There Goes That Man and His Kite!: Part Two
The Poogle's eyes were of a deep, deep indigo; very large, round... I've got to say, they were unlike any eyes I've ever seen. It wasn't just the colour that gave them their depth. They looked like ponds. I would say oceans in respect to their size, but I've never been to Mystery Island and seen the waters that are so clear they reflect your mirror image back to you. As she looked up to the sky I could see the red kite shining duplicate in her eyes.
"Ah, everybody loves kites. At some point in their lives," I chuckled.
Then the ripples started in the ponds. Had I been the one to throw the stones?
She turned away. I think she was pretending she'd heard something behind her. Then she turned back and said, "I'm sorry," once again. "I'm supposed to be past this stage by now," she uttered with the same weak, tremulous laugh.
All at once, I put two and two together. "I...I'm very sorry," it was my turn to say.
She shook her head and smiled, as if shaking it off. Then she stood there for a minute, and just watched. I didn't say anything further and neither did she.
When the moment of silence ended, the Poogle was the one to break it. "So what's your story? I mean, what is your personal connection with kites? It's not every day you see a grown man out by himself flying--" She checked herself, dropped her gaze to her feet. "Sorry, just... you know."
I smiled down at her. She was short. "Stop apologizing."
What could I say? Weirdly enough, no one had ever dared to ask me this before. Everyone else had been too polite and awkward — 'Johnny, you don't ask a man a question like that!'
"It helps me to think," I said quickly. "To clear my head." Just then the wind stopped suddenly and the kite dropped. I ran to the bottom of the knoll where it landed, bent over and picked it up, turned back to her and shrugged.
The Poogle giggled. "Ahh," she nodded now, denoting perfect understanding. "Well I can see how it would help."
Looking at the woman's face up close I could see she wasn't a child, though I suppose the streaks of silver in her long blonde ponytail had already given that small fact away. She had fine lines at the corners of her eyes and mouth, whether from laughing or frowning I couldn't tell. I'd guess she was in her early to mid forties, but she could have been younger. Having talked to her for only five minutes (having stood near her for five minutes I should say, as most of that time had been spent in silence), I could see the world of trials she had been through in the seemingly recent past play out in her every mannerism. Nothing ages a person like sorrow.
"You know, we used to always do this, my son and I. We'd come to the park in the morning — he was always an early riser, you know how young kids are... We'd go to the park and fly kites. His favourite was always a red one, just like that. That's why when I saw you, you... kinda gave me a start." She made a motion like she was brushing a loose strand of hair out of her face, but I didn't see any such strand. She dropped her gaze and laughed that same heartrending laugh, and said: "But why am I telling you all this?"
"Because you wanted to tell someone," I answered. I knew she knew this, and she knew she knew it too. She just needed to hear it from somebody else. "Hey," I ventured, not wanting to push her too far. But thinking she wouldn't mind. "What was your son's name?"
Her indigo eyes widened; she drew in a breath slightly. I'd caught her off guard. But she did tell me. "Jackson."
"What do you say we fly this kite so high Jackson can see it?"
The ripples started in the ponds again, only this time they spilled over, like waves upon a shore. "Okay."
I put the handle in her trembling hand. She gave it all the string she could give it, and the biggest upward gust I've ever seen carried the kite almost out of our view. In this life, I don't believe there's such thing as coincidence. That had to be a miracle.
10th day of Swimming
Two windy days in a row! Actually, it was lucky I decided to go in the morning yesterday, as by afternoon the winds died down. No wind equals no lift, equals no purpose in my going out, obviously.
I decided I'm going to fly my kite from the knoll from now on. I seem to have better luck there. Not that I believe in that kind of thing, but... I flew from the knoll on my last two excursions, and my last two excursions were wonderful. Up on Mount Fitzgerald, so high above the world, I meet nice people and have a lovely time. Down in the valley it's lonely and people look at me funny.
I'm kidding, I'm kidding! To be honest, I didn't really notice anybody cocking their brows at me today. True I wasn't actively on the lookout for it, but usually I'm aware of a constant, vague feeling of being watched, scrutinized; the shadows whispering, the bushes giggling, the buzz of the thousand voices resonating with a common question: 'What the (Your Word Here) is this dude's drift?'
It's like the air around me is percolated with a sense of restless curiosity — whimsy maybe, suspicion probably, appal for many, or even danger for some it would seem! Neopia's most infamous criminals would probably kill, quite literally, for an aura like mine! And all I had to do to attain it was fly a kite. The most innocent of actions arouses the most vehement suspicion. Society and its idiosyncrasies never cease to amaze me.
Today was different, though. The park must have its regulars, as I found I recognized certain Neopians, and they seemed to recognize me. I didn't feel like a wild Petpet in a cage at the zoo for once. People saw me and acknowledged me just like I was one of the park's permanent fixtures: a bench or a tree, or the birds in the trees or the kids 'Free Arts & Crafts in the Park!' supervisor. I was met with glances and nods that almost translated... acceptance. A few people said hello to me; not like the friendly greet a stranger, but like a stranger greets a would-be friend. Some parents even let their children get close to me!
