I jump down the small drop to the grassy road. Tall, brown grass overruns it, thorny weeds branching up from the dry ground. Long stalks of fennel huddle together. Lizards skitter away from my shoes, and they dart down deep cracks in the earth. The road snakes down the valley. Behind it is a golden brown bluff. Tall grass stands, waving gently—the whole bluff looks like a giant river, swaying back and forth, back and forth.
I run down the hill, summer liberties rising through my stomach. Four days ago I’d graduated from elementary to middle school. The jump was a big one. I was leaving the place that was familiar, that hadn’t changed for seven years. The old was comfortable, the new was…
Spiny weeds latch themselves onto my jeans. A noise in the bushes, a hawk calls. They fly by. I slow, reaching a fork in the road. The left fork winds around the back side of the bluff, the right climbs up it.
I choose left.
Avocado trees hang loose over the trail, casting blotchy late-afternoon shadows. A hawk calls again, flying directly overhead before it lands on a branch. It eyes me, wondering who this stranger is in the middle of his territory. The hawk ruffles its feathers, turning away.
I step back.
Walking slower, I hear only the swish, swish of wind through the grass. Another hawk joins the first, but I don’t look back. They call to each other, and fly to a closer branch.
Their tones are angry—fast and sharp.
Crisp leaves crunch beneath me. Spiny leaves stick to my socks. The trail is winding away from the couple of hawks, up a slight hill. The lizards are still.
A flash of white catches my eye. I bend down, picking up half of an eggshell. It’s small; I almost crush it in my hand. The jagged edge is cracked cleanly, where the small bird must have picked his way out. Maybe flew out of the nest. Maybe left his family. Maybe the little bird wasn’t ready to go at all…
The trail fades, golden grass taking over. I sit on a low branch, looking through the leaves over the valley. I hear a rustle behind me, looking to see the hawks hopping across the place I’ve just left. The egg cracks in my grip, pieces of shell fall to the ground.
One of the hawks picks up a leaf in his beak, and it hits me. They’re looking for the egg. The hawks’ calls are more frantic, and they hop back and forth across the mound of leaves where the egg was. I swing my legs around the tree, jumping down. I step softly, quickly, towards the hawks. They back off to the side, flapping onto a branch. I set the eggshell down, then sprint away from the birds, down the hill, through the shadows. I don’t hear the hawks until I’m nearly halfway down the road:
Their tones are gentle—slow and soft.