The Biology of Courage by Mark Blickley and Katya Shubova

My name is Jull Soares and I am a bastard. This is not a particular opinion that I, or anyone else that I’m aware of, has placed on me. It is objective truth. My mother was an unlicensed sex worker and neither she or I have any inkling of who fathered me, although a couple of gringos are among the suspects.
            There is nothing more painful than longing for things that never were. Many of my friends grew up with fathers and when I was young, I was very jealous. However, based on what I’ve witnessed in films and in real life, it doesn’t seem that I missed out on much. If you are loved—it doesn’t matter by whom or how many—you’ll be fine as long as you feel worthy of being loved.
            I am old now, but I do not think that I fear death. Sometimes I get upset that while I am rotting in the dirt others will be drinking beer and dancing, or laying on a beach with closed eyes, caressed by the sun. My love of history has been an enormous help in smothering my panic of not being alive.
            Ever since I was a child, I’ve adored hearing city elders tell stories about Cartagena. How my ancestors fought and killed the Spanish invader Juan de la Cosa when he tried to steal a 132-pound golden porcupine from our Sinu temple. And how we citizens repelled an attack of the English armada that included George Washington’s half-brother Lawrence. Or when the great North American female matador, Patricia McCormick, one of the finest bullfighters of her time, slew a bull at the beloved Circo Teatro.
            Streaked in blood, she knelt by the animal she just killed and stroked its head while screaming out, “I love this brave bull!”
            I can accept and enjoy that all these events took place without my being alive to witness them, so why should I regret events I will be unable to experience after I die? I have come to believe that when we die, we return to wherever we were the year before our birth. As I was born in 1959, I will simply return to whatever I was doing in 1958 and that’s where I will be for eternity. There seems to be very few second chances in life and I suspect the same will be true in death.
            Sleeping in public can give you interesting insights into human nature. It’s been my experience that the good are pretty evenly matched with the bad, although it does tip a bit more in favor of the positive. Many people think I’m just a homeless misfit and don’t realize I’m actually giving them a chance to join me in creating a temporary public family. Compassion and cruelty is what I frequently dream about while I sleep on this beautiful ledge, and is what I often wake up to.
            Since I was a child, I’ve always hated shoes. Most men like to appear tough. If a person really wants to be tough it must start with their feet. Our ancestors probably went tens of thousands of years travelling in their bare feet—tough, grizzled, calloused—but not indifferent. Growing up without family except for my mother, I don’t think of being shoeless as a sign of poverty. I am walking in the footsteps of my ancestors where each step I take is headed in the direction of a family reunion. The soles of my naked feet scrape along the same paths where the souls of my forebears once walked. Please forgive my clumsy attempt at poetic wordplay, but it is a holy trail.
            A human head should always be cradled. That is why I always carry a pillow in my pouch. A good pillow allows you to dream in color. My pillow is very old and even when I wash it has a distinctly peculiar smell to it. That’s because of the many beautiful dreams and disturbing nightmares burrowed inside it. My sweat and tears puddle into the stains of my life. A kind European visitor once told me I should consider my pillow as a work of textile art. I’m not sure what that means, but I like how it sounds.
            Freedom is isolation. Slavery is the obliteration of isolation. I abhor flophouses, government housing and charitable hostels. Once you lose your ability to desire isolation, you become a slave. Creativity can only flourish in silence and solitude. If I was in some kind of forced shelter, do you think I would be writing in this notebook and accompanying these words with images torn from magazines, newspapers and catalogues? The European woman who told me my pillow was textile art also said that I have a collagist mentality when I showed her a few of my notebooks.
            Do not pity me as homeless. Celebrate me as one who possesses the special gift of being able to live alone. Sometimes I am forced to enter the dark doors of slavery by, but I maintain the wherewithal to escape back into freedom and return to this colorful ledge.
            And so here I lay, precariously balanced between moments of exaltation and the fear of being disturbed. In between those two points lies the secret to a healthy and productive life. Boredom is not having nothing to do, but feeling like nothing is worth doing. No one volunteers to experience life. We don’t have a choice. That is why anyone who completes this journey without taking shortcuts is heroic.
            Can you spare a few pesos in support of a pilgrim’s progress?
            Thank you.
            May you be spared a life of inertia in motion.

New Yorker Mark Blickley and Ukrainian photographer Katya Shubova collaborated on the ekphrasis flash fiction, “The Biology of Courage.” Mark’s text is based on Katya’s powerful Cartagena, Colombia photograph. Katya’s photograph can be found in the Fall 2022 print edition of Flora Fiction.


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