WHEELS INTO WINGS
First breath of spring. Cycling down the Katsura River; wisps of green willows coming out. I’m winding through a stretch of illegal allotments when, descending from above towards me, it zo-o-o-o-oms over my head: a motor paraglider! Banks twice sharply … and drops down into an empty ground. I turn my bicycle around and race back.
A crowd of five – one, a dog – has gathered there. We watch him switch off the fan motor on his back, unclip and then lay out the red and white sail. 35 kilograms for the motor pack, and not much extra for the parachute and strings: this is what I’m told. His name – he dropped into my life – Mr. Fukiage, meaning ‘Blown Aloft’. I receive a card from a smiley face with greyish hair and give him mine. He immediately seems to expect of me discipleship. He’ll call me before the next paraglide rally, so I can try it out. I thank him and cycle back upstream, imagining I am flying along above myself looking down.
Outside the homeless person’s hut
both cat and crow asleep –
A fortnight later, at my computer, editing photos of a fly-tipping site: the phone rings. Mr. Blown-Aloft says he should be at the river ground at 3:30-ish. The spokes of my bicycle wheels glint in the sun of a cherry-blossom day. I’m almost there, when suddenly, as an angel with long, long wings slightly bent, he swoops out from behind a tree-top, and rises fast over my head to 100 feet. Did he see me wave? I cycle on. When I get to the ground, he’s already on his landing approach, specially for me.
Straps are tugged and adjusted to better fit my larger frame. And now I have all the strings in my hands, coded into clusters of red and yellow and blue. Through tugs of the inflating sail I can become my own marionette! But what of the wind? Mr. Blown-Aloft has planted his own pole-top windsock on a grassy bank at the edge of the ground. “Watch it!”, he says. It begins to swim. But B-A tells me too much and all at once – and, time and again the nylon fills, tugging me upwards, only for one tip of my wing to inexplicably wilt, upset the balance, causing the parachute to rear up on its end, before collapsing to the ground in a limp tangle, which my teacher kindly realigns.
Then, once – just once – the sail fills evenly, and with a tug on the blue ropes, I hold it straight. What young eagles on their cliff-side eyrie must feel when they stand with their downy wings open testing an updraft, I now feel leaning back with all my strings tautened by the wind. It would only be a hop to travel 50 yards or more. One hand on my harness, Mr. Blown-Aloft holds me back.
Cycling over the bridge
… the lights turn green:
… … it sped on ahead,
the first swallow!