The Traveler

The wind passed close by the house. Under the eaves, along the low porches, coming from some unutterably distant place, lingering restlessly, nervous to be on again.

"Go," said the teacher, without speaking.

The room was hot and still. The younger knelt, obedient. When it was time he rose, crossed the threshold and set his foot on the path. With him, in his sleeve, he carried flute and pen and in his sash the short knife. Eagerness and calm were mixed in him. He went steadily and straight, eating an apple.

He went where signs would lead him, but he spent a moon's change in a village because under spring rains the fields were a shining green curve below a darker mountain of pines. He worked for farmers, people who were relatives or old friends, and went part of a journey with a young, quiet woman returning to her home in the goat-herding hills.

The sun became hot. The sound of bees surrounded him and he worked where a man tended hives. In the next town he traded honey for a bed and thought of the quiet woman for three nights when it was too hot to sleep or rest.

He came to a town on the tip of the land, where men and women lived on the sea as much as in their homes and gardens. He knew no one and did what he could among strangers to ease a burden or share his strength where it was needed. He ate and worked silently, and men pausing to straighten their backs would glance at him before they returned to their work. In a few days they would ask a deferent question or the women would want to wash his clothes. But he would be gone by then. Signs and going from one place to another had brought him to this place and he understood that he was waiting here for a journey's beginning. At evening he stood often at the far edge of the land where the salty air filled him. For two days, then, the wind stirred and called and picked at his sleeve, and on the third morning he set off again, with the sea on his left hand.

On a yellow day, a breath of air followed him idly as he walked steadily along a path of sand. He felt it in a cool breath on his neck where the sweat had wet and dried, dried and wet. As his legs carried him on, he turned his head to watch the slight breeze stir a field of ripe grasses, making another path that shifted ceaselessly and he thought of moon paths on a rippling sea and the inexplicable patterns of lake water. The path of sand stopped at the brow of a cliff, the wind gathering seabirds as it sped over the edge. Turning he saw weavers' huts huddled gray in the yellow grass sea, bundles of broomsticks and fresh yellow baskets among the clay water jugs outside their doors.

Where he slept that night a broomweaver needed an apprentice. Tying the bundles of pliable grasses together, he sat by the old man whose eyes saw little except memories and knew that his newer eyes saw the same field of grass, woven by the wind in the same way and he was content.

When the wind scoured the cut fields and sent the field creatures under the ground, he squatted next to the fire, learning by touch the ways of stick and fiber, grass and wood. The old man spoke little but a word of thanks and a toothless grin when the woman brought rice and thin soup and greens steamed and salty with dried seaweed. She carried the bowls cleverly in the crook of her arm, one hand quick as she set them down, the other bent and still. One day he held the bent hand softly between his two hands and she said without shyness, "The wind when I was a child. The roof flew up." His eyes followed her bird quick hand's movement into the dark rafters. "I fell into the wind. My parents were carried away from me. I was not found until they were gone." A look of stillness passed between them.

The field of grass came up green from the brown winter earth, a baby was born, the grass ripened and yellowed, they moved among the stalks with scythes, winter wind blew cold and patient, the grass was woven and tied.

He was welcomed into the sparse houses, the husband of the bent woman. A daughter grew swift and silent, and brought him round laughing babies to tease with hollow straws, blowing them into astonishment with tiny winds. A son crawling, fell from the cliff and was plucked by the wind and rolled into the field unharmed. The youngest sat at his father's side, his fingers following the weaving with bits of broken grass and string.

He became an old man, spare and quiet. On a blue day he set down a bundle of grass by the cliff edge. Sun burned hot and red, wind blew strong and cold. He leaned toward the space where distance met his weight. Bird hollow, stem hollow, his bones. Wind breathed into his mouth. Filled with the solid certainty of air he rose. Fog streaming, smoke blown, his white hair. Transparent the thin skin, transient flesh of feet and hands, transported, transformed. Tears of joy fell on the new grass. Home bound, he rose into the flowing sky.