Author’s statement – Why I had to write This Land belongs
After finishing my first novel, Chameleon in My Garden, I wanted to savour more of the place to which the story belonged. I had fought a campaign for my husband’s release from prison, but, having won the disfavour of the Libyan regime, I could not return to join him when he was freed. Libya itself was still a prison for him as for everyone.
Those who might have told me more about the history of this land which had so absorbed me had sadly passed away. I regretted being so preoccupied with my own challenges that I had not found time to ask them about their stories. I forgot about the importance of their memories.
Having spent thirty years writing ‘Chameleon’, and needing to return to writing, now on my laptop, I reflected on what could possibly follow my husband’s release. That story has yet to be concluded. It was interrupted by the Arab Spring with its searing elation and soon-to-be dismay. It is a story more suitably told by present and future Libyan generations. But writers cannot resist a story. Now that I knew that what came after ‘Chameleon’ could not have form until I had fathomed what had gone before, I turned to the possible memories. This became my second novel, This Land Belongs.
I started with the date of 1922, the year my female protagonist, Fathia, was to be born. There were few clues or intimations that I could latch onto. There was a grandfather much beloved and spoken of with pride. He was the Mufti of Derna imprisoned by the Italian colonial authorities some years later, whose photograph I had seen displayed in the now replaced British Museum Library. There was Derna, a place I had visited several times, a town that was blessed with water that flowed from a spring. It lay on the North African coast of the Mediterranean. And, of course, there was Benito Mussolini who was preparing to march on Rome, just as Fatma was ready to be born in Derna, delivered by a Sicilian midwife from the convent.
These fragments of a story were sufficient to engage me in a search for more. They took me further back in time to 1911 and the Italo-Turkish war of 1911-1912, precursor of WW1. The stage was set for a full cast of characters to emerge of their own logical accord. There was the history teacher vexed with a dilemma. Then there was the farmer and his valley farm in Shahhat in the Green Mountains, and my memory of a sweet dessert of walnuts and pomegranates. Also, there came the eager foreign journalists, investigators of an international incident surrounding the murder of an American, and witnesses to a brutal invasion, drinking coffee in the cafes and struggling with their representations of the truth. Along with the Sicilian midwife came her brother, injured in WW1 and keeper of Sicilian bees. Next a laicised priest with a camera, and Sicilian geographers with ambitions for adventure and fame.
I did not create a staged play of good and evil actors but found there were many Italian actors whose generosity and basic goodness redeemed the Italian spirit of the time. Movingly, Moslem converts, English, Jewish and Catholic, were prepared to throw their lot in with the heroic Senussi resistance.
Backbone to the Derna community was a collection of aunts, mothers and daughters who nurtured their families throughout thirty years of oppression and war of one kind or another. I paid tribute to them. In the process of getting to know them, they became part of my own real family. On the laptop page, as in life, these people were populating my imagination, and they stood shoulders above their notorious oppressors, those with such illustrious or intimidating names, such as Italo Balbo the Ras of Ferrara, Rodolfo Graziani the Butcher of Fezzan, and Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, Il Duce.
Encompassing all this humanity was the alluring landscape arena of Cyrenaica, almost mythical in its scope for allowing a story to unfold. The Green Mountains, the Ancient Greek site of Cyrene on the hill slopes overlooking a fertile plain up to the Crescent Bay of the blue Mediterranean.The massive desert hinterland, unknown and unmapped, was a mystery. The orchards of Derna, unforgettable for the overhanging abundance of fruit trees in bright sunny lanes, and the white domes of its mosques. There were oases with date-palm trees, oak, carob and juniper forests on the plateau, hillsides perfect for picnics on a carpet of wild flowers, horse treks in the mountains, the long ceremony of tea-making and sweet pastries, sumptuous weddings and glittering brides, births and tragic deaths. However, most alarmingly, there were the wastelands commandeered by the Italian colonialists for concentrations camps.
Along with the collision of these clashing realities came a sense of everything being super-charged with energy, light, and the human capacity for charity. But also, alarmingly, with the human capacity for vanity and its corollary of inhumanity.
Coming to the final chapters, I understood I had revealed to myself a beautiful landscape that had been purloined and oppressed by a colonial occupation for thirty years or more. It was a usurpation of power and agency that destroyed the natural continuity of life in the very land that was stolen. It had disrupted ancient trade patterns and normal communing between local and diverse communities. It had deprived a people of their own unique destiny. What a terrible fate it was, to be located at the north of one continent that faced the southern shore of another, and there to lie under an alien gaze that might be loaded with either a hateful antipathy or an envious desire.
