In the hidden hills of my birth place, the sunrise is never actually visible. For most of the day we do not actually see the sun. We see its shining rays very early in the day, as it lights up the steep sides of the rocky mountain our village is settled on. Then much later at late noon, the sun almost suddenly appears overhead and instantly it is quite hot and very bright. The hills closely clustered on the eastern and western sides of the mountain also make it impossible to see the distant horizons from these sides of the high mountain top.
The vast expanse of the mountain top is edged out like a rough hollow bowl. On a hot day, the rocky surface of the hills’ smoldering heat burns and dries up our hunted bird meat. Only children dare out to play in the hot sunlight, at that time of day. Our days are short and the twilights long. It is almost like every one of our shaded dawns and dusks are perpetually prolonged. Just like in the morning sun rise, at dusk, the sun just falls and hides behind the hills on the western side.
The northern side of the mountain, high up and barely hidden by the clouds, is covered by all sorts of large fruit trees and dense vegetation, while the southern side is completely hard smooth rock. The southern side rises gently upwards and then sharply downwards to form the steepest side of the whole mountain sides. And because of this, long before night falls, the village is already in dark pleasant shadows.
We all literally grew up with eyes that were not very tolerant of the harsh sun light, because we stayed in the shadows most of our lives. A long time in the breezy shade of our shelters, out of the blazing sun light at mid day, was hardly the way to get used to sun light when it does appear. As such the number of generations that grew up in the village on the mountain had this blurry conditioned eyes defect.
Then early in my teens, I had the misfortune of being singled out as a result of an unfortunate happening and for more weeks than I could count, my father will not even talk to me. He simply looks away when I appear. Mother only smiles politely but said little. I felt my family’s pain. I knew it too well because I was the source of it and it consumed the whole of me. Many stories I had heard over time, had not prepared me for the kind of pain I was to experience. My sisters before me and my lone brother’s bride’s puberty ushered experiences, which they had spoken of always, had not educated me enough.
I heard it is always an anxious time to wait for the groom to make his claim of the girl’s germinated seed. For only him, it is said, will know and recognize his seed. He planted it from the rear, in-between her twin ridged mould as she sprawled on her four limbs, waiting for the pain of his dominant penetration that nature had cursed her to suffer.
Our grandmother told us long ago that the father of the village saw the gullible bearded goats mount their female from behind and they taught him this way only. It was in his early days as a Herd boy on the flat plains beneath the mountain; when he was still with his own people. She said he was mocked for his bad speech, caused by a badly cut lower lip he was born with. He was then a very lonely early teenage orphan, daily watching over his powerful uncle’s large flock.
He chose to run away when four goats drowned while he slept on his watch. Much earlier he had been starved and caned for a whole week when only one small kid had broken a limb once. Surely if he had stayed he would have been starved to death this time. So he ran up the mountain on self exile. For two days he struggled to climb up the only route he had painstakingly discovered up the huge mountain our village is now incredibly well settled on. This was the very same mountain his own people revered and worshiped for much longer than the oldest living generation on the plains could remember.
Our tradition demands that the last rain must have dried up for weeks before the oldest man in the village calls out all the free, newly readied girls to him. They stayed with him all day to listen to his teachings, until the sun goes down over the rocky western hills, for another long dusk. Then he sends them away to find a spot in the northern vegetation, to kneel and wait for the pain of penetration.
With the real onset of night fall, the oldest man permits the variously aged free boys and men to pursue the girls to their chosen kneeling spots. The race is short and it ends with each male’s return back to the oldest man afterwards, to confirm a successful penetration. For a couple of weeks afterwards, many free girls walked wrongly, with some strange discomfort that showed they were in pain for days.
Mothers make these girls sit on their bare upper legs’ rear cheeks with their knees apart and pointed up, as they position themselves closely spaced and all seated on the hot rocks at sun up. The older married men enjoy these very revealing sights but kept straight faces and never point in the seated girls’ direction, as they also appear to sun themselves in this daily solidarity pastime. Then five weeks pass by and some of these successfully ‘Penetrated’ free girls do not need to hide for a few days in their home shelters, like they had done for a few days before; each and every four weeks.
