Sofía and the Macaw by Ana M. Fores Tamayo

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In the forbidden room, Sofía sighed. She knew her brother would be angry, but the colors there were so pretty. Her room was also nice, but it didn't attract her like this one. The blue greens of the jungle, with its crying crocodile sleeping on the bed the color of rivers, the shining mirror of an imagined swamp, the pink serpent coiled around the window: his exotic retreat wrapped her in dreams. The wooden birds also moved her—the multicolored toucan, the singing macaw, the eagle flying quickly, without motion. Her brother's tropical cavern seemed so beautiful, and the day outside was so ugly, so so stormy...silent and still sat Sofía, looking blankly outward, breathing softly, very softly, dreaming of emerald waters and restless rivers...

The macaw awakened. He looked at Sofía suspiciously and asked her, a bit frightened: "Hey, miss, what are you doing here? Should you be wandering about in these mysterious parts?" And Sofía, surprised, confused, answered the bird: "Well, no, Mr. Macaw. My brother doesn't let me bother him in his funky room. But, well, he... he's not here, and I really did want to spend some time playing with all his wonderful toys."

The macaw smiled. He lost a bit of his natural alarm against the beautiful girl. "Alright, Sofía. Your name is Sofía, isn't it? I've heard the lady of the house calling you that way. So now, do you want to go with me and travel through the swamps? Do you want to climb the highest mountains, to see the big round world that's filled with adventure? Do you want to go with me to greet the shining Sun?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Macaw," answered Sofía. "With you, Mr. Macaw. I want to go with you!"

And so, they began their journey, the beautiful girl Sofía and the macaw, her delightful guide for the day.

Walking, steadily walking, the two wandered through rich, lush jungles. They crossed paths hampered by spiderlike roots and covered with mushy, oozing mud. Above, there appeared a crown of blue green foliage, while below, a sea of insect life spilled over. But they walked on and on, without stopping, until they reached a river.

"Do you want to turn back, Sofía?" asked the macaw, who did not get as tired since he could fly. Oh, no, Mr. Macaw," answered Sofía. "I want to go with you. With you, Mr. Macaw, with you!"

And so, they would follow the gloomy river, carving out a path through the overgrown bush. As they continued, they would spot the exotic flowers of a hidden swamp, and they would observe, in a still, quiet moment, a curious animal who would follow their trail, glassy-eyed. Once again, they stopped by a flooded marsh. Before they could rest one minute, though, they spied a giant, creeping crocodile, peering at them, his head covered in algae, his jaw half-opened.

"Oh, Mr. Macaw... I'm afraid, Mr. Macaw, I'm afraid!" screamed Sofía, fear in her voice. The macaw, surprised and scared as well, jumped to the gnarled branch of a fallen tree. "Oh, what are we going to do? What can we do? I don't know how to fight against a big and creepy crocodile!"

But the crocodile, half asleep and extremely gentle in any case, laughed and said: "Don't be afraid, my friends. I won't eat anyone, I assure you, especially a beautiful girl in the company of a gallant and multicolored bird."

And so, they all began to talk, the eerie crocodile with the colored macaw, and his partner, the beautiful girl Sofía. They talked a lot, of the green river's twisting path, of its numerous waterfalls, of the dangers these attracted, of the beautiful wonders that lay hidden in the deep, swift, and rambling river. And so, the time passed quickly, until the girl, tired at last of idly chatting, and anxious to begin her journey again, asked softly, very softly: "Sir Crocodile, Mr. Macaw and I are going on a great adventure to look for the Sun. We are going to travel through the swamps, to climb the highest mountains, to see the big round world filled with adventure. We are going to greet the shining Sun. Can you tell us which way to go, Sir Crocodile? And would you like to join us on this great escapade of ours?"