"Perfect day for a kite fly."
"It sure is, brother!"
Under the same tree the three teenaged boys had sat two kite-scapades (Sorry, that was lame.) ago, there stood two Neopets, a Fire Shoyru and a Christmas Draik. The Shoyru was a youngish man with reddish hair, maybe in his middish thirties. The Draik was also male, though I couldn't tell how old he was. He could have been anywhere from his late teens... up. His colouring was Christmas, but he wasn't wearing the clothes, save the sprig of holly on his tail. In place of the red and yellow striped Santa hat he wore a red and yellow striped ball cap. He kept pointing to the kite in what I assumed to be wonderment. His mouth was open.
"It's a kite," said the Shoyru. "Doesn't it fly high?" Then the Draik, who was a lot taller and visibly muscular, clasped the Shoyru by the wrist. He pointed again. "Kite, yeah!"
The tall Pet proceeded to pull the short Pet in my, or rather the kite's, direction. "No buddy, we can see the kite from here." The Draik didn't speak, but he made a loud grunting noise. "Where are you trying to go?" The Shoyru knew full well where his buddy was trying to go.
Eventually either the Shoyru gave in, or the Draik's strength became too much for him. They romped up my little hill, the latter in the lead, still dragging the former by the wrist. "He wants to see the kite," the Dragged One simper-sighed, resigned.
The Draik made that same grunting noise: "Gllllth," it sounded like. He was grinning from ear to ear.
I realized then that the Draik was one of those unique individuals who experience the world differently than other people. We have several words and terms for them. The world tries to lump them into categories, all organized cut-and-dry, slap a name on the whole lot and call it a diagnosis. All too often these people seem to wear their diagnoses like name tags, or like a subtitle that goes with their name so that they become 'John Smith with Such-and-Such Disability'. Sometimes you have to spend a day with one of these extraordinary individuals before you start to think of them as simply 'John Smith'.
The Draik stood with wide eyes fixated on the pretty red diamond for a long time, and he would have stared longer if the Shoyru hadn't broken his trance. "Okay buddy, let the man fly his kite in peace."
It was as if the Draik just noticed there was something at the end of the kite's long string, holding it down. There was a shiny black handle and attached to the handle was a brown Ixi! When did he get there?!
Then something happened that I've gotta admit I wasn't expecting. The Draik tried to wrestle the handle from me.
"Joseph, no! That's the man's kite! You can't do that!"
Joseph the Draik wasn't purposely violent. He certainly had a lot of strength in those big hands of his though, and a heaping helping of determination to match it.
"You want to fly it? Here, you can fly it," said I, letting go of the handle and allowing him to take it.
His Shoyru social worker looked at me with an expression of supreme, astonished gratitude. "Oh, no, you don't have to give it to him."
"It's no problem!" I assured him. "It's not like he's going to do damage." And of course right at that instant the wind decided to be cute and spirit the kite sideways, drop it for a second, catch it, tug at it and make it writhe like a fish on the end of a hook before giving up on the sucker altogether. Crash!
Joseph froze glaring at it for a minute, then he frantically started flailing and making terrible noises of distress. "It's okay, buddy," I tried to console the panicking Draik, "we'll just wait for the wind to come back."
"Really?" muttered the Shoyru, more to himself than to me, I would think from the way he said it. This guy was bewildered by my generosity.
"Really. Well, I'm not gonna just send him away without him even having a chance to fly it."
And so we waited. As it turned out it was another quarter of an hour before the breeze came back strong enough to lift the little kite. In the meantime, Kevin (that was the Shoyru's name, I would learn later) and I got acquainted. Yes, he was Joseph's social worker, and I learned the name of Joseph's 'irregularity', though it didn't mean anything to me.
All the while Joseph was keeping himself amused with an ant hill he had discovered. His sharp eyes caught them first, even from his lanky vantage point, then he knelt down on the ground and zeroed in for a better view. He tried to pick them up. He was surprisingly gentle with them.
When the wind finally started up again (I breathed a silent prayer of thanks that it actually did — phew!)... ha, it was well worth the wait. You should have seen the look on that guy's — that innocent heart of a child disguised as a man's — face when at last the red bird took to the blue sky. It was like a ray of sunshine.
Believe it or not, I spent the whole afternoon with Kevin and Joseph. I can barely believe it myself, the time went by so fast. Joseph was completely enthralled with the kite — I couldn't possibly have just packed up and sent him on his away. When people like Joseph get their minds set to something, it's best not to deprive them of it unless it's absolutely necessary. I had nowhere else to be.
And so the winds came and went, came and went throughout the day. Kevin left once to get coffee for he and myself, and for Joseph chocolate milk, his favourite. Joseph even spoke to me a bit, in his own funny way. I learned that he'd been painted Christmas this past January, just after Christmas. Christmas is his favourite time of year, you see, and he hated the thought of letting go of it for another eleven months. He wanted to keep it all through the year. I also learned that he loves the colour green because it reminds him of all fresh things that grow, and that he wishes he had a Puppyblew "because they're nice Petpets". Kevin says maybe one day.
