Once upon a time…yet, it really wasn’t a specific time. It was not between two other segments of time, like say it happened on Tuesday, which is after Monday and before Wednesday. No, there was no place for this once upon a time. Rather it seemed to float somewhere in a ruined eardrum or burned out eyes, as if it had occurred on a rotting stage of a large theater where actors carved out of dust and light spoke silent lines to empty seats.
You understand I’m sure.
Anyway, there was a man with a wife and two children. He loved them beyond words; beyond memory of what was good. They lived on a green path in the forest. The wife was ten years younger than he was, and sometimes he felt like her father. He had met her on the road as she was running away from something, somewhere over the horizon. With time they became deeply committed to each other and were never officially married. He had marked their wedding day upon a large flat stone and placed it upon the threshold of their cabin door. They had two children who were like walking flowers and just old enough to wander around and play with animals and dig holes in the ground.
One day the house caught fire and the wife and children were killed. They died of smoke inhalation and their bodies were hardly burned. The man cleared the ground and buried all of the black wood and charred brick and little pieces of the past. It took him a few days with the help of a nearby deaf-mute. Then he took the bodies of his wife and children deep into the woods and lay them in a single grave beside a stream, beneath the largest tree he could find. Each child flanked the mother and found a pillow in the crook of her arms.
After a week of sharing the deaf-mute’s hut, the man went to town and withdrew all of his money from the bank and sold every possession of value. He drifted from one country to the next, drinking and gambling, womanizing, fighting with strangers, and finally started working for men who longed for power. He had a few technical skills they were willing to pay for and so he built a network of men at war. In a black book he wrote information about the little armies in isolated spots and he brought them things they needed. He watched them do terrible things to people. They offered him women and he would go on long tears into his soul and drain blood upon the ground. Slowly he turned into something he was not, yet there it was for him to see in the mirror.
At some point in his dissolution, at one of the camps in the jungle, he decided to walk toward the area controlled by the other side in the tiny war. He didn’t know much about them, other than they were a replica of who he was helping, although perhaps a bit more cutthroat. Nothing much mattered to him anymore.
Finally after a few miles, he ran into one of their patrols. They radioed back to their base that they had a foreigner who was probably a spy. The commander ordered them to kill him, because there was no time to deal with the aggravation of keeping him alive.
And so they made the man kneel down and then he looked up into their faces, smiling, and thanked them in the local dialect. He told them he was in great pain and that death was a quiet spot beside a little stream beneath a large tree. He also blessed their children and asked them not to think too poorly of him. The man could feel his heart change into a bird and he felt it climb up his throat and watched it fly out of his mouth. The men with guns were greatly surprised and hesitated for a few minutes. They discussed the truth of what he said and how their own special gods might interpret the bird that resembled a heart. When it came to bush religion everyone in the rebel army was an authority. After much discussion, they shot him, and left him there, on the ground, near the tall grass.
Back at their base camp they told the story of the man and everyone laughed and made fun of them and called them silly, but eventually the soldiers grew silent and thought about all of the people they had killed that year and they wondered about how this death was perhaps slightly different from the others. Not too much, yet in a way odd and out of the ordinary.
A white mist began to move across the tree canopy where the monkeys slept and it slipped down, folding over the branches and leaves, like gauze covering a lifeless face.
Someone passed a bottle around and a stick of marijuana. The sentries in the shadows looked upon the men huddled around the dying fires and then the jungle camp grew colder, far away from the known world and the quiet weeping of forgotten people.