The colourful wedges twisted and turned above our heads. If we squinted, we could almost believe they soared among the clouds. There was very little ground-level breeze in the park that afternoon, so the kite enthusiasts had to get a running start to get airborne. Mira shifted next to me, lazily watching as an elderly gentleman gave his kite more string.
Mira loved the park, and her favourite time of year was approaching. She loved kite season. I was rarely ever able to enjoy it with her, since I preferred to sleep in on Saturdays.
Although I enjoyed her company, I couldn’t help but wonder why she wanted to see me that day. Ever since our breakup, Mira and I rarely saw each other. My friendship with her father, however, had grown stronger. Nearly a year had passed since Mr. Lenard had purchased my first real painting. I could never be sure why he had done so, since he’d had no real interest in art. As time passed, I began to suspect that our friendship was his way of managing his distrust of his daughter’s boyfriend.
It had been several months since Mira and I had stopped being lovers, but still, Mr. Lenard gave me too much credit. He still saw me as his daughter’s confidant. In his mind, I held the key to all Mira’s secrets. I was the guard that he needed to bribe.
I’d had lunch with Mr. Lenard the week before. As usual, he questioned me about Mira. I was able to convince him that I knew nothing of his daughter’s plans. I felt embarrased and sorry for him, having to ask a near stranger for a report on his daughter.
I thought of my own father, only a year gone. I thought about our own breakdown. I felt embarrased and sorry for myself as well, as I pictured my father in Mr. Lenard’s place, only he’d had no one to ask. I’d decided not to follow in his footsteps and become a soldier like him. There were just other things I needed to do. Because of my decision, our friendship had ended.
It was then that I decided to help Mr. Lenard. I had decided to find out about his daughter’s plans. I wanted to help him to stop his child from drifting away. It was a noble aspiration, I thought, and I wished someone had done it for me. I decided to be completely open about this plan, and I told Mira a few days after the meeting with her father. She was strangely comfortable with my plan. I suspected that she wanted my help as well.
“There are too many bees here,” Mira pouted, “and all the kites look the same today.” It was true; the kites were all prefabricated plastic stunt jobs, emblazoned with racing colours or splashes of pop culture. Still, I thought, even those flying lunchboxes were beautiful.
The park was busy for a March afternoon. It had been unseasonably warm that week. It felt like an indian summer. Squirrels milled and frolicked in the grass. Parents watched as their children played on the swings. Lovers strolled, hand-in-hand. It seemed strange to be enjoying such a beautiful summerry day when there were snowstorms just weeks before.
A fat bumblebee hovered loudly near my feet, its wings a blur of viridescence. Seconds later, as another descended next to Mira’s right ear, she yelped, nearly jumping to her feet.
“What the hell are they doing here, anyway? Isn’t it too early in the year for bees?” Mira grumbled, smoothing her blouse as she settled back onto the blanket. I managed to hide my amusement by turning my face to the sky. Mira loved the outdoors, but couldn’t tolerate the slightest of nature’s intrusions. She was a true city girl, but that only endeared her to an overfed, pampered city boy.
My reverie was interrupted by Mira’s exclamation. “Oh, wow,” she breathed, sitting forward, “Now that’s a kite!” I looked down to see a ragged, dusty little boy with an enormous blue and gold diamond kite. The cloth and balsa airship was nearly half again the size of its owner, and even with the weak ground level breeze, it threatened to tear itself from his grip.
She watched as the boy released the kite. The wind received it like a long-gone child, and the kite bobbed and wheeled as the boy unwound its string. I heard Mira sigh as she watched it receive the wind. The air wooshedthrough the ribbons on it’s tail. It was brilliant. I was enthralled by it’s movements. It steadied itself at times, only to twist and loop and chase it’s tail again. I almost believed I was watching a kite teach itself to fly.
“What did you tell him?”, she inquired. Mira was asking about her father again. The kite dipped and banked, dragging its tail gracefully through arcs and figure eights. I had placed myself in the remarkable position of being a daughter’s emissary to her father. Above the rustling of leaves and the other sounds in the park, I was sure I heard the wind whistling across the kite string.
“What could I tell him?”, I asked back. “I wasn’t sure really what to say.” A lie. I knew full well that Mira wanted to leave school. I couldn’t tell her father that I didn’t know why she was leaving. I sensed then that the answer was forthcoming.
