She spoke to me after a long spell of rain.
It was there as long as I remember, the tree. For all I know I was born with it. It was just a sapling for a very long time, and it weighed nothing. I bore it on my back happily as I flew steadily across the deserts and the desiccated forests. It withstood the elements without complaint, without so much as a bent branch. I rarely looked back at it, it was enough to know it existed. It was enough to know that I was responsible for that little life.
But it grew and I had to grow with it. Its roots cradled my back, its trunk gained heft and weight and its branches blocked the sun at all times. Soon it was a towering ash, the only tree of its size. I flew on, shouldering the weight, flying steadily across the savannah. Were there animals left in the land they would have stopped and stared. I perched on whatever branch I found – the tree added no weight to my own. I was still just hollow bones and feathers, fragile toes and a stubborn beak.
I didn’t look back for some time, but when I did it had become a forest. Other trees surrounded the ash, there was brush underfoot and fauna scuttled around the edges. Pools of water collected between the trees when it rained and howls echoed among them late at night. I must have been growing too, to accommodate the forest. I felt and noticed nothing. In fact, I was sure I was the same size as the other sparrows, though it had been some time since I had seen another.
The forest did not remain a forest. After a few seasons I bore a country between my wings. There was little I could make out when I turned to look – the rocky boundaries and on one side a vast lake. I heard human voices on still days, and sometimes the smell of firewood or gunpowder. There were songs one evening that echoed over the waters and through the now-ancient forest, though they did not sound like those of any known human or beast.
But for as long as I can remember I have flown from sunrise to past dark balancing an entire world on my brittle back, a rocky escarpment cradling the nape of my neck and civilizations spilling down to my tail feathers. I fly as slow and steady as I can, avoid heavy rain and long droughts, make sure I am well fed and in no danger of starvation. The world I fly over has changed too. What was once different lands with different seasons is just a barren landscape bereft of topography.
But when I sleep I dream I am here, on this strange planet, living out my days as a human, having conversations with people like you. Perhaps this is my mother’s planet, the one once suspended by a string from her leg before the falcon killed her, before I murdered the falcon. Or perhaps this is my own world – maybe I am becoming intimately acquainted with my burden.
Tell me, when you dream, do you dream you are a bird? Or do you remain a human, fistful of seeds in each hand, hunting sleeping sparrows till you birth the next universe?
Illustration by Tyson Damman