The dragon trapped in the open cave

By Leo Li

Because St. George was as human as I am, he relented and begrudged with a millennium of solitude worse than death. He’s no different from the townsfolks, who thought sacrificing their sheep and daughters would bribe me into ceding them my ancestors’ earth, all too human in mistaking impositions as mercy and reverence.

So in this heartless cave I slept through nightmares, at times awoken by clangours of metallic meteorites and sulphurous explosions. I have no idea what bawling demons humans have exchanged their pulp souls for, or what blood-ridden calamities they’re polluting my ancestral soils with. All I know is time has passed, but St. George and his townsfolks are still out there, living as phantoms in their descendants’ bodies.

Nothing changed until the day Cat stumbled into here saying her Home was dead. She hadn’t come to be a friend, I could just tell from her lackadaisical whiskers. But that’s fine for a spectre like me who’s been friendless since birth, with parents robbed away by a flint-speared net by the withered acacias and kins slaughtered like the lambs the townsfolk forced down my throat.

In this heartless cave I slept through nightmares, at times awoken by the clangours of metallic meteorites and sulphurous explosions

Cat was cold like marble. Her stare was solid-empty like marble. She was dead like marble, because when she entered the cave, she didn’t acknowledge me and collapsed by my tail and fell into a sleep like enviable death. And when the stinging morning heat resuscitated her from her temporary death, she began to cry a merciless cry. She has a scar beneath her left ear as large as a tear drop. How large is a tear drop? As large as her history. The scar was a peapod containing all her politics and rhetoric. It was the bite of the fruit-seller’s son’s knife, also the grinning insouciance of human brutality, also the blindness of long-dead gods, also the maddening fever of Cyrenean June.

She refused to talk about her dead Home, which was a who not a where. She has an unusual red mark along her spine, like a patch of blood-snow on a North-country ridge. It was hereditary, something so impersonally beautiful it made her miserable. Ostracism from her own kind hurt more than humans’ grin-like knives and knife-like grins. Her red patch of fur matches the spear-wound St. George left on my left shoulder. We carry the same brokenness, the same pitiable apathy to life that made us inseparable.

The second time I tried to ask her who Home was, she threatened to leave the cave. I said: ‘go then,’ and brought silence for a week. Of course she didn’t leave, but furtively, I wished she did. While relieved from this soul-eroding loneliness, some part of me was venomously envious of her having had a Home to lose. It was if I wanted the ghosts of St. George and his God to see my tragedy and mock their impotence to lift me from hell. But Cat had brought me a droplet of paradise in her homesickness, and it scorched me with infernal remorse. If hell is oneself, then is home, too?

We carry the same brokenness, the same pitiable apathy to life that made us inseparable

Eventually the silence between us was broken by her asking me: ‘didn’t you also lose your home? You wouldn’t have been born here right?’ I said: ‘yes, but unlike you, although I had a square of land of my own, there wasn’t anyone to wander around it with.’ And she said: ‘but at least your ancestors’ bones are buried in the earth which hold your every step. My Home and I had no place to stay – we roamed around the shambles dreaming of the golden houses lining the coast.’ Then I realised she also envied me; and now there’s nothing to envy each other of, because we’re both children without a home.

Before that one August morning Cat told me she had to leave to find Home again, she’d been telling me what the world outside looks like. It made me realise I’m a lonely traveller in time. That grain of transience, of inimitable connection bothered me more than a thousand years’ worth of this cave’s changeless dark, bothered me more than the impossibility of death reaping my lifeless heart. Knowing there was a life I could’ve led if I had the courage to leave this lockless cage, to live without fearing humans, to soar in the air, unchained from the soil that belonged to my ancestors but never to me. Knowing there’s someone out there like Cat, less than a friend, a mere wayfarer, but more than an inextricable thread of life.

‘My time is near. I can sense Home is calling me,’ she had said before she left.

‘Is it the same Home?’ I asked.

‘I’ll find out,’ she said. ‘What about you? Where’s yours? Are you going to find it after I go?’

It only hit me that I’d never see her again as I began my first flight, in the brisk autumnal winds that waited for nobody, not even time. I felt I needed to chase her words, infinitely far away that it might take forever: ‘start living’. A flight longer than a lifetime. Below the winds are seaside graves. Beyond the clouds is beyond the haves and the have-nots, and is where I can call myself Home.

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