“The earliest question I remember being asked was, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?'”, she said. “It’s the oldest question I have, and the one I never ever found an answer to. I’m beginning to think that we don’t get to decide the answer; life does.”
“Well, that’s not really the answer, is it?” I asked. “The question doesn’t take any outside factors into consideration. Think about it.. How many children want to be president? How many of them actually get the chance? It’s about the aspiration, the ideal, not the reality.”
She paused for a second, thinking over what I’d said. “I got into textiles because I’d never really thought about it. One day—I don’t even remember when—I said ‘I want to be a fashion designer’. The next thing I know, I’m here. Did I really think about it? How much of my decisions were based on what I really wanted? It makes no sense.”
I honestly didn’t understand her dilemma. When faced with a wealth of possibilities, why do we always feel trapped, I asked myself. I felt that it was selfish to spend so much time contemplating the issue; you could always change your mind later, right? She was squandering a great opportunity. She was getting a great education, and didn’t need to work or borrow money like I did. Now she was leaving home and moving away from her father. She’d already found a place to stay, but still hadn’t told her father any of her intentions.
Mr. Lenard was a proud, successful man. He wanted his daughter to be happy. He would understand, I thought, if she would only be honest. Besides, she was an adult and had every right to drop out of school.
I thought of my own father again. I’d never been dishonest about my aspirations, but still there had been resentment between us. Over the months that passed, I’d managed to console myself that I’d handled the situation like an adult.
“Have you ever thought about what you really want?”, she asked. “I mean we know what makes us happy and what doesn’t. ..Usually. But what would make you happy ultimately, and what would you settle for?”
“Well,” I began, “I haven’t really-”
“Now just pretend for a moment that you didn’t have to grow up and find a career. You didn’t have to please the world. There was no religion, no one to be obligated to. Do you know what would make you happy? Is happiness really that easy?”
I looked at the boy, happy in determination, controlling his kite with skill and grace. A pint-sized virtuoso in filthy clothes. In that moment, I realized that happiness stops being easy when you ask yourself such questions. I started to feel very old. Time was getting away from me, as surely as Mira was leaving. Briefly, a small, thick cloud passed over the park, covering us with a deep, unnatural shadow.
A weak breeze caused a desiccated leaf to attach itself to her blouse. Annoyed, Mira picked it off and threw it to the wind, then focused herself on the kite.
“It’s like we spend our lives searching for things to make ourselves happy”, She went on, “We spend so much time wandering like lost souls. It’s like we’ve lost a part of ourselves. But we don’t know what it is..”
She was still for a moment as we gazed up at the sky. I wondered what she was thinking. As the boy fed more string, as the kite rose even higher, the chances were greater that he would lose his kite. I found myself becoming more anxious. Mira shifted again, fixedly watching as the kite moved away.
“It’s kind of like making a wish”, she stared at the kite, “You set it free and hope that something happens.”
“Or, maybe it’s like a child”, I offered, “A reflection of your hopes and dreams. You set it free and hope it survives to return to you.”
Mira hmmed in false contemplation. She didn’t want to hear what I had to say. I felt attuned to this woman, and at the same time, I knew it could take a lifetime for me to understand her.
She reached over, quite suddenly, and took my hand. For the first time, I felt that we were more than ex-lovers. We had become friends this afternoon, and with just a touch from her, I abandoned my selfless mission in favour of a more familiar one. I wanted her to go, but I wanted her to remember what she would leave behind.
I slid my arm around her waist, putting my other hand on her chest. She felt like a fortress of white cotton. Her breathing was deep and her bosom swelled against me like a tide. I barely heard the kite now, as it fluttered to boundless heights.
I kissed her. She was a feast of textures. Her silky lips. The coarse fabric of her blouse. Her supple breasts. The smooth caress of her hand on my cheek.
On our way to the gate, we saw the boy again. He was standing, arms akimbo, staring upwards. Mira stopped, and we stood quietly to watch. The magnificent kite was stuck on the outer branch of a tall tree. It dangled by its tail, swaying miserably, two-thirds the way up. The boy still held the roll of string in his hand. the broken end of the kite string lay in the grass. It was obviously too weak to hold such a powerful kite.
With equal parts amusement and fascination, Mira watched as the boy silently planned a rescue. The boy climbed as deftly and fearlessly as he’d controlled the kite. I took Mira’s hand and we walked through the gate. I took her hand, and at the same time, I let her go. I would tell her father nothing.