By Rosanne Pagano
In a land far from here but not beyond knowing, the east wind blows so long and so hard that every tree leans left, every bush hugs land, and every bird foolish enough to seek shelter is swept off and away to sea.
“It’s peculiar, I’ll give you that,” thought the hairy man Niitis. He swung his hairy legs from under the bedclothes and landed hairy feet on the cold floor. The door of his hut stood wide open, blown open sometime in the night. Niitis sighed, long and loud. “Another day and no company but the wind,” he said. This was so: For the giant was alone, a creature so shaggy and massive that any who glimpsed even the shadow of his nose ran away in breathless dread, leaving Niitis to speak to the wind. He cursed it. He blamed it. He howled back at it and once or twice even told it jokes but could never make a friend for, as everyone knows, the wind has a voice to speak but lacks a soul to hear.
“Why me?” Niitis bellowed at the stunted pines, walking among them as he did every morning. “Why of all creatures am I cast out?” This he yelled at the shrubs, so stiff and puny. And to the birds tossed like motes in the wind, Niitis demanded, “Take me with you!” Day after day it went like this. Even the dullest of birds learned to keep away.
One pale morning the hairy man Niitis came to a wind-battered rock, sat atop it, hunched his head over for shelter, and began to weep. Tears large and shiny as salmonberries in autumn fell at the giant’s feet and gathered in a widening pool, its surface instantly white-capped in the wind.
Now it happened that behind the rock, unseen by Niitis, lay a pitiable man withering for need of a sip of water. “Why me?” moaned the man. “Why among all creatures am I cast out?” To the ceaseless wind, the man pleaded, “Take me with you!” Hearing this and believing the wind to be mocking him, tossing back his very words, Niitis arose, clasped his jacket tighter around his big hairy chest and shook his big hairy fists at the sky.
“Who dares taunt me?” he cried. “Wind, show yourself at last for the coward you are!” A command more pointless yet. Like a child awakening from a nap, the giant pushed long strands of hair from his black eyes, the better to scan the reedgrass swishing and swaying all around. “Why me?” came a faltering voice in reply. “Why … ?” The giant whipped around, seeking the voice he half-imagined might be only his own echo. Behind the wind-beaten rock was the weakening man, a stranger scarcely half the giant’s size. Niitis stared down, long and hard. But believing himself to be more than dead, the man did not bother to flinch. Odder still, he smiled a thin smile, such as one might offer a relation whose visits coincide with mealtime.
“Call me coward?” said the stranger, his voice a silvery whisper. “I, a mere man, address myself to you, a hairy giant, while you, a hairy giant, converse with the wind!” With that the stranger’s smile increased; he closed his eyes and chuckled. When preceded by honest truth, even death can be casually met.
“Don’t go!” Niitis begged through tears, each one a reviving drip. Tears flooded the stranger’s face, trickling in runnels down his cheeks to reach the grateful lips. “Greetings, friend,” gasped the man as he returned the gaze of Niitis, a giant with much to say and someone at last to say it to, someone to see and hear him, even to reply! Just then the wind stopped and hurried along, its work unspoken and never done.