They don’t make sand seats or sit still all day long or change bloodied sand seats, because they did not bleed naturally for weeks. Soon the bare flesh above the bushy triangles around their hips’ frontal centre and beneath their firm liberally exposed breasts begins to swell. Then the very anxious wait for the groom to make a claim starts. A wait so tasking and unfair. It becomes a pastime of the girl’s whole family. All young or older free male visitors to the family’s home shelter are hopefully welcomed until their mission is stated. I found my own wait quite unfair because I knew my discreet groom was watching and keeping away deliberately, for his own malicious reason.
I started to wish I hadn’t been penetrated like many other free girls, who pretended for weeks that they had been. It wasn’t until the customary few months had passed and I was the only free girl, who was visibly successful with child, that hadn’t been claimed by her supposed responsible spouse, that my father stopped talking to me. He looked away when I came into view and my reluctantly compliant mother only smiled at me politely, like all the other women did too.
This was a totally new situation, quite unusual and it was completely unheard of in the well detailed verbal history of the listed generations of the mountain top village, as passed down. No other pregnant bride in the meticulously passed down history of our village had ever remained unclaimed, that is before me. Soon all the revered old men in the naked community were said to be holding constant secret talks about the unique situation. It was clear that my case presented them with a situation they were quite unfamiliar and uncomfortable with.
The whole nude village is peopled by one spiral large family, all descendants from that one self exiled Herd boy that climbed up the sacred mountain so long ago. He had lived alone in the natural weathered carvings and cracks in the rough rocky hills and basked in the luxuriously fertile vegetation on the mountain, for many seasons on his very own. He lived off the plentiful produce of the rich fruit trees and drank the collected very frequent rain water or the daily dew drops, just like the whole village still does now because there are no water falls, brooks, streams or rivers up on the mountain.
I became the main talking point of the village and boldly they point at me as I walked by, doing my daily chores of collecting dew drops or gathering fruits. These simple tasks didn’t give me the pleasure they used to because of the many staring eyes and pointing fingers. It hurts even more because I hardly knew what was to become of me and my yet to be seen child, still visibly buried within me. But I’m pretty; I knew this in my own deliberately arrogant immodest way.
As a young maiden I had a very dark clear skin, with little body hair. My ears were cut well, with three spaces on each earlobe for my flowers. My mother had asked the village ear-cutter to make two extra cuts on each of my ears, not just the conventional usual one on each ear. She wanted something different and she paid him well for the extra cuts. She also sought to ease his apprehension since his concerns were well founded, because it had never been done before. He had to succumb because the handsome price of two large pieces of dried vulture meat for just four extra cuts was too tempting to refuse.
I grew up being able to fit in more plant blossoms into the holes in my earlobes than every other woman in the village. Sometimes I wonder if these extra ear spaces are not the reason for my misfortune. Just maybe my mother’s hasty deed is the source of my worries. But it only served me well in my envied fame as the prettiest girl in the village. I was especially spectacular on celebrative occasions.
On dance days, story nights or burial vigils; I was always the most colourful maiden around, with lots of flowers and feathers stuffed into my broad earlobes. My clean shaven head was always well oiled with palm oil and shinning in the sun or moon light. I always stood out and everyone looked at me with admiration. I actually thought every girl was my friend and everyone in the whole village liked me.
I talked very little and enjoyed all the free boys’ attention, which I mostly learnt to ignore. I worked hard for my family and tried to be very respectful to all my elders at all times. I knew lots of erring free girls were told to be more like me and that felt good. I danced very well, like my mother had taught me. In the quiet dampness and half darkness of our home covering, my mother had taught me how to twist and turn my body, how to bend down low with my head and shoulders close to my knees and my bare rear leg-cheeks raised up to the crowd; exposing the slit in its middle divide. She taught me to shake, swing and dangle my bare breasts in time with my arms.
