It has been a while now that all is quiet in the mysterious cave named the Womb of Time, where the writer is hosting the spirits of Charlemagne, Zyriab and Samuel ibn Nagrella. All four are observing the scene playing on the waterfall at the entrance of the cave, which serves as a movie screen. They are witnessing a conversation in a Venetian masks store, between the spirits of Annie Oakley and Marco Polo. Marco is about to reveal details about the enigmatic Kököchin. He has just “introduced” her to Annie, through a doll that embodies this new character.
-Nice to meet you, Kököchin, I am Annie, she tells the doll in Marco’s hands.
Then, looking at her adopted eaglet, for which she repurposed her hat and scarf into a cozy nest sitting on her lap, she adds:
-And this is… well, I still don’t have a name for my winged baby…
The ‘baby’ flaps its wings before dozing off, digesting the raw fish Marco brought for the eaglet together with tea for Annie and himself.
-Why not give the eaglet a name that reminds you of how it appeared in your life? Marco suggests before taking a tea sip.
-Good idea, says Annie. I might call him —I’ve decided it was a ‘he’— “Blue Sky”, because he literally fell from the blue sky of Venice into its pandemic blue waters, well, into the dolphin’s mouth…
Upon hearing the chosen name for the baby bird, Marco’s tea goes down the wrong way and he starts coughing.
-Are you ok? Annie asks, patting Marco in the back. Do you think it’s a bad name?
-Oh no, on the contrary. It is a beautiful name… Marco manages to utter in a whispered, constricted voice suffocated by the tea mishap. It’s actually the perfect name, coming to you at the perfect time.
Looking at the doll, he explains:
-I have decided to tell you more about Kököchin, and you’ve just given your bird a name that is the official translation of hers, a direct reference to the Blue Sky…
-Oh, I understand why you’re choking then… Annie smiles.
-Haha, laughs Marco, a bit embarrassed. I think destiny definitely made you come to me to help me address my feelings. Are you sure Kököchin and you did not meet before in spirit?
-Not that I know of, smiles Annie, but I am more than willing to help you two have a much needed conversation. I’m sure the doll won’t mind if I speak on her behalf. So, would you mind giving her back to me as a prop? She says as she puts the ‘bird nest’ and its precious content on the floor.
-Of course! I guess she finally found a true she-friend, smiles Marco as he hands his gorgeous doll back to Annie. Thanks for willing to be her voice. I have missed a feminine presence around here…
-Ha! Well, all my life I’ve tried to appear feminine despite my job, so I guess now it’s time to really embrace and embody ALL aspects of my femininity, through borrowing another woman’s feelings!
-See how our true selves will eventually be revealed in this masks shop? Marco says with a wink. My three daughters used to come here in spirit too… It’s been centuries that they no longer visit me though. When we were all alive, they would beg me to give them permission to play with this doll, but I always refused… One of the very few things they could not get from their daddy.
-This is truly an honor to be given permission to hold her, then, says Annie. I promise I’ll handle her with the utmost care.
-I know you will, Marco says. I noticed how carefully you examined Kököchin’s garment earlier. It really moved me… Before leaving her, I kept a piece of her dress in a pouch, and I made this doll’s dress out of it. It was so hard to leave Kököchin that owning part of her belongings eased the pain of separation. It was as if I was taking a part of her back home, when “my duty” was done, my family’s last mission for Kublai Khan.
-What duty or mission was it exactly?
-To take Kököchin to her husband-to-be, Arghun Khan, from China to Persia… Only that when we arrived, two years and three months after we had set sail, and many, many people had died during the perilous journey, the bridegroom, too, had died, Marco explains.
-Well, sorry for the husband-to-be-who-in-the-end-never-was, but, I mean, ventures Annie, it’s obvious that you loved that Kököchin person, so wasn’t it “good news” for you two?
