Down here, where the roots are supposed to grow there are stories told by the old man in the corner. He is very old. Older than time itself. No one knows his name or where he’s originally from but he’s always there. Small children crowd around him to hear his stories about Roland. The children think: I know what is about to come but very often they are mistaken for they are young and have yet to know the magic certain story tellers possess. When I met him the old man was sitting in his customary corner. I thought perhaps he would tell me about the places we keep our dead but instead he told me a story about the living.
This is the story of Ancientsnow and the Thousand Cranes.
Once not very long ago there was a shy and timid girl. Her name has been lost to the ages but the old man in the corner called her Ancientsnow. This name was given to her by her abuela and it was given to her because on the day of her birth a fine powdery frost dusted the flower gardens abuela tended. Abuela and Ancientsnow were very close. Ancientsnow had cousins but she had no siblings. Often times she would go outside to speak with Sixto the hired man. She would go exploring and when she found treasures that previously had been hidden Ancientsnow would bring them back to share with Sixto who lived just down the way from Ancientsnow and her family in beautiful Plata Yvyguy.
Plata Yvyguy is a beautiful place to live but even places of great beauty have a need for things like food and cloth for which to fashion dresses out of. One very special day Sixto and abuela told Ancientsnow that she was going to journey to the market with them. Abuela sat down with Ancientsnow to speak of the adventures that were in store for her. The market was a vast and exciting place. Full of good things to eat and pretty trinkets for pretty girls but it was also a place of bad men and false scales. One must be on their guard at all times and little girls who ran away from their caretakers would be snatched up by the Thousand Cranes.
These girls were never heard from or seen again so it was very important that Ancientsnow stay close to abuela and Sixto when they went to the market. Ancientsnow nodded gravely as abuela spoke. Abuela's words rang truer than she might have expected for Ancientsnow was a sensitive and comtemplative girl. From then on Ancientsnow lived in terror of the Thousand Cranes. She dreamt of them at night. They would fly overhead, shrieking and calling. Ancientsnow would run as fast as she could but there was no escape. She woke up crying in the middle of the night but when her parents asked what was wrong she was unable to tell them.
It was very hot the day that Sixto, abuela and Ancientsnow started their long journey. They walked slowly. Ancientsnow grew tired. Sixto and abuela took turns carrying her. A bird flew overhead, calling as it passed them by. Ancientsnow was frightened, imagining the Thousand Cranes of her dreams but Sixto explained that the Thousand Cranes were a figure of speech. Sixto emphasized the importance of staying near abuela. Ancientsnow must be sure to hold the hand of either himself or abuela so the bad men dwelling in the market could not take Ancientsnow from her family. The little girl in his arms nodded drowsily. She was sleepy from traveling.
Eventually she drifted off to sleep but this time she dreamt of the pearl earrings that Sixto had told her were sold at the market. When the small group reached the market Ancientsnow was careful to walk in between Sixto and abuela. The market was a fascinating place. Full of old and new things. The smells were different than the ones Ancientsnow was used to. Sixto and abuela stopped by some vendors. Others they passed by. There was a small alley that they hurried past. Later Sixto explained that only men went down that street. Ancientsnow saw a woman turn down that street but from the looks of her she was not a lady. Ancientsnow was curious but just then Sixto picked Ancientsnow up and set her on his shoulders. It was from this vantage point that Ancientsnow saw the vendor selling candy.
Now Ancientsnow was a good little girl but she was a good little girl with a very powerful sweet tooth. Whenever sweets were around her tummy rumbled, her mouth watered and she felt an overwhelming desire to sample each and every piece of candy in front of her. Sixto and abuela were speaking with a man that they had met up with. Each of them assumed that the other was watching Ancientsnow. Slowly, as if in a trance, Ancientsnow walked over to the candy seller. The multi-colored candy pieces were bright and gay. Her hand reached out to touch the fringe of striped cloth that hung from the booth. One could hardly blame her. The candy was sweet and temptingly colored. No one would notice if just one piece was missing.
The sky overhead darkened as Ancientsnow’s hand closed in on a piece of orange candy. When she looked up, more birds than she had ever seen were flying overhead. There were hundreds of birds, maybe even thousands. With a shriek of terror Ancientsnow dropped the candy and started running. She ran down the street. Fear made her feet fleet but instead of taking the main road back to Sixto and abuela Ancientsnow took a wrong turn.
Dusty buildings crowded in on her. Raucous laughter and loud music assaulted her. The alley ended. Ancientsnow trembled and screamed as scores of birds landed around her. Here the old man stopped to smile at all of us who had gathered to listen to his story. He explained that there was a very powerful sorcerer who watched over the souls of small children. No earthly being could fully contain him and very often he inhabited the bodies of birds as they were not confined to the earth or sea. The largest of the cranes took Ancientsnow by the hand. He gave her the piece of candy she had been eyeing and he explained that she was in a part of town that Sixto and abuela were unfamiliar with. Under the crane’s protection Ancientsnow was led back to the warm embrace of Sixto and her abeula. Hugs and treats were passed around. Abeula scolded Ancientsnow gently.
The little girl started crying but when she tried to explain how the Thousand Cranes had rescued her from the bad part of town abuela shook her head. The Thousand Cranes were merely part of a story she had told her granddaughter to make sure Ancientsnow wouldn't wander off when she was at the market. Ancientsnow knew better than to argue with her grandmother but a part of her knew what had really happened at the end of the alley and to this day Ancientsnow has a feather that looks quite ordinary to you and I but if ordinary cranes flew with feathers of pure gold they’d never be able to leave the earth.