She taught me how to stand up-right and kick my legs up and down, not just straight and horizontal from the ground and front-like; this only showed little of my highest leg partings. It should be side ways as I bend my waist in the opposite direction, so that the crowd can see the centre of my legs well enough. She taught me to jump with my hands on my head, it always gives my breasts a very full look, frees them and hardens them so that they are more erect and vibrate well in their frontal fatty response to my irregular jumps sharp energetic vertical rapid hops. The crowd cheers each time I dance and the free boys and men watched with mouths agape, as they cross and uncross their legs repeatedly in an obvious display of masculine discomfort.
None of my teeth is bad or missing and is revealed as evenly yellow when I smile, and I smile quite a lot. My sweaty smooth skin was the best in the whole village and every one knew this. I thought I was loved and every free girl appeared to want me to be her main friend.
I made plans with different girls on how I would lead in ceremonial dances and sing special songs at these graceful occasions. My speech was clearer than most of the other villagers and I sang like the morning pretty little birds. My family was highly respected and we lived in one of the largest home shelters in the village. My looks spoke for me and my family also spoke for me with its revered status.
With that rash quest to be acknowledged I inherited from my mother, my looks also spoke for me last of all and I felt appreciated. I had a good body and I entertained sights as well as imaginations with it. I sang with a sweet clear voice and I danced flirty steps that made mourning men forget to frown at burial vigils. Yet there I remained, unwanted and left to pine with a fatherless pregnancy. My son;
‘Looks aren’t everything,
But certainly something.
For they do speak first
And last too in their haste.’
The stories were told of how the father of our village once came down the mountain top after so many seasons away, hidden from his own people on his long drawn out self exile. He was now a fully grown up man and actually wanted to return to his people because he was lonely. He had thought about it and came down well prepared. He took with him lots of gifts. He had with him lots of dried fruits, feathers from hunted birds and dried bird and monkey meat.
He also had large sharp monkey bones for tools and dried up monkey blood; he had grounded into powder for body paint. He had with him tree gum and monkey hide, monkey body fat for body oils and plaited ropes from freshly cut tall grasses bark. He had tied everything into one huge bundle and lowered it down the mountain side with a very long thick rope he had plaited. He tied the end of the rope to a huge tree on the mountain and used the rope to climb down the mountain.
Once down, he hid his gifts, waited till it was dark and walked in the cover of the darkness into the village of his indigenous people on the vast plains beneath the mountain. These are people of his childhood, from the village he had run away from so long ago. The stories were sketchy and it is not too clear what happened on his return back to his childhood village; though it was obvious that he was not recognized.
After being away for so many seasons and only returning when he was already a fully grown man; clearly not the same small shy boy that ran away from the village long ago. He was not recognized. His bad speech was worse and his words could not be understood. It was said that his body smelt offensively and his hair was very unkempt. His badly cut lower lip appeared wider. He must have been a very repulsive and scary sight with his face covered in uneven facial hair.
They must have been suspicious of him and his intentions. That must have been why they chased him away with stones and sticks. It is said that he was stoned, beaten and pursued out of the village. He ran for his life for the second time in his life time; for the second time from the same village, villagers and his own people. He vowed there and then, never to run again. He promised himself that for the remaining seasons of his life time, he would never run again and he never did. He was determined to be the aggressive chaser next time instead.
He spent that night beneath the mountain, beside his bundle of gifts, where he had hid it. Morning came with his final decision taken. He decided to be vengeful. He swore and vowed to have the whole people in the village pay for the way they had treated him. He swore loudly to himself that he will make sure they all die and forfeit their comfortable village for what they had done to him. It was then he made a grand plan to start his own village up on the sacred mountain.
He decided to originate and grow his own descendants, a specialized breed of the most fearless people up on the mountain, hidden away high up and covered up by his old village’s myth of the sacred mountain. In their revered fear and worship they would never climb up the mountain. He would beat drums and the village people below the mountain would say the Gods were singing. He laughed with the thought and he was so happy with the idea. He stayed in the shadows all through the next day and did not climb back up the mountain yet.
He knew that to start a village of his own, he must have a woman. So he waited until it was dark again on the second day and then he stole back into the silent village. As almost the whole villagers converged together in a small clearing, beside a huge fire, telling funny stories, he sneaked into a hut and quietly stole away with two young girls as they slept. He had discreetly tied and gagged them up before they woke up and carried them away quickly, without being seen. He left the still sleeping girls beside his bundle of gift, by the mountain side.