-That’s women’s heart-logic… Most women I’ve known in my life stood by Love. Back in the day, the man I was stood by ‘honor’, and ‘given word’, and ‘loyalty’ to the men I worked for and traveled with… So… After some time spent in Persia trying to figure out what would happen to Kököchin, she ended up marrying Ghazan, the son of the dead bridegroom… Therefore it was time for me, my father and my uncle to come back to Venice.
-But what about her? protests Annie in an angry tone, holding the Kököchin doll very close to Marco’s face- What about you two??? It makes NO SENSE AT ALL!!!!
-Love-wise, it doesn’t, he agrees. But there were such powerful forces in action “apart from us”… Besides, among the nomadic tribes of Mongolia, it was very commonplace to marry the widow of one’s father or older brother; a way to give a woman protection, I guess.
-But YOU were the one who had given her protection during that journey, why wouldn’t you continue, taking her with you?
-I know, that’s the precise question that has silently torn my soul ever since… Talking about it helps me to let go of grief and guilt, I believe.
-Good, says Annie in a calmer tone, trying not to be too harsh with the man. We should not let those feelings fester. I’ve noticed that they ‘contaminate’ our surroundings even after we pass… So back to when you were alive. Did you keep in touch? What happened to her? Annie asks, really worried for the poor Kököchin.
-No, we didn’t stay in touch. Messenger hawks would not fly that far, Marco adds with a sad smile. She cried her eyes out when we left, and I still don’t know how I managed to keep my own tears from flowing…
-Well that’s the problem! That’s what makes us sick, keeping it all inside… I’m so upset for her also. Was she in danger? Annie asks, without really knowing why this concern arises.
-I am not sure; maybe… My father and uncle were good at sensing danger coming, and they sure were in a hurry to leave Persia and go back to Venice, for our own safety they said, because the future of the huge territory under the Mongolian dynasty was uncertain after Kublai Khan’s passing… We were told he died while we were still traveling. The Golden Paiza, the ambassadors’ tablet given by the Khan, helped us travel throughout Asia without problem though, and my father made sure we had paper money besides all the jewels we had taken with us. Who knew Italy would also draw my old face on one of its banknotes before they changed their currency to ‘Euros’…
-So you were rich, Annie concludes.
-Not really, because the only real wealth is that of the heart, sighs Marco. And let me tell you I felt extremely poor when we left Persia. A few weeks before our paths split, Kököchin displayed the exact opposite of what was in her heart; even on the very rare occasions when we were by ourselves. That was the harshest part, because her behavior didn’t make sense at all. It’s as if she already knew what would happen, for all of us, ahead of time, and wanted to push me away for good. She wouldn’t say anything. She seemed to stoically accept fate and the Mongolian rules, whatever they might bring. I had a feeling she thought that a superior force, the famous Eternal Blue Sky she was named after and to which she had a special connection, was taking her to a place that was written in her, well, in our stars. One of the few things she openly shared with me during those days in Persia was that she kept seeing a ghostly figure, that of a young woman, choking to death. She said the young person wanted Kököchin to walk in her shoes for a while. That’s the only thing Kököchin shared before turning silent, and then stern and even disdainful with me until we said goodbye. I did not understand… And I felt like a coward and a fool… Her only moment of true authenticity and vulnerability was on the morning my father, my uncle and I left… Just before our departure, like I said, she cried a lot, but earlier she found the strength to make me laugh, reminding me of my awkwardness the day I had tried to ride the reindeer of an old shaman woman of her clan… I was so tall that I was the one walking the reindeer rather than the opposite…
-Haha! I never rode a reindeer, but I did drive a moose sleigh once… remembers Annie. Hey, after all maybe it’s Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer that has been guiding me in the canals along with the dolphin… Maybe it’s why I saw Christmas candy canes in those gondola poles! Anyway, the moose’s name was Jerry, and he got us in trouble when he hurtled himself onto a vendor’s apple cart to eat half of the fruits… I paid for the loss of the man’s income and all was well, but for a split second, worrying about the vendor’s possible reaction, I was back to my childhood terror for whatever “terrible mistake” I would make while working for the Wolv… AAHOOOOOOOOH!!!
