Despite being born in the eastern meadows, he held his head too high, an uncommon trait among those folks. Rico had been obtuse in learning the ways of his kind. He troubled the elders with too many questions, which the other boys never asked, and he never showed any signs of fear for the darkness, nor for the fire, which were expected of him. Something to seriously worry about, for he couldn’t be trained like the rest of the boys, to go to the woods. All the boys must choose some work in the eastern woods to support their village, after their fourteenth name day. And girls must choose a work within the village. Men shall leave the village to work in western terrains and women shall take care of the household chores. “Let the fear grip your hearts first, and then learn to tame it,” they tried to teach him the principle they followed for generations, which he could never understand, nor did he try to.
While the rest of the village closed eyes and prayed the morning sun, he gasped at the fiery summits of the eastern mountains. They were a continuous stretch, standing high into the sky and ran endlessly in both directions. Over them was the abode of the fire falcons, the bright red creatures which intrigued Rico. One thing he had in common with the rest of the village folks was, his revere for the fire falcons. The majestic birds always flew at impossible heights in the sky, and unlike other birds, they never preyed over the smaller life forms, nor the produce of the village. He never understood what they ate, or why they never landed. But he knew that he has some connection with them.
Rico didn’t have any friends. Whenever he felt sad or joyful or felt a need to share emotions for which he wouldn’t know the words to express, he would look up into the sky, and he would always find a fire falcon, flying high above him. He would smile and soon would feel a gentle surge in his heart. Other boys isolated him and the elders ignored his claims, when he tried to explain what was happening to him. Not one in the village paid any attention to what they couldn’t understand. That was another striking feature amongst them, which he lacked. And Rico decided to find his answers, himself. That was a few days after his ninth name day.
The terrain grew steeper and harder, and the grass, drier as he moved eastward with his donkey, and with an axe in his hand, alone. The deeper he moved in, higher was the elevation, and better was the wood he could cut down. But Rico was moving in for something else. His fourteenth name day passed a few days back, and he stated before the elders, his wish to fetch the firewood. Others who came with him didn’t move beyond somewhere in the mid-stretch of the forest, and let their cattle graze there. Some started cutting down the trees, and some others searched for the honeycombs. As an unstated rule, they all stood grounded in the view of each other.
Rico wasn’t disappointed, nor did he compel them to move further. They all knew from the beginning that he was different, and he somehow sensed that he had to move alone, if he should expect to reach the mountains beyond these woods. He had been planning this for many years, waiting for his time to go to the woods. He must visit the abode of the fire falcons and understand his connection with them. He wanted the answers to his questions. All of them started together, just before the dawn and Rico moved faster than his peers. By the mid-day, he could reach the high terrain.
He let go of the rope around the neck of his donkey, and fell to his knees, at the sight. He dropped down his axe and shook his head. He sat and stretched his head backwards, leaning over his palms. The mountains stood as if they were stone walls which sprang straight from the earth. There was no way he could climb them to reach the abode of the fire falcons. Yet, he wouldn’t lose hope. He somehow felt assured that he shall figure out a way to reach there. His widened eyes captured the reflection of a fire falcon, which flew alone, and high above him. Many moments passed. He couldn’t remember for how long he sat like that, before he felt the urge to commune with it.
He stood up, reaching his hands out, as if calling for it, but didn’t make any sound. He felt a surge again. But then it suddenly disappeared. Dark clouds obstructed his view as he struggled to catch glimpses of the mighty bird. A sudden lightning flashed like a giant crack across the entire sky above him, and a raw thunder followed it, which shook the woods . The donkey let out a loud bray and started back into the woods. Rico shouted for his donkey and started after it, and out of nothingness, a couple of lightnings struck the place. Before he could grasp anything, he was down over his belly and fire surrounded him, burning down the trees. The donkey was nowhere near him, and fire was about to burn him alive. All his unanswered questions shall turn to ashes along with him.
He rolled over and looked up. The fire falcon reappeared and he immediately felt the surge. He smiled. Then, in what seemed only a moment, another two of those red giants joined it from nowhere, and all the three started down, plunging at him swiftly in a spiral. Just when he was sure they would hit the ground, he tightly shut his eyes. When he felt no impact, he stood up and witnessed something which any man he knew or heard of, had never witnessed before.
The fire falcons stretched their wings, and flew around him at a steady pace. The fire which was about to consume him, halted at the boundary they drew in the air with their flight, and it seemed to get absorbed into them, through the fine yellowish streaks over their bright red bodies and wings.
“This is not a dream. We are connected. This is really happening,” he said after a long pause.
He felt a clear positive surge. They were in fact communicating with him, all the time. He was overwhelmed with joy and laughed.
“This is why you are called the fire falcons,” he said. “You can absorb the fire. It can’t harm you.” Again he felt a surge.
“The others won’t believe me. Will you come with me to the village?” He felt no response.
He stood motionlessly for a moment and asked, “I want to reach your abode. Will you help me?” He felt a surge. He glowed with delight and jumped.
“Will you help me to climb for it?” He felt no response and was puzzled for a moment. Then the clear possibility struck him.
“Yes! I know it. You are going to carry me there..!” No response was felt. He fell silent. The fire subsided, leaving a black patch of burnt trees and grass on the ground, and a green patch within it, over which Rico stood. He gazed at the birds. They were bigger than he imagined.
“How then can I reach your abode?” They stopped revolving around him and formed a row in the space before him, facing the woods and kept flying where they were, without moving further.
“You want me to go to the boys in the woods?” No response.
“Should I go back to my village and ask for help?” No response. He looked back at the mountains which disappeared into the clouds. An insane possibility struck him.
“You want me to go to the west?” He felt an immense positive surge. He was dumbstruck and didn’t say anything for a while.
“But..but your abode is here. To the east. Right above these mountains.” A positive surge.
He let a few moments pass and spoke in plain voice. “I must travel to the west, to reach the east.” Rico felt a surge, more intense than anything he felt in his entire life. It was too much for him. He fell down to his knees and looked up, as the fire falcons flew away. He lied down over his back and watched them disappear into the star-lit sky.
– Avinash Kumar