So the final chapters give the floor to the actors’ and the poets’ voices. With new independence, a sense of belonging to the land and of the land belonging was rightfully returned, once fascism in Europe was defeated, after a phenomenal struggle in which so many lives were lost.
New research on the plight of Libyan Jews under Italian persecution was brought to my attention, and I realised there was an additional searing memory which I had not included in the first edition of This Land Belongs. There were natural links already embedded in the early part of the story, and so it was natural that a second addition was written to include extra chapters in final Part 10.
I see Libya as a living organism. It is also a carpet, a pathway, a journey within and across, a longing and an inconvenient convenience, still longed for, still enviously desired.
Across the lake
Mra’ja the history teacher had spent the night awake, worrying. At the first show of light, he was loathe to start the day. He prayed, then he let the seconds slip by while restless time passed like sand through a bottom-less hourglass. He felt himself suspended in the emptied globe and let the day go forth without him.
Gradually, the spirit moved him to rise and open a window. Peering out, he found the sky was steely grey. A voluminous, grey cloud was becalmed in the absence of a wind. It hung like a submarine above the white buildings of Derna. The air was cool on his warm skin. He shivered. Dogs barked in the hills. Like exclamation marks they punctured his thoughts. Cockerels crowed as they had done all night in random fashion. They gave a feel of useless assertiveness, now in the East, then over there in the West, next in nearby streets in the suburbs south. A ship in the harbour blasted its horn, a rude interruption. The song thrush, a recent arrival in the orchard, was silent, or else flown. Some things were as before. But the possible arrival or departure of the song thrush spoke of seasons changing. In his imagination, Mra’ja willed the song into being. It was not blended like the blackbird’s, but intermittent with pauses and repeats, like history.
Then panic fell upon him.
For Mra’ja was more aware than most that the past lived on in the present. At the beginning of the new school term, he would as usual remind his students of the ill-at-ease ghosts of things thought to be passed. He doubted that his young charges would feel the need to be troubled as he was by the unfinished business of History, because just now the world was seemingly at peace with itself. Summer had been kind, and Ramadan, the month of fasting, had given them spiritual ease and good company.
Ease was a deception, of course. Mra’ja doubted the recent conflict had really ended with the truce. Did a treaty with all its caveats, no matter how honourably signed, ever guarantee lasting peace? More specifically, would the Sultan stand his ground and defend his Ottoman sanjaks in North Africa, if and when the time came to do so? Mra’ja thought not. And the time would come. He could see the Ottoman Empire falling and crumbling around them.
Peace after all was a distraction, an abstract idea, in Mra’ja’s view. It was a wing and a prayer, less tangible than a child’s trust, or, more ominously, more illusive than hope. This strain of thought made him intemperate at times. He was often irritable. Being used to his alarmist commentary on the state of the world, his wife, Maryam, put his despair down to an over-anxious disposition. But then, of late, she too could sense his premonition of war. Talk of the imminence of war was spreading fast, by telegraph and post, from little town to little town all along the coast of Ottoman North Africa, in the forgotten villayet of Tripolitania.
Mra’ja understood well what was at stake. Under the old Ottoman suzerainty, the three sanjaks of Tripolitania – Tripoli, Fezzan and Cyrenaica – had enjoyed a fair degree of freedom to run their own affairs, safeguarded in large part by a long-established interdependence between the coast and the hinterland. This equilibrium was delicate and likely to be challenged by the kind of change imperialist Italy would impose if she could. That was the question – if Italy could? Mra’ja was one of the very few who anticipated what would come after if the bonds that had kept that peace were torn apart.
Tripolitania was a large territory. To the stranger, it appeared boundless, so sparsely populated as to be considered virtually empty. Believing that the Balkan provinces were more key to the strategic advantage of the Ottoman Empire, Italy did not expect the Sultan to honour his imperial commitment to Tripolitania and so to defend her. And therein lay Italy’s opportunity.
