I don’t know what sort of bird it is. Porter’s Complete Field Guide would tell me, but it’s years since I opened it. Could be anywhere in this anti-Kondo vortex. You used to stash it on the mantelpiece, beneath the bronze eye of Horus. Eye, book – both gone.
Rummaging, I glance at the bird on the windowsill. Worried it’ll fly away. Its tin-opener beak is ibis-y, but the plump emerald body, tail feathers chiselled as a pharaoh’s beard – everything points in clashing directions.
The bird flies through the window glass, lands on my shoulder. Eyes warm as fresh bread, straight from the brick oven. Our first night in Cairo, strolling, staring, wolfing aish baladis. Burnt fingertips never tasted so good.
I’m your ba, the bird says.
What it doesn’t say: Stop flapping around. We need to talk.
Good that you wanted to know, though, it adds. Progress.
For a moment I’m on my ba’s back, flying over don’t-want-to-know wastes. Bilious yellow; it hurts to look down. My ba is right. Progress.
Ba, ba. I rummage in memories. The Egyptian soul had nine parts, and the ba was -.
Your personality, its white neck frill whispers. What makes you you.
You went away, I sigh into its curved beak. For so, so long. I thought you were never coming back.
We’re both silent. Remembering what lay beyond don’t-want-to-know.
I thought I was still in that place, I tell my ba. Until you showed up.
The place where you went. After you lost interest in bird-watching. After you lost interest in Horus. After you, a kohl-rimmed eye, stared through me, challenged me to prove I was still there. After, tired of my papyrus-thin arguments, your eyelids closed for good.
It wasn’t about reunion, I guess, I say.
Don’t-want-to-be unrolls its dark map before me. With my ba here, I won’t lose my bearings this time.
More like an independent -.
Surrender, my ba suggests.
I don’t know how it happened, but I’m lying on the floor. The not-vacuumed-for-a-year floor. My ba walks up and down my chest, beak poking for fish. Each claw-print, a new hieroglyph, unsilts my dead river.
With a quick jerk, my ba pulls a sunrise-pink perch from my rib-cage. I trace the shape it silvers before sploshing back into my torso.
I saw an ankh, did you? I ask my ba.
My ba isn’t listening. It flies about, dislodging ancient clutter. As it unearths the bronze eye of Horus, begins to nest, I sense your distant smile.
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