All of a sudden, Annie is possessed by a whirlwind power that makes her howl like the “wolves” she intended to mention. She is no longer in charge of her own thoughts or words.
-I am grateful for those memories of “deer, so dear” moments, Annie now says in a voice that is no longer hers. My host has just mentioned our sacred ancestor, the wolf, together with a member of the deer family, therefore reuniting the sacred couple of Mongolia’s mythic past. So I will allow her to walk in my ghutals. (…) What… What is happening to me? asks Annie shaking her head, struggling to come back to her real self. I don’t even know what ‘ghutals’ are!!
-‘Ghutals’ are traditional Mongolian boots with upturned tips, explains Marco, in awe of Annie’s transformation but still able to provide information about what he knows well. The tips of the boots are upturned so that their wearers won’t hurt the grass as they walk. I was told so by…
-Yes, by me, like so many other things you learned, Annie interrupts, back in the voice of otherness that came with the wolf howl. Tell my host to let go of her annoying need to always be in charge and control, otherwise I will lose the connection…
-Annie, says Marco in a haze that also makes him sense sudden deep knowledge, please relax, let go of your strong personality, I beg you, because Kököchin is really speaking through you! Oh Annie you have made it! You are about to give me what I’ve been longing for all those centuries… She is back and finally talking to me!!!
For the first time in her life AND afterlife, for the well-being of someone’s soul, Annie will let go… She allows her ghost self to totally vanish into the collective flow of consciousness, which enables souls to become a conduit for Spirit once they have humbled themselves. She is willing to let Kököchin speak through her. She takes a deep breath and willingly embodies her new role, to hopefully fulfill her mission.
-I am proud of you, Marco, says Kököchin through Annie. You proved to me that you understood my motives as you explained our circumstances to my host. I will call her Ana, because it means ‘me’ in Arabic, the language of that Syrian friend of yours whose maps you borrowed to travel so far away, north of the Rising Sun, heading for Fusang, where my host is from. Did you know that an Italian man who lived centuries after we did, a person named Rossi, took copies of the maps your daughters had drawn when he traveled to Fusang, in what mortals call the nineteenth century? My spirit followed him for a while, making sure he took these important documents with him…
I bet ‘Ana’ did not know about that, since she was busy traveling all over the world. Maybe she and Rossi crossed each other’s paths? Anyway… I think ‘ana’ means ‘me’ in Persian too, but I did not have time to learn much of the language… I died young; a few years after your departure. It was meant to be, and now you understand, Marco. I knew you would… This is why I was silent. I had to be silent, not only in acceptance of my fate, but because the laws of Tenger are to be heard, learned and understood in silence. I knew you would eventually develop enough sensibility to grasp my silent teachings and Tenger’s guidance.
-Well, I didn’t have much of a choice, Marco objects with a smile. I do need words though, we ‘Latins’ are very fond of spoken expression. I am grateful to finally be talking to you again ALMOST directly, instead of dreaming your evasive gaze again and again…
-I understand, she acknowledges. Patience is a great virtue… So, back to that time you and I had to say goodbye. My aloofness then was due to what I had seen both in the Blue Sky and in the dark womb of the Earth, there where murky waters sigh. I decided to ‘pay’ for the two of us, for something the Blue Sky whispered in my dreams. The exact reason for it no longer really matters now. Let’s just say all was about cosmic balance, which I understood through the vision of a whirling dervish dancing among the stars. You knew the name of Tenger, but you never really understood Tenger’s ways, until now.
-So you were always by my side, teaching me? Marco asks.
-One way or another, yes. When I died my spirit traveled the world again, willing to reenact our beautiful —although sometimes dangerous— travels together. I also enjoyed learning so many things from the living world. I am sorry that something born in the land where you and I met brought this disease to today’s world. But then again, I hope people understand it’s all about restoring balance. Light and Darkness, Yin and Yang, those basic concepts many people have forgotten in the ‘present’ times…
Annie’s eyes scan the room, searching for something. She gets up and walks towards the shop window to grab the cut-out paper doll that triggered her conversation with Marco.
