The Dying Body Chronicles 6: A Man hunts
You have never seen a mountain. You have never seen the sea. You have never seen the vast hungry distance that is the desert. You have never drawn close to the vast hungry emptiness that is space. You have never left your home.
Your existence is corralled within the almond tree the thunder struck, the old money lender's house at the edge of the village, the village stream and your father's farm. You have never wandered beyond those places in your life.
Whenever travellers come to town, dusty, weary and full to the brim with stories of far off places and marvels, you cling to them, their every word a dish that your hunger can't ignore. You take in their stories, the gesticulation of their hands, the light in the promise of their eyes, even the spit that fall from their lips. For you, they are prophets, these men and women. For you, they are powerful beings beyond the understanding of your people. They must be divine.
One day, weary with farmwork, the continual rant of your father, the docile silence of your mother, the sated excitement of your many siblings, you will drop your hoe to the dark brown earth and you will wander away from all that you know.
You will wander far and wide. You will meet the dangers and excitement the strangers tell of. You will learn the ways of strangers, their language, their way with cloth and metal, the different beauties of woman. You will learn of war, of treachery, of greed. You will know wealth and poverty, joy and sweet sweet pain. One day, you will look at your wrinkles in a giggling prancing stream and you will know that it is time to go back home.
You will know that this is all you want to do. You will know that it is important to you to get home. You have not thought of your father, mother and siblings in the several years of your sojourn on strange lands. You know nothing of them and you are now a stranger.
You arrive your village as silently as you left. It is so small now. The chief's house used to be huge but now it is a small block house in the midst of smaller things. The stream is so small that in one leap you jump across it. You feel like you never did know this place. You are lost.
You find your humble beginnings, as humble as you left it. An old bent man is seated beneath the mango tree, a pipe hanging from his lips. There are little children gathered around and about him, invested in their little wars and battles. He is telling a story. He step close enough to hear him. He turns to you and you see that he is blind. He says nothing. You have nothing to say.
A shadow pauses at the door and a big bones girl, skin darker than noon shadows stumbles and then she screams as she flies towards you. She is an avalanche. She is a storm. She is a forest fire when she hits you. Each blow that hits your midriff feels like a boulder. You bend and bend until you are on your knees before her. Everyone is silent except for the breathing perspiring anger and joy standing before you. Your head is bowed at her feet them you hear her turn and her shadow leaves you to the mercy of the sun.
The men come out then, silent as ghosts. They are not angry. You sigh as you rise to your feet. To the blind old man, your father, you go to and your bow. He says nothing. You have nothing to say. He touches your face with his palms. They are rough as old paper, warm and cackling. It is enough. It has to be enough. At least for now.
You rise and wander into the arms of your brothers. They have no choice. It was ever so. You do not see her again until it is night. When she comes this time, there is worry in her eyes. Behind her, a boy and girl stir like the restless desert. You look at them and you see her face in them, not your lover but that of your mother. Yes they are yours, she tells you. She tells you that her father disowned her and your mother took her in. Then you ask of her—how did she die? The woman you once loved beneath the stars tell you that your mother died not from hard labour, your father's constant natter but from heartbreak.
She tells you how your mother searched for you and how she waited for you, cleaned your room, sure that one day you will come back home. She fell sick and even as she was going she stood at the door hoping to see you one more time. Her co-wives tried to help but she gave up one night when the moon was full and bats roamed the sky. A night like any other night.
Your memories are like paper maché in your hands. You mould them and squeeze them but you find no peace within. And you, why did you wait? You want to know. Who said I waited? She asked. I am married to your younger brother now. We have five children together. You left without warning, broke your mother's heart. You have nothing here. You nod as she leaves with the wide eyed children.
You stare into the night. You should not have come. You should have stayed away. You gather your little belongings. You step out and your father stands there. You want to leave again? You sigh. There's nothing here for you. He nods and steps aside. You wander into the night. You can feel the eyes watching you as you leave. It is better this way.
After a day of walking you meet the army. She is at the head, beautiful as a night. Her smile is white as bone. You kneel and place your head on the sand. My king, did you not find what you sought? You have no words? Well I have a desire to see what made you leave my bedside, flee my men to come to this backward village. It is well that you let it go. I am here now, am I not? You are afraid.
No you are not. You are afraid. My men will go into yonder village and seek what ails you. Then we shall return to your kingdom. You plead with her but she ignores you and soon, the children of your loins speed off to join against their brothers in war. They do not return. Now she too will learn the pain of leaving. You it seems carry pain every where you leave. Now you have journeyed far, what did you bring?