Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Magpie

A little urchin comes with three glasses of tea and a few biscuits, and the two men promptly place it on the bare ground. The young girl with the timid smile hands me my glass and whispers, "go on, tell us more, we like to know more."

I look at her and at the two men who now seem rather insistent on knowing as much as possible about me. I begin to wonder about their motives, and at their curiosity that brought them here to me. Maybe they are simply showing kindness to an old man. Maybe they really want to know about past. Or just maybe, this is all a joke for them and that they'll laugh about it afterwards over a drink.

I dip the biscuits in the tea and make a loud slurping sound that unnerves the young girl. She must be very delicate as a princess, I thought, there must be people around her that must be constantly protecting her from the cruelties of the world.

"Uncle?"

My thoughts are broken by this term of endearment that suddenly seems to bring back a past that I thought I had forgotten. My throat goes dry as I remember the last person who called me an 'uncle' so many, many years ago.

"Uncle? Do you want some more tea?"

The young girl reminded me of my niece and, quite instinctively, I reply, "yes, my little magpie, bring me some tea, please."

I used to call her magpie because she would scream and holler whenever she saw one. She used to think that magpies were messengers of the great wizard who lived beyond the river. And that screaming at them somehow reduced their power.

We don't know how she came up with this story but it amused us each time she talked about the evil magpies. Once I even took her to the forest and hunted down a magpie and showed her that it was an ordinary bird. She seemed unconvinced and was only comforted by my presence as she felt the wizard could do her no harm when her uncle was with her.

"Next time you see a magpie, you must a sing song as loud as you possibly can," I told her because she sang really well and thought that this would distract her from her fear.

"Will it thwart the evil designs of the wizard?" she asked with the seriousness of a child on the verge of a major discovery.

"If you sing with your heart and soul, yes, anything is possible," I told her and wondered if this was the right thing to do.

And so, everyday when she saw the magpies she would sing songs day in and day out. She would sing about love, laughter, loss and pain. She would sing songs about kings and queens, prophets and seers, evil courtiers and viziers. She would sing songs that would melt hard hearts and soften them with her melody.

Soon even the magpies disappeared from the village but her singing continued, and everyone who heard her believed it was the voice of an angel. People would flock from far and wide just to hear her and, some even said, that her singing brought peace to their hearts.

But one day, the singing stopped as my niece disappeared from the village. Some said that she was kidnapped by the marauders and others said that she had ran away to the city. Some had stories to share that only made us more miserable but...

"Uncle, aren't you going to tell us a story?'

The three people waited and I wondered if I should just tell them about my missing magpie. Will it help to bring her back? Will it bring back the melody? Will it, at least, bring me the inner peace that I lost so many years ago?

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