Partaw Naderi

Last Flight


By Partaw Naderi

Translated by Dr. Sharif Fayez

The sun, on the slope of its bloody flight, looked like a wounded pigeon flying breathlessly toward the sunset, as if blood were dripping from its wounds and spreading on the edges of the horizon.

The mountain was immersed in silence and from the valley’s depths a light was rising, drifting toward the soaring peaks followed by shadows and stillness that rose hand in hand, as if the last rays of the sun were trying to let the gold-feathered birds have a fresh breath awhile over the mountain peaks and then flap their wings toward the boundless sky.

Atop a mountain peak was perching an old and ailing eagle, gasping for air. Her wings, once so powerful that they could pierce the sky as a sword, were stretched out, lashing on a piece of rock gleaming like a melting piece of copper. Now and then she lifted her head and desperately stared at the sky, which was once her flying realm. She remembered that until yesterday she could dash like a shaft into the valleys and mountain peaks, splitting the sky into two. But today her once powerful wings could not flap with ease on these red crags. She was no longer pleased to watch the sky. Instead she closed her eyes and imagined herself flying over those black summits. Then furtively she opened her eyes and watched her fledglings still unable to fly.

The chicks were also flapping their wings, perhaps thinking that their mother wants to show them how to fly, but in the flapping of their mother that old pride and ardor no longer existed.  When the old eagle looked into the eyes of her chicks and filled her throat with air in order to speak, her head, full of grief, bent down on her chest and her beak hid into her chest’s feathers. Once again she lifted her head and looked into her chicks’ eyes. She remained silent, as silent as the silence that rose from the valleys’ depths to the mountaintops.

The chicks looked anxious about why their mother was so upset and not inclined to tell them a story about flying. They hoped that one day she would teach every one of to fly and show them the way to the sky. She closed her eyes again and laid her head on her chest, as if this time she wanted to thrust her beak into her heart. The chicks lost patience and began to cry, asking her tearfully: “Mother! Mother! What is wrong with you today?”

The old eagle lifted her head and looked into the eyes of her fledglings, who suddenly screamed: “What is this grief that has been burning inside you? What is this pain that has weakened your strength, with your wings stretched on the crags and your head on your chest?  Your silence is burning us. Tell us something so that our grief may go away.”

The old eagle lifted her head and looked into the sunset. Her chicks also turned their heads toward the sunset. The mother asked, “What are you seeing on the horizon?”

The chicks said, “We are seeing the sun as if it were passing through an ocean of blood so that it may set beyond those peaks.”

The mother asked, “How was the noontime?”

They answered, “The noontime was like a golden eagle soaring high in the sky.”

She asked, “How is it now?”

They answered, “She looks like a wounded eagle shot in the chest by an archer. Blood is dripping from her chest, making the horizons bloodier with every beating of her wings.”

She asked, “What would happen to the sun in a few moments?”

They said, “It will fall into the sunset’s jaw and disappear.”

She turned her head to look at her young ones. For a moment, she remained silent and a heavy stillness cast its shadow over the nest. They turned their eyes toward their mother, waiting for her to say something. After a long gasp, she said, “I am also like that sun, with the last moments of my life ending soon.”

Just as they heard these words, they began to beat their wings on their chests, screaming, “Mother!”  The fledglings came out of the nest, circling around their mother, rubbing their faces and heads on her wings and begging her to stay with them.

They thought that their mother could do what she was asked. Therefore they kept asking her to stay alive and never leave them alone. She lifted her head again and her chicks did the same thing. However this time she stared into the depths of the valley and so did her children.

The mother asked, “What are you seeing in the depth of the valley?”

“A flock of crows flying but wondering why that big bird—and what a strange bird!—is following the crows,” they answered.

“That big bird following the crows so low in the sky is an eagle,” she answered.

In disbelief, the young eagles said, “How could this be possible for an eagle to fly so low behind a flock of crows? This is below the dignity of eagles. From this nest we have seen eagles always soaring high and nesting in highest peaks. What kind of eagle is it that flies behind the crows?”

The old eagle said, “You are right, but this eagle has a long story.” They were all gripped by such a rage that they had forgotten about the dying of their mother and begged her to tell them the story of this strange eagle. The mother, breathing some air, said: “Look into this valley. Down there in lowest part of the valley is a pleasant and crystal spring.” The young eagles stared into the depth of the valley to locate the spring. Then the old eagle said, “Do you know what quality this spring has?”

The young eagles said, “We don’t know anything about it.”

The old eagle said, “This spring has a strange quality. If an eagle on the verge of death drinks from it, it would acquire everlasting life.”

The young eagles cried, “Mother, then why don’t you dash from this height into the valley’s depth, drink from the spring and live beside us permanently?”

Once again the old eagle, without looking at her chicks, gazed into the valley’s depth. The young ones thought that their mother was about to fly into the valley to drink water from the spring, but no movement was noticed in her wings. For a moment they remained silent until their mother said, “I haven’t finished the story of the eagle. When I am done, then you can tell me what to do.”

“I heard from my mother that one day at sunset the eagle was sitting next to its chicks. Death was weighing on its wings and the sky looked depressing. She had a hard time stretching her wings on a piece of rock. Her chicks began to screech when they saw their mother suffering so painfully. They begged her to find a way to remain alive and take care of them. Then their mother told the story of this spring. They all begged her to fly there and drink from the water of the spring so that you may live with us forever.  

Shaking her wings, she stood on her feet, gazed into the sky, turned her head toward her chicks and into the deep valley where the spring glistened like a mirror. Then she stood on a rock, mustering all her vigor in her wings and began to fly—this time not high into the sky but deep into the valley and darkness.

She flew lower into the valley until she reached the spring, drank from its delightful water and scanned the mountain peaks, thinking she could still capture those heights and fly high into the sky. A vague delight ran through her veins, thrilling her with excitement.

Remembering that her chicks were waiting for her, she hurried toward the peak where she had built her nest. Before reaching the nest, she encountered a flock of crows. When trying to take her own way away from the crows, she realized that she could no longer fly higher than the crows, not even ahead of them. She had acquired everlasting life but in the depth of the valley always following a flock of crows away from eagles. For her there was no height, no peak, and no sky. She was now destined to fly behind the crows in that deep valley. She was no longer able to think farther beyond the valley and watch from the peak and the sky the grandeur of the mountains. Now it was the crows that determined the course and height of her flight.

For a while she remained silent, with her chicks also sinking in silence. Darkness and silence were also rising from the heart of the valleys toward the peaks, which were being abandoned by the last glimmer of light.

The young eagles were silently watching their mother, perhaps thinking that she was not finished with her words. However the old eagle had no more words to say. Gazing into the sky, without looking at them, she asked, “Should I fly from this peak into that dark valley, drink from that spring and then fly behind those crows or lay my head on this red rock on this peak, where the sun kisses my wings, and die?”

The young eagles flapped their wings, thrust their beaks into their chests and screamed: “Mother, we don’t want you to fly for the rest of your life behind those crows in that dark valley. We don’t want you to be a disgrace for the eagle’s race.”

These words opened for the old eagle a window of hope into the sky. She laid her head on a rock near the nest, with no more words coming from her mouth, and the sun also set behind the peaks. The last rays of the sun were rising into the sky from the wings of the eagle, as if this were the great and free spirit of the eagle flying to capture the everlasting skies.



December 20, 2011,

 Qargha Town, Kabul    

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