Translated by Pina Piccolo. Cover photo by Lucia Cupertino.
Towards the end of August, Amazonian parrots migrate here in search of what remains of the Roble Negro, black oak forests. A migration implies loss, danger, disorientation, but also the sublime excitement of pursuing a search.
How do parrot senses work? How do they manage to get here, traveling thousands of miles, passing over valleys, sinuous rivers and rugged peaked mountains? Their lightness keeps on manifesting itself like a cyclically repeating mystery or magic spell, in the midst of the sadness of devastation.
Sometimes, when the oaks have no seeds or have too few of them, the parrots come here looking for corn. They approach the fields and frantically pick at the cobs. The exasperated farmers chase them away. My neighbors use weird scarecrows, some even point rifles at them to scare them away, managing to kill a few, other farmers lock them in captivity in small cages, still others limit themselves to cursing their return. I, on the other hand, do not forget the joy they have given me since childhood, cannot forget their brushstrokes in the sky nor the caress of their cries. I think of them as I sow my corn, like they are part of my family.
Black oaks are huge, leafy trees, fit to be hugged. I was born in a small house a few steps from a forest that has guarded them for centuries, here on the Farallone Mountains, far from the noise of the city of Cali, which I always witnesses from afar as it turned on and off, swarmed and grew. The road back home never bored me, on the contrary.The oak trail has always helped me find answers or even simply tranquility. I remember when I was a child hiding in the cavity of some oak tree. My father’s voice echoed in the mountains, as he was looking for me in vain. Like any respectable rascal I didn’t answer him. I remained well protected in Grandpa Oak’s arms. There was no better place to be a child.
Once, I was on the mountain slope, sitting, having a nice feast of fruit. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw three guys wearing ski masks appear just a little below me. I heard them talking among themselves. Then came an unfortunate silence. What followed was the unmistakable sound of the chainsaw and, not long after, the even more unmistakable sound of a felled oak. Within a few minutes they cut many more. I was just over seven years old. Without the internet or lectures, I had an idea of what deforestation is.
I crouched down, intending to hide and not be seen, but by accident, I dropped a pebble as I was trying to stretch one of my legs that was falling asleep.
– Who is there?
– There’s a little girl!
– Exactly, she’s just a little girl…
But the other kept being upset, didn’t want to let it go. So I ended up being kidnapped: my hands tied, my eyes blindfolded, my mouth taped shut. I could barely breathe. I didn’t understand where they wanted to take me, I could only smell the strong odor their sweaty bodies gave off. The one who seemed the more fanatical of the bunch gave orders to the other two as if they were his puppets. His actions were led by irrationality, I would never have been able to recognize them with those ski masks and, therefore, would have never been able to report them. With hindsight today, I would say that ending up in prison was exactly what they deserved fo having deforested a species in danger of extinction. The fact is that delusional paranoia is a beast that leads to many unnecessary evils.
I heard an engine start. They had put me on a pickup truck and god knows what they would do to me, was what I kept telling myself obsessively. I was extremely scared. But what saddened me even more was thinking about my parents’ suffering, how they would consider me a missing person. I was in the hands of three thugs who had just thrown away a piece of my childhood, a part of me.
The next stages of my kidnapping have faded from my memory, most likely because the cloth covering my mouth was soaked in chloroform.
When I reopened my eyes, I found myself in a small, very damp room with peeling paint and a small window with bars, way at the top of the wall, letting in a skinny ray of light, but not allowing me to see the outside. Fortunately, I had no scratches or signs of violence. Next to a falling apart and smelly cot, there was a plate of by now cold and stale soup, a piece of bread and water. They looked terrible, but my hunger got the better of me and I devoured everything in a few seconds. A strange silence prevailed outside, interrupted every now and then by the cry of a guacharaca which, fluttering about, had landed on my window for a few seconds. I wanted to rest, but I found that cot repulsive. I realized, however, that I would have to get used to it. The floor was certainly no better. I fell asleep, but actually I remained vigilant.
Suddenly, in fact, I heard a great commotion and a rolling of logs. I deduced that the oak log storage must have been located behind the small room. What would happen to them? What was in store for me, together with them?
