by Jessica Sequeira
What a beautiful return! Our car glides over empty suburban roads as we head to the golden triangle, seeking to record the birds. These are no ordinary chirps: they perfectly mimic the sound black holes make when colliding. For the last few years, the birding and physics laboratories of our university have worked together. Some on the outside claim we’re mad, as deluded as those who believe they can hear the chirping of black holes without equipment. A scandal in the papers appeared when a cult group said it had progressed further in consciousness than the average human, and had special access to certain auditory frequencies. We make no such strong claims. All we say is that the sound of the birds is eerily similar to the sound of the universe, and that merit exists in analyzing it. If they’d still like to call us crazy, there’s little I can do. Science is our trade, not black magic. But I’ll admit that when we pinpointed where the birds lived — in the same golden triangle where I used to play, home to so many of my dearest memories — I experienced a revelatory moment. White light through pines. At that moment it did seem some arcane magic was at work.
‘You are not a clever child,’ they tell me. ‘You are a demon. No good will come from you.’ I once tricked my sister into stealing us both sherbets from the icebox when my mother wasn’t looking. She was the one who got locked in her room afterward. But a demon! Me! Really, I just like to play. Oh how I love to trick my friends, to mystify and hoodwink them… you can’t say it’s unfair, for I don’t spare myself either. Yes, I also like to pull the wool over my own eyes. One thing I enjoy, to take an example, is hiding important papers, then trying as hard as possible to forget where they are. A challenge made for and by me. ‘Your math homework, where is it?’ my teacher asks, annoyed. I feel terrible but secretly glad, since I know I’ve done it and know the formulas. My intelligence is intact and grows every day. Yet the homework itself is tucked away somewhere under a couch or behind a shelf I can’t recall now, nor do I have any wish to discover it.
The golden triangle is located in front of the business compound where my father used to work. We’d go there when I was young and roll down the hill, top to bottom. My sister and I raced to see who could make it first. Back then it seemed such a long way. Sometimes she won, sometimes I did. Often I wonder now if my passion for birding began in that place, where the overlapping and converging tweets of birds in the background plied subconsciously on my impressionable mind. I don’t believe the mind is an empty tablet, the old materialistic idea, yet I don’t think it’s separate from the outside world either. Deep down I trust in the ability of the imagination to transmute sense experience into mental images, which I suspect makes me a romantic. I’ve spent a long time denying this, but anyone who goes into the naturalist profession is a romantic. I must admit that. Better to know yourself, yes? Even though I’m an adult now, or so they tell me, I still feel like a young woman. An imp. The activities of my team, all respected professionals, are no different from those of myself and my friends years ago, when we set out from the sandbox on adventures. Today we began our expedition at approximately eleven in the morning and now at last, at four in the afternoon, our recording devices are picking up a sound. Ch-irp! Ch-irp! It stirs us into activity. We scramble for our recording equipment. The whir of tapes begins. But where is it coming from? We search and search, but cannot detect it.
That day it was as if a little bird came up and said Follow me… and whispered its secrets. I folded my voice into the landscape, tucked it away just as if it were a game. Ah! A game, played with my future self. Ch-irp! I can already see the future version of myself standing in the middle of the golden triangle (do I look pretty? am I dressed well?), looking in vain for the source of my own voice. It makes me laugh. A clever child. A demon child! ’Follow me,’ says the bird, and shows me how to embed the sound in the landscape. I learn to make time fold over so the chirping I make will be heard years later. I’ll forget the precise means by which I did this, and can’t wait to forget, so it becomes a memory stored up like all the others that will emerge at random, when I smell a certain flower or eat a certain cake… except this one will never emerge. It will remain hidden forever, just as the universe created itself and then annihilated the memory of how it did so.
I went back to the golden triangle in my early twenties. At first I thought I’d made a mistake. It was tiny, with hardly enough room to walk about. How disappointing that the common phenomenon of things appearing smaller in real life than memory applied to me too. (What’s the use of understanding something theoretically if you can’t overcome it in practice?) I stood there a long moment. Then I lay down, pressed my body to the ground and hands to my chest, and tumbled down the hill just as I’d used to do years before. Grass stuck to my sweater and skirt and tights (thank God I had on tights!), and when I got to the bottom I lay who knows how long without moving. I must have been sad that day, or I wouldn’t have visited. Though near my parents’ old house, it was out of the way. Not an easy place to find unless you were trying. Perhaps I hoped to recover the simple joy I felt when younger… Lying there, my head pressed close to the blades of grass, I looked at the dirt and small insects. I imagined the universe mapped there too, everything a great analogy. A small ant moved up the blade, up and up and up, then sat at the top and seemed to wonder why it was there. What was it all about? Ch-irp, a bird tweeted mournfully, somewhere. That sing-song, the bird, the universe, the chirping of these words I write. The air was clear that day, the light golden. The trunks of the pines looked black against the white light. The tumble had been exhilarating, and briefly I felt happy. Eventually I knew I would have to get up, but I put it off until the mosquitoes began to bite and I got hungry. That day I had an inkling of the real nature of the universe, the perceptual relativity I’d learned about in my physics classes.
I lie pressed close to the earth, breathing. Where is the sound coming from? I must locate it. A bird swoops down from the sky and lands beside me. I half expect it to speak or sing, but it stays silent. By its fluttering of wings, I know it expects me to follow. I follow. The bird has brought the sound of the universe here, along with a different way of passing the hours and its own gravitational laws. I know if it opens its mouth, time will slow down immensely. Perhaps it will even stop, or reverse… The bird lands close to my face and looks at me. It is black, it remains silent. Demon! I am tired of this reality as an adult, as a scientist. Sing for me please. Sing, so I can go back to the moment of my childhood and roll down that hill. Ch-irp. ‘Come on Jessi,’ calls my sister. I bend my knees and crouch close to the cool earth. Then I push off, fall down the hill, tumble past and over myself into the white sky.
About the Author:
Jessica Sequeira lives and writes in Buenos Aires.