They said Nimol could walk on water, and perform other miracles, in his youth; but when he went blind and failed to regain his sight, the villagers ceased believing in his divinity and derided his words. He retired alone to the hills beyond the farms.
When he returned to the village as an old man, most of the people who knew him in his youth were dead. He descended the hills and emerged from the trees beyond the fields, and many watched his progress along the road, which he achieved with the assistance of a staff carved from the root of a banyan tree.
Whether from memory, or because of a second sight, he was able to walk into the village and stand in the shade of the largest camphor tree. There he waited, leaning on the staff, until the elders of the village came to him and asked him his name.
“I am Nimol,” he told them, in a voice that hadn’t been used for years. “I have come because the Kite People will pass over your village in three days.”
“Who are the Kite People?” one of the elders asked.
“They were the people of Ang Thom,” the old man said. “They have learned to fly by the grace of the gods. All who see them fly above will be blessed.”
“Are you not blind?” another elder asked.
“Yes, I am blind.”
“How would you see them to be blessed?”
The old man said nothing more.
For two days the villagers came to see the old man, to watch him and speculate about his identity. He stood leaning against his staff in the shade of the tree, saying nothing, requesting nothing.
Those who were very old and remembered began speaking of a man with the same name who was thought to be holy, but who left the village many, many years before to live as a hermit in the hills. They asked the old man if he was the same Nimol who was said to possess supernatural gifts, but he refused to answer. He would only tell them that he was there to witness the arrival of the Kite People, and nothing more.
On the night of the second day, a little boy called Dara approached the old man, who stood as if he were a shadow of the tree. The boy was too young to know of the mysteries of the world, but he was curious. He was also too young to be afraid, as the other people were afraid, of bad omens and strangers.
The boy sat at the old man’s feet and stared up at the brilliant stars, and then said, “Who are the Kite People?”
The old man seemed not to move in the darkness, but his voice rolled from the shadows gently. “They were once people, as we are people. But they were pious, and made beautiful kites to fly to praise the gods. Every year they held a festival, and every year the kites were more beautiful, painted with fiery colors and gilded, with flowing tails braided with gorgeous flowers. When the people couldn’t make their kites any more beautiful, they began making larger and larger ones, so the elders could be tied to the frames and offer their prayers to the gods in the sky. The gods were delighted by this display of beauty and piety, so they transformed the people into kites which always fly, and fly around the world, so the gods will always be able to see them and be pleased.”
“How do you know they will come here?” the boy asked
“I have always known. As I have always known that you would come to me tonight.”
The boy accepted this, because he was not cynical. “When will we see them?”
“Tomorrow,” the old man said. “Tomorrow they will fly over the village and leave their blessing on the people. And they will leave their blessing with me, though I cannot see them.”
“Why can’t you see them?”
“I am blind, and have been for many years.”
“The old ones say you are holy. Why don’t you pray to the gods to return your sight to you?”
“Losing one’s sight is no great sorrow. But losing one’s belief is a great sorrow. I do not need to see to have belief.”
The boy sat thinking about the old man’s words for a while, then said, still thinking, “If you are blind, and cannot see, how will you know when the Kite People are flying over the village?”
“You will tell me,” the old man said. “You will tell me when they come, and then we will all be blessed.”
Dara knew he should have gone home, because his mother and father wouldn’t be pleased that he was sitting with the strange old man. But he felt the old man’s purity, and his kindness, in a way the other people couldn’t, and so he stayed, and promised to stay until the Kite People flew over the village.
The next day the boy woke where he had fallen sleep, at the feet of the old man, who still stood resolutely with his staff. The villagers had gathered around the camphor tree, because this was the day the old man had prophesied the appearance of the Kite People; some came to see a miracle, and some came to ridicule a fool, but the boy remained at the old man’s feet without judgment. And then the noon sun seemed to dim, and the people moaned as one, mystified by the darkness of a cloudless sky.
The boy gazed up into this darkness, uncertain, and a little afraid, but then he felt the old man’s hand on his shoulder, and the fear vanished.
“Tell me what you see,” the old man said.
The boy turned and looked into the old man’s sightless eyes. Then he gazed up into the sky and watched the sun sparkle brilliantly through a cascading field of dark diamonds. He explained this to the old man, and then he also told him when these diamonds fell downward to earth and became wonderfully adorned kites, kites held across the arms of beautifully dressed men and women with golden eyes, and hair of silver and gold. The feet of each man or woman was bound into a single gold or silver slipper, and a long, fluttering tail of gossamer trailed from their ankles into the sky. A thousand kites flew through the air, sweeping their shadows over the people of the village, who stood wordlessly.
But Dara sat speaking to the old man, reporting what he saw, laughing when he couldn’t hold the laughter, shouting when the vision overwhelmed him with emotion.
“Thank you,” the old man said from behind the boy.
Dara felt the old man’s hand slip from his shoulder, and then the boy rose and stepped from the shadows of the tree to see the Kite People of Ang Thom more clearly.
Dara watched the miraculous passing of the Kite People with the villagers, amazed and delighted, but when he turned to say more to the old man he saw that Nimol had vanished. Only the staff stood leaning against the camphor tree. While the rest of the villagers stood watching the Kite People drift over the hills, the boy took the staff in his hands and turned around and around searching for the old man. But the old man was gone.
One of the elders exclaimed loudly, and the boy stepped away from the tree.
In the sky, trailing the rest of the Kite People, a lone kite drifted behind, and cast its shadow over the village. The man holding the kite, dressed elegantly, gazed down on the people with golden eyes, and the boy could see that it was the old man, as the man had been in his youth. This kite flew away from the village and joined the other Kite People just before they vanished over the hills.
Years later, when Dara had grown into a man, and then became an elder of the village, he told the story of the old man and the Kite People to the children of the village as they all sat in the shade of the camphor tree. And after he was finished, he would stand and raise the old man’s staff to the sky to show the children where the Kite People flew, and where the old man had joined them in the sky as proof against mortality.
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