-What do you want Pantaleone for? Marco asks, not sure if he’s asking the lady born in the 13th century or the one born in the 19th century.
-I have observed and learned your culture for a long time now, Kököchin answers. I know that this character’s name comes from the conquering habit of so many men who were born in your noble city. They would ‘plant the lion’, pianta-leone, in the lands they settled, to invite the Venetian symbol to roar around the world… ‘Ana’ was drawn to the “unicorn” in the shop window, and I as a doll like hanging out both with the unicorn and the lion.
In the cave, the author, fascinated by the channeling session taking place, is commenting on the conversation.
-This lion takes me back to the movie I mentioned earlier, the one with Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz. In that story the lion was a cowardly character, who gained courage thanks to journeying with the young woman. Maybe Annie IS Dorothy after all! Maybe the iconic movie does influence what happens on the other side of our water screen… What if Marco’s cowardice unconsciously drew Kököchin towards that papier-mâché lion? Doesn’t Marco’s last name mean ‘chicken’ after all? Poor one though, I shouldn’t say this…
-Maybe you shouldn’t, chuckles Samuel, but the image makes me laugh. Maybe that’s why we kept hearing the rooster when you came to the bathhouse in Granada, Charlemagne! Haha!
-Who knows, who knows… answers the Emperor, who keeps for himself the fact that he would not appreciate being made fun of like this, although he starts to understand that a bit of self-derision may also be part of the chakra work he has recently learned about.
-I will write this anecdote in my pomegranate ink notes, for the record… Samuel continues. Oh, now that I mention pomegranates, the ‘chicken’ reminds me of another story within a story within a story, about three dervishes, all blind of an eye. The second of them was once turned into a monkey, and restored to his manly appearance by a Princess who lost her life after she broke the spell…
-Right, agrees the author, and maybe bad things happened because the monkey was compelled to act in a certain way, as if summoned by a superior force, like those minions of the Wicked Witch of the West.
-I don’t know about that witch, says Ziryab, but I do know that story too. It was supposed to happen when and where I lived. There was a fight between a Djinn and the Princess; both kept on shapeshifting to try to defeat their opponent. In one of their transformations, the Rooster-Princess could not eat the Pomegranate Seed-Genie before they were both turned into two fish fighting in a canal. Once out of the water, they ended up consumed by an inner fire. Why does this story show up in ours?
-I know the story too, says the author; it’s from the Arabian Nights. To answer your question Ziryab, maybe it has to do with the three calenders or dervishes who invited themselves to stay at the abode of three strange women, where they ended up sharing their stories with them and the sultan, vizier and eunuch in chief in disguise. You three could be one of the two male groups, Marco and his father and uncle, the other… Why not? I know that stories have a way to weave themselves in the tapestry of real life, mixing their threads in worlds both seen and unseen. From that Arabian tale I remember wondering why the women who interacted with the second dervish had to be treated so harshly. One ended up with her hand cut off, and the other burned to death. If I were to rewrite their story, I would find a way for the Princess to be reborn from her ashes, like the Phoenix atop your hoodah, gentlemen… Maybe this phoenix means our own Princess, Kököchin, will be transformed as well? Maybe that’s why the four of us remembered that particular story to give a new chance to women, both in the unseen and seen realms. Maybe this conversation between Marco and Kököchin will free him from his guilt and sorrow and her from her perceived curse, the cosmic responsibility she took upon herself… You know, the shapeshifting part of that Arabian story always struck me as a form of accelerated soul learning. What is the story of humanity but a succession of souls shifting forms to learn new depths as they live stories within stories within stories? I believe stories help us deal with our own unresolved issues, through personas acquired by characters that assist us in reevaluating our lives…
On the other side of the water screen, Kököchin, although unaware of the current conversation in the Womb of Time, seems to intuitively apply the author’s theory, as she liberates part of her ill feelings through both Annie’s voice and the cut-out character her spirit host is holding.
