In the Era of the Silent – Bryant O’Hara

Bryant O’Hara

A pair of Ghettobirds came for Ol’ Preacher Bag Lady at Five Points station, Eastbound to Indian Creek.

One of them hovered over Ol’ Preacher Bag Lady, a mechanical chimera with a tall, feminine figure, a hawk’s head, wasp wings and a kaleidoscopic breastplate. The head was not composed of feathers, but something like patch cables matted in layers down her head and back.

The other, a male of similar maniacal design with an owl’s head, came up to me, prompting the loyal patrons of mass transit to mass exit stage anyplace-else-but-where-I’m-standing.

The male’s head turned – just like an owl’s – and its eyes, the color of channel static, examined me. When it righted its head, a seam formed down the middle, and the head split, revealing a black man in sepia tones, his face obscured by an origami mask made of what looked like interlocking pieces of metal.

“I am Ras Lébé, the Ghettobird of crossroads,” said the face within the face within the face, “and we have a question to ask.”

Ol’ Preacher Bag Lady was damning Ras Lébé’s companion like the battleaxe I’d grown to know and, well, not love, but at least tolerate. The female Ghettobird was at least two heads taller, but that didn’t stop Ol’ Preacher Bag Lady.

“You better get behind me, Satan! I ain’t ’fraid of you! I’m right with God, and he’s right here with me,” she began, and kept it up until the Ghettobird shot her with a dart.

Downed her like a dog, I thought.

I never liked the crazy bitty, but damn.

“The question, Great Sir, is this: Is this woman a dog, or is she a fox? Your lives are tied here at this station, on this line, and now, at this time. Answer honestly.”

“What’ll happen to the old woman?”

“My mate is Yolanda Light-and-Water, the Ghettobird of dreams. And she is asking the elder a question.”

The female Ghettobird was extruding silk threads from her jaws, covering Ol’ Preacher Bag Lady from head to her waist. Thin rods protruded from her cheeks, and they were knitting a shroud, but it was too intimate a conversation, and I turned away.

The male Ghettobird and I took a seat on a bench. The station announced the Eastbound line was temporarily suspended.

“Dogs and foxes are family, just different branches,” I said. “The only difference that matters to people is dogs are useful. Foxes don’t guard henhouses. Dogs do.”

“Humans have shaped dogs into hundreds of breeds,” said Ras Lébé. “Some are work dogs. Some are mere toys. Many more are accidental combinations – mutts. Are all dogs useful?”

“By themselves, no. But dogs and humans have been together for thousands of years. We’re like a married couple that’s known each other since we were toddlers.”

“Then what of the fox?”

“Foxes have their place in the world. They may not always be welcome, but they keep their part of the ecosystem in balance. And their behavior has become a metaphor for how humans can sometimes behave. To call someone “a fox” or “foxy” is often a compliment or an expression of admiration.”

“So, are foxes useful?”

“To a degree. It depends on the context. But then, that applies to dogs, too.”

By this time Ol’ Preacher Bag Lady was covered from head to chest in Yolanda Light-and-Water’s thick, silk shroud.

I stood up and faced Ras Lébé. “She’s a fox. To me. Based on what I know of her.” I’d known her for years, and she irritated the hell out of me. But damned if she isn’t persistent. She, among others, made me glad to be an atheist. A ‘conversion unit,’ I called her, someone who tries to talk her way into people’s heads, trick them into subscribing to God.

“She is a virus then? Should my mate kill her?”

“What? No!”

“But she is of no use to you. In fact, she’s a threat.”

“She’s a pain in the ass, and I don’t like her, but that doesn’t mean other people don’t.” Yolanda had stopped weaving the shroud and looked at me with the same channel-static eyes as her mate. She retracted the knitting rods and wiped her mouth.

“Who knows, maybe by shaking people up, pissing them off, she actually helps them. Makes them aware of themselves. People talk when Ol’ Preacher Bag Lady’s around.”

“You have said enough. We can finish your recycling now.” From the corner of my left eye, I saw another body being shrouded.

Mine.

By Ras Lébé.

My colon clenched. I turned to what I thought was Ras Lébé, and asked, “Am I dreaming?”

“No, just distracted, like the old woman.”

“So you came for both of us?”

“Yes,” said Ras Lébé. His outer face reassembled itself into the scrap-metal owl head. “Do you want to know what Yolanda asked the old woman?”

“Yes. Please.”

“The same question: Is this man a dog, or is he a fox?”

“And what was her answer?”

“The same.”

Something like a warm ball expanded in my stomach, waiting for release.

I let the Ghettobird change me, and the warmth seemed to burst from my navel like a firehose, leaving me empty.

I slept, and waited for the

metamorphosis.

I slept, and waited for the coming of

my name.

 

 

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