Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | April 17, 2010

Moon Swallow

I have no idea where this photo came from… but I love the colors.

Trickles splash against the pier.  I can taste the morning moonlight: salt, fish, and oranges. My stomach rumbles, twisting around the leftover crumbs I ate last night.

DONG!

A boat coming in to pier. Night merchants, tired and grouchy and half-drunk and not likely to appreciate a twelve year old girl sleeping in a pile of fishing nets. They might not even notice me, but I’m not taking any chances. Not with the purple bruises still smarting on my side from the last time I let them find me here.

Up, and away. I dash silent as a shadow across the dew-damp cobblestones. There is a bakery this way that sometimes tosses out stale bread. The woman knows me. If I get there in time, she’ll give me one with candied dates inside.

The smells of salt and fish fade as the city rises around me. Low shops fade into tall spires and towers. I slip down an alley and stop below the bakery window. A light is on; the scent of oranges mingles with yeast and warmth and honey.

SKEEE!

A bird? It alights in the window, blocking my view of the fresh bread. Its feathers shine like metal–gleaming blue and gold. Tiny, curious eyes peer at me from above a curved black beak.

“Hello?” I whisper, and the bird hops off the window onto my shoulder!

The bird is the size of my head, but I can barely feel the weight. It must be mostly feathers.

“You there!” A voice cracked with age makes me jump, but the bird hangs on.

“Skreee!”

The old man grins, showing a mouth full of golden teeth.

“I didn’t steal it! The bird just hopped on my shoulder! Here, take it — take it!” I try to shake it off my shoulder, but the bird won’t go.

“What’s your name, child?” The man asks.

I didn’t want to tell him at first, but then I had an idea. No one really knew my name except the woman in the bakery. Would she see me out here and make the man leave me alone?

“Sita,” I said, louder than necessary.

“My bird likes you,” he said.

I nodded, and backed toward the building. Should I scream?

“She’s yours. May she bring you more luck than she brought me.”

He disappeared, and the bakery window burst open. My heart pounded in my chest. The bird on my shoulder make a contented tweeting sound.

“Sita? Is that you?” The woman leaned out, a stale loaf of candied date bread in one outstretched hand.

I nodded. My stomach burned with hunger but my mouth felt too dry to chew the bread.

The bird had no such issues. It grabbed at the dates and swallowed them down.

“Hey!” I came back to my senses and tore away a chunk of the bread before the best part was all gone.

“A Moon Swallow!” The woman spat over her shoulder, raised her hands in a pyramid that meant protection from evil, and then shut the window. And locked it.

I would have to find my bread somewhere else, it looked like.

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