-You know, she tells Marco, the day Pantaleone was added in this shop window, I was upset. I’m pretty sure Venetians took the profession of your father and uncle as a model to create this greedy character of the Commedia dell’arte who does not let lovers live their life…
-Did you resent my father for our departure? Marco inquires.
-I did for a while, yes, she says, as Annie’s hand harshly puts the cut-out figure on the table. I enjoyed seeing comedies in which Pantaleone was ridiculed in the end. I felt for the lovers who reminded me of us, although on the other hand I also resented you, for not being able to go against your family’s will, against your given word to other men, against the Khan’s rules… But stories helped me on my healing journey, and on my way to wisdom, to understand why things happened the way they did. I was young and idealistic before truly walking the road of my shamanic culture. When Tenger sent me visions of that choking young woman, and dreams of the Persian dervish, I started to understand why you and I had to experience such a heartbreaking parting. I met a puppeteer behind the clouds veil who helped me in my final acceptance of our fate in that life. Someone had to embrace our shadows, for the two of us, Marco… So I did.
After a heavy silence, Annie takes her elephant-hide case to grab something she kept inside: the chakras illustration she received from Charging Crow and Black Hawk when they woke her from her slumber in the gondola. The case no longer contains the shoes Annie discarded to wear her red Victorian boots. They have been magically replaced by Mongolian ghutals.
-Oh this is wonderful! Kököchin exclaims. ‘Ana’ IS really walking in my ghutals! Look, Marco! Mongolian boots have materialized in her weird suitcase! And this image she is holding!! This is it. She has let the Cosmic Energy blow its magical wind through her, and she switched… the CROWN!
-The crown? Di quale ‘corona’ stai parlando?
-Well I am talking about the crown chakra, of course. But I have a feeling it is also related to the crown/corona virus… The chakra work illustrated here shows how everything must be in constant compensation. Annie has transcended her attachment to her earthly persona, to let herself be ‘crowned’ by true cosmic energy. Her arrogance and self-importance was her own virus, and humbling herself is setting her free, bringing that particular soul aspect back to balance.
-I know nothing about those chakras, says Marco.
-Oh yes you do, Marco. You were taught a few things about them. But maybe you chose to forget, preferring to talk about impersonal things like those five kings in the memoirs you dictated to that man in your cell…
-Oh I see you did follow my adventures…
-Of course, and I have an excellent memory. Don’t you remember the rainbow-mustache man we met one morning during our stay in “Maabar”?
-I remember our stay in Maabar across the Island of Seilan, but…Rainbow-mustache?
-Yes, the shape of that Indian man’s mustache reminded me of a rainbow, and it made us laugh afterwards because he used natural elements to represent rainbow colors. When we met him he was bathing in the Kaveri River, where beautiful spotted deer were drinking, unafraid…
-But of course, Charlemagne thinks for himself, deer again… The last animal interaction during my encounter with the tree, back in New Mexico where my journey started… Everything definitely seems to be connected.
Looking at the corn ear in his hand, the Emperor starts to think that its kernels could represent all living beings and their interdependence on the ear-th.
-You have a better memory than mine, Marco admits to Kököchin, trying in vain to remember that mysterious rainbow-mustache man.
-He communicated with us for a while, drawing figures in the sand with a stick. He drew a big circle around a human figure, and then small whirlpools in the person’s body, the seven chakras. He used leaves, fruits and berries of seven different colors to identify each chakra. He showed us, through facial expressions, how each chakra affected humans, both in lack and excess. Then he went back and forth with his stick to his drawing and the white cloth he used as his garment, making ample circular movements to show that the color white encompasses it all, just like the sun, which he pointed at often. Later on in my spirit journey I learned that what he referred to is called refraction of the color prism.
– Color prison?
-Haha! True, ‘prism’ sounds like ‘prison’, just like bodies can be seen as prisons to the soul, and our separation felt like a prison, but from a prison cell you also created something incredible that people still talk about centuries later…
-Thank you for your appreciation, my beautiful Blue Sky… Where would your name place you, chakra-wise?
