We walk back onto the road and down towards Niko’s house. The herd of sheep follow us and begin to run up the rocky dirt path. The island whispers. Trees sway above, letting sporadic splotches of sunlight warm the road, pierce the ground, looking like a bundle of rocks landing on the Aegean’s surface. Tiny figs dangle from each branch, growing. I turn to look at the free animals as they hurry to push by. Some get trampled, stuck and pinned between a bigger body and the half-opened fence separating the den from the road. Others squeeze through the tiniest of crevices. They all wiggle themselves out and soar together. They cheer in unison, ringing their bells up the mountain. They don’t have to worry about financial crises.
Tomorrow is Spring Break – Monday, the start of the season – and kids and families and everyone will come. But tonight it’s still quiet (has been since the day after Thanksgiving), and I have the motel and the campfire and the geese all alone.
The trees say nothing of spring. They speak only of winter, with their bark and branches.
Only three cars are parked at the motel. Two big trucks and mine. Townsend is right next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The town calls itself “the quiet side of the Smokies.” Seventeen miles down the two-lane Highway 321 is the other, not quiet side of the Smokies: Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood.
A marshrutka is kind of a bus but mostly a van, and at full capacity it can carry 10 people from Brody to Lviv. There were 20 passengers in the marshrutka that day. Garrard looked at me and got a thin paperback novel out of his satchel. “It will be at least two hours on this shrutskie today for sure,” he said. He stood hunched over the van’s middle seat and then asked if I wanted some pills.
Garrard is a friend who will stand for two hours so that I can sit. Ours is an intimate friendship wherein I can blindly trust the handful of mystery pills soaked in his palm sweat he gives me. I swallowed the damp pills, a metallic taste lingering on my tongue.
The US of A finally stamped its visa in my black pocketbook. Jazz fusion played in my ear, songs from an album fittingly titled This Meets That. I floated out of the document collection center in Nehru Place, New Delhi.
One morning we hike a few miles to a nomad’s camp on an isolated island off Turkey’s southern coast. The hike is uphill, hot, and arduous. We pass the ruins of a Roman cistern and a dry-land tortoise headed downhill. After an hour the path levels out into a broad valley and we arrive. Only the woman is home. Her name is Hanife.
Even if the day was sunny, the air would seem to darken the longer we drove and the farther we bore into the industrial zone. The red brick factories built early in the 20th century were still holding on then, producing staples, electrical circuits, distributor caps and who knows what else. Yet I recall no workers on the streets. There were no stores, no streets, no sidewalks, just ruts. It’s as if the factories were run by ghosts and the only evidence of life was an occasional wisp of smoke rising into gray haze.
When I was a kid, some of the other ten year olds on the bus taught me how to blow spit bubbles. You catch a loop of air against your bottom lip on the tip of your tongue, then roll up your tongue to blow the bubble off into the air. We had great fun wafting these dime-sized spheres over the bus seats. The bus driver wasn’t so amused. She yelled at us, then reported us to the school for “spitting on the bus.” When I got home, my mother–who was still a stay-at-home mom then, though she started working not long after–gave me a good scolding.
Outside the window I could hear men calling out to one another, stumbling up the street. Night, so!Safe home! Someone started singing. Then the baby stirred and the living room door clicked shut again. This time my husband heard it too. He got up, switched on the lights, checked that the apartment was locked (it was), and then turned off the lights and came back to bed. Soon he was fast asleep.