He had already tied up the end of the rope he had descended with to his bundle of gifts, all ready for lifting from the mountain top. Leaving the tied and gagged sleeping girls beside the mountain, he hurriedly returned back in the darkness, to sweep off and wipe clear his tracks, by walking backwards while haphazardly sweeping his foot-prints with a broken short tree branch. A coincidental very brief heavy rainfall that soon followed his quick attempt to disguise his nefarious activity, further conspired to cover up his tracks pretty well.
Then he strapped both the young girls to his back before climbing up the mountain with the rope he had descended with. It was a real mean feat, but he was a very strong young man. Though he had to rest several times on the way back up, he managed to make it all the way back up by using the strong plaited rope with such dexterity. He had managed the ascent with such animalistic skills that made his outwards appearance seem more like a monkey in human disguise.
By dawn he was already on top of the mountain and had pulled back up his bundle of gifts after him. He then set about removing the fresh leaves he had gagged the girls with but delayed untying his captives, as he forcibly fed them fresh fruits amidst their frightened cries. They had woken up as he ascended and had struggled to free themselves all the way up, but since he had tied them up and gagged their mouths well enough, he was able to make it up the mountain with much less difficulty than would have been the case if he hadn’t restrained them.
As he fed them, they still continued to struggle. But after they choked a number of times, they simply ate and drank quietly eventually. He had kept them tied up, without gagging them this time. When he was all done, he felt so drained and afterwards he slept all day long. The two girls had remained tied up for quite a while until he was satisfied they wouldn’t try something silly or stupid. He had to be sure for their own safety too. Soon the girls fully comprehended their situation and like it is usual with children, came to terms with it.
As our village on top of the mountain grew and became a populated community, it very naturally lived for this sole old revenge of our founding father. Old as the village’s existence, this revenge governed the whole existence of our village on the mountain top. We practically lived it and for it. It had conceived us, nourished us and it is us. When I was a little girl, a boy I was purely coincidently seated beside one cold Story night, asked the Eldest what the name of our village is. Without any warning, the old man picked up a large pebble and threw it with such force at the boy. It missed him and hit my fore-head. I bled from the cut of the impact of the sharp stone. I still have the cut it had made on my fore-head. It had healed to leave this straight short vertical mark on my fore-head, which has since been admired by so many as a beauty mark, and I had since pretended it is.
It has always been considered a great taboo to even make reference to a name for our village because it was considered only a temporary abode, until we conquered our real village at the foot of the mountain. Hence naming it, would insinuate otherwise. All the boys of our village are routinely trained in physical combat. The village has maintained armory, consisting of the most diverse arsenal of the crudest contraptions of dangerous weapons. The founding father of our village fashioned out a comprehensive plan that had as a key part of it, the military training of the entire male population.
Systematically, generations of boys were taught the act of war, trained as fighting men. They steadily grew into a fairly big army of strong fearless men that would be needed for that final war. Only the current serving Eldest has the generational privilege of knowing the predetermined exact number of warriors required and fixed by the grand plan of the founding father of our village. Only he will determine when it is the right time for the final war; that one impending war we all called ‘The return’. It is the war that will seek our long sought revenge. We all awaited it for it with hidden mixed feelings, even though we were all conditioned to pretend we didn’t.
The father of our village spoke badly. His ability to talk clearly had never been good. His speech was impaired by the cut on his lower lip from birth. The two wives he kidnapped had clearer speech initially, but since they were still quite young when they were forcibly taken from their family and hadn’t completely developed their speech then, they spoke loosely too and their vocabulary was quite limited as well.
The family they all started had no option but to learn a kind of speech that was a hybrid of their father’s impaired speaking and their mothers’ adolescent vocabulary. Hence their off-springs also spoke in this disjointedly impaired, undeveloped and limited manner. This eventually made the language of the entire village sound funny and with fewer words than is normal for any tribe. We had a hugely depleted vocabulary and we used sounds to mainly register feelings.
