by Mairin Atha
I’m still not sure how it happened—how I ended up in the big city instead of the little country home, how I traded four acres of wind-blown prairie for one square foot of dirt sunk in a tiled courtyard. Sometimes, as I rinse my feet of the courtyard’s dust, I miss that home in the country, the clouds wheeling in endless skies, the running barefoot through spines of grass.
We have no grass now, only the square foot of dirt that holds no memories. But I do not yearn most for grass, here in this strange land halfway around the world.
I yearn for the stars.
There is something strange about a big city wrapped in darkness.
It is dark.
Yes, it’s obvious. But why is a big city dark at night? Big cities are lights—flashing, whirling. There are so many of them, and yet—
Yet the air of the city, saturated heavy with sun’s light by day, is far from saturated by night. The sun has pilgrimed to another land, and no amount of man-light, no multitude of bulbs studding edges of roofs, no swarm of flickering billboards, can trick our minds into believing it is day. When I can’t see the trees for the wires dripping with lights that strangle them, the darkness still hangs heavy, compromising with the lights and spitting out a foggy haze. A foggy haze—the only child of earth-lights and darkness. And yet—? That thin, watery wash of light is enough to pollute the skies. Enough to obscure the stars. A 40-watt cage of glass tries to rival millions of burning gas balls. And it wins.
In the country, the stars spill themselves into the sky, sugar-layered thickly on a dark chocolate cake, so that it is difficult to see the cake at all. Stars in the country join hands. Their very multitude seems to thrust a joy, a song, into the night, a song that reverberates more in the soul than in the ear.
But in the city?
In the city, if I am not blinded by the bulbs pushed in my face by every street lamp, every flashing billboard, every oncoming car, if I turn my eyes to the sky in spite of it all? The stars are scattered grains of rice dropped by one of those poor mothers on the street who doesn’t drop much of anything.
Lights below have always sought to smother lights above.
In the country, I did not care so much about the stars. I had tickling grass that whispered of spring days. The stars were stunning, yes. I traced my own constellations through their scattered masses and wished I could recognize real ones. Wished I could follow their changes. Wished I could understand them. But my time was the day, and I made grass-angels and watched clouds and blinked lazily in afternoon sun instead of kinking my neck and shivering, trying in vain to decipher the complex painting above.
I was thankful for stars, but I did not need them. In a life of light and sunshine, with a horizon that stretches wide in a circle around you, who needs to spend time in horizon-less darkness? Who needs to spend time with stars?
And so I went on, not understanding the stars or hearing their song.
I know now.
You never truly understand stars until you understand that you need them.
And here, where the confusing mesh of a culture I do not know sometimes feels like a net I cannot escape? I know.
I need the stars.
I need their song. I need their light. I need to see that every darkness holds light, that no matter how many lights down here try to blind me into submission, the lights up there are still there. Despite their sparseness, they are there, brighter and sweeter for my yearning after them. They are there. Pure. Steady. Never-changing.
I climb the stairs to the flat roof. Slide onto the slatted wood bed, its boards creaking and threatening to break beneath me. And I look up.
It takes a while for them to appear. My eyes have been affected by lights below. But it is dark up here, and the longer I sit the more I see. I begin to feel their song.
Cassiopeia is there, across from me. I only see four stars out of her five, but it is enough. And Orion, behind me, his belt flickering dimly. Smatterings of other stars break through the night haze, more and more the longer I sit here, my neck kinked up and me not caring. I need the stars. I understand that now. And I begin to understand them.
From where I sit curled in darkness, I watch light. Light that shines through holes in the sky, showing me there is something bright behind the darkness. There is.
They sing to me.