Above the clouds, where the air is as pure as the sunlight, she floats with her arms by her sides, looking out at the sky around her. She can sense that her physical body waits on the earth beneath her, that this is a matter of perception, afforded her by virtue of an education at her mother’s knee.
She looked at the sky around her, endured the bone deep ache of being in the presence of beauty such as the world around her. Her soul trembled at what she had to do, but when she spoke, her voice rang out across the sky.
‘I am Esperanza, daughter of Dona Maria, I am curandera and I come to find something that has not been lost.’
Her voice echoed, but nothing moved or responded. A chill wind blew across her shoulders, wracking her with shivers. Was this the response? Mama had said that they would speak to her. Esperanza took that to mean a conversation, but this was a chil breeze.
She felt it then, a tugging sensation to her left, like a child pulling at the hem of mother’s skirt and she followed it.
She plummeted, too fast to scream and blacked out for a second with it’s terrible velocity.
Beneath her, the soft damp bed of moss laid damp against her cheek. She got up, wrapping her arms around herself as she looked out at a sea of trees, tall enough to pierce the low hanging clouds above her. So thick was the cloud that it made her strain to see the details. She shut her eyes, and listened.
The gentle trickle of running water, and she smiled to herself.
There is the Rio Abjao Rio, the river beneath the river. If you hear it, in the air, the spaces when you hear your true love’s voice, then you must follow it. She got to her feet and began to walk. Her steps were tentative, but she took a deep breath and carried on into the forest.
The noise of the water gained presence and volume as she drew nearer. The air was cool, damp in her nostrils and on her lips. She raked her hair away from her face, and wriggled her bare toes into the moss beneath her feet. She drew courage from herself, and kept moving.
Which was when she heard the roar, not of the river this time. She felt the thump of motion gathering pace as it came towards her, knocking back undergrowth and branches with no more care than you would walk through a column of smoke.
She looked into the bear’s eyes. The warmth of corn liquor, caramelised and liquid. Beautiful, and all the more so, for the grizzled ferocity of it’s expression. It roared and she put her hands up.
The bear reared back on it’s legs, blocked out the light with it’s size.
Which was when it began to chuckle.
Esperanza suffered fools all her life, but she had been unprepared for such mockery to arise in a place as pure as thought. Pure as sky.
‘You do not laugh at me without cause, spirit.’
It guffawed as it licked his left paw with his thick, pink tongue, watching her with an expression equal parts hunger and amusement. It thrilled her to be looked at in such a way, but frightened too.
‘No, it appears that I do not. What do you search for?’
She took a deep breath.
‘I come to surrender.’
The bear shook it’s head and lowered it’s eyes as it moved onto all fours.
‘To me, is it that simple?’
Her stomach grew hot and sour, the bear’s voice was gruff but smooth, burnished by endless experience and beneath it, a warmth like a good shot of tequila began to smoothe out her fears. She shook her head.
‘No, it is not. My mother taught me that.’
The bear looked around and grinned before returning it’s gaze to her.
‘And, what is that lesson? Humour a big old bear, would you.’
Esperanza closed her eyes, took a deep breath and spoke, not from memory but from heart.
‘A woman’s surrender is a gift, a demonstration of power and not defeat. We surrender to the cycles of life and death, the release of purest ecstacy and the duties of the flesh. To surrender such power is a gift and it is done not in the spirit of looking backwards.’
The bear padded over to her, sniffed and hummed deep in it’s throat, it’s massive chest reverberating the air around it with it’s vibration.
It licked along the line of her neck, the tongue was soft, but rough like a washcloth and it tickled her sending delighted shivers of sensation down her spine.
‘I accept, Esperanza.’
It lowered it’s shoulders to the ground then looked upwards at her.
‘What are you doing, Bear?’
‘I will take you to the rio abjao rio, Esperanza. I know the way.’
She walked around the bear, reaching forward to take purchase in the thick, brown fur on it’s back. She lifted her leg over, until she was astride. It’s heartbeat thumped like a drum and the hot engine of it’s breath moved her like the tides. It was frightening and exciting all at once.
The bear lifted it’s shoulders and turned it’s head.
‘Are you ready, Esperanza? I know that this frightens you, but the truth of a situation often does. ‘
She gripped the fur and smiled at the bear before her. Beneath her.
‘Then you must show me, Bear.’
It began to move, slow at fast but then faster.
It never quite matched the rapid pace of her heart though. Nothing was faster than that.