having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that,
whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity,
from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful
have been, and are being, evolved.”
― Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
When Maggie Mee finally opens her eyes and feels she can even move her bones after days of skyrocket temperatures and fever delirium, she is still in a state of confusion. But, in these very first moments of lucidity, one thing that appears crystal clear is the similarity between tropical fever and tropical rain. When they start, cramps and continuous pouring do not leave room for anything else, they absorb all energy and attention. At their peak, the only reasonable thing to do is to seek shelter and wait until it is all over. When they finally stop, when the eyes open and the body is no longer in pain or when a bit of sun and rainbow emerge after days of storm, they shed light on a devastated landscape that needs to be rebuilt. So, as she gets out of her bed and drags herself to the mirror, Maggie Mee feels a bit like a beach after a tsunami, like a hut sank in the mud by days and days of non-stop tropical rain.
– I should really stop playing the hippy environmentalist – Maggie Mee says, upset to see her body grown thin by sickness and to smell the stench of fever coming out of the bunch of bones that support her under hanging clothes. -bastard mutant mosquitoes.- Earlier, naively, Maggie Mee felt admiration for the speed these tiny creatures adapt to any situation and drug, but now she is the one who would like to genetically mutate in order to become unpalatable to any sting.
Maggie Mee gets lost in thoughts about mosquitoes, these infamous animals, victims as well because often the target of the damned parasites they carry. Luckily, Maggie Mee has not been stung by a gracious Plasmodium falciparum, a malaria parasites carrier, but fresh memories of cramps and pains immediately make her feel strong empathy for the billion people that every year are faced to this appalling disease. Analogies between human migration patterns and the diffusion of malaria as well as recent scientific studies suggest that human beings and malaria parasites maintain a strong genetic interplay, each side adapting and presenting genetic mutations in order to gain the upper hand. A war fought with DNA, a sophisticated and sneaky genetic struggle, just to dramatically summarize this complex process.
Maggie Mee immediately stops her thoughts, fearing they may be some remnants of fever-induced delirious mind travelling. She takes a deep breath and she cannot believe she is able to breath from the depth of her lungs without any problem. This spontaneous action had become tiring and now she wants more. At every breath, she feels vital strength slowly re-entering her body. After having felt like a kangaroo hit by a truck, it is normal that any minor feeling of wellbeing is perceived as a gift from the sky. Having almost kicked the bucket, having seen the flame that keeps her alive shaking dangerously, Maggie Mee is now rather interested in fuelling this feeble and shaky light and converting it into a warm and crackling fire to warm up her feet and roast some meat. The feeling of warmth and balance that gradually spreads through her tired bones is the confirmation, on her own skin, that the struggle for survival can be easily observed in humans, those arrogant beings affected by almighty self-assurance. Maggie Mee finds grit and determination in an exhausted body; suddenly, she is receptive to life again. After days between life and death, she feels an instinctive and unexplainable inner force supporting and holding her while it whispers soothing words in her ears.
Every haven hides its dangers, deceptions and pains; there is no reason then not to go for a stroll. It’s strawberry season and the only thing Maggie Mee now feels like is to eat plenty while she enjoys the landscape.
Sickness has already been replaced by curiosity and Maggie Mee packs a few rags. There she is, munching some disgusting expired cookies while she waits for a wrecked bus to be packed and stuffed to the limits of excess and ready to leave the shuttered station in the middle of nowhere where she has ended up.
– Considered the circumstances – she says to herself – before facing the world, I’d better get back on my feet. Hopefully – she adds – in the quest for missing supports I may find out the secret behind this breath of life, a breath that is tangible and real as much as it is airy and elusive.
Maggie Mee is thrilled for the adventures that may come and she goes on a pilgrimage to the high-altitude and cold jungle to pay tribute to the breath of life that keeps her alive. She also wants to see if there is a trick to keep this flame lit and burning. It may seem a contradiction that the instinct of survival has brought her to winding roads on board of vehicles driven by some totally crazy guys. Every sharp turn escaped unscathed is a miracle. She closes her eyes not to see the wrecks of some awful road accidents along the way that look at her giggling like skulls in a desert. Without realising it, she is actually getting closer to the relative importance of the one and only treasure we cherish within ourselves from the moment we are born to our death: life.