-There where —or through which— we are finally meeting, in the throat, expressing all that was left unspoken for centuries.
-The present moment sure feels like a prison break, smiles Marco.
-I agree, blushes Annie on behalf of Kököchin. But back to that rainbow man’s teachings: with his stick he drew a big spiral in the air, and an arch above his work; pointing at the sky again. I believe he was referring to the mirror between above and below, but he was also trying to explain something with a horizontal line he drew by the chakras. Have you really forgotten all that encounter?
-I’m afraid I have, admits Marco.
-Maybe I dreamed it after all, wonders Kököchin. But it felt very real. The man drew a circle on that line, with three ‘X’ inside, which represented us three in the moment we met him. Then he went further down the line, on the right, and drew one ‘X’, letting us know it was him. Out of nowhere he produced a pearl he held on his forehead for a second, before placing it on his ‘X’, and he repeated ‘Matrimandir’ while drawing little petals all around the pearl. Then he went further down the line again and placed the two of us, drawing our respective ‘X’ with dotted lines, with a little cloud above. Then raising his index finger, he seemed to warn of a danger, and he drew spikes all around the circle surrounding his first drawing of the human body. Now I believe this man was foreseeing this present time. The time of the ‘pomander’ threatening living beings… Back to ‘our X’ in dotted lines, I think they meant our spirits, no longer embodied; it meant we would meet again in this difficult time for the living… Finally he took the Khan’s golden pass showing out of your pants and partially buried it in the sand. As you tried to protest, he touched your heart, showed the buried pass, and mimicked weighing scales. As you stayed silent staring at the ground, he sighed then drew raindrops falling from the cloud above our ‘X’; he touched my cheek and yours at the same time, mimicking tears running down our faces. Then he finally erased the spikes on the bubble surrounding his chakra man.
-Healing the pomander… Marco whispers.
-With no more words, he went back to the river and disappeared from our sight, as you would disappear from my life months later…
-You think he was telling us about our story, both as living beings and spirits?
-Yes, I do. Several recent signs told me that finally the time of our cleansing cloud had come.
-What signs? Marco asks, eager to know more.
-First, those figures clad in the colors of the rainbow when Carnival started.
Then, the boat disguises for the Cannaregio Parade. They were telling us that soon you would catch up with your past in China. There was a rooster boat, reminder of your last name, chasing a rat, the one sign we honor this year in the Chinese calendar.
-I did see those boats, but I hadn’t thought of such meaning…
-Well I did. And then at night, that show, the purple color, and the balloon grapes that announced…
-…the pomander, says Marco again, finishing Kököchin’s sentence.
-Yes, confirms Kököchin. The color purple present during the whole show both evoked a person’s skin color when they choke, but also the crown chakra. That man clad in white imprisoned in a bubble was warning the Venetians and the world about how they would have to live for a while, and he also reminded me both of our rainbow-mustache friend and the dervish I dreamed about in Persia where you took me. Then I thought about the situation of people in lockdown in the world of the living: loved ones separated from each other and unable to touch or to openly display their love. It feels like a huge reenactment of what tore the two of us…
After you left Persia, I started to have strange dreams about that dervish man who told me he was from there. In my dreams he spoke as if he knew you well, and he showed me how, from a cell, you would one day talk about what you saw in your Asian journeys. He showed me how you would briefly mention a town where that man’s life ended, a town you praised for its carpets… He said that even though my life would end early, I could soul travel the world, and that it would feel like flying on such carpets… So here I am now, because I believed that man who spoke like a Mongolian shaman who knows how to travel between realms. In my dreams he told me he believed that people are all connected; he shared with me secrets of his soul, my soul, your soul, all souls. He revealed his darkest secret to me, and he said that after his spirit spent a very long time underground, he understood that when we are born in the world of the living we all come from the same tree, only that we don’t remember that tree, so we keep searching for the very tree like lost dancers following the trunk’s circular paths, only visible to the naked eye when the tree is cut down and shows its many rings, keepers of humanity’s calendar… So the dancers become the rings to remember the Earth dancing on her axis, like shamans riding their sky stallions when the drum takes them on a journey along the endless rivers of the Blue Sky… Let me grab something.
