The Creative Non-fiction Corner//

The meaning of peacocks

The summer of 2002 was unnaturally hot in my hometown, or so I’ve been told. By then, my mother’s belly hollowed outwards — nearly bedridden, she was pregnant with me. The part that she doesn’t like to share about her third trimester is that she was probably exhausted and delirious from the heat.

But Balkans have a certain prowess: an immunity to heat. In the suffocation of a dried out room, we open its window and the door so the wind from the outside and the air from the house blow past each other in a kind of syncopation that, if you stand in its way, provides immediate relief.

We call it promaja — and no, it’s not a draft. It’s a science, a tradition, something weaved into the household from the roots of our land. And that summer, I imagine that its presence became my mom’s closest antidote.

My grandmothers were conductors of this orchestration. In hushed harmony they’d meander around the house to find the best door stopper to prop the hardiest door with, which window to unlatch so the cold air wouldn’t lead to headaches.

And when the wind formed its inconspicuous circuit, my mother would lay in its path so it could relieve the beads of sweat that bubbled on her hairline. According to her, she’d gaze out the window and speak to me in utero, stroking a veiny hand across her stomach.

When I look outside a window, I see my mom. Not out there, but in me. I’m staring out the same window she did, at a fir tree that was overgrown over our fence, a green shed nudged in the corner by a garden of marigolds and shrubbery.

My mom doesn’t tell stories in words, but in suspense. “And then,” she’d say, “they just flew in.”

It was mid-June. The air was circulating, as it did in the afternoon sun. She must have been leaning against the kitchen countertop as I was doing when she told this story last.

Two peacocks flew into our backyard from the west and fluttered onto the sizzled grass. Their ruffled blue feathers must have reflected the sun in a way that made them look almost alien. They gawked their heads in every direction, scrambling for patches of grass that hadn’t already been scorched by the heatwave. But, swooping in from the farm a few blocks down the road, they had also come to tell us something.

“They must have been there for 20 minutes,” my mother would recount, staring out at the spot where they had been years before, the promaja nodding past her the same way it did that day in mid-June. “And then they just,” she’d hesitate as if she had been hoping the birds would speak, “flew away.”

My whole life we’ve been trying to find the meaning of peacocks.

Lofty hand gestures and interjections pass around theories that braid into a carpet of stories told through the generations of a region where peacocks and their feathers bring luck.

Unbeknownst, the answer was already above us, overseeing these discussions with concentration — the poltergeist, the evil eye.

You see, the world is made of energy. And this energy has eyes that are always observing, with threads intertwined in the tapestry of our lives. The power of the evil eye is inherently supernatural, but in Mediterranean cultures, it’s said to ward off malevolence. Like a guardian, its overlapping circles of different shades of blue have peppered my childhood memories.

It’s peacocks that have been personified to take on this guardian role. The distinctive circular patterns on their fern-like feathers undoubtedly resemble the evil eye. And we concluded this many dinner times ago — the peacocks had not just come to bring good luck, but because they had also come to guard from something looming, a knot in the tapestry.

A daughter is of her mother, but a mother is not her daughter. We are still connected, but mostly when this knot is tied by a distance.

When my mind can make out the peacock’s feathers vividly enough, the eyes almost wink, as if to acknowledge the grip that they have on the woes of maternal love.

These birds are protectors of a bond that I share with the one that held my tapestry, my stories, together. And I sew it with care through grief and frustration. Because even 22 years after they flew away, the peacocks’ presence is what holds us together, through rips and tears, through that day in mid-June and everything that came of it.

When I think about the meaning of peacocks, I think about a collective maternal warmth, a familial heat, one that itches. I see the birds, I see my mom, I see my grandmothers and their dance of opening up the household to the outside, to its malevolence and sun. The thought hides beneath a fabric and some eyeing feathers. But I remember it fondly every time. u

Fiona Sjaus author

Features Editor

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