Martha was from Panama, but she had been living in Kent for 34 years. She had moved there after meeting Peter who had been working on the canal. She followed him back to the country of his birth, far away from her own. It had been hard for her at times, away from her sun and food, but she had never wavered in her decision to come. Peter was quietly solid and full of his own kind of light. He was a reassurance that her gaze rested on over the decades.
Peter died last year. Martha had felt herself winding inwards in the days which had passed since. Everything becoming a little bit smaller and more compact. Peter had died and now she was free, and she was trying to understand if that meant she had formerly felt trapped. Working her way to the answer was an exercise in dodging guilt, that rancid wave of untruths. Perhaps this is why she shrank: to make it easier to avoid the feelings.
On the 367th day after Peter died, Martha took a taxi to Castle Hill. It was early morning and she could tell the driver wanted to ask questions, but he did not. She was still in her housedress and slippers, her hair secured under a sheer scarf. It was October, and not a clear day, but thankfully not too cold. Martha stepped out of the car and the man drove off. She did not tarry and walked through the gate onto the North Downs Way, leaving her slippers behind. She knew she needed to walk this ridge, as she and Peter had done so many times before, but this time with her feet truly touching the ground. It was the last time she would do so, she was sure of it.
As she walked, pieces of herself started to fall off. Not in chunks, but as a continuation of the shrinking she had been doing this last year. Thin layers like an onion fell beside and behind her, melting into the earth like soft snow. She felt refreshed. She stopped, just as the ridge curved around to the northwest, and looked over the land she had come to belong to. A land not of her birth, but one she had eased into like a comfortable shoe. A land not of her blood, but of her heart.
Eventually a falcon came and landed beside her. He cocked his head and watched her a little, then gently began pecking at her, rearranging the flesh she had left. Eventually the falcon nodded, let out a cry, and rose straight upwards, hovering over her, then diving back down into the valley so he was level with her line of sight. He called to her again and suddenly she seemed to understand him in a way she had no knowledge of. She cocked her head from side to side, and wiggled what was left of her shoulders until two wings fell out. Heavy wings, they hung there like anchors from her sides.
The falcon cried again, and flew out in front of her, over the valley, circling back around again when she did not follow, and this time two other falcons joined him. They landed either side of her; each gently took a wing in their beaks and stretched them out wide, then nestled themselves underneath them. Martha, who was no longer Martha, felt the warmth of their bodies surge through each lifeless wing until her new feathered appendages became full of power. Energy surged through her and she suddenly knew what to do, understood what that first falcon had been calling her to. She jumped and she pushed and then she flew over that valley she had lived in for all those years.
Martha, Martha in flight. Martha who soared. Martha who had waited her whole life for this. Martha’s last vestiges of a human heart spilled out of her and rained down over the village of her exiled life as she called to her new kin. Fifteen now, fifteen falcons circled over that ridge, over that valley. Fifteen falcons called out to welcome her home, and she who was once Martha called out once more in response. Then she closed her eyes to sight so that she could concentrate on sensation. She let the wind pull her up and up and then she dropped, flew straight over the church and was free.