Kököchin’s bodily host gets up and goes to a corner of the shop, where she finds a rolled Anatolian carpet. She lifts the heavy carpet and carries it to the center of the room, where Marco is still sitting at the table where they were having tea with Annie. There, she unrolls the carpet, and out of such beautiful wool garden appears a two-string instrument whose sound box is in the shape of a trapeze and its neck surmounted by a horse head carving.
-My horsehead fiddle, Marco smiles. How did you know it was there?
-That doesn’t matter… What matters is its symbolism… The first horsehead fiddle ever made, our beautiful morin khuur, was born from a sad demise, that of a magic white horse. The slain animal appeared to his grieving owner to suggest the making of an instrument that would bring them back together, never to be separated again. The instrument was made out of the hide, hair and bones of the horse… Listen how it whinnies in the wind, she says as she starts playing the horse instrument.
Still watching the scene from her cave with Charlemagne and his Muslim friends, the writer is weeping in silence. Zyriab, fascinated by the instrument’s sound and meaning, has noticed the emotion she seems to share with him.
-Sometimes the only way to truly appreciate beauty is through tears, isn’t it? he whispers.
-I guess so, says the writer. That horse violin story echoes that of a boy who could not speak through words… On the day he was born he was greeted by a magic blue elk that blessed the boy through stomping the ground eleven times with his hooves before leaving. The animal made such an impression that the boy was named after him: Blue Elk… The stomping was for the number of years the boy would have to wait before meeting his name giver again. When they did, they became inseparable, the boy riding his elk mount in the sunset and telepathically telling the elk about his love for a girl. I am not sure what her name was; maybe Hupohana, or Thulena. One day the elk spoke important words to the boy who could still not utter one word himself. The four-legged told its friend that soon it would be gone, and that when it happened, the boy would have to search for the elk’s remains where they usually met. There he would find its antlers planted in the ground, from which something good would grow. The elk indeed departed soon, under the mortal blow of a foreign hunter’s arrow. The following spring, the grieving boy returned to their secret spot to find that a red cedar had grown twining its limbs with the elk’s antlers, which became one with the tree. The boy fell asleep by that magnificent cedar, and the elk appeared in his dream, promising to give him a voice, so that Blue Elk could finally speak to the girl he loved. Blue Elk awoke and knew that his voice would be that of a cedar limb turned into a flute, whose language the one he loved understood…
-Maybe the elk spoke to Kököchin too, encouraging her to find a way for Marco to finally hear her, Ziryab suggests. Let’s see what else we can learn from the other ‘mount instrument’ she holds, he says with a wink.
The author smiles in her tears and turns back to the water screen. Through Annie, Kököchin is still playing the horsehead fiddle, whose lament has finally enabled Marco to release long-repressed tears.
-I am sorry for everything, Kököchin, he sobs. I love you so much. Tell me there is still time for us!
Kököchin interrupts her playing and through Annie, takes her lover’s hand.
-Of course, there is still time for us, Marco. That’s why I’m here now; that’s why I chose this instrument to call back our magic stallions. One string is made out of male horse hair, the other out of a mare’s hair. Their union through sound mirrors our union in spirit. Come galloping in the blue sky with me, we will write a new, beautiful story, as we lean on the trunk of the sacred tree. Before leaving this world of the living with you, let me give you a last present, and I also want to thank Annie for being my voice… Tell me, Marco, do you still have the reindeer pouch in which you kept part of my dress when you left?
-Yes, I still have it.
-Please go get it for me. My host is very tired, I will have to leave her soon.
Marco hurries to the back shop and comes back a minute later with the pouch Kököchin mentioned.
-Now please, she says, look carefully for something you haven’t noticed in all those years… There’s still something inside the pouch.
