It was late in the summer, just as the songbirds had begun migrating to the foothills and the last of the tomato vines lay withered as lace, that Pedro decided he should build a swing over the edge of the world.
First he made the seat out of a fallen pine tree, providently smoothing down the surface to avoid a splintered bottom. After, he traded three long-haired guinea pigs for a length of sturdy rope, and spent two evenings tying knots not even the wind could unfurl. Then finally when he was done, he fastened the entire thing to the old hardwood, which lunged from his garden cliff and over the abyss.
Now it wasn’t as if this was the first time Pedro had ever seen over the edge of the world. In the past he had often climbed out onto the hardwood branches and gazed over the earth’s curve to where the blueness dropped away. It never ceased to astound him how many different shades there were. Pre-dawn metallic, periwinkle, and teal; indigo at the inner rim, midnight further out.
He didn’t just see blue either if he leaned out far enough. Sometimes he could make out the frozen bend of Antarctica, the tiny, black dots of Emperor penguins, a Patagonian sea trawler on the prowl.
“Come join me,” he often called out to the other inhabitants of his village. But no one ever came, which Pedro could not comprehend.
Who wouldn’t want to see over the edge of the world?
“Maybe they don’t believe me,” he reasoned to himself.
But the problem, as it turned out, wasn’t about belief at all. The other folk quite liked Pedro and had no reason to doubt his word, especially since their village was the highest on the altiplano and perched upon such a steep incline that the edge seemed very likely. No, the truth was far more elementary, and a human one at that. People just weren’t that keen on seeing the world’s end. Of peering out to infinity or observing passing planets. Or of even questioning their own consequence in the company of exploding stars.
Why, the very thought made them panic; gave their hearts unsteady blips.
Pedro however, who had no such existential arrhythmia, didn’t understand this reasoning and decided that perhaps it was the branches which were putting them at unease. A swing would be better, more commodious and more merry.
So the swing was built and a fiesta thrown in its honour. The whole village came, each with a plate: pachamanca and white potatoes, stuffed rocoto chilis and baked flans. They danced the Qhapaq Qolla and weaved woolen strands into coloured threads, which they then presented to Pedro to tie onto his swing. Pedro, in return, put on a demonstration. How he beamed like an eclipsing sun as he dipped, swirled, and swung.
But when he invited others to try, they politely said ‘another time’, leaving Pedro alone with his swing and the sky, to watch catapulting comets, and the fall of the harvest moon, still utterly alone but what more could he do?
Now one night as Pedro lay alone, snugly tucked beneath his quilt, he heard the swing creaking without any wind.
“Strange,” he said but did not stir. His bed was too warm, too cozy, for that.
The following evening, however, he heard it creaking again, and what sounded distinctly like a wheeeee followed by a woohoo.
He crept out into the garden, still wrapped inside his quilt, and there on his swing was a bespectacled, brown bear: giant paws wrapped around each rope, toes splayed gaily as it swung to the sky.
Pedro was surprised.
Not merely because there was a bear on his swing but because there was a bear at all. He had never met one in all his travels—let alone a swinging one!
“Best let the bear enjoy his swing,” he said, creeping back inside, for Pedro was not the sort of fellow to foil another’s fun.
The next night he heard the same mirthful sound. The great bear had returned and brought a little friend, a smaller bear with a blackish ruff and a laugh so infectious even the stars began to giggle.
“Welcome,” he shouted joyfully before racing inside to fix them both a treat. A saucepan filled with hand-plucked honeycomb—which the bears gobbled down gleefully out there on the swing.
After this, they came each night. To gobble down honey and to sit on the swing.
And Pedro felt pleased to have two such friends.
Now over time, Pedro began noticing that both bears were getting bigger. A little fatter daresay and somewhat more rotund.
“All that honey and sedentary swinging,” he reasoned to himself, carefully tying on some extra ropes and bolstering up the seat.
The bears noticed the reinforcements immediately and began looping even higher. Spinning in giddy circles, whirling round and round, until finally with a sudden groan, the swing broke clean away, flinging the saucepan from their laps, clunking a penguin on its way down.
“Wheee,” shouted the bears happily as they spun into the southern sky.
Pedro watched on, devastated. “Come back,” he pleaded in desperation as he scrambled up the tree.
But no one answered, not even the birds.
Pedro slumped against the wood, scorching his eyes with fat, salty tears. Crying for his lost friends until finally he fell asleep.
When he woke it was night, the curve of the earth now lost in the shadows. He leaned his head against the tree and fixed his gaze on the moon overhead. Suddenly a twinkle caught his eye. A constellation of diamonds coruscating the dark.
First came the saucepan and then his two bears, waving and twinkling as they spun across the sky.
And Pedro began waving and laughing back at them, his friends in the night sky who would be with him ever more.