Sixteen children in all were borne by these first two kidnapped girls. Nothing is known of which of them had what number of children or amongst their children, how many wives a brother took from his own sisters in the second generation of the family that pioneered our close knit village on the mountain. It wasn’t stated if the founding father did or didn’t add to his two wives from the ranks of his daughters. It was known that no one came down or up the mountain ever again and that there were just six brothers and ten sisters in the second generation. It was the father of our village that out-lawed marrying more than a single wife, around the time of the second generation.
So we know six of those first ten sisters would have married their six brothers, leaving four unmarried sisters. But it is also known that all the ten sisters had no less than six children each. So we speculate the rest of the story. Brothers had since made wives of their sisters and it is still one woman to one man. The communal coupling rite isn’t new and it was said to have been necessitated by certain skirmishes. The unmarried free girls are still only permitted to conceive at the special combined village ceremonies and give birth to their claimed children.
My only brother is much older than me and already had a wife, so he could not shield me from the shame of the humiliating rejection I lived with. He is not the sort for such strong protective masculine actions. He is a timid emotional sort and was not the type to seek redress through any form of violence. He is the last person to rely on if such act of bravado was required. He was however the most sympathetic of my situation, though he didn’t vocalize it.
The moon lit the village well on its full days. Its gray light reflects on the rocky surroundings and casts a glow that is friendly to the eyes. It embraces the cold nights and calls out the villagers to play. To warm up the people, a dance is often called on such cold moon lit nights and a Story telling night is declared if it is a warm moon lit night.
On these Dancing nights the old and elderly clapped and sang along, as the young danced. The pregnant girls are made to join in the dancing because the older women always said a good exercise eases a child’s passage and a mother’s pains. One of the first things I realized on the next set of moon lit dancing nights, was that no one urged me to dance as usual and I was left to sit alone on my own. Then I heard the words of the new song the new free girls were singing and I knew I was not special anymore. My time of honour had passed and I had turned into a joke, a ridiculed clown for silly songs.
In the new song, they sang of a beautiful bird that once sang and danced well, but it is now all alone and will die alone. The bird is alone because all its mates had been caught and eaten up by the Gods. Only the bird was left alone because of its pride. It wasn’t chosen and it must now die of loneliness, nursing its single egg that will never hatch. The song did not worry or bother me, but seeing my father clap to the tune and the rest of my family joyfully dance and sing along to the words of the song too, was very painful. I felt like the father of our village must have felt. I comprehended his feelings and I was hurt so deeply like he must have been, those so many seasons ago.
My father had told me that the father of our village’s last living child had died only two nights before my great grandfather was born. This second generation son of our founding father was buried differently. His burial vigil was said to be the longest ever held. It had lasted two full nights. It is said that his bones were not displayed and shown to the village until the dawn of the second night. His were the only bones dropped down the steepest end of the mountain at dawn, when the whole world was well lit up and not at night like it is usually done.
We were told the gathering watched as vultures feasted on his flesh, placed on the highest peak of the highest hill on the mountain. Usually people go about their chores as the vultures descend, but his was a symbolic vigil, unique in every sense. I sort of reflected on this as my peers began to let out their babies, one after the other. My own full burden was now large; my skin fully stretched out thin at the place it was housed. The other new mothers received guests bearing gifts from all over the village as I waited for my turn to let out my child. One hot night it was my turn and it was almost easier than I thought and feared it would be. I had eased my child out with little prompting, restrained quiet screams and lots of exaggerated panting.
Then my situation dawned on me when I held you in my arms, not inside me. For days no one came to see us to wish us well, besides my family. No guests came or little gifts sent; even from friends. I knew I was wrong to expect anything in life and right to expect anything. People will only strife for their own good and can be unfair if it doesn’t concern them. Most of those we think are good, are often not worth trusting. I knew I will never trust people again. My people are my family. If I cannot trust them, then who do I trust? My son;
‘Expect anything in life,
In its all human strife.
That very fair sort
Are often so very not.’
The vultures do not live on our mountain. Their nests are below in the tall trees on the mountain’s northern side. The old stories told of how the vultures had their nests on the mountain long ago, before they descended. They had to leave when they were hunted by the new human inhabitants of the mountain. We never saw their new nests because they were much lower than it would have been safe to lean over and crane out of the steep edges of the mountain to look down and see them. But we always knew they were there because we were told they were there. We co-existed and cooperated with the vultures in two major ways that circumvented our death or theirs. They clean up the flesh of our dead and we hunted them for meat and feathers.
