My grandmother was fond of telling stories. I was fond of hearing them. Avva told me stories of her favourite princes amongst the Cholas and the Pandyas, about her secret letters to the school headmaster and the games they played under the sun. She told me stories of love. And heartbreak. Ever since I was a boy, and I could tie the maanja to a kite and run around in front of the village temple to challenge the elder girl across the street. The girl who took down her kite as soon as I flew mine.
She once told me about a Phoenix. She told me they were real. Beautiful in golden red, and just as majestic as the books described them. Flying through the rubber forests across Kerala, but never too low to be bothered by the little boys who flew kites. Avva saw the Phoenix everyday when she went to to school, by walk, between those rubber woods. It used to fly amongst the other birds, but an effort to hide was as futile as hiding a Firefly in a haystack - the glow was unmistakable. She told me they never flapped their wings. They just glide through the wind, in a straight line, the way her headmaster would effortlessly draw one on the blackboard each morning. But the Phoenix once came down.
The majestic bird, despite it’s legendary powers of regeneration, was vulnerable to the delusions of love. The Phoenix once came down to fly around the girl from across the river who sang poems of rivers and destiny. She always wore shades of blue, one for each river she knew. She sang under the trees, over the roads, between her friends and solitary bends. And the Phoenix would join her with it’s dazzling squeal. A perfect chorus to her every verse. Drunk on their similarities and oblivious to their differences, they promised to stick together. The world watched in admiration as they danced around - Phoenix and girl, fire and water.
Avva had a very strange habit - she’d always take me to the terrace if a story was about to break apart. A healing to the twist that I might not appreciate, that I might not handle. The kites always made me feel better. She took me to the terrace today too, and I turned within - I loved the girl and the Phoenix too dearly. But heartbreaks cut open parts of your heart she says - that will hurt. And let the light pass through. A scar naked to the world, to show how strong you are. So I went with her.
She told me the girl had a new little wish - she wished to see the Phoenix ablaze. And the Phoenix obliged, because it knew it would always come back. A sacrifice too big, 500 years too soon - but love, you see, is the trinket that pinches your heart and tells you “It’ll be okay”. So the Phoenix burned - beautiful in golden red, and just as majestic as the books described them. The girl had never seen anything like it before and wished she could witness it again. She asked The Phoenix to do it again when it came back a couple years later, all the while as she played with the river beside her house. And it became their favourite game - to do it again and again and again. Until she got bored. And the Phoenix was forgotten beside the river.
I asked Avva what happened after that. Did the Phoenix ever come back? And she pointed to the sun. She told me that some lovers give away everything - and expect none in return. And look how bright they shine!
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