O that the whole of Neopian existence could be like Joseph! To derive such pleasure, such enchantment from something so small. To be blissfully impervious to the cares of the world, for our foremost frustration to be a kite that won't stay in the sky! My thoughts turn now to those three women who saw me flying my kite the other day, and said I looked like I was 'challenged'. If only! To be one of such extraordinary people is to be young-hearted, blameless, and happy — forever. They're the best kind of people, in my humble opinion.
That said, my new friend Kevin has an awesome job. I wish I had thought to go into that field when I was younger. I wonder if it's too late?
14 day of Swimming
A cooler day but sunny, early evening. A Friday, Neopians just off from work for the weekend. There were so many picnics around you had to watch where you stepped.
I was tired today. But not, like, sleepy tired. I felt a little off... Lethargic, I guess. I kinda forced myself to go because it was windy, but my body just felt... heavy. If I'm being honest (which I do try to be), the kite handle was almost an effort to hold. Maybe I'm just hungry, I thought to myself.
The air smelled like barbecue. Boy did it ever smell like barbecue... Next time I do something like this, my thing is gonna be to choose a random picnic, go up and ask the people if I can have some. See how they react.
Tonight they might have actually let me. The atmosphere... I don't know what it was, but something about it seemed different: friendlier, more open, more neighbourly. Maybe people really do recognize me by this point and are used to me, accepting of me, and my kite. Or maybe the shift in the air has nothing to do with me. Why is it that the intrinsic nature of the individual is to believe the world revolves around ourselves?
Oddly enough I saw several other kites in the sky today, flown by the young and old.
"Ben! Fancy seeing you here again!" It was Anne and Philip, the Mynci and Nimmo couple from my first day. I passed them on my way to Hubert's Hot Dog cart, and in each of their hands was a plastic handle attached to a string, attached to something nobody knows better than Ben Fitzgerald.
I gave them two thumbs up. "Nice kites!"
They said they were practicing for the fast approaching Shenkuu Kite Festival. I've got to say, the sight did my heart good, perked me right back up again... somewhat.
I settled on the ol' knoll, hot dog in hand. No sooner than I'd gotten Little Red into the sky was I charged by four kids — a starry Xweetok, a blue Tonu, and two Kacheeks, island and polka-dot; seven, eight, nine, ten, somewhere in there.
"So he is real!" the starry Xweetok squealed.
"Look how high up it is! It blocks out the sun!" I think this was the Tonu but I honestly have no idea. They whizzed around me like a colourful, yelling whirlwind.
"Are you a spy?" This was addressed to me by the island Kacheek, the taller of the two Kacheeks, the only one standing perfectly still, looking up at me as if she hoped above hopes I'd say 'yes'.
"No," said I. "Do I look like a spy?"
"If he was a spy he'd be painted stealfy," said the small, dotty Kacheek. *Ben translates this to mean 'stealthy'
"If I were a spy I wouldn't be flying a kite in a Neopia Central park."
"He's not a spy," affirmed the Tonu, steadfast in this conviction. Then, conclusively: "He must be working for the military."
"What military?" This came out a little louder than I had intended, but hey, their incessant running in circles was frazzling my nerves...
"Maybe Meridell's military. I learned in school that Ixi come from Meridell."
"Wouldn't he be a knight, then?" the Xweetok observed.
"No! If he was a knight he'd be wearing armour."
"No! It's the weekend! They wouldn't wear armour on the weekend, Connor."
I almost concurred with this — 'Yes, this is true. I am a knight, and we (that is, my fellow paladins, Jeran and them) never wear armour on the weekends. We'd hardly be knights in shining armour if we wore our righteous mail seven days a week!' But, well, I couldn't outright lie to a kid. Tempting as it was...
"If you're not a knight, and you're not a spy, and you're not working for the military," here was the big question, put forth by the Tonu, "what are you?"
"I'm an Ixi, as you've already noticed. Just a normal guy flying his kite."
"That's not normal."
Where were these kids' parents, anyway?
I was just starting to get dizzy from watching them, just about to ask what all this was about, when one of the quizzical kids (Sounds like a band name, Quizzical Kids... Ah, maybe not.) broke the circle, and the other three trailed behind them down the hill.
It's worth noting, however, that later on I overheard three out of four of the tykes saying they wanted to play hide-and-seek. The fourth, the island Kacheek, said that hide-and-seek was for little Pets and that she didn't want to play. The Tonu, the eldest and supposedly the ringleader, turned around and pointed to me. "He's not too old to fly a kite," he said. "He stands up there every windy day, with no shame. Why should you be too old to play hide-and-seek?"
At that moment I felt like everything I've done these past six days has been worthwhile.
I could have stayed after that. There were plenty of people around who looked about ready to start a conversation. But I was beginning to feel strange again; my head was spinning. And you know what? That hot dog wasn't sitting well.
To be continued…