The mountain top is fairly large with three main parts to its diverse terrain. There is the rough rocky area with huge boulders wonderfully placed on each other in the surrounding hills. Our village is sited on this area. Secondly is the trees and vegetation covered area. On this part of the mountain top is an impressive purely naturally occurring orchard with Banana, Pawpaw, Palm, Mango, Orange, Pear, Guava trees; all randomly but closely flourishing in the dark, thick, moist, rich soil on this part of the mountain. The father of our village found them all already here, high up on the mountain’s fertile loamy soil.
The soil must be as old as the mountain itself and we are very certain the mountain grew out of the ground beneath it, carrying the rich dark soil up with it. The trees must have sprout out of seeds brought up by birds of all sizes to crack and eat or simply eat but didn’t. Or yet still carried in the many birds’ dung, littered all around. The constant rains and fog watered the soil. Particularly during the rainy seasons, this area gets quite swampy because water flows downwards from the smooth rocky hills to settle there and it never drains away. Finally on the mountain top is the mainly smooth broad, flat rocky southern side.
This part rises upwards gently from the centre of the mountain, raising almost steadily outward towards the mountain’s edge and then curves sharply downwards to form the steepest and smoothest side of the mountain, all round to its whole eastern side. It is on this broad flat inclined rocky side that we fed an ageless population of vultures with the flesh of our dead, stripped off the corpses’ bones ourselves.
The bones are thrown over the steep edge of the smooth eastern side of the mountain, all the way down to the sparse shrubby vegetation of the brownish green plains beneath, with the sole aim of terrifying the people of the village below. My father is also a soft hearted man and not the type for aggression or violent behaviour. As a grown man, it also his duty to take his turn in performing the bone stripping ritual at very numerous burial vigils. He always found it difficult to sleep for days afterwards and late on some of such sleepless nights of his, I will hear him talk to my mother about the stomach retching rituals.
He spoke of how they have to use their bare hands to tear off most of the flesh from the corpses’ bones. He described how they dug their finger nails deep into the bloody moist slippery fiber texture of the dismembered dead bodies and slowly collected the body fat. This was set aside for use in stuffing tightly woven small baskets, which are used as the main water containers by the villagers. He had vividly described the gory act. I am glad I never actually saw it performed.
It was always done somewhere within the rocky hills, by the rotating bunch of assigned elderly men, while the rest of the villagers kept an all night noisy festive vigil in the village’s centre clearing. Later when the men had finished, just around visible dawn, everyone is assembled to witness the tossing over of the bones down the steep side and the spreading out of the flesh on the broad flat inclined rock for the vultures. The gathering disperses as soon as the vultures start to perch on nearby rocks. I learnt from eavesdropping on his night talks that the father of our village had designed this type of funerals.
It is so obvious that he had designed this sort of funeral with the main aim of instilling more fear into the hearts of the people residing in the village on the plains below the mountains. This type of barbaric and quite dehumanizing burial style was however naturally convenient for the entire village community that resided isolated so high up on the predominantly rocky enclave. It had its own special merits, which also suited the overall objectives of the founding father as well.
It ensures that our men are hardened and fearless, for only the strong hearted and brave person would painstakingly embark on tearing away all the flesh off the bones of the corpse of a person well known to them. The almost routine display of the heaped flesh of the dead people also attracted the mass of flocked vultures, which we hunted for their meat and feathers afterwards, when they linger around after their meals. Then finally, this sort of nauseating funeral further heightens the fear of the dreaded mountain by the people below it.
Naturally this kept them away until such a time when the grand quest of The Return is activated and actualized by the sudden secret descend of the mountain people for a final war, destined to settle all the cruelty meted out to our ancestor. We were fond of imagining and jeering at what the village people beneath the mountain thought of the bones we threw down after a funeral. We visualized them being terrified with the sheer mystery of the fresh human bones they discover repeatedly beneath the mountain every now and then.