Marco turns the pouch upside down and shakes it, excited to find what went unnoticed for so long. A braided lock of black hair falls from it. He looks at Annie/Kököchin, too moved to speak.
-It’s time to reunite stallion and mare, Kököchin says, using Annie’s hands one last time to tie her own lock of hair to the doll’s wrist, causing Annie to drop the doll and faint a little. When the famous sharpshooter regains her consciousness, the doll is gone, replaced by Kököchin herself sitting at the table with her lover, both holding hands and looking at Annie with eyes filled with happiness.
-I am so grateful for what you have enabled, dear ‘Ana’, smiles Kököchin. You unlocked a very intricate knot, stuck in a loop for many centuries. Soon Marco and I will be gone, but I wanted to share one more thing, now that you have regained your spirit as ‘Annie Oakley’. You see, in life, you were one of the first people to appear on that magical storytelling device brought by modernity… One day as I roamed my ancient land in spirit, I felt for a moment I had managed to go back in time, to re-live my life. I heard someone call my name, I heard Italian spoken next to me, I saw our traditional clothes, and strange devices held by men who appeared to be blind of an eye, because I could only see their left eye; their right eye was hidden behind what, I learned later, is called a camera lens. They were telling your story, Marco! They changed our circumstances a lot, but they got one thing right, our love… In the story those people retold about us, our encounters took place by a beautiful tree. The woman who played me loved it, and one day she was told to stop looking at that tree as if it was the embodiment of love’s magic, because it was a dead tree the crew had glued to the ground for the purpose of the movie scenes. She was so shocked and sad, and I was so furious, that I wept on its branches for the two of us. The next day, there she was again, looking sadly at the tree, when she spotted a green shoot… She cried and laughed at the same time, and I knew she was transformed forever, and she, too, woke me up from my slumber and the old mind pattern my spirit longed to leave behind. I did a little telepathy trick to make her carve a tiny heart on the tree trunk, and kept the detached bark with me. The tiny piece of wood led me towards my heart’s longing, my true love’s abode who, like me, couldn’t and wouldn’t let go of us.
Kököchin pauses her story to show the tiny piece of heart-shaped bark glued on top of the carved horse head of the music instrument.
-I never noticed that! exclaims Marco, in tears…
-I know, sometimes subtlety is not your forte, amore, she smiles… But ever since that piece of bark took me here, my spirit has traveled back and forth between Venice and Mongolia, waiting for the right time for our ‘real’ reunion… One day back in my Mongolian wanderings, three women from Europe came with the same cameras I had first seen for the reenacting of our story. They wanted to tell another real story, that of Corinne, a French woman who reencountered herself in my ancestors’ land. She had suffered the loss of her lover, and did not seem to overcome the pain. As she entered a shaman’s yurt, everything changed. The drum awoke her shaman soul, and she howled, just like you, Annie. So she stayed, and she learned, for many years, how to become her true self again, how to regain her power. She wrote a book about it, which, in turn, moved other people, who heard the call too. So later in life she came back to my land, with two new women, to start telling her story in ‘a movie’. Back in August of living being’s last year, the movie was acclaimed here, in the heart of my lover’s town, during the Film Festival that offers winged lions to those who win… The movie is called A Bigger World, and I am sure it has expanded the souls of those who watched it… Thank you again, Annie, I give you my blessings, for the rest of your mission to be as successful as it was for us. And who knows, maybe you can train your baby eagle to become as good as our Mongolian winged hunters!
As Annie turns around to look for her baby bird, Kököchin and Marco, both holding the horsehead fiddle, disappear with the violin in a blue neighing cloud, which paints that part of town in the warm colors of the rainbow.
-Wow, quite a show! says a man standing at the shop entrance. Much better than some of the ‘movies’ I, too, saw during that Festival of the winged lions. Speaking of wings, is this eaglet yours? the man asks holding Baby Blue Sky in his hands. I found it under the porch of the building I haunt, next door…
TO BE CONTINUED