And the crocodile, thinking a bit, and closing his sad tearful eyes so that he might seem more philosophical, answered: "The Sun cascades to the west. At times, he hides behind the clouds, and he disappears beneath the mountains. He even conceals himself behind the shadows of radiant flowers, shining in the desert. In the valleys, he sometimes collapses behind a sigh, but he always reappears, and he keeps moving forward, always toward the west, always toward nightfall. Let's go then toward the west, my friends, and perhaps, we will find someone there who can better guide us. And so, the crocodile hurried from the deep green waters, stretched legs covered with the hardest hide imaginable, and began his trek, followed by the macaw, that multicolored bird, and the beautiful girl, Sofía.

Walking, quickly walking, the three left the dark and dangerous jungle. They passed wide open roads, miles covered by a yellow golden savannah. Everything appeared quiet and tranquil; even the wind whispered its poetic songs. They witnessed above them a brilliant, blue, cloudless sky. Below, the infinite prairie, with its isolated trees, spread endlessly onward. Hiding behind the little vegetation they would find, if they looked hard enough, a wide-eyed possum searching for food between the occasional branches of green in that boundless yellow sea. But they trudged on and on, without stopping, through the vast, open grazing lands, until they reached the foot of an enormous mountain.

"Do you want to turn back, Sofía? And you, Sir Crocodile, do you want to return?" asked the macaw, who, as always, would not get as tired since he could fly. "Oh, no, Mr. Macaw," both answered. "We want to go with you. With you, Mr. Macaw, with you."

And so they persisted, scaling up that towering mountain, making way among the rocks that would slip and fall into the void below. On the trail, they noticed the vegetation changing from a sallow pasture to a grassless, steep incline. This tilting bluff was scattered with small, crooked pines, choking for life in the heights of that invincible mountain. Breathlessly, the three climbers paused once more to regain their strength, but before they could rest one minute, they discovered a muttering alpaca, grumbling over their rude arrival.

"Ah, Mr. Macaw, Sir Crocodile. I'm afraid, my friends, I'm afraid!" screamed Sofía, with that fear in her voice, which slowly, they were beginning to recognize. Both the macaw and the crocodile, surprised and afraid as well, hid behind a rock that protruded from that grotesque mountain almost reaching the skies. "Oh, what will we do? What can we do? We don't know how to fight against such a big and bad-tempered alpaca!" screamed the panicky friends.

But the alpaca, noting that the three were smaller than she, and realizing that they were terrorized by her height, amused herself thinking she could spook them. And so, she decided to speak, in a menacing, rasping voice: "What are you doing here, disturbing my tranquil paradise? Can't you see that I've escaped to these remote hills so I won't have to talk with anyone?"

Sofía glanced at her pleadingly, offered her the sweetest smile, and soon the alpaca felt sorry for having behaved so badly. "Oh, Mrs. Alpaca... we are lost, lady of the mountain... Mr. Macaw, Sir Crocodile, and I are going on a grand voyage. We have already rambled through the jungles and the prairie lands. Now we are climbing the highest peaks imaginable, and still we would like to know more of the world filled with adventure. Do you want to go with me to meet the shining Sun? With us, Mrs. Alpaca? And could you point us in the right direction?”

Mrs. Alpaca, thinking a bit, and slowly gnawing some grass so that she could savor each delicious bite, closed her big, pompous eyes. Thinking herself more knowledgeable this way, she recounted in a low but decisive tone: "The Sun descends in the west. He hides now and then behind the clouds, and he rests here in the mountains before continuing his journey. In the desert his strength returns, and he shines hard and bright, toasting the white sands, blushing them into the softest silk. In the valleys, he hides again, breathes his gentle, quiet rays, but still he persists, always fading toward the west, always plunging into nightfall. Let's go then toward the west, my friends, and maybe, we will find someone there who can better guide us.”