These were bones the residents beneath the mountain would obviously know had been thrown down from their superstitiously named Sacred Mountain of the Gods. They could tell this by the telling bloody markings of the bouncing and sliding bones as they descend down the smooth steep rocky surface of the high mountain. Because they revere and worshipped the mountain, they also feared what they didn’t know about the mountain and the supposed spirits that dwell on the rocky mountain’s misty cloud covered high summit.
This partly superstitious and mostly uncertainty induced dread, ensured they distanced themselves from the mountain side and never attempt to climb it. Not a single attempt is recorded of anyone trying to climb from the inhabitants of the village beside the enormous mountain. Meanwhile, high up on the mountain the peace our village enjoyed was truly based on the fact that we are all actually related. Everyone in the village is from the same single founding father and his two stolen wives. We all considerably look alike; with hard dark hairy skins and thick black springy hair that we always shave off clean with sharpened vulture bones. Our bare scalps are well oiled with bird fat or palm oils. We all go about completely naked, always.
We remain in our compact home shelters most of the time because it is mainly cold up on the mountain, in between the brief display of the harsh low blazing sun. We huddle up together in tight groups of separate families, with the grown ups taking turns on the outside of the family huddled up clusters. These huge embraces kept us warm on cold nights. It was an effective way to keep warm. Occasionally we all stay outside our shelters, around a large fire to tell stories, sing songs and dance. Only the Eldest has the ability to make fire, it is never taught to anyone else. For this reason fires are not lit within home shelters. This had ensured trees weren’t habitually cut down to satisfy this purpose, indiscriminately. Only naturally broken down dead branches that fall off the trees, are collected for these large fires.
The usual cold gets unbearable most times and many families slept underneath extensively woven stringed-out fresh grass mats, patched up and decorated with feathers and leaves. Few privileged families, normally the family of the serving Eldest, own very old sewn monkey hides to cover up with. These were gotten long ago when the earliest residents of our village was still alive and monkeys still lived on the mountain top too. The monkeys were hunted to extinction on the mountain. It is also known that some of the monkeys bravely leaped into the tall trees beside the mountain side, to escape certain death.
I started wanting to leave the mountain right before your birth. I wanted to leave the village and its people. I wanted to find a peaceful place to live, away from the hostile people of my village, to be more comfortable amongst people that will appreciate me for what I am and my child too. I knew that the rejection I was experiencing will be extended to you soon enough and it would have stayed with us for the rest of our lives. I also was certain that The Return will be called in my life time or most certainly in yours. I was then in my early labour pains. My pains were said to be more than usual because you were an unclaimed boy, my mother had confirmed that assumption as well.
This all made me more scared of The Return. I feared I will lose you in the war. The thought occupied me and scared me greatly. I was even more terrified when the Eldest started calling out all the men and older boys for extra war practice every other night. For the very first time younger boys were allowed to take part in performing the bone stripping ritual of the Burial vigils. The Return was surely upon us and it appeared to be quite soon. The many signs were all around us, even though it wasn’t mentioned out-rightly or discussed. It was almost as if thinking and talking about it will carry our words and conversations down the mountain and alert of our planned descend.
One unusually warm night, not long after I had you, I had to come out of my family’s home shelter to empty my rumbling bowel behind a large boulder, just outside our modest abode. It was a dark night; I could not even see my own hands as I spread them out in front of my stooped and squatted frame to stabilize myself as I went about the strain of forcing those relaxing deep breaths that empty the bowel. I had fully bent my knees, taking the ideal position for emptying my bowel. When I finished excreting and was cleaning up my rear by rubbing any residue off against an edge of the boulder, I saw a bright fire lit up at the edge of the north of the mountain, just near the trees.
I silently crept to the spot, hiding myself in the shadows regardless of the darkness of the warm night. On getting there I saw a group of men slowly lowering very long ropes down the northern side of the mountain. I counted twenty ropes lowered and each of the ropes lowered had its still visible end tied to a big strong tree’s trunk. I stayed hidden, choosing to remain there until the group of men had left before I moved, for I feared they might see me. From the dark shadow cast behind a mango tree by the lit fire, the Eldest stood up as they prepared to leave the spot. He had sat there supervising the entire work. He spoke clearly to the few men with him as they gathered round the fire after they had finished lowering all the ropes.