Derna, in Cyrenaica, like so many of the coastal towns, was a surprise in waiting. Lying 170 km to the west of Tobruk, and 291 km to the east of Benghazi, she was a tract of plenty, cradled at its southern boundary by a curve of hills which lay at the eastern reach of the Green Mountain, Jebel Akhdar. Its water reserves were a mystery since there were no observable rivers at the surface, and yet the mountain slopes were covered with a dense forest of oak and evergreen carob, living proof of there being a source of sweet water. In lapses of time not yet understood, run-off from the winter rains that fell on the high plateau rushed into the valleys carrying laterite, staining the limestone escarpment iron-red, gouging the deep ravine of Wadi Derna so that Derna flourished as a green wonder, straddling the two sides of the valley. Gardens and fields were replenished by the flood water that flowed across the littoral, inundating the land with its rich alluvium, and carving a nutrient-rich delta similar to the delta of the Nile. But from the beginning, Derna had been inaccessible to shipping due to its east-facing harbour. Derna was intriguing, unexplored, a fertile backwater, awaiting capture.
The Suez Canal had given impetus to trade with the Far East, but Europe had turned its gaze to the continent of Africa, and its northern and western coasts. By 1911, European forays into West African territories were deliv- ering surprising gains. From the northern coast, France had penetrated the Sahel and claimed Tunisia and Algeria for herself. Germany and Spain had designs on Morocco, as had France. Britain was in Egypt. Only the Sultan’s poorly defended territory of Tripolitania remained for Italy. Its Latin name declared its inevitable destiny of becoming Roman again.
The moment of readiness was signalled on June the 4th in 1911, when Rome celebrated the inauguration of the Altar to the Fatherland, a monu- ment dedicated to the glorious memory of Victor Emmanuel 11 and the founding of the state of Italy. In its panoramic terraces of white marble and with its gilt bronze equestrian statue, it commemorated the fiftieth anni- versary of the Unification of Italy. With its national status now affirmed, the future fortune of the Kingdom of Italy had become an almost-sacred mission. The government of the Kingdom, hesitant at first but spurred on by unrest in its industrial centres, dared to envisage Italy joining the club of European Empires, with the resurrection of an ancient Roman one. There would be no resistance to speak of, so the theory went. Dissent could easily be pushed aside, or overwhelmed by force. In any case, the natives, as they deemed them to be, needed rescuing from themselves and their presumed uncivilised way of life.
Mra’ja heard the song thrush calling out, this time in the real world, with its series of interrupted notes. He searched for the brown speckled bird hidden in the autumn-turning leaves of the vine. There was only the one sound of its song, repeating. Except there was also a jangling of pots and pans indoors. Maryam was arranging items in the kitchen. She would take the whole day to prepare the meal that broke the fast. It would be a modestly elaborate affair, the stages deliberate and thoughtful. The siesta would take its time as would the making of bread.
As for Mra’ja, he stood idly by at the door, committed to the lethargy that came from missing his coffee. The day would roll forwards as it must, slowly, allowing time for him to fret some more. He turned to his wife who was making bread for the breaking of the fast. Her loosened tresses, freed from her headscarf, moved to the rhythm of the kneading of dough.
Interview with the author
An Interview with the author Nita Nicholson
by Dr. Bob Donaldson,
on reading her debut novel Chameleon in My Garden
BD: Your writing seems to get stronger as the novel progresses? Would you agree?
NN: My first drafts did evolve a lot, that is true. I gained new insights as the writing progressed. Essentially, I wanted to understand what I had been through, but to do so without bitterness; though there was always anger mixed with sadness. There were many varied influences over the many years of drafting and redrafting. It was a long and probing process of discovery, that took more than 30 years. I suppose my writing skills were extended with the new discoveries, factual and psychological, that surfaced.
When a single novel takes so much time to incubate, its creation is transforming. I had time to hone my comprehension of the dystopian world it was set in. Sometimes, I practised by having conversations with an imaginary Colonel Gaddafi, while I washed the dishes. I tried to reason with him. I tried changing ‘voice’ to mirror the contradictory perspectives that made up the complex whole of his psyche.
Then, success in freeing my husband from political detention brought about another twist. It was not safe to return to Libya and join him after my exposure in the campaign. I saw how much danger the fictional Sally would have been in, with her husband still not free. This suggested a new trajectory towards an ending I had not envisaged at the start. I imagine the complexity matured me as a writer.
BD: Are the characters real people or are they based on real people whom you knew?
NN: I selected just a few people whom I knew, in order to meet the scope of the novel. I blended some into a single character. Fathia was real and wholly herself, unchanged in her humanity throughout. There were no characters from real life whom I knew to be openly opposed to the regime, apart from Saad. Everyone was submissive, subdued and restrained, unless they were favoured and operated as informers. There were many who were possibly clandestine critics. I could not have known who they were, so I created them as the story demanded. Hassan was one of these, a character fashioned with some qualities borrowed from a real person and some partly imagined. The secret police were everywhere, very real and generally obvious, as were the fortune-tellers.