And thus Mrs. Alpaca began the dangerous descent. The scary reptile, Sir Crocodile, slowly followed her. He now seemed more afraid than everyone else, so he crept gingerly. That macaw of many colors who sometimes flew, but now did so only with fear, rose second. Lastly, the beautiful girl Sofía grappled with any rock that would help her keep her balance. In this way, she hoped to assure her wavering steps. Walking, arduously walking, the four inched downward, a little at a time, marveling at the snow that sparkled on the mountain peaks surrounding them. The pine trees danced in the trembling wind, and not one animal would lean out curiously from its darkened nook. At times, the volcanic lands shuddered with violence, and the tremors they would feel as they walked over the tortuous and narrow passages made them shiver with panic. But they walked on and on, without stopping, through those cramped, tight, and twisting trails, until they reached a valley jutting into the rocks of a jagged coastline. Coming closer to firm ground, the four cheered up when, at last, they could rest from that cragged and steep path, that trail with no direction, no final destination.

"Do you want to turn back, Sofía? And you, Sir Crocodile, Mrs. Alpaca, do you want to return?" asked the macaw, who, as always, would not get as tired since he could fly. "Oh, no, Mr. Macaw," answered all three. "We want to go with you. With you, Mr. Macaw, with you." And so they continued, finally reaching the foot of a magnificent and infinite ocean, of such a deep azure blue that it blinded them. Fatigued, and thus resting from their journey, they slowly became aware of someone, silent and still, resting in the midst of those warm soft sands. There, they beheld an immense turtle, who carried on his back a high, rounded shell, of a yellowish, brown hue, the color of earth.

"Oh, Mr. Macaw... I'm afraid, Mr. Macaw, I'm afraid!" screamed Sofía, with that fear in her voice that they now recognized only too, too well. And the macaw, like the crocodile and the alpaca, surprised and also afraid, tried to hide behind some palm tree, some small shrub anywhere in that picturesque beach that caressed the sea. "Oh, what will we do, what can we do? We don't know how to fight against that scaly, unmoving hunchback," screeched the four friends, creating an uncanny vision by the shores of those deep deep waters.

But the mammoth tortoise, without noticing any movement in those white sands, blankly stared beyond the horizon, dreaming about a warm, carefree paradise, a land without risk, without strange occurrences. The four friends approached, and yet that sea turtle seemed bewildered, overwhelmed with wonder, blind against any danger that might come near. They gazed at that ancient dreamer covered from chest to back, protected by his own hardened body. Standing in front of that toothless wonder, the fear in them melted. Only then was Sofía able to mutter some words, and she called to him, the sound of her voice seeping through the turtle's mottled shield of armor. The yellow, red, and black spots on his shell quivered, while the beautiful turtle seemed to shrink within himself. "I have done nothing; leave me in peace!" wobbled the shaken creature.

And Sofía, pitying the poor animal, responded softly: "Oh, Professor Galápago, we need help. We are lost, philosopher and wandering thinker. Mr. Macaw, Sir Crocodile, Mrs. Alpaca, and I are going on a grand voyage. We have already rambled through the jungles and the prairie lands. We have also climbed the highest peaks imaginable, and still we would like to know more of the world filled with adventure. Do you want to go with me to meet the shining Sun? With us, Professor Galápago? And could you point us in the right direction? But the gargantuan tortoise remained quiet, still, dormant, while that solitary question echoed in the winds of the abandoned beach. The friends gaped at the turtle, unbelieving, and the girl repeated: "Please, Professor Galápago, we need help. We are looking for the Sun, all powerful one, you who know it all. Please, please help us, I beg you!"

But though Sofía pleaded with him, that colossal giant remained shrunken within his shell, not responding to her plea. Mr. Macaw flew above him, but the ancient seer would not raise his eyes toward eternity. Sir Crocodile wound himself around his thick, scaly limbs, but the silent master only shrank further inside himself. Mrs. Alpaca pealed against his shield of rock, but her chiming strokes resounded like echoes in the emptiness of those sandy dunes. And not until Sofía began to cry, not until her pearly teardrops glittered as they fell, did that ocean giant feel compelled to speak. When he saw the girl wading in her own tears, the gargantuan beast finally, and with great effort, forced out a tiny head, looked at the tender weeping girl, and was touched.

