Writing for the past few weeks has been impossible for me. It seems my muse is in quarantine as well, but it will come back. I can only hope. Meanwhile, I have been enjoying the idleness and listening to the voice of the planet.
Earth is speaking. The oceans and beaches are cleaner. Dolphins are seen jumping close to shores. Birds can be heard singing at now silent iconic urban parks. And at night, the sky glows with the light of stars that before were invisible to me.
As I was thinking about the voice of the Earth, I remembered a short story I wrote in September 2018. The title is, “The Voice of The Cicada” and it won second place in a Spanish magazine contest. I have never published it because it is part of an anthology I have been working for a while.
I wrote this story after I fell in love with the landscapes and foothills of the eastern Colombian state named Casanare. I visited two years ago and spent a week with one of my uncles who owns a rice plantation in a small town called Nunchía. I hope you like it and share it. I give you,
The Voice of The Cicada
It was a hot summer afternoon. The sultry weather had risen after the storm, and the smell of the wet grass mixed with that from the red dirt road. Geronimo awaited, patiently, for the rain drops to stop falling, so he could go out and play in the patio. Gero, as everybody called him, was the youngest of three brothers. He had just turned seven, and he had asthma, a condition that kept him out of school several days of the year. He was a curious and mischievous boy who spent his free time walking around the countryside or reading books.
His mother, Lucy, had been an elementary teacher before she married, and although she had stopped working, she kept a small collection of encyclopedias and journals with longing. Of her three boys, Geronimo was the son with whom she shared a devotion to literature. On the contrary, Miguel, his father, loved numbers and science and applied his knowledge working as a farmer. He was the foreman of the San Sebastian Hacienda, the biggest rice farm in the Nunchía Savannah. Although he didn’t have a college degree, he knew the rice pests like the back of his hand.
At last, it stopped raining, and little Geronimo put on his hand-me-down rain boots–which covered his knees–and ran outside of the house jumping and splashing in every single puddle along the way, scaring the lizards that came out of the borrows looking for the sun. When Lucy heard the door close, she looked out the kitchen window and yelled to her son, “Gero! It’s dinner time soon. Come back in and wash your hands. Your father and brothers are not far behind.“
Nonetheless, his mother’s words went in one ear and out the other as Geronimo continued his quest for the cicadas, which had already started to sing. When he reached the barb wire fence–it separated the patio of his house from the green horizon that met the skyline far, far away–Geronimo dropped to the ground and crawled under the fence very carefully to avoid tearing his clothes.
He walked through the rice crops that reached his waist line, touching them with his fingertips until he got closer to a robust and leafy tree with aromatic white flowers. He sat down comfortably on one of the roots that peeked out of the ground, reached out into his pocket for a snack, and took a deep breath. Even though Geronimo was allergic to pollen and dust in general, he loved most being outdoors and listening to the silence of nature.
Suddenly, a whiny voice said, “Gero, didn’t you hear your mother?” Startled, Geronimo dropped the guava pastry on the ground and got up.
“Who is there?” asked the boy looking in every direction.
“I am here. Look up“, the voice answered.
Geronimo stood on his tip-toes as he grabbed firmly one of the branches. Just there, close to his nose, the little boy found a green cicada with shiny wings that looked like a prism when the sun’s rays pierced through them.
“What is your name?” Geronimo asked the cicada.
“My name is Celeste, and today is my birthday number seventeen!” she answered flapping her beautiful wings happily.
“Congratulations. I am only seven…” said the boy somewhat discouraged. “Have you always lived in this tree? It is my favorite,” the boy continued saying to the cicada.
Moving her antennas Celeste answered, “Yes, since I was a nymph. I slept in its roots underground and today I can finally fly!“
Puzzled, the boy asked, “Where is your family? Are you alone?“
The cicada answered, lowering her voice, “I only have my children and they are sleeping.“
Geronimo stared at her for a few seconds wondering if he was dreaming. He didn’t remember going to bed and his stomach was growling, so he knew he hadn’t eaten yet. “Holy cow! I am awake!“, shouted the boy filled with emotion.
“Of course, you are awake! Do you think I would waste my time with a dreamer? I have a favor to ask,” said the cicada with a serious voice.
The boy answered with conviction, “Anything you need“.
