**For more information on the prompt that inspired this essay please click here**
There she is—Ujasiri, all limbs and tail, dangling from a vine above the shimmering river water. She hangs by one hand only; the vine, aged and corrugated, droops with her weight. For a few moments—water trickling, insects buzzing—she stays like this.
Whirling, walloping, whirring, the river moves rapidly below her feet. A deadly pool, just four fingers and a thumb away. Yet, there she hangs, her face full of thought, but void of fear.
The air is humid with anticipation. My toes tighten around the branch where I sit, up in the canopy, watching.
Finally, with a grunt, she kicks her feet. As she swings her way down the line, towards the forest, the vine moves up and down and back and forth with her body. I watch as she disappears into the trees, the shadows, the unknown.
Every day, when the sky turns pink, I come out to the edge of the canopy to watch Ujasiri cross the river. And each time, she rests in the center of the vine, meditating, unfazed by the perilous waters nipping at her feet. I have always wondered what she thinks during those moments. How could one consciously, deliberately, hang above their own death? How could someone place their entire fate into the hands of something so flexible but breakable, so responsive but lifeless?
I myself have never crossed the river; I can barely maneuver the vines on my own tree. Typically, I prefer to travel by tree branch: over the years, I have discovered a system of reliable branchways—to home, to school, to my friends’—eliminating the need for vines almost entirely. I like the firmness of tree branches. The constancy. The stability. With eyes closed, I can climb up the branches to the treetops without missing a single step.
There are no branchways that cross the river.
Uzuri. That is what they call the forest across the river. It is said to have the richest of soils, the sweetest of fruits, and the juiciest of insects. A world of prosperity and fertility, now a silhouette in the purple sky, lives and breathes just a vine away—a river’s width away—a death wish away. It is a world that I may never know. A world that I perhaps do not want to know. What if the world behind that black curtain of shadow is not as beautiful as I imagine it to be? What if the soil is poor, the fruit sour, and the insects dry? If Uzuri really is a paradise, then why would Ujasiri ever return to our side of the forest? Is her moment of meditation really a moment of hesitation?
It is this moment, this moment of ambiguity, that pulls me towards the edge of the canopy every day to watch Ujasiri.
The following day, when the sky turns pink, I take a branchway to the edge of the canopy, to my usual spot. With my eyes on the lone vine, I wait for Ujasiri to appear.
A howler monkey cries from afar. A bird flutters in the trees overhead. A flying insect buzzes in my ear. The vine remains unattended.
As the pink in the sky fades to purple, I feel the vines in my stomach twist themselves into a bowline knot. My eyes fall to the water below, watching how it crashes against the rocks, bursting into foam. I glare at it, wearily, accusingly, and with a sinking heart, I realize where Ujasiri could be.
The vines within my stomach snap, and I feel my body surge forward. I leap down to the trees below, just barely latching onto a branch. From branch to branch, I swing, hand to hand to foot to tail, weaving my way down to the river. I swing, swing, swing, and swing until I realize that my hands are wrapped around the ridged skin of a vine. The vine.
Water mist tickles my toes. The evening breeze strokes the fur on my legs. Tingles crawl up my belly, up my arms, and into my fingertips. The cool air kisses my lips and pinches my cheeks.
And my eyes. My eyes are wide, soaking in the waters below me. The trees on my left and right. The great canvas of oranges, purples, and blues in front of me.
I dangle from the vine, halfway across the river. Terror races through my veins like the water rushing below me. But this terror isn’t the death that I thought it would be. It isn’t an overwhelming sense of doom or hopelessness. Rather, it is the shock of finally recognizing my ability to experience infinity within my finite life. It is the shock of finally feeling alive—more alive than ever. More aware than ever. Not of death, but of life. Of sensation. Of my capacity to see, to feel. To experience life with my entire mind and my entire body.
What I once thought was a moment of ambiguity is actually a moment of complete clarity.
How I got to this point, in the center of the vine, I am not sure. But I suppose such impulsiveness, such thoughtlessness, was necessary to finally experience this moment of clarity.
A rustle from the forest. I turn to see Ujasiri emerging from the shadows of Uzuri. Our eyes lock into place.
With a kick of my foot, I continue to swing.
Post submitted by JoAnna