Albanian EssaysStories

The Eagle-Plant’s Journey

They called her that because of the shape of her leaves, but she never had a life like an eagle’s. She lived inside a dreary office and she was fed according to the tastes or the whims of the clerks who worked there: coffee grounds, bread-crumbs, sometimes even the odd aspirin.

She would often sweat drops of water. “Look how she’s crying, the poor love!” was the ironic comment of the clerk wearing a mini-skirt (even though it wasn’t as mini as the wearer would have liked).

She was the witness of embarrassing declarations of love, of murmurs of a political nature, of words of envy but also words of friendship. And every so often she would hear stories of another land which wasn’t so far away, just on the other side of the sea that she, obviously, had never seen, where people said plants could grow in freedom and in health.

Days had passed without anyone taking care of her. They’d even left the window open. Words were flying in from the nearby square. She stretched out of the window to see what was happening, but she could see no one. The same cries arose but now they were clearer: politics, students, money, end, communism, freedom. With great care she freed herself from her own roots, still imprisoned in that dry soil, and she departed. She avoided the square so as not to be seen. Better not to take risks, given that freedom was a word she’d heard all her life without ever being able to reach it.

She began her long journey towards “that place where the sun sets” – which the clerks had spoken about. And there it was, the sea! She threw herself in, forgetting the wounds she had made in dividing herself from her roots. The pain reached her soul, as people used to say, and it was only the first of them. But the thrill of the journey made her forget all this very quickly. There were other plants that went with her on that journey, sharing their destinies and their own stories.

They locked her up again immediately after her arrival, though this time the space was larger. Once more breadcrumbs fell on her head, accompanied by the noise of a machine flying above. But there were also drops of milk. All this while waiting for the verdict which was due to arrive shortly.

“She damages our own flora!” declared the expert who had been especially called in. “She must be sent back immediately to her own habitat!” But she could not give up. She would come back again, anyway, because she knew there had to be something else outside that space where they’d imprisoned her. Every time she tried, she lost one of her leaves. On the first ones, which were the most fragile, the funeral of some important person might be written, or else the promises and the proclamations of some other. Then it was the larger leaves that went: a poem composed in prison, the songs of the country, the house up on the hill, the freezing north wind under the starry sky.

Finally, her wounded body was left in peace; perhaps they’d felt a little pity for her. Sometimes she would try to get near the other plants to say something to them. But they had folded their leaves inward, like a shield, so as not to let even the sweetiest whisper pass through. Each of these refusals scarred her body with a ring-like mark, like those of soldiers who have to return home after a long service, the marks of lost battles.

She would stop to reflect, repeating the same phrase, “I must have done something wrong. And out of each of these rings, from time to time, a little bud would come out, which would grow and become a leaf. But not a leaf like the others that were left. They didn’t seem different to her, but when she was with her own kind they found it very difficult to recognise her. But they had changed, too; their leaves were fatter and deformed.

Perhaps it was these new leaves that made the nearby plants curious. “She looks like a different thing, and yet she still looks so much like us.” They asked her to tell them her story. But she never told anything about herself, only stories which they would understand.

She lived through long, foggy winters. One perhaps was harder than the others and was said also to be longer.

She covered herself with her own leaves to pass through this one, too. But she awoke with the desire to run to the east and see the sun’s rays that she had dreamed during her long hibernatory sleep. But she was not able to move, because as soon as she tried she felt strong pains from her belly. She looked down where the pains were coming from and she saw white threads, almost transparent, coming from her womb and losing themselves in the ground on which she rested. She had grown roots.

She looked at them with the same feeling as a mother who looks on a child that is the fruit of a betrayed love. But she could not find the courage… And so she wept.

It’s said that for her the winters became longer and longer and her sleep deeper. Some say she can be awoken only by the caresses of the east wind. Then her leaves begin to dance an ancient dance that she’d managed to keep inside her heart so that it wouldn’t be lost with the leaves. It was called “The Dance of the Eagles.”

The Dance of the eagles

Translated by Paul F. Marshall

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