He told them that the entire village’s war force would descend on the plains and attack the people beneath as soon as the night air gets cooler and every sleepless head down below is surely in a deep sleep at last. He assured them that the next morning would be a victorious one after the entire grown up male population of their village had successfully conquered all the people of the plains below. Then I realized with such dread that The Return was the very next morning! It was the moment we had existed for and had waited all our lives for.
The Eldest spoke with such vigorous venom that I almost did not recognize him as the gentle man that gave the best judgments, the most reasonable advises, told the funniest jokes and sweetest stories. He was actually this mean blood tasty, war crazy old man after all. Because I had tarried behind a while longer, I saw that they had left the ropes unguarded. When I returned to our damp home space, I was deep in thought and so apprehensive of the imminent doom of my family and loved ones, as I was convinced it would ghastly turn out to be. I looked at my sleeping family and felt no doubts for what I thought was the right thing to do. I picked you up from my sleeping space, as you slept peacefully and crept out silently. Holding you close to my body, in the fast cooling night air, I still kept in the shadows, as I quickly stole away from home completely unnoticed.
As I quietly hurried towards the tied ropes, I kept strictly behind the barely visible huge moon-coloured boulders that are scattered around the village, with the hope that I would remain invincible and not a dead give away mobile silhouette against visibly brighter background to any observant onlooker. When I got to the trees, I set about untying the ropes with my shaking fumbling hands. I untied eighteen of the ropes and dropped them over the mountain’s edge, all the way down; with no regard for all the hard work that was put into making them. I left the two closest ropes untouched and kept part of the last rope I had untied and used a small part of it to strap you, still sleeping, firmly on my back, before tossing the rest over the edge too.
Then I used the two ropes still tied to the trees, to slowly descend the mountain. I was scared and slow as I went over the edge in the dark; holding the ropes firmly, and climbed down with you strapped to my back. It took so long getting down but I did it with blistered palms. I got very tired as I got lower. Bruised, tired and scared, but I did it with you fast asleep strapped to my back. My actions had a selfish intension but I knew it was the right thing to do. I had since paid for it with the loss of my people’s trust. I paid for it with the fear I still experience. And I paid for it with regrets and much pain to follow.
I had since learnt that evil would be punished, no matter how long it takes and nothing is truly free. Since nothing goes for nothing; it must always be purchased and bought some how. Someone pays a price. Someone always pays something for it; tangible or not, whether knowingly or otherwise. Not even freedom is completely free. There are many kinds of currency for payment. Freedom is the absence of force and force is ever present, then freedom is non-existent. My son;
‘Not one good deed is free
Or unpunished evil to see,
Nor something for nothing;
Someone pays something.’
What I wanted to achieve by my act of betrayal was a combination of four things mainly. Firstly, I opted for what was to me, a lesser fear. That is running away as against remaining. The thought of a war was so scary and I knew the only way to stop The Return was by taking away my people’s element of surprise and to make the fear factor they were hugely dependant on irrelevant. This was a major part of the plan they had hoped would give them victory over the much larger population they were going to war with. I was afraid that I would lose my brother and father in the war. I didn’t want this.
Secondly, I wanted to be relevant again. I wanted to be mentioned with respect and not mockery. I wanted my family and village to regret the way they treated me. Thirdly, I wanted my people to be humbled, so that they would discard this mindless quest for vengeance, in memory of an old man that has been dead and his corpse eaten by vultures hundreds of seasons ago. His flesh had been eaten by vultures that had themselves also been eaten up long before all the parents of everyone now alive in the village were even conceived or born. And finally, I wanted to leave our pitiful existence, flee our limited lives, to see the world outside with you.
I wanted to ensure you grew up in an environment that will not be limited in vision or as remotely violent in its aspirations or in your ridiculed father-less case, disadvantaged by the stubbornness of the isolated community’s inherited hatred. I was tired when I finally put my feet firmly on the loose ground beneath the mountain, for the first time in my life. