Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The River of Pain

The River of Pain

photo credit Mohain

What appeared to be a gentle brushstroke on the landscape was a river that cut into earth, rock and life itself.  In this distant painting a mist of uncertainty hung over it.  From her vantage point she could see the switch back path into the valley below.  The girl thought she could see a tiny figure beside the green water, where the river doubled back on itself, making a line lost in a daydream.

She wondered if the people passing her on the path might mistakenly think she was a day traveller, given the fact she carried only one small cloth satchel. People called it a “furoshiki”, it was actually her only other item of clothing, a shirt someone had given her from a mountain village.  Inside the perfectly knotted soft cloth was everything she possessed.  A tiny wooden carving of a sea otter, a hairbrush, picture of a woman, who she was told was her mother and two persimmons.

As she descended the mountain, the sounds she heard sounded different.  In the higher elevations, the breezes and wind seemed to mix together the way a flute sounds – mixing musical notes, tones and air.  In the valley, it was quiet, only the sounds of the rushing waters.

She had followed the path the mountain had made and now she was guided by the squiggly line that became a river.  The meandering of the river made a beautiful gesture in the earth.  The girl could breathe in the smells that made things green and gave the wind something to rustle against.  As she approached what she imagined to be the tiniest splatter of paint, she clearly saw it was an old man, nearly bent over, holding firmly to a gnarly, twisted walking stick.

Silence was her usual manner; but she felt attached to the mystery of the old man, who intently watched the water flow by.  If the man looked over his right shoulder he could see the doubling back of the river.  They stood together on a finger of river grasses that pointed to where time had been.  People from the mountain called this an oxbow.  On his back, he could feel the coolness of the shadowed mountain, as he squinted into the smoldering light.  The sun was the greatest painter of all she thought, because the sun could make light shimmer and water sparkle.

She stood next to him and looked at his eyes to see what it was he was watching.  Leaves and branches drifted languidly in the currents as if they had no idea or concern what their fate might be when the river reached its final destination.

A rubber boot bobbed up and down and the old man’s eyes seemed to glisten. The last orange rays of the sun turned the water reddish making it seem alive with another life.  When a straw sheathed hat passed by a smile crept across his face.

Reaching into her furoshiki she extracted the persimmons and held one out to the man.  He nodded “thank you”, but did not reach for the orange fruit.  She asked the old man what he was waiting for? 
He said, “I am waiting for my son.” She wondered if he had a boat?  He said, “No, I am waiting for his pain.”

This made the air in the girl’s lungs turn to sand. She asked what did that mean?
The old man kept watching the water, breathing ever so slightly; as if he were afraid he might scare a fish away.

He turned away and looked at the darkening mountain.  “Families are a river of pain.
Everything flows downstream.”  He turned back, adjusted his walking stick and looked again into the deepening reddish waters.