The first time I saw Blair Sandburg--a skinny sixteen-year-old, pushy, fatally personable, and frankly far too smart for his own damned good -- he was trying to argue his way into a 700-level class on the ethics and methodology of ethnographic research. That was an argument I won (as I recall, I managed to divert him into Slyomovics' Political Anthropology), but he's won all the rest of them through the years, and as things turned out, maybe I should have let him start his career in anthropology pondering ethics and methodology after all.
He might have been the brightest kid to come through this department in a generation, but no one will ever really know. His dissertation committee -- me included -- approved a research topic that bordered on the ludicrous even when he was basing his research on hundreds of subjects. These days his informants number exactly one. The grants are beginning to dry up, the administration is less and less charmed by that famous Sandburg smile and wants to see quite a bit more progress on the dissertation before renewing his fellowship next semester, and if Blair doesn't have a bad case of puppy love for his informant, I'll eat my hat.
Hard to admit that you've failed a student like Blair. Eli kept trying even after the Borneo debacle, but I honestly couldn't see much of a point. Let him try to prove his untenable thesis. In so many ways he's younger now than he was at sixteen, and besides, he's having the time of his life playing cops and robbers with his informant.
(Would that ethics class at sixteen have made any difference at all?)
Blair can't stand to look at me. He turns his head from my twisted fingers and staring eyes and takes a few steps away, but he defends me, even now. I'm sorry, Blair.
I hope he won't judge me too harshly when he knows the truth.
The Kaluli people of the Great Papuan Plateau believe that a murdered man returns as a solitary parrot with blood red plumage. I can feel myself drifting upwards and I imagine red feathers covering my breast. I see Blair's pet informant lay his hand on Blair's back for an instant, and Blair turns to look up at him with eyes muddied from his unshed tears. I want to tell him to look after Blair, but when I open my mouth to speak, a parrot screams instead.
The forest is near and I have wings, so I fly away.
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