Here is another short flash fiction piece, at under 500 words.
Lifting-moving-placing; pausing; lifting-moving-placing; pausing; with exquisite care Karen is doing her walking meditation. Each step a slow, attentive ballet. Her careful feet make a crisp crunch on the dry winter grass. Her nostrils register the dusty smell. Her ears pick up the wind in the gum tree plantation at the bottom of the hill. Otherwise its quiet, really quiet. No voices, cars, music; just the muted sounds of the countryside at the hermitage in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Karen reaches the end of her allotted ten paces, stands momentarily, before slowly engaging with the process of turning her body, 360 degrees, so that she can embark on the return journey, ten deliberate steps in the reverse direction. Her eyes involuntarily fall on the ground to her right. What is that on the ground? She looks at the dark form on the grass. It takes a second or two for the image from her retina to register in her brain.
It’s a dead bird. Her gaze take in the thin, stiff legs, the curled claws, the buff chest feathers, the black head and tail, the white marking around the eye, the slightly opened beak. She looks steadily. It’s the first dead bird she’s ever seen. If you live in central Joburg you don’t come across dead birds. Apart from squashed pigeons on the road, but they’re usually a mashed smear of feathers ground into the tarmac. They don’t count.
She tentatively nudges the tiny corpse with the toe of her takkie. It’s so light! Suddenly a torrent of little black ants boil out of the beak, onto the grass, running in frantic random patterns. She draws back, startled. Until now the dead bird has been impersonal, a little feathery husk, but now …. all those ants ? Her heartbeat quickens, her palms are sweaty, she can’t take her eyes off the rigid scrap of feathers surrounded by the swarm of little black ants.
Those frail leathery legs, those curled claws – they remind her of something; no, of someone. Her mind skitters to the Joburg Gen, visiting her Gran just before she died. Gran’s arms were frail and leathery, Gran’s fingers were little curly claws, Gran …. blood roars in her ears, her breath catches, her throat spasms, red-hot tears leak out of her eyes. She takes in a gasping lungful of air, then another, then another, but still the sobs build in her chest. She holds her ribs, gasps, wails, bends over, stands up, clutches her arms around herself, wails, throws her head back , scrunches her eyes closed, but still the tears stream down her hot cheeks. She never cried at the hospital, or at the funeral, but she’s crying now, alone, under the midday sun in a clear blue sky, mourning her Gran, and understanding the flavour of impermanence, death and dying, way beyond the Teacher’s dry lecturing. This fleeting world – like bubbles in a stream. The words echo in her mind, sink into her heart.