Birds in flight feel different underfoot than grass, dirt, or any kind of pavement. When you put your full weight on them, birds dip slightly in the air, no matter how furiously they beat their wings. If you are barefoot, your soles sense not only their feathers but their body warmth, their muscles fluttering, and even the pulsation of their little hearts.
Once a year, Niu Lang and Zhi Nu step across the Bridge of Magpies that spans the red-hot border separating their two countries, meeting at the center point to hold each other for all that they’re worth. Their wordless embrace lasts for one whole day, the dry heat washing upwards through their bodies until they separate and return to their homelands—he to East Xeniola, she to West Xeniola—just as the birds disperse. This annual reunion has taken place on the seventh day of the seventh month every year for the past ten millenia.
Every year on the seventh day of the seventh month, when the lovers reunite on the Bridge of Magpies, their every step is a wager against another betrayal. Will one of the birds in the bridge fail to support them, letting them plunge onto the electrified barricade that divides the Xeniolas? Will some misguided allegiance or momentary distraction send Niu Lang or Zhi Nu to their deaths, stranding the other in mid-air, never to be embraced again?
The lovers deem it worth the risk, fully aware that one day their luck will run out.