The excitable gang leader shouted and scolded one of the other two in such a loud voice that made me realize that he didn’t think there were people around who could hear him. So, I was isolated from everything and everyone, probably lost in one of the many woods of my Colombia.
Several hours went by and it began to get dark. They seemed to have forgotten about me, but I could distinctly hear the breathing of the third thug who stood sentry behind my door. They had forgotten dinner, they had certainly skipped snack time. I was hungry, my gut was grumbling. At home I ate every three or four hours. In the following days, however, I had to get used to the idea of having a single meal throughout the day, always the same: stale soup, hard bread and water. They left me a bottle with a liter of water and that was it. The third thug came in, in the company of the other to keep an eye on me, left me the food, threw away my urine and my feces accumulated in a half-dirty plastic bucket and rearranged it in the corner of the little room. There was neither a ‘good morning’ nor a ‘how are you’. Once they asked me if I was cold at night, but I said no. They treated me like one of those little pigs locked up in a stable all their lives, unaware of what will happen the next day: nothing special like yesterday or suddenly some new development?
The days were marked by the noise produced by the shifting oaklogs as they unloaded the new arrivals, I surmised. I also heard the chainsaw and so I was certain that they were cutting them into smaller pieces. Then, there was the same guacharaca who appeared every now and then and left again. Finally, the yelling and screaming of the excitable gang leader.
One day I heard one of their conversations.
– We have to free her. It’s on the national news.
– But then won’t it be worse for us? Let’s eliminate her.
– Calm down a bit, are you joking? She doesn’t know who we are, we’ve always used ski masks around her, otherwise we’d be in real trouble now.
The excitable gang leader listened, but did not reply and went away.
The next day, at meal time, I was blindfolded, once again with my mouth taped shut, my hands tied and that smell in my nostrils that made me sick to my stomach, even if I was now part of that smell, this time. I had never been allowed a shower.
Would they throw me away like a sack of potatoes? Or would they release me?
After quite some time, I’d say at least an hour and a half on a bumpy road, they opened the door and freed me from all my restrains.
.- You are free to go.
They gave me a few coins in my hand and slipped away. I found a phone booth and called my parents.
I returned home at the end of August, like the Amazonian parrots that come to visit us: I returned to my parents’ arms, back to the usual trails, to the roots of my black oaks. Every year, when the Amazonian parrots make their appearance flying overhead and showing up in our homes, even now, several decades after that experience, I celebrate the renewed magic of returning to life.
LUCIA CUPERTINO (1986, Polignano a Mare). Writer, cultural anthropologist and translator. After her degree in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology (University of Bologna), she earned a Masters in Anthropology of the Americas (Complutense University of Madrid) with a thesis on the translation of Nahuatl literary sources. She has been living for many years between Latin America and Italy, with shorter stays in Australia, Germany and Spain, linked to research, educational and agroecology projects. She writes in Italian and Spanish and has published: Mar di Tasman (Isola, Bologna, 2014); the bilingual collection Non ha tetto la mia casa – No tiene techo mi casa (Casa de poesía, San José, 2016, Versante Steep Communalism Award); the origami book Cinco poemas de Lucia Cupertino (Los ablucionistas, Mexico City, 2017, her short story collection I rituali dell’addio was published in 2023 by Giulio Perrone Editore). Her poetry and works of fiction have appeared in Italian and international magazines and anthologies. Some of her literary production has been translated into English, Chinese, Spanish, Bengali and Albanian. She is the editor of the poetry anthology 43 poeti per Ayotzinapa. Voci per il Messico e i suoi desaparecidos (Arcoiris, Salerno, 2016, critical mention in the Lilec Literary Translation Award – University of Bologna); MuoviMenti. Segnali da un mondo viandante (Terre d’Ulivi, Lecce, 2016) and Canodromo di Bárbara Belloc (Fili d’Aquilone, Rome, 2018). Jury member for the Trilce Prize 2018, Sydney, in collaboration with the Instituto Cervantes. One of the founding members of the digital literary journal www.lamacchinasognante.com, she uses that space to promote literary and cultural initiatives in Italy and abroad.