BD: Who is Sally? Is she you?
NN: Yes, I suppose she is a fictionalised me. I had difficulty choosing a name for her or giving her any justified purpose in the context of Benghazi. She was alien, a sort of misfit who wanted to belong. I could have adopted a Libyan name for Sally but it would have confused her identity for the reader. At first, Sally was central to the plot. Then, at other times, I wanted to erase her completely. But the novel wouldn’t have worked without her. Sally existed because I was there and experienced the trauma from the inside, not as an expat outsider. So she remained as a permanent fixture, toned down, disempowered and possibly seeming too passive as a result. I am glad she stayed. She creates the tension. However, she remains a conundrum for me.
BD: Why was Hassan in so much trouble? He didn’t seem to do much that was openly rebellious.
NN: Well, remember there were informers in the family and you could never know how far their influence stretched. There was suspicion. There was reasonable paranoia. Hassan knew he was under surveillance. Even so, he was reckless and did dangerous things like fishing along the coast where there was smuggling in the coves. He was inconsistent, usually restrained by fear and outwardly cautious, but also impulsive. He took risks. He protected Sally, in his own distinctive way. He jeopardised the safety of the family.
Hassan carries the main theme of trauma, the challenge of surviving with integrity in the repressive conditions of an authoritarian state. He needed stamina, and to be constantly alert to the danger he was in. He knew there was a surveillance network but he was too disengaged to detect the intelligence links.
BD: What is the function of the chameleon in the novel ? Is it an avatar?
NN: Oh, well spotted. ‘Avatar’ is a good word for it. ’Chameleon’ translates in Arabic to a meaning linked to ‘war’, a semantic link I didn’t make at first. But there was something about chameleons that intrigued me. They belonged in the story. It is a hybrid kind of avatar, because it stood for many things. It symbolised both danger and the search for safety – for itself and for others. It stood in for the intelligence police because it could hide and yet be seen in plain sight, if you knew where to look – now you see them, now you don’t, sort of thing. Even the chameleon’s long tongue was akin to the long reach of the antennae, as the intelligence police were termed. They could reach and threaten you in a number of ways, by radar or telephone tapping, and kerb-crawling. The chameleon was a reminder that no one was immune from surveillance. The chameleon was both a blight and a blighted thing hiding in a garden that was meant to be a safe haven.
The Bosnian war influenced my writing. I remember the words of a Bosnian woman telling how her neighbours, having been their guests at weddings and other festivals, suddenly came over the hedge to kill her family. One of the words for ‘garden’ in Arabic means a place surrounded for its protection. So it had to be Chameleon in My Garden.
And so, I guess, the chameleon is an avatar. Quite a wonderful creature, I think, the way its eyes swivel round to see everything. An alert, apprehensive being thriving in an uncertain world. Also a distraction for the children, as was the feral cat. Maybe the cat is an avatar too. Perhaps she provided the prospect of survival on the fringes. I suppose that was where Sally was.
the shock of you
bright yellow-collared snake of you
slipping into my view
green of grass and shake
of writhing coils of you
a quick meandering you take
to somewhere blue and new
past the greening make of you
you take the moly river view
where water voles slake
their thirst from river’s dew and you
you skip and slide in fake
dance of fright that drew
flight with quickened loops of you
for a grassy camouflage of hue
for you are wild
it is the pace of your slithering
the race that caught my sight of wild
bright-eyed I thought you were
in glaring yellow eye dissembling
but later learned t’was collar born of wild
to scare the shadow looming there
that frighted and set you undulating
on a track for swift escape to the wild
in panic mode of biding where
the disguise of grass enfolding
shields you and leaves you in the wild
to shiver in your scaly coil there
not knowing that honoured and admiring
I was pleased our paths had crossed in the wild
if only for a moment’s flash there
because you are wild
Excerpt from novel Transformed: The Escaped Graphic Child.
There she was at the centre of everything. The centre of everything was a risky place to be for a newcomer. She was teetering on a pivot, like an unpracticed acrobat on a moving trapeze. The world was a great dirndl skirt cavorting In the up-draught of the wind, blowing her this way and that. It rolled away and rolled back, setting her swinging with each return, to be dazzled by a ball of fire.
Harold was a rugby player. You could tell from his physique. He was fit. His eyes bright, the whites so blue, Carmen thought. She loved his every sinew and marveled how he emerged grinning from the scrum, muddied, hair sweat-slicked on his forehead.