Only then did this ancient one speak, with a low, grave, and all-knowing voice. "Don't cry, girl. I don't like anyone's tears, especially those of a beautiful girl in the company of such exotic animals. I will tell you what you need to do to reach the path to the Sun." And then the intelligent turtle began: "Hold on to one another. Hold on tight, my friends. All of you will follow Mr. Macaw, the flyer, who can guide you through the heavens. You have already traveled through the jungles and the prairies. You have already climbed the highest mountains, and you already know much of this big wide world filled with adventure. "Now, the last leg of your journey awaits. You must sail between the clouds; you must journey through the bluest skies, the blackest, the grayest heavens. Still you must experience the times filled with incessant rain and the heaviest of snows. During this trek, you will feel the unbearable, tiring heat; in the same way, you will tremble with shocking and unending cold. After enduring all these dangers, you will reach, at last, the bright bright Sun. There, you will be able to greet the grandest of all stars. Let's go then toward the clouds, my friends, and we will reach our heavenly goal, the infinite Sun."

And then they grasped each other. Beginning that strange single file that formed a ghostly silhouette was Sofía, clutching at Mr. Macaw. The rest followed behind. It was an amazing sight, those flying dreamers of extravagant winds. Nonetheless they flew. Through the foggy skies they soared, and they glided quickly, doggedly, with an absolute destiny in mind.

"Wake up, my girl, wake up," her mother called softly, and she hugged her so that she would not be frightened. "You know how your brother gets," repeated her mother. "Wake up, Sofía, wake up." But Sofía opened her enormous eyes, looked at her mother sweetly, and answered, dreaming still: "Of course, Mr. Macaw, of course. Soon, we will reach the Sun..." At the same time that she murmured these words, Sofía turned. She wanted no one to bother her. She wanted to keep on dreaming, that Sofía; she wanted to keep on flying. That beautiful and adventurous girl wanted, still, to reach the Sun...


Ana M. Fores Tamayo writes: Being an academic not paid enough for my trouble, I wanted instead to do something that mattered: work with asylum seekers. I advocate for marginalized refugee families from Mexico and Central America. Working with asylum seekers is heart wrenching, yet satisfying. It is also quite humbling. My labor has eased my own sense of displacement, being a child refugee, always trying to find home. In parallel, writing is my escape: I have published in The Raving Press, Indolent Books, the Laurel Review, Shenandoah, and many other anthologies and journals, both here and internationally, online and in print. My poetry in translation with its accompanying photography has been exhibited in art fairs and galleries as well. I hope you like my art; it is a catharsis from the cruelty yet ecstasy of my work. Through it, I keep tilting at windmills.

Author's note

When my children were young, I was studying for my doctorate in Comparative Literature, and I wanted to write my thesis on the collective notion of humankind, told through stories and folktales. I knew there was a lot of work already done on the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, but myths from other parts of the world fascinated me, especially from the indigenous regions of Mexico, Central, and South America. The similarities of these tales to each other, from peoples of the world who had no contact whatsoever because they were in such diverse geographical areas, intrigued me. In the end, my mentor talked me out of pursuing this train of thought, however, because he said the subject was just too vast, and I would get lost in the telling. But I stayed with that idea always, and as a young teacher, I taught myths of many other cultures to my students; they were happy to hear about the Gods of the Sun and the Rain and how the world was formed, but from their perspective of this side of the world…

And so when I had my own children, I would make up stories for them too. I would mix classical elements with myth, and I would create a fantastical world just for them. This was one of the stories that grew out of those made-up bedtime stories. I would tell them this particular story often, but always changing the animals and the terrains and the vegetation. The characters would always do the same actions though. They would go on an adventure together, always: ecological, mythological, and magical to the end. My daughter, all grown up now, asked me to write this favorite story of hers down one day. And so I did.