The road goes up and up and up. Valleys open up revealing hills and peaks. The jungle welcomes her like a chubby and smiley grandmother who she hasn’t seen in a while. She hugs her tightly and Maggie Mee can hear her bones cracking as this embrace lifts her off the floor. “Welcome back” Grandma Jungle says. “Now, let’s try to put some fat on these tiny bones!” Grandma Jungle adds, and she enters the kitchen moving her hips, as gracious as a seal.
This time Maggie Mee has chosen high-altitude jungle as a destination, leaving coconut trees and eternal heat behind her and she now goes up tortuous roads that cross immense stretches of Hevea –rubber trees- plantations. The hills are neatly cut by these orderly arranged light barked trees, each one bearing the container for the sticky white substance that will eventually become a low-quality toy or a tight condom. This makes her think to what extent the jungle must have been bigger, denser and fiercer. As she goes up, not centuries-old trees, but fresh bamboo bushes gradually become thicker and form the jungle. Maggie Mee closes her eyes and says a silent prayer to the disappeared jungle. Large bamboo trunks are light enough to sway as the wind blows and the music produced by the swish of these tall bushes covering all the shades of green instantly become friendly speakers.
Maggie Mee’s goal, after filling her stomach, is to try to understand what is meant by “life”. What the f### is life? A word on everybody’s mouth made of four simple letters comprising a meaning that has always been conveyed by speculation, obligations and threats or by cheesy poems about stuff that is not much related to life. However, life is all we know. – And even then, – Maggie Mee says to herself, – we do not know that much. A universally accepted definition of life does not exist.-
For the sake and obsession for knowledge, as Maggie Mee steps into the town spread out along the valley, she instinctively looks for something or someone who can give her some clues. She is not looking for the meaning of life, that’s clear, but for the essence of that breath of life she now feels pumping inside her.
The town is pretty impersonal, dwelled and frequented by human beings with different eye shapes that look at each other peacefully. Both locals and foreigners are equally wrapped in a cloud of fascination and exoticism that has not disappeared yet to reveal an exchange only based on cash. In this place, Maggie Mee notices, tourists define themselves “aware travellers” and locals haven’t learnt yet the different facets a smile can have. They smile or smoke opium along the road as they look at cars and other odd vehicles passing by. Stupas perched on the surrounding hilltops indicate cardinal points and they are one of the few reference points in large stretches of rice fields alternated with Hevea plantations. That’s it. There isn’t anything else.
Tons of children, quiet buffalos, wild pigs followed by numerous piglets and hens surrounded by dozens of tiny chicks show abundance of reproductive activity. Maggie Mee realises that even the t-shirts worn by the so-called “travellers” send the same universal message that can be found at every latitude and in every culture. Around here, the t-shirt “Save water, shower with me” replaces “Fuck me, I am famous” and, for as much as the real message may be hidden by an environmentalist slogan, the intention of the person wearing the t-shirt is exactly the same: an obsession for mating. That famous instinct for reproduction that gives the impression to maintain oneself alive and to give continuity to our existence.
Maggie Mee remarks a man in kaki clothes sitting in a small local restaurant. He is busy writing pages and pages of words in Latin. She immediately understands that it would be useful to start a conversation with this stranger with a scientific look. -Because there is not a universal definition of life- she thinks – In order to be politically correct I’ll start my research by the scientific explanation of it.
“Life”, the stranger, eventually identified as an expert of the vegetal world, starts, “is all that is not alive”.
And, with this line, his explanation ends. He looks at her with the typical expression of a scientist, the one that blends the pretension of almighty knowledge to the paranoid feeling of not knowing everything.
“Ah, well, that explains everything!“ Maggie Mee bursts out. The botanist shakes his head and breathes deeply in order not to shout in the face of this skinny and curious female who is harassing him with all these stupid questions. He adjusts his specks over his nose and restarts, adopting a didactic approach.
