The Rain Connoisseur
He was born in a tropical paradise where they had no word for hail. When the storm hit one day, it sounded like gravel being dumped from a dump truck. To this day the term for hail is rain of stones.
While people were still in shock, an old man took a handful of the icy kernels and walked away. The sting of ice on his bare feet did not break his gait. There was a hut where a child had just been born. The old man entered without knocking. He bent over the child and rubbed the now melted ice on the little one's ears.
"What does it rain?" he whispered.
The boy didn't cry. He's our rain connoisseur. The old man was his grandfather - who died that very day.
The old man had been their poet. And theirs was not the poetry of books. Poems were to be gotten from the speech of the sea, the creaks of ropes, the sizzles of fried fish. The poetry of books they could live without - and did. But how were they to live when the sea had no voice?
The people lost their bond to the world, and to each other. War broke out. And our boy was their only hope.
As a baby he was made to sleep under the village drum, so he might hear the beat that only the wind makes. They threw him in the ocean before he could walk. They made him listen to the screams of women in labour and to the newborn's first cry. When his voice broke they made him put his hand on the ribs of a freshly shot deer, still gasping, so he could hear the sound of life leaving.
But our poet could not find his poem. When he put his hand on the dying deer, the only sound he heard was the sound of himself throwing up. It's possible he was too delicate to be a poet. Years of training had produced nothing. At sixteen, the age at which his grandfather had established himself as the interpreter of wind and sea and all that spoke, our rain connoisseur was abandoned.
Some people - strong spirits - grow stronger the more others doubt them. Our rain connoisseur - our hero - was not like that. As people gave up on him, he gave up on himself. The only pride he had left was in rejecting what rejected him. And that's how it was between him and the world.
Except when it rained.
When it rained he would take shelter under shop awnings. As the downpour hit the corrugated tin, it would sound like hail. That sound was his home. He knew what wanted to be words in that sound. Though he didn't know what the words would be, he dared to believe that he had it in him to be their poet.
It was during one such downpour that she appeared. The rain was blinding; one could barely see through it. She carried no umbrella and she didn't shield her eyes with her hand. Soaked to the skin, she walked calmly across the open.
"What does it rain?" she whispered.
He told her her question sounded familiar.
"But what does it rain?" she repeated.
"I don't know."
"Then you must go away."
For the first time in his life he felt understood. He took her hand. The rain made them blink even as they stared into each other's eyes. They made love that very night. In the morning he told her he loved her and could not live without her. She told him that love must be taken with a grain of salt.
As the sun rose, he walked away, toward where the rain had come from.
For years no one heard of him. The rain connoisseur had gone to the world's highest mountains so he could stand above the clouds that fed all of the world's rain. There he met teachers who taught him to read and write. He wrote books of beautiful poems. But alas, they were beautiful only to the mind. When he touched the paper it was not alive under his hand. When he pressed his ear against it, it did not speak the way rain did. So he burned them all. Then left for the low cities of the earth.
Of all the ways of making a living, he chose hunting. When he made his first kill, he put his hand on the deer's heaving ribs, and looked into its eyes before firing the killing shot. He felt the shudder of his own spirit leaving along with the life he took. He understood then that the killer and the killed are one. He became successful. He had many loves, and took each one with a grain of salt.
But always he would be alone when he went out into the rain. He would strip naked, lie down with one ear to the sky as if to collect the rain into his hearing. One day, while listening to his rain, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"What does it rain?" she asked.
He recognized the voice.
"Open your skin," he answered.
She parted her lips. They kissed. He told her he wanted a love he could take without a grain of salt. She told him it's time to go home. And they went away hand in hand.
When they got home the war was at its height. The men who once trained him were now generals. They wielded much power but were themselves powerless. He saw this in their eyes. He asked them to take him to their negotiation - which everybody knew was just for show. He told everybody at the table to stop talking. They were to shut their mouths, and listen with their skin. He took them to the battlefield and told them to put their hands on the heaving chests of dying soldiers. She, who went with him, led by example.
"What does it heave?"
He made them listen to the wailing of mothers, and told them to collect their tears in the cup of their hands. When they came back the warring parties shook hands. The touching was real, and peace returned. No paper was ever signed.
The rain connoisseur, who did not leave a single poem on paper, became the most loved poet of his people.
Listen with your skin.
words: Robin Susanto, Canada (photo gallery)
image: 'brink of the storm' - Steve Wing, Florida (about & more)
another rain story: Rain, rain (#19)