Liyo, will you come with me now to somewhere I like?
(You do not say you will, but you are walking still beside me, so that is a kind of yes.)
We are going to the north coast. The road is the same you took to get to Ravin Desai. We see what you would have seen if you’d kept going. It is a long journey and uninteresting the whole time, but you do not complain. We do not really talk. I hear you mapping routes, thinking up highways more scenic or more direct. I do not know what I am thinking, or what you are hearing me think.
We travel ten days.
Your feet are sore and you are in need of sleep. You were never quite as immune as I am to the pull of gravity, to the passage of day and night. But still it is ten days before you stop and make camp. We are so close I cannot be still. The trees rustle all night. The clover tickles your nose. It ruins your sleep. But you rest enough, and the next morning, we are arrived. The place I wanted to show you.
Here? you ask.
There is a break in the thick of trees. There is a fence and beyond it a loud, many-laned highway, a blur of speeding cars.
You grip the links in the fence, press your face against it trying to see. This is the harbor. A million people live here. Why did you take me here?
It is the place I wanted to show you. This is where you were born.
I’ve never been here, you argue.
This is good—this is a feeling that crackles, like sparks escaping from an open flame. We have spoken only a little and for such a short time, yet I am learning you, and your way of communicating, and when I should let you believe you are right.
(Even though you have not lived long enough to tell me I am wrong.)
There is not a way to the road from here, I remember. You must walk along the fence toward the city until you come to an opening.
But you lift your wrist and snap, and where your fingers twist there is an iron gate, and the gate has a latch, which you lift. Where your feet step through there is pavement; an on-ramp rolls out before you like a carpet.
You walk the side of the highway until you reach the city center. The streets are wide and wider still the sidewalks; the endless people move fast and close together, heading mostly one direction. You are standing in the middle of them, frustrating their paths, getting shouldered and shoved. You are looking up, where the tall buildings almost block out the sun. There are church bells ringing the hour.
Are you going to take it down? you ask.
Take what down?
The city. The harbor. All this they built. Will you send the land to take it back?
I suspect you are the type to get your feelings hurt if I correct you, so I try to be gentle. The land is here, Liyo. Building on the land does not make it gone.
You have no reply for me.
I worry I have hurt your feelings.
All the way at the east of the city is the water. You have never seen the water—have never lived anywhere you weren’t surrounded by the land. At the docks the rich ships are unloading their goods, boxes on boxes. You walk past the yachts and the catamarans and the tight rows of small colorful canoes. You watch them bob in the harbor until it is dark and the city behind you blooms with lights.
How fast would you follow if I took a ferry out of here? you ask.
If I took a ship to another continent?
You don’t want an answer. But: I would catch up. The land lies under the water as well. I admit it would take me a while. Don’t say these things; they make me anxious.
Have we seen what you wanted to show me?
I didn’t have a plan. Are you ready to move to the place you were born next?
And I realize for all your seeming maturity, for all you carry from your twenty years, and the sixty before, and the eighty preceding, and the hundred before that—you don’t know what it is you are.
So, it is up to me to show you.
We cross back through the harbor city and continue on, outside its limits, southwest. The trees thin out, the brush clears; farm country. A week passes, and you keep walking. It doesn’t seem to tire you out much anymore. That can happen, when your blinders are removed, when you realize how much you have already done.
We see acres of regimented growth. A new green, bright shocks of it where the rice has taken root. Straight rows, goldened over, where the corn is beginning to tassel. We travel through it but it does not end. It is like its own kingdom.
We talk. I try to tell you about your youth. About the first of your lifetimes we spent together, when your powers and influence were rudimentary: when the smokestacks rose in the sky and the people flooded into the harbor city. When the roads were built, criss-crossing the continent, so they could transport goods, relocate, roam, start new cities, make them grow—like the capital—or leave them behind, abandoned—like the place your father raised you. I tell you about the disaster and how it defeated us both—how I lay dormant, recovering my strength, and how you were forced into this human form, helpless, limited, and unaware of your nature. I tell you about all the times we have met without meeting. I tell you about the time you cried for me in the cornfield, how this was the first time you ever asked for me, the first time you even let on that you knew I existed. Whereas I had known you forever.
What is my name? you ask. My real one?
Liyo is all I’ve ever called you. Just as you have only ever called me Mama.
We rest on a hill that overlooks a dozen farm plots, neat squares of planned and patchworked earth. Two boys are riding zippy little motorcarts through the crop rows. They look about as young as you do. If they do not turn back soon it will be too dark for them to see.
What did you want me to see here? you ask.
You were born here, too, a long time ago. This used to be a forest.
You ask if I dislike when the soil is tilled for crops, if it bothers me when they take down trees. It does not. You ask if it hurts when people harvest the rice, and I say no. Like getting a haircut, you suggest, and, perhaps. Sure.
You ask if it hurts me when people put pollution into the air. I say the sky is not my jurisdiction.
What good is it doing for you—me being here?
I can only apologize. I am sorry I have not felt what I expected to feel having you back by my side, and that you are aware of that. I am sorry I do not seem to have good answers for the questions that bother you, the questions you must have hoped your mama would answer. I have told all I know and all I remember of you, and you grow grumpy from me telling the same stories over again. Are there not new things that you could tell me? Think of your mother—this is the most I’ve had to talk in ages.
You are quiet, hugging your knees. We are watching the boys race each other, revving their engines into the face of the sweating sun. Then:
Mama, you say. Do you want me to make them not drive over your plants?
Nothing hurts me the way you think. But. I think I am beginning to understand what you want from me.
So, yes, daughter. Show me what you can do.
You reach out over your knees. With your finger on the horizon you trace the path they will take. Through the fields in front of them runs a black, thin racing road; it tracks smoothly over the dirt and trampled grass, smoothing the corners less tight, leveling hillsides to an easy grade. The boy in the lead brakes hard at the suddenness of it; he mounts the pavement mid-swerve and yelps as he goes end over end.
Oh! you cry.
He is fine, I think, and either way you do not need to apologize.
I was trying to make them safe. So they wouldn’t bother you anymore. Wait, I’ll fix it.
And at even intervals through the valley, giant white lightposts spring from the ground; they climb till they reach the level of the hill. All at once you bring them buzzing to life, blinding; the light you muster is sharp and frangible; it is night-destroying stadium light, many-faceted, like spider eyes.
The one boy wrangles the other one up beside the toppled vehicle. They run terrified away, abandoning their toys, the light swallowing up their bodies.
You breathe a little heavy from your effort, and turn your head like you can hide this from me. Your lights amplify the dividing lines between the crops with stark precision. For miles, the sky—its low, skimming clouds, its bright evening star—all is dispelled. The sky is not our jurisdiction. It is the nature of your power, it seems, that you will transform others’ jurisdictions into your own. It would be cowardly of me not to be proud of you for it. To not admit that I have been imitating you now for years, encroaching upon your realms, testing the boundaries you set, trying to bridge the gaps between us. You and I: we wish our boundaries would be acknowledged, and we wish our boundaries did not exist.
This is it, I say. This is where I meant, when I said I wanted you to come home.
You look up, bleary-eyed, over the field, and you say:
Then this is where I’ll build my house.