Their eyes met and stayed in frozen synergy until he blinked. She laughed a silent open-mouthed guffaw. He was the competitive one. She never won the stare game.
Harold lifted his cup. The little moment of defeat passed. He offered a wry smile, quickly submerged in a hasty gulp. The cup sounded plastic when he placed it in its saucer. He had not meant to stare when their gazes locked, but to probe her soul, to find a soft landing there.
“You remember the storm in Devon,” she said, finding him distant and not in playful mood. “We must go there again, next year. The surfers were amazing. You wished you could join them, there in the dark. ‘Finding refuge in the chasms of the rollers’ you had said. So poetic I wrote it down.”
“Yes, they were hostages to fortune, I thought. A bit like rugby. That’s what you do in any rough. Find the refuge.”
Carmen rummaged through the cabinet where she kept their holiday paraphernalia. She found the notebook and placed it open on the foldout table. Harold avoided reading.
“And now with a caravan, it’ll be even better,” she urged.
His hands were palms down on the cold formica. She layered hers on his, giving refuge. “Won’t it be? Better?”
They searched each other’s souls until the tea was tepid, past drinking.
“We can travel in our heads. Though the wheels stay put. We have a month or two to dream across this table. Tell me more about the waves.”
the hush between pauses
falls away into a mist
of things unsaid
it is an opaqueness
a barrier between the thought
and the word we did not dare to hear
a snowfall of whispers drops into absence
and disperses its blank muteness
in melting sheets of confetti
the unsaid rides like a phantom
bleached under the cold sun
a loosened avalanche of nothing said
with the vanishing wind it is gone
a dream is closed over by heavy lids
an image is consigned to the bin
did we say nothing?
did we never know?
were we so very mute?
thoughts from the ceramics workshop
the first day of spring eludes us
while drab November malingers
at the workshop window
someone is back from the ski slopes
someone else is off to Berlin and her blog
another is missing from his station
with pewter splashes like a garland
her alabaster head is festooned
and waltzed aloft to the kiln shelf
the smell of wood friction
and meths with shellac mingle
the grecian urn deep veined
with fern relief is glazed with wood ash
on chartreuse underglaze
a porcelain seed, Fabergé egg
with seams standing proud
dries in the warming cupboard
your back arched in focussed labour
palm buttressing the clay on the wheel
slurry garnered and returned to reclaim
rose-stuccoed jug of crank slowly drying
coiled vessel with inside opened out
egg-shell blue-rimmed flutedmugs
transparent matt is stirred
a beech leaf is incised in wax
with fine scraffito tool on bisque
a blue-green bust emerges from its cast
the plaster crack ridged across her face
will wear to file pad and wet and dry
shellac filigree for foliage dries on the bat
resist against a water weathering
bathed to translucent thin
paper porcelain petals wait for glass fusion
poppies nod in memory of absent George
Gujarati heads turn in rainbow saris
a lost citadel grows in my head the while
vectors of bird flight cross the boundaries
freeing memories once trapped in walls
it’s snowing somewhere in the north
Part One: Drought
Cyrene’s slopes are draped
with marble pillars
fallen columns cross the paths
and grass grows free of traffic
a tiled bath drained of water
flashes blue with lapis lazuli
before the ruined base
of the temple to Artemis
fleecy seed heads float
among the long shadows
of Corinthian pillars
white and ghost-like
the cadence of a horn
sounds the evening fall
its trembling prayer
washing down the valley
sighing in the wind
to halt the suffocation
its ululating tongue sings
for the fissured land
Beyond the amphitheatre
a camel lies in coma
poisoned by a silver leaf whose
yellow flower withered after spring
the old lore of sacrifice
washes through her dream;
red and brutal sacrificial blood
floods and rages there
she must sleep on
to death’s last ambush,
dreaming of the coming winter
and winter’s rain
Part Two: Nightmare
Her shortening breath flounders
lodged in inflamed lungs
and the shepherd’s horn is still
At nightfall, the camel draws
away from the struggle
straining to the tread of
a gazelle halting at the glade’s edge
turning to the sea
with the desert at its hind quarters
It scents the brine and bridles
pulled by the tug of thirst
I have come from where nothing grows
along the tracks of dry stream beds
that wave their ribbons of lost hope
fleeing to a salty sea
On cracked earth forking this way and that
a crazed path takes me to a hillside
where a man is bound to a petrified tree
naked on a hillside.
Dogs growl and snarl around him
snatching at his kneecaps.
