There once lived a woman by the name of Rose, in an old, weather-beaten farmhouse shaped by the hands of the generations past. They had sunk their souls into this ground, and raised not just a cottage, but a garden of herbs, a citrus orchard, and a land that grew from flowers to wheat and rice.
As the sun set each day on the sallow hills at the edge of the village, and on the plains lush green with the season’s crop, where a stream tossed and turned as it made its way to the next village, she stood atop a table rock, under the shade of an oak tree, and waited for the birds to sing. The loose strands of her hair otherwise tied up in an uneven knot gently moved in the soothingly warm summer breeze. The hem of her frock and underskirt, caked with mud from her long walk — from the cottage, through the untended fields, to the table rock view — drifted in the wind with equal ease.
She hadn’t heard the birds sing in years.
As darkness descended on the village, she found herself drifting back to the cottage, afloat in the heat that the earth gave back in waves, guided by the stars in the sky. The house that was once full of people and noises, stood all alone, dwarfed by the tall fig trees in the yard, lost in the worlds that had inhabited it once.
Rose had returned to this vast, vacant space when the birds and the wind had stopped speaking to her. And the stars and the sun no longer told her where she stood and where to head, lost as they were under a sea of dark, cumulous clouds that had swept in from the north. It was the harshest winter she had ever known. Everything stark and still, the naked branches, the slanting rooftops, the barren fields and the window sills, all covered in layers and layers of fresh snow. When the sky cleared up and the snow turned into a muddy slush, she left the confines of her room and drifted through the fields, searching for the familiar sounds, like a ghost doomed to walk the earth.
Though winter was gone, it had left behind its mark.
The cold never left her heart.
Even when the sun rose and the earth blossomed, she felt nothing, heard nothing. Before she’d have packed her bags, said her goodbyes, and gone where the wind took her, on a path that would have mysteriously revealed itself but that was never known to her beforehand. It was just a feeling — that somewhere at the end of her travels was the answer to this calling.
But the breeze was too weak to tug at her wings now. She only moved as far as the edge of the farmhouse, to the bluff with the big, magnificent oak tree, where her parents lay side by side, night and day, looking up at the million stars moving across the night sky; at the golden sunlight streaming down from heaven as it were at dawn; at the leaves that whirled down from the high branches, moved by the tender breeze, embracing each drop of rain as their first caress, each wandering seed as a cherished wish, each hummingbird as an ode to their love … a song in their heart.
Dusk fell over the valley in brisk, wide brushstrokes, painting it a deep golden orange. Everything silhouetted against the red sun dipping behind the hills.
Rose stood leaning on the thick bark, as always, gazing at the startling horizon. Breathing in deep the air laden with scents of the far woods. Wishing for her heart to thaw.
Remembering how when the wind called, she’d hitchhike her way through the countryside. Meet people, strangers who never were cruel or unkind. Who needed closure in some way; help with something; or just a patient ear. When a cloud lifted, she felt calm and happy, closer to where she had wanted to be. Closer to finding her true home….
And then she heard it, the song of her parents, and of her forefathers before that, echoing through the valley, in the flapping of wings, in the rustling of leaves, in the flowering of night queens somewhere. Even the stream below was more lively and buoyant than before, danced upon by the wind and herons. A flight of mynas swooped down the hills in pairs as they sang the love song; their calls urgent and alive. The fireflies emerged from hiding and glowed even brighter, like stardust scattered on the valley floor. And the world had a quiet glow to it, even when darkness came.
Rose found herself walking across the fields, over the stiles, into the neighboring plots where the dogs barked but didn’t follow, down the valley, with a thousand stars lighting the deep blue sky and the fireflies lighting the grounds — sometimes taking the dusty road, sometimes darting into the woods, unmindful of the dangers, to re-emerge with more clarity as to where it was that the call was taking her. Never before had her steps such a mind of their own.
It was the morning next when she arrived in another village, having passed several flowering, grassy meadows where cattle grazed freely and lovers met in secret; houses where moon-faced people sat out in the courtyard in groups sipping tea; and narrow roads where goats got chased by kids and shepherd dogs and one misstep would have landed her at the bottom of the stream below. They all gave her curious looks as she passed, wondering what on earth was a woman in her good clothes doing walking the dirt roads and wet fields like a wild horse, a mad woman.
In this new place, she came to a crossroads and stopped, unable to hear the call.
Of the three unexplored paths, the one on the right, more of a trail, led up the wooded hills, the one straight ahead, wide and more used, went down to the stream, and the one on the left, another track covered in grass, seemed to end on a wooded bluff with a couple of vacation cabins here and there. Though trucks passed that offered her a lift out of the hills, and women with fresh fruits in baskets slung over their back trekked up the stream road and urged her to head back for a storm was coming, she stayed put, feeling the charged air, deciphering its whispers.
The pull seemed to have left her completely. Her legs didn’t move. She looked up at the sky, at the storm clouds that had gathered without a warning, and wondered whether this was it — the place where she was supposed to be, if only to help out a lost, kindred soul. But just as she had thought these thoughts, a gust pushed her forward onto the wooded bluff road and set her in a clearing — before a tall cabin with stacks of logs piled on both sides of the door.
A man came out to gather some. He was building a fire indoors weary that the storm would bring unseasonal cold with it. He gathered a few logs in his arms, and was about to head in when he sensed someone standing at the gate, looking at him intently, studying his every move.
“Hello,” he said, surprised at the unexpected company.
“Hello,” she said, closing the gate behind her.
“Are you lost?” he asked, unable to look away. Her eyes held his with such calm and surety.
“No,” she said, coming closer.
“Do I know you then?” he asked, taken by the bright amber of her eyes, the cheerful color of her countenance. Even the stray leaves and flower petals in her hair added to her charm.
He forgot that he was here to be alone, to find himself, to wallow in his misery. He forgot that he didn’t want to be disturbed.
“Perhaps,” she said aglow, a twinkle in her eyes.
It wasn’t like that they had gone to the same school, or attended the same university, or had a friend or an acquaintance in common. But that each time she had felt closer to home, her true home, she had been moving closer to him. That somewhere in the future, when they’d sit around a fireplace, he reading a tome and she knitting a cardigan, he’d tell her about his loves, his friends, his life, and she about her travels, and her parents and their farm, and they’d laugh about the many times their paths had nearly crossed. And smile to themselves, knowing that this was always in the stars.
She knew this now. Now that she stood before him, open arms, a smile on her face, and a song in her heart.