The Once Blessed

August 27, 2010
By , Keswick, United Kingdom
Philippines, 2012
The bow-legged man still sat on the very edge. The rainforest spread out beneath him. To anyone else, it was all green; but to him, the difference in colour was stark and vibrant. There was the brightest green of all, the lustre of the canopy; the sluggish, murky green of the river itself; the faded green of the clearings; the dark green of the thick branches wrapped in lianas older than many of the Once Blessed. The monkeys chattered and the tapirs snorted and the birds squawked; he heard it all.
“Can I sit with you?”
The bow-legged man jumped. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I thought I was alone. But sit.” He turned his head and found that the speaker was a boy, about thirteen years old, skinny and timid-looking. The man mustered a smile and patted the space on the rock next to him. “Sit here,” he said.
The boy sat. Together they looked over the edge.
“Do you want to talk?” said the man, avoiding the boy’s steady gaze and looking at the river.
“Yes, shaman. Do you know me?”
“My eyesight is poor, my boy. I can’t tell any of the children from another. But tell me about yourself.”
“You do not remember me? I was the boy who was born under the Eagle.”
The man stopped himself, and looked at the boy for a long while. “Under the Eagle? Yes, I remember. It was a beautiful ceremony.”
“So they tell me. They said that the Eagle of the forest would be my special guardian. That it would protect me all my life.” The boy looked down at the forest. “But I have never seen one.”
The man smiled a little sorrowfully. “We have not seen the Eagle of the forest for many years now. I think it must be the fires that kill them. Your birth must have been the last time we saw it.”
“It? You mean there is only one?”
Startled by the boy’s panic, the man replied, “Only one. And even he might not be left now. 13 years is a long time-”
“But how can there be only one Eagle left?”
“I have just explained,” he said patiently. “When the hunters burn the trees-”
The boy shook his head and looked at the rainforest again. “But we call ourselves the Blessed because long ago, the Eagle spirit came down upon our leader and promised to protect us forever. We are blessed by the Eagle. How then can we live if there are no Eagles left?”
The shaman did not know. There was a heavy silence in the air again.

It was late afternoon. The smoke was beginning to dissipate and the air was clear, but the shaman felt no reprieve from the great sorrow he always felt as he watched these others carving up the forest below him. The boy had sat beside him throughout the day, always quiet, seldom restless.
The boy jumped up. “What is that?”
“What?” said the bow-legged man. “I cannot hear it. What is it?”
“That! That noise! I have never heard a bird like it before!”
There was a high-pitched whine in the air, reverberating around the forest, echoing. The boy seized the man’s shoulder. “It is the Eagle, it must be the Eagle! He is back!”
“No, my son,” said the man slowly. “It is not the Eagle. Listen again; it is the hunter’s machines.”
The boy did not believe him, and listened hard, and looked long at the rainforest. But he could see the machines cutting up the trees and he could see no Eagle.
Hours passed and the boy decided he was being no help to the man. As he got up to leave, he turned to face the other.
“They have left us, shaman,” he wailed. “We are the Once Blessed, because we have the Eagle no longer. Now we are surely the most cursed of all.”
He heard no reply. Puzzled, he glanced down at the bow-legged man. There was a smile creeping onto his face. “You tell me there is no Eagle, boy,” he said, “then what is that?”
In the sky appeared to be several shapes. They were in fact one shape, but it was moving like lightning. The Eagle of these forests is capable of astonishing bursts of speed.
The boy and the man saw it all from the cliff-top. The powerful beat of wings. The flash of sunlight on its great beak. The noble head, with plumed feathers. The snake dangling from its claws.
The Eagle of the forest is huge, one of the greatest in size on the planet, with a wingspan wider than a man’s outstretched arms. It is a dark grey, a jet black, and a gentle beige, and it has large yellow eyes. It has always lived in the forest.
Together they sat and watched this careering display of both colour and life, stark against the azure sky. “Beautiful,” murmured the man.
And then, further off: the hunters in the distance, taking aim.
“No!” cried the boy.
The Eagle rolled in death, tumbling through the air like it was being carried by erratic wind. It spun, and twisted, and its stained feathers sprinkled over the rainforest like white ash. It let drop its head onto its breast, and then feeble, with crushed wings, it fell like a stone, like a thunderbolt. Even in death it was beautiful.
The boy lost sight of his guardian; the last of the Eagles was swallowed whole by the green forest, the forest it ruled and loved, the forest it guarded, the forest that loved it back, but which had now fallen into the hands of people who care nothing for the Eagle or the Once Blessed.
As one, the boy and the man stood motionless, paralysed by what they had seen. And then with dark faces they trudged back to their camp.
Beneath them, the hunters shrugged and kept on cutting and burning.





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