Clearing her throat, Celeste told Geronimo melancholy, “I have to leave soon, and my children have to stay behind. Could you look after this tree, come back in seventeen years, and say, out loud, I love you?“
Right in that moment, Geronimo saw her father’s car passing on the road, so he ran home. As he did he yelled “I promise, Celeste!“
Feeling a little short of breath, Geronimo slowed down his pace. As he got closer to the barb wire fence, he got on all fours to crawl under it, but miscalculated and felt the metal scratching his back.
When he walked through the door, he tried to go to his room, but his parents called him. Dinner was served and steaming on the table. When everybody was finished, his mother took him to take a bath while his father helped his brothers with their math homework.
“How did you get this Gero? Did you cross the barb wire again?” asked Lucy when she saw the scratch on his back. The boy told her the truth and her mother’s eyes opened wide with anguish.
“Gero, the fields are being sprayed with herbicides! Do you want to get sick?“
His parents had told him countless times to stay away from the rice fields when the fumigation planes flew low. That night, his mother sent Geronimo to bed without reading him any books, as punishment. Any other night, he would have complained, but his thoughts were with Celeste.
The next morning, the little rascal felt better, but he lied to his mother when she asked him if he was able to go to school. Geronimo needed to make sure that Celeste and her babies were safe. So, when his mother was distracted doing the laundry, he snuck out of the house and ran to his tree. He sat on the roots and waited for Celeste. He called her name, over and over again. She never came. Feeling blue, Geronimo walked home and never told anyone.
Time passed. Seventeen years to be exact. Geronimo became an agronomist engineer, making his family very proud. His older brothers, Pablo and Juan, did not want to go to college and chose to stay in the country and raise cattle instead. Until Geronimo graduated from the university, his father Miguel felt he had failed his wife, who always dreamed of seeing her kids become professionals. Ten years ago, Lucy had died of a sudden heart attack.
To welcome his son, Miguel organized a big surprise party at their house. One of the guests of honor was the owner of Saint Sebastian Hacienda, Don Alejandro. Geronimo felt great appreciation for him because he had always been very generous with his family. When Geronimo saw him at the door, the young man rushed to shake his hand.
With a paternal look, Don Alejandro told Geronimo, “Congratulations Gero. Your mother would be very proud of you today.” They both sighed. “And so, when do you start working?“
Not knowing what to say, Geronimo responded frankly, “Don Alejandro, I don’t have a job yet.“
The owner of San Sebastian was an elegant man, very affable; he had salt and pepper hair, and hazel eyes. He looked deeply into Geronimo’s eyes, and as he rested his hand on his shoulder, the man said, “Gero, when you were a little boy, I saw you walking around the rice fields at sunset many times. I remember you skipped school and sat, for hours, on the roots of the trees eating snacks. I bet the cicadas spoke to you. This is your home, and I want you to work with your father. Teach us all what you have learned!”
With his eyes filled with tears, Geronimo hugged Don Alejandro and Miguel and the rest of the people in the party clapped and cheered them.
The party ended a couple of hours later and the young agronomist went out for a walk. The sky was painted with orange and pink clouds, and he could feel the warm hug of a soft breeze. He walked through the back patio. When he saw the new door his father had installed in the barb wire fence, he couldn’t help smiling as he remembered the countless shirts he ripped when he was a boy.
Then, the sight of his favorite tree, made him feel a strange inner calling that made him walk toward it. His heart started beating faster the closer he got, and just when he stepped on one of the roots, he remembered Don Alejandro’s words, “I bet the cicadas spoke to you.”
Suddenly, a familiar whiny voice said, “Hello!”. Geronimo looked up and he saw a shiny green cicada. “Did you get a scar?” the cicada asked. Rapidly, the memories started rushing back. Geronimo remained speechless and pinched his arm to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
“What scar?” the young man asked as he sat comfortably resting his back against the tree trunk.
“You are Gero, right? My mother told me about you” said the little cicada.
“Indeed I am. And let me guess… you are Celeste’s daughter, aren’t you?” Geronimo replied playfully.
Flapping her wings in glee, making them shine in the light, the cicada said “Yes! My name is Suzanne and today is my birthday number seventeen!”
Geronimo smiled and continued, “Congratulations. I have a present for you. It is a message from your mother”.
Suzanne asked with curiosity, “Really? What is it?”
Clearing his throat Geronimo spoke the words, “I love you.”
The cicada flew toward him and landed on a closer branch. “That message was not for me. It was for this land, the one where you were born and where you came back. Welcome home child!”
The legend of the Nunchia Savannah says, only those chosen by Mother Earth can hear the voice of the cicadas. And whoever can talk to them, must have a pure and humble heart to understand the laws of nature and protect its balance.
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