I was heading to the library yesterday and thought I’d save time by walking up Flatbush instead of meandering through the garden. And then I thought, “What’s the rush?” The garden’s free in the wintertime, and it’s also usually empty, which is the best part. Everything slows down when I pass through the black iron gates, and suddenly instead of running though my list of things to do, I started hearing voices…it’s the trees that do it, you know. Now that they’re stripped of their leaves there’s so much more to see—the texture of bark on their trunks, the abandoned birds’ nests high up in the bare branches. Put me next to a couple of trees and all of a sudden my mind’s gone off and I’m no longer just myself in my body in the city/garden/park; I’m in a story, in someone else’s life, their world. Last spring I was walking along the border of Prospect Park and I heard a strange rustling in the leaves; I stopped on the street and met these three characters who now have names: Hakim, Nyla, and D. Yesterday I walked through the garden and at least three scenes unfolded before my eyes. And it all stopped once I left the garden. I went to the library, found the book I wanted, talked to my favorite library people, and then headed back to Flatbush in search of a Christmas tree. But I kept hearing an echo of the kids’ voices. Really I was saying their words over and over again so I wouldn’t forget:
“Because you have nothing to lose.”
“No one to lose, I mean. It’s best to choose someone whose heart is free.”
I want to object, to insist that I do have something—someone—to lose. But the bird is right.
There’s a talking bird, of course—a crystal bird that morphs into other forms but first appears as a bird because D is an avid birdwatcher. She chooses him because D seems to be a loner, but once he starts tutoring Hakim—8th grade basketball star—D ceases to be alone. He’s got a protector and competition for the affection of Nyla, a sassy 7th grader who seems to be the only girl at their school who isn’t swooning over Hakim. Anyway, I’m writing out a plot synopsis now, except I’m pausing to write snatches of dialogue and next thing I know I’ve got a page of brand new writing…which would normally be a good thing except I’m not done Judah’s Tale yet…it’s all because I found that second cowrie shell. And you know they found the remains of a boat while they were excavating the Ground Zero site…it’s all coming together. The boulder in the park, the hologram, the cowrie shells, the African Burial Ground. Every souls wants to go home…