by Jeanne Davies
Peering down over sun scorched rooftops, the downy pair huddled together, waiting patiently and in complete silence. The warm scented Algarvian breeze would pleasantly ruffle their feathers from time to time, allowing their sun-baked bodies to cool. The young gulls would sporadically shuffle aimlessly along the abyss that Mae had swooped down into before soaring upwards and disappearing into the distance. Bellies empty, they held on solemnly for her huge wings to return, feathers splayed and gleaming white.
From the very beginning Vicente felt his brother’s presence beside him as they lay as eggs, snuggled in Mae’s nest. He remembered the muffled sounds from their fragile opaque wombs of shell; his pounding pulse always one beat behind that of Erasmus. They’d hatched together, sharing their first glimpse of a dazzling cerulean sky which stung their fledgling eyes; they were hypnotised by the soporific eiderdown of cloud draped all about them.
Erasmus was always first at doing everything. From the first days of their life, his pleading cry demanded and received immediate attention; whereas Vicente’s pitiful cheeps were barely audible above the Portuguese wind drafts. Vicente suspiciously scrutinised his brother as he periodically unfolded and flapped his dowdy grey wings.
A raw sound scratched the air as Mae arrived on enormous silvery arched wings, head down, with her red rimmed eyes glowing and her ochre feet extended before her. Her hooked saffron beak, outlined in blood red, carried a morsel she’d hunted – a mollusc that she’d thrown against a rock. Her fluffy tail feathers splayed and wagged as she elegantly lent forward to place a piece of food into each of her sons’ mouths; it tasted of the ocean that the pair constantly watched, spellbound, in the distance. That sparkling mirror of ever changing shapes entranced the young gulls by day, and its moonlit shadows enchanted their nights. The brothers’ eyes were filled with a thousand stars whilst Pai watched over them close by, huge and austere as a sculpture. Erasmus and Vicente were both feeling a strange yearning for flight, but Vicente was cautious and reluctant for change.
As summer progressed, Vicente noticed Erasmus frequently mantling his wings to test out his strength. Then suddenly embracing primal instincts one day, his brother let out a plaintive cry and dived unexpectedly down into a precipice. Between certain death and paradise, he managed to fasten onto a wind current and soared high above Vicente. Envy was quickly replaced by admiration as Vicente watched his brother’s beautiful aerodynamic shape, until he returned on an awkward landing beside him.
Days followed with Erasmus recurrently taking to the air to practise and perfect his flying skills. After many shaky falls on the wind, he called out to Vicente, telling his brother of the many joys of flight and urging him to join him. Unconvinced, Vicente turned his back on his brother and remained hawkish and solitary on the rooftop; depressed and toxic with his own inadequacy. Many days passed where Vicente remained alone, marooned high on his island above a sea of white-washed villas sizzling in the heat amongst screeching sirens of crickets.
One night as the sun set, Pai alighted beside Vicente.
“My son, what you hold on to will always tie you down to the earth and you will be grounded here forever. You must be more like your brother and a take a chance … believe in yourself!”
Pai rose with a startling cry, his silhouette swiftly rising high above before disappearing into the clouds. When his brother returned, Vicente hid miserably, unwilling to share in his brother’s mystical experiences. Pai’s words haunted Vicente throughout the long hours of darkness.
Day after day Erasmus soared and glided eloquently with other fledglings and Vicente watched helplessly as they disappeared far out to sea to the nurseries of the gull world. He knew that Erasmus and his parents had lost all respect for him. Mae loyally continued to bring him food, but Vicente’s pain exceeded all hunger as he was engulfed over and again in solitude.
On one particular day, as Erasmus was perched high and ready to alight from the rooftop, Vicente’s intuition told him something was wrong. He pleaded with his brother to stay but Erasmus paused, gazing back at him sadly and then leapt into the skies. Vicente spent an anxious day patrolling the roof top and peering far out to the distant horizon. Angry storm clouds were moving in from North Africa and the hot and humid Sirocco wind began to howl around the rooftops. Dusky clouds began gathering together thickly overhead and all at once the twilight blackened into night.
Avo suddenly descended in a huge mantle beside Vicente.
“Your brother is lost!” screeched his grandfather. He raised his brightly coloured beak and honked loudly and plaintively up towards the black blanket of sky.
Mae and Pai searched with all the other elder gulls for days to try to find Erasmus, but he could not be found. A mighty stone fixed in Vicente’s heart, becoming heavier as each day passed that his brother failed to return. He missed his brother greatly; he missed his valour and might but most of all he missed the beat of his pulse beside him in the nest each night.
One evening as Vicente sadly watched the darkening velvet sky unfold with bright heavenly bodies, he thought he could hear his brother’s pulse far away in the distant ocean. He knew, even if he was able to fly, night flying was dangerous; but he allowed his feet to tip-toe right up close to the edge of the precipice. Then his beady eyes were suddenly opened to the wind streams previously invisible to him. His heart compelled him to drop, so … he let go; his body rapidly plummeted down and down. But then to his surprise, he was suddenly lifted like a leaf on a breeze as he accidentally harnessed onto a wind current. Ignoring cries from his elders on nearby rooftops, he felt the strength in his wings and began to soar.
Vicente flew further and further away from his nest; so far that he doubted he’d ever be able to return. He didn’t look back, but continued heading towards that familiar pulse. Eventually the rhythm of his brother’s heart seemed near. He carefully lowered to the call of the fragile beat and began descending rapidly towards the ocean, amazed that his wings held him so steady.
He was overcome with joy as he spotted Erasmus. His body was lying very still, and Vicente could see he was trapped in discarded fishing nets. Vicente managed to alight clumsily beside his brother. Ignoring the pain, he began swiping his young beak repeatedly across the nearby red rock. His sharp bill eventually obliterated the flayed covering of nets and he nestled down exhausted beside the limp feathered body of his brother … two souls again entwined with their pulses beating together in unison.
Dawn opened the Algarvian sky as the young Laridae brothers flew alongside each other towards the distant horizon, their spirits gliding and soaring together as silver angels of the skies, forever; citizens of heaven.