Ala hadn’t noticed the waiter serving her her orange juice. It was as if the glass had materialized out of nowhere when the cloak of reverie slipped off. She felt embarrassed, inattentive, boorish. Another stumble in the proud lineage of stumbles she called her life.
“Thank you!” she called as she saw him step back inside, but he didn’t turn. Sometimes it’s too late to be acknowledged.
The stout cardboard box on the seat next to her was all she had taken. Her siblings were probably still quibbling over cutlery and jewelry, but Ala had left as soon as she could. The only inheritance she valued was the one she already had, a shared life’s worth of memories. The box contained things that had been hers to begin with: some old toys and diaries. Stuff that didn’t belong to anyone else and that didn’t belong in the trash. Yet.
From the corner of her eye, Ala noticed something flittering near her glass of juice. It was a monarch butterfly, one of many she had seen on their annual trek southward.
“Well hello there,” she said. “Go ahead, have a sip. You’ll need the energy.”
The insect landed on the rim of the glass and touched its proboscis to the orange liquid. Ala knew it would soon rejoin its colony and ultimately make its way to their ancestral breeding grounds down south. There, it would die. Next year, its children — and their children — would migrate back north again, completing the cycle.
“And they won’t be carrying a box full of memories with them,” she thought. Or did they, somewhere deep inside the life-code that spurred them ever onward? What code was Ala carrying? And what would happen to it, if she never learned to stop stumbling and start flying?
Careful not to disturb the monarch, she got up and stepped into the café. She quickly spotted the waiter behind the bar and went over to him. He smiled.
“I just wanted to say sorry. My mind was a thousand miles away. But thank you.”
“No worries. Can I get you anything else?”
“Thanks, I’m fine.”
When Ala got back to her table, the box was still there but the monarch had gone. For a moment, she didn’t feel like she was stumbling anymore. Every firm step is an averted fall, and maybe that is all there is.
• • •