Through the night he groans
fading into dawn’s mist.
His pitted flesh leans there
into sand-gritted wind.
He seeks my touch
but I must run.
from the blue edge
of a crescent headland
the gazelle quenches its thirst
in a salt swell
with throat salt-encrusted
blood dried and curdled
The camel has a vision
and shudders in her shelter
under the canopy
of green oleander
a fennec fox glides
over the stone wall
and scents the body
lying in the dust
Sifting through the dust
it finds the camel’s eye
staring under drowsing lashes.
The camel stirs and
thinks the pointed face
is the maddened prisoner
his face scored with tears
that drip a soundless protest:
I answer ’no’
for that is all I have
that is still mine.
I spoke of love
and hate received
from men who feared Reason
No is what I am
No is the action I carry
No is the people you would have me name
No is the plot you say was mine
No is the death you have prepared for me
No is the succumbing to that end.
Part Three: Rain at last
Large drops pressed the dust
plunged the riven cracks
and bounced on iron furrows.
Rain pummelled the earth
into putty softness
carving a corkscrew channel
in a drowning hill.
Red water turned and turned
its watery blades pounding
off-loading loam into the bay.
On the rushing hillside
lay the camel waking;
the flood dividing at her shelter
she heard its roar.
In the orchard of pomegranate
in a rain vast valley
the almond tree cracked.
Rain chiseled a path
with measured pouring
along split boughs
and peeling bark
into red mud earth.
Torrents rumbled the fall
of a sliding surface
that moved into the sea.
Unhinged in bleached memory
the camel waded
through white spaces
of whitening fear.
Witness, camel, how painful
the dying of the prisoner now
in the tumultuous cries
of day’s arrival
how painful the passing away
in the sensational morning
that follows night.
Part Four: Aftermath
A father kneels in new grass
on flowers petal-crushed
and whispers his despair
in supplication over each shoulder.
A mother turns to the tall cypress
in her grief-frozen distance
she reaches for the sky
and birds in flight
A wife gathers her children
consoling and holding them
and their shock stands still
at the centre of embrace.
In the Dee estuary, a flock of red knots was preparing to continue their flight, the longest migration in the animal kingdom. Their destination was New Jersey or there-about – bays, beaches and mudflats where an abundance of horseshoe crab eggs would be found, their arrival so perfectly synchronised with Nature’s spring rebirth.
A gang of youths in search of an event, made its way to the cliff edge, facing on the ebbing tide. The greening muddy flats below looked inviting.
With chest plumage tawny-brown morphing steadily to pink, soon to be a stunning red for the mating season, five thousand birds were feeding on the shore where the estuary had become a wetland. They were building strength for the flight.
The youths tested the unstable cliffs of soil, rolling stones and themselves down to the narrow shingled shore. Then with clothes muddied, faces glowing red and sweaty, they communed in a tight huddle, hatching a plan.
Wheeling in the darkened sky, the red knots sensed the wind direction. Swooping down for mussels and soft fleshy finds in the sand, they grew tense and strained.
The tight huddle on the beach threw all caution to the winds. They filched their pockets for the wherewithal to execute the deed, the event that was lacking, the excitement of disturbance, of the shaking up of nothingness their lives had become.
“Here we go, here we go, here we go!”
“Nah, its a bad-un. I’m leaving!”
“Get along you miserable ..”
“Here we go, here we go, here we go!”
The darkening sky threatened rain. It was now or never for the birds. Their bellies filled, they gathered and swarmed around in circles.
The darkened sky threatened to drench their enthusiasm for the deed. It was now or never. “Here we go!” They waited undecided until the tension might force the impulse of ‘now or never.’
Marshalling their congregation on the shore, the red knots milled around, pecking, digging for the last offerings, waiting for the start-gun lift, when one amongst them would know it was now.
The youths as one decided. They dug into their pockets. They struck their matches, each bending to his own chosen spot. “Here we go!” Fire muscled its hidden track through the grasses. Smoke rising, vaguely, creeping low.
The air was smoked with burn. The acrid smell disturbed the scent. The red knots with plumage almost fully red were agitated. It was now.
The fire caught. The grasses burned and flames shot in the air, visible from the cliffs above. The youths were ecstatic with the show, and chuckled at the flight of so many nameless birds, nameless to them, silhouetted nothingness, their number uncountable, coalesced in a clump of bird anonymity, destination unknown.
The red knots rose as one body of pulsating bird-being, the land alight behind them, in front rebirth. “Here we go!”