor of voices behind it quieted down some. It turned its head to the other side to get a better look at me, then sneakily ducked its head as if letting me in on a conspiracy and throatily croaked out,
“You want some?”
I didn’t scream. I just ran.
Behind me I heard the storm of screams reach a crescendo, raising up and rippling out from the fortress of the great white tree as I high-tailed it out of there, running my bike alongside me. It almost felt as if they were laughing at me, and if I had listened close I would have been able to hear the hoarse, throaty laughter of that one vulture echoing above all the others. I didn’t think, though, I just ran. I was so terrified my aches and scrapes didn’t even occur to me as my feet pounded against the ground. The instant I remembered I had a bike in my hands, I hopped on and proceeded to pedal away as fast as humanly possible. I was as intent to escape the deathly coughing calls of the turkey vultures that followed after me as I had been to escape the violent stillness and heart-rending cries that reverberated throughout the very fabric of my house.
I pedaled and pedaled, passing a couple houses along the way but so caught up in my haste that I forgot all about my previous plan to stop and wash up. I kept biking on until the sweat pouring down my legs and my body sent stinging barbs shooting through my calves whenever they reached my cuts and turned the dirt there into muddy brown cracking cakes molded to my skinny legs. Eventually I saw a part of the road up ahead cleared of its dual hedges of guardian trees, with the brilliant midday sun in the open space burning white contrast against the demarcation of cool shade in the lane.
I slowed down as I approached, then came to a ticking stop in the middle. All my terror vanished with the shadows of the trees, and I felt safe for once out here in the noon sun. I couldn’t tell you why; there’s something about crossroads that’s powerful juju to my mind. Memories of voodoo tales and stories of coming to the crossroads at midnight with gifts for Papa Legba wove through the still background and the oscillating wa-wa-wa-waaaaa of the cicadas all around me. I sat still on my bike, just watching and listening to the world. A chaos of blackberry brambles revolted over the gray weathered wooden fence on side of me, sparrows hopping and chirruping about it, their thick black markings countering the dull shine of the deep purple-black juicy berries. A blue jay swooped down close past my head and came to a helicoptering stop on a fence post across from me. It flipped its tail up to balance, then, turning just enough to shoot me an unconcerned snooty glance, took off in a flutter of sound and shimmery blue-banded feathers to another tree. I stayed resting in a bubble of lively stillness at the crossroad as my heart slowly stopped pounding, my lungs gradually began relaxing to fill more completely with the dusty atmosphere, and the burning, stinging, aching feel of my body started creeping over me.
I kept waiting for something to happen.
Some sign, some vision to take over me and direct me; some power to come down to comfort and guide me like it always does in the stories for those who come to crossroads with questions in their hearts. I had come with nothing other than myself- bleeding, aching, terrified of what lay behind me but too scared to continue on. Wasn’t that enough? Didn’t that in and of itself request and deserve the divine intervention of some powerful benevolent force to come down and show me which way to go?
I stood still, waiting. Time stretched out like a cat, extending itself slinky-like longer and longer until it seemed impossible that it could actually reach that length without breaking- but there it was, splaying out its jellybean toes and yawning wide, frozen right at the breaking point as if this moment could go on forever.
The stories never told of benevolent forces at the crossroads, I slowly remembered. I sighed and looked down at the sweat streaming in rivulets down my dirty legs, mixing with the dried smears of blood from my scrapes there. They told of blood and sacrifice, of cunning and conniving to outwit self-serving manipulative forces so you can achieve the power you want.
Nothing is ever free; nothing is ever given; nothing is ever based solely on altruism.
Nothing would ever come of its own accord.
Nothing was here to save me, to direct me, to guide me away from everything I was running away from. I knew it, but still I wanted to stay. Being out here in this wide open space surrounded by both silence and sound was better than what it would take for me to turn around and face everything that I had been trying to leave behind. There was no motion here, no emotion or its antithesis of apathy. There was just quiet.
Not the forced quiet of home, either, where laying in plain sight underneath everything that wasn’t said were groans of pain and despair so loud they screamed as violently as that congregation of vultures had. Perhaps as terribly as that pregnant goat in her death-throes had. I couldn’t take that silence, but neither could I stand the treble of the noise when the sound barriers finally broke and everything that had been kept unsaid finally starting washing out in voluminous waves.
Yet, I had to go back.
There was nothing to keep me going further on but the fear of what I was leaving behind. And what was in front of me anyway? Whether I kept pushing on forward or turned left or turned right, I had no idea where the road was going to take me. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be running down it with that destination in mind. Wherever I went from here, it would just be to get away from what was behind me; home would forever be in my mind, driving me forward in circles around it.
Gotta get away.
Gotta get away.
But the forced forgetfulness of its silence and the oppressive volume of its noise would always be there, right there inside me.
A hollowness settled itself deep in my belly and slid quietly creeping through my torso, settling in the bottoms of my arms and along my legs. I took another long look at the crossroad I was sitting in the middle of. I would always be coming back home no matter where I went, no matter how far away I traveled. I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
The emptiness spread throughout me and I shouldered it like my booksack, carrying it like a profound life lesson I would keep returning to for grounding throughout the years. Wherever I went, if all I was doing was running away, whatever road I took would inevitably end up becoming a treadmill with me running full force in place; whatever choices I made would always be dictated by a history of unspoken violence that lay underneath the moments of extreme noise. I slowly turned my bike around and began heading back towards the vulture tree and towards the confining walls of home, never stopping once to look behind me at the crossroads after I left.