“What we mean is that we use specific criteria to tell apart living from non-living beings. Science refers to this.” Maggie Mee listens with interest, but after a few words she realises that, basically, in order to verify if a being is alive, one has to look if this being spends its time absorbing energy here and there and if it has a body that is somehow organised. They call this balance, they call this thirst and hunger and sexual appetite.
Death is another feature that separates living from non-living beings. Those who are alive will die sooner or later. Those who are not alive are eternal. “
Ah, like plastic, for instance.” Maggie Mee blurts out.
This silly comment is too much for the biologist, who stands up and goes, leaving Maggie Mee in a state of discouragement.
The biologist’s answer has not satisfied her thirst for knowledge and Maggie Mee decides to take her bike and ride into the jungle of the natural reserve next to the village in order to reflect a bit upon all this. She hopes pure nature will speak to her in clearer and more understandable words than a man met by accident in the street. She trusts in the power of the wind and the lushness of the natural world for finding clues that will help her in her quest. After having peddled a bit, Maggie Mee gets off the bike and take a stroll along the river that crosses the forest. She stops by a rock to get warmed by the sun and she starts gazing at the frantic activity that surrounds her. The picture is very bucolic. The water is flowing, dragonflies are buzzing, butterflies are flying around and voila’ ! In a small puddle full of frog eggs, a fly is voraciously having a meal or, maybe, Maggie Mee doubts for a moment, simply drowning in the sticky stagnant water. She stands up, keeps walking and, behind a bush further down the river, she discovers a meeting place. Dozens of butterflies are flying together. They are divided in groups of different colours and dimensions. There is a dozen of tiny couples with light blue wings, a few couples of Common Mormons and others with striped huge wings she has already seen somewhere else. She stops and she stays there, observing them without making the slightest movement. The butterflies are shaking their wings and rubbing their antennas. Just by looking at this regular, fast and continuous movement sends her into a trance as if the pheromones emitted by the dozens of butterflies in contact simultaneously were inebriating her too. After a few minutes of physical contact and rest from flying, the butterflies go back up and start flying in couples in a circular and fast dance. Maggie Mee finds herself surrounded by a cloud of colourful butterflies high from their mating encounter.
Seeing all these colourful butterflies massively mating in front of her and being enveloped by a cloud of life that reproduces in flight fills her with unexpected and intelligible joy; Maggie Mee finds herself smiling for the extremely accessible symbolism of this encounter. Even more so if one considers that butterflies are animals that do not live long and that the event she has witnessed is probably the top event in the short existence of these delicate and beautiful insects.
Maggie Mee goes back to her bike and she now feels at ease and fully healing. Her thin white cheeks have turned to the colour of tamarind and her boney arms swell and take shape at each peddle. The breath of life is there and supports her. Suspended in total happiness, she peddles up and down the rice fields and plantations and each metre is a step forward. It is a step forward into the tangibility of existence emanated by this unintelligible and non-replicable breath of energy. Maggie Mee is surprised by the accidental encounter with the butterflies, but she is probably even more pleasantly surprised to see that her body, that yesterday wouldn’t even support her, is today maintaining its balance on a unstable object such as a bicycle. This desired and temporary attained balance is still protected by a veil of mystery. Though surrendering to the feelings of powerlessness and extreme vulnerability induced by this sense of balance, Maggie Mee can see that it is thanks to her feet and the rhythmic movement of her legs that she is actually maintaining her balance and the resulting magic energy that she can feel. She has probably not lifted the veil on what is this vital strength, but, at least, she can feel it vibrating inside her.
– According to the biologist, – she says to herself with relief – I am alive. -And my breath of life is nothing but a distinctive trait that I share with other living beings. Nothing more, nothing less. –
Suddenly, as she takes a slope at fast speed, she feels an instinct of protection towards this breath of life. She feels the meaning of life is to honour this energetic breeze that maintains it all up.
“Let us come into this world gently and, at our own pace, let us discover the importance of this vital and innate force called life. Mostly, let us die in peace. Let the breath of life join the wind, do not force it to stay stuck in a guest body that has already honoured it. The breath of life will find ways to create new life elsewhere.