When I was a trip in the dry, dusty town of T- (on a day when the sun beat particularly heavily on parched earth) I stopped to purchase a bottle of water from an old, weathered street vendor.
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The local currency was then a p-, a very small sum of money (it would be measured in the diminutive, -itos) and I had just pressed one of the silvery, round coins - also dusty - into his earthen hand.
As sometimes does happen with vendors, he looked up, smiled his thanks, and gently, but firmly, took hold of my arm. He squinted at me, cocked his head to a bit to the left. His eyes then opened wide, black, like a fish yawning underwater. His mouth opened, quivered slightly (perhaps in the wind), and I waited anxiously for him to speak.
"My son, don't go!" he pleaded at last, grasping my arm more tightly. "Look up and tell me, what do you see?"
Looking up over the dusty plains of T-, over the dry earth that somehow, impossibly, gave birth to tiny green plant life, past ambling oxen and over small, rugged shrubs, I saw only white, flighty clouds. I shrugged and, not thinking, replied: "some clouds?"
"No, no!" he stammered excitedly, more an aspiration of breath than a firm voice. The reflexes of his youth reflexes hadn't divorced from his soul for he pulled me down into a crouch, and, as if in secret council with a trusted teammate, he tempered his tremolos voice.
"No comrade, look carefully and you'll see that there are people in those clouds, people who jump and dance to make nurturing rain, whose trampling causes angry thunder and implacable lightning, and in the North, high in the mountains, people whose snores make the gentle, sleepy snow."
Then, looking at me as if everything but the snow made perfect sense, he continued: "And I've seen it myself, the snow, it's like a down pillow!"
His eyes, mouth, and even his wild white hair trembled with a kinetic life I hadn't noticed before. Poking a careful finger into the hard dust, he continued.
"A long, very long time ago, before I was born, before my grandfather, there was a village in this very spot. It was a troubled village, my son." He draw, with his finger, the outline of a small village in the dust. Slowly, he traced houses, fields and a lake.
He continued: "The village was strong, and it made war with the village over there." With the other hand, his crooked hand, a solitary finger pointed toward the red-orange sun-molten hills in the distance toward a small lump of rock.
"And in this village, there was a little girl, a girl of pure white, of good, who grew up among warriors, but was not a warrior herself. The warriors, of course, painted fierce things. The girl... she created kind things, she was a healer, and created life."
And as his careful finger drew a little girl next to the field, and a sun next to the girl, he narrated: "Warriors fought for water - simple water! - while all she created for them was beauty. She planted plants, shaped pottery, wove bright shawls. Her work fed the village through good times and bad. Each year, as warriors gave themselves to their never-ending tide of battles, she created new and more beautiful things for evermore people."
Now, he had drawn a second village on the ground. The space between the two pictographs, I noted, was filled with large pebbles that jutted rudely from the hard earth.
"As the water ran dry, stakes for the battles increased. Life in the small villages became intense, and as it became more intense, the strength with which the girl - by now, a woman - could create also grew." His voice lowered to a whisper, and he looked at my expression (of incredulity) to explore whether I followed. "Before the big war," he sagely advised "she could grow entire forests of fruit with a sweep of her arm."A small, round wet tear welled up in his eye, but he wasn't unhappy.
"Then came the war that threatened to consumer her village, and all her hard work. Sensing that danger approached her creations, it was said that the woman sank to her knees in this very spot..." and, standing now, raising his voice from a whisper, and pointing toward the sky "it is said that she prayed to the Gods for safety, so she could share her hard work with all of those who could benefit, and in a peaceful, quiet world!"
"Her voice was heard, my friend." And here, he paused.
"Her voice was heard and legend has it that a giant white bird soared from the sky to carry her to safety. Warriors on both sides of the raging uproar stared as the woman was lifted, and to their amazement, placed in a cloud above, to watch over their safety."
"Immediately the sun that had presided over the battle was covered in clouds, and it began to rain. It rained for weeks, and the warriors stopped their warring for water was plentiful. The green things the woman had slaved to grow, grew in great abundance."
Rooted to my spot, I waited for the lively man to finish. "And so for thousands of years, you know why it was said that people inhabited the clouds. You know now why citizens of the earth prayed to the Gods in the air, for live-giving rain. We're not so fortunate now," he continued "for we don't thank the skies enough for the presents of life and calm that they provide us."
And with that, he sat down, exhausted, and erased the diagram he had drawn in the clay earth. "Good day to you, sir" he concluded with a quaint smile, "good day."
I took my leave, and continued onward toward my lunch in T-. When I looked back, the old man was squatting on the ground beside a young boy, drawing in the dirt and, with one hand, and pointing into the distance. Somewhere nearby, it began to rain.
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