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Eagle on a Pole
We stood there watching. The four of us, in the dirt road of a flea market, could not take our eyes off of it. It stood about sixteen feet high, and climbed off of a mound of rocks near the last stand of the market. There were people rushing about, laughing and shouting to each other in Spanish, but none of them seemed to notice – and if they did, they did not care, as if it wasn’t a new sight. A little boy ran into me from behind, shoving me into Jason – Lo siento! – but we still stood there, peering at the tip of the pole that awed us.
Its wings were thick, brown feathers with hints of white, and they were spread out, as if it was ready to take off. We hoped it wouldn’t. It stood perched on the sixteen-foot pole, its proud white head gleaming against the hot sun. I wondered how it tolerated the blazing heat with its thick coat of feathers.
The four of us must have been a sight – we did not move, but we peered into the sky, using our hands to shield us from the sun. We did not move, and we did not talk. We shut out the sound flooding in from the road – Gorros! Solo 56 pesos! – and stared, almost mindlessly, at the eagle on the pole, its head erect, scoping out the crowd that stood and laughed and mingled sixteen feet below it. Jason, Nate, Nik and myself – Conor – said nothing as we waited for it to make a move – to fly away? – to dive down towards us? – we didn’t know. The eagle on the pole didn’t budge from its spot.
I felt a tap from behind me, a little peck on my lower back, if you will. I didn’t see the eagle budge, nor did I expect it to come and politely say hello – but still, I was surprised when I saw a little girl who stood as high as my waistline standing there, a wide grin stretching across her face.
I didn’t know enough Spanish to respond coherently, but I knew what she was saying – I was it, the one that everyone would run away from. I was the source of fear within Mexican children. I tried, despite my lack of bilingual ability, to respond.
I tried to show her what I meant by tagging Nik, and then shaking my head and crossing my arms – but the little girl stood there, cocking her head to the side, and tagged me again. I tagged Nik a second time, who responded by whirling around, aggravated as if I’d just woken him up.
He saw the little girl, who still stood there grinning, and an apologetic look masked his face. He glanced at me, as if he didn’t know what his next move should be – and the girl seemed to be waiting for something, as she continued to stand there. Her hands were planted in front of her, and she jumped up and down – the Bathroom Dance, was it? I knew better. The girl was antsy.
“I don’t know what she wants, man,” I lied, and by now Jason and Nate had turned around, only lending us their attention as they flashed head-turns towards the eagle periodically. The little girl tapped Jason now, but this time she didn’t wait for a puzzled response by any of us.
And she was gone.
I suppose we’d all been out of our trance by then, because Nik, who was laughing at the little girl’s situation, turned to me and asked how long we’d been staring at the eagle – that thing, he called it.
I didn’t know. I told him to run and get his camera from the hotel room – it would be worth it – and instead of being defiant, as he always is, he told us to call him if it left, and he’d be back in twenty minutes.
We began asking each other questions, as if we were curious kindergarteners at the zoo. None of us knew the answers, but we continued to formulate questions to one another – it was a game, really, except we were all taking it seriously. We wanted to be as close to that bird as we could.
Do you think it comes here often?
How long has it been here?
Is it a boy or a girl?
Do you think it’s hungry?
Asking if the bird were hungry reminded Jason that we hadn’t eaten today. “We’ll get some food when Nik gets back,” I said.
What do eagles eat?
When Nik did get back, he made it only a ten-minute trip – but who was keeping track? He was panting, out of breath, as if he’d gone through unspeakable things to get that camera. He peered up at the pole, which was now sailing against a purple sky, to make sure the eagle was still there. It was - it seemingly hadn’t moved an inch. He held the camera to his eye, one of those disposables you could buy at a convenience store – and snapped four or five pictures.
“I hope that eagle stays. It’s probably the coolest thing I’ve seen in years.”
“It’ll stay,” I said. “Let’s eat.”
By eating, we meant going off to one of the cheap Mexican bars and getting drunk. It was probably too early to do so, by some American standards – but the four of us were here, in Mexico, primarily because we had nowhere else to be. I was fired from my six-year bartending job – for a number of different things, I guess, but mainly assault of a customer.
He had come in to the low-scale bar at around nine’ o’clock; he must have been in his early fifties. I’m not sure what happened, exactly – I seemed to have blacked that part out – but I remember fragments, like when I was on top of him and broken glass was cutting through my pants and into my thigh. I had the man in a headlock – he was bald, maybe in his fifties, screaming, almost rumbling – “Get him off! Get him off!” – to no avail. I wouldn’t get off the guy, for whatever he did to piss me off so much. I couldn’t lose to someone his age; I was only twenty-seven!
The next thing I knew, I was bloodied and sober, sitting in a jail cell, listening to a black man and a Hispanic man try and outdo each other with their charges. The black guy, his hair long and low, had stole a car, whereas the Hispanic had stolen something – I didn’t catch what. I didn’t care enough. But they were getting heated, and I sat there, trying to replay that night’s incidents in my head, not remembering how I’d gotten to that cold, tiny cell. I wasn’t scared – I was ashamed, really, for getting caught doing whatever it was. I couldn’t remember anything, and my brain hurt trying.
Jason came and got me that night. $400 bail, money he didn’t have, for me – I told him I’d pay him back, although I didn’t know how. My work shirt was ripped, and rather than call the bar, I heard from Jason that I attacked a man and no longer had a job. That’s all he told me after badgering the cops – I didn’t want to know anymore.
I ended up paying Jason back by buying him some drinks in Mexico.
We sat there, in a nice sports bar – an upscale one here was like a cheap one at home – and drank mildly – besides Jason, anyway. Jason had done more shots than I’d bothered to count, but watching Jason knock over waters and spit in Nik’s quesadillas in the dimly lit restaurant reminded me slightly of how I must’ve acted the night I got arrested. I pulled him outside for a cigarette.
“I’m good, Conor, I’m fine – I’m just breaking out of this shell,” he said to me after I held a cigarette to his lips. “I’m done, man, I don’t want to be here – anymore….” He grabbed the cigarette from my hand and threw it down, as if to establish that it was that he didn’t want, and we stood there, leaving Nik and Nate inside, and I held him. It may have been the few beers that pushed me to do so, but Jason put his head on my shoulder as I stroked his hair.
“We’re escaping now, man. That’s what we’re doing.”
I knew why he was hurting, and I knew why he was so eager to come to Mexico. Nik and Nate – they could’ve just been tagging along for all I knew, but Jason, kicked out of his apartment at twenty-six and forced to move back in with his parents, couldn’t handle the restraint. I knew. His parents weren’t awful to live with – they were nice people, very generous – but I knew Jason, and I knew his hatred of being tied down. I knew he’d come when I’d asked him to get away – for how long? We weren’t sure.
I didn’t care how we looked right then, and I don’t know how long we stood out there. But after awhile Jason pulled away from me, and looked at me thoughtfully. I met his eyes, pale green, and full of an emotion I couldn’t decipher – and he said, just above a whisper, “Can we see that eagle again, man?”
The next day, we did.
We’d left the hotel room early in the morning, hoping it didn’t fly away, and that it was still there. But what were the chances? Nik and Nate didn’t want to come – they were sleeping in late, and I understood that the eagle was probably a one-day fascination for them. But for me and Jason, it meant more.
We’d made it to the flee market at around nine, which was now nearly empty. It was cooler today, perhaps because the sun wasn’t at full strength, but it did hide behind a couple of clouds. We didn’t expect rain, really.
We walked swiftly through the dirt roads, as if we’d known exactly where the pole was placed. There were tons of them – and I wondered how we knew we’d find the right one. But after only a few minutes of searching, I knew we did.
There it was. It still stood there, its wings spread open and wide, and I haven’t yet told a soul about what I noticed next. The eagle, its wings spread open, was tapered to the top of the pole, with several straps of wire curved across its feet. Its wings were – probably from the back – forced open, and I looked into the bird’s eyes, which remain open and wide, and let out a heavy sigh, shaking my head as if I had expected the image to change. I wanted the eagle to take off, now, kick off of that pole and fly away. I couldn’t say anything to Jason – and if he noticed, he didn’t say anything to me, either. He stood at it in the same awe and beauty he had yesterday, and I let him.
When we left that afternoon, Jason murmured something about wondering when it would fly away – or if it already did, and came back. I didn’t respond.
I don’t know what the eagle meant to Nik or Nate, and I only have an idea of what it meant to Jason. I only knew it was very important to them – and it was to me, one time, too. Now, I left it with only a picture of when I believed anything in the world could stand as tall and proud as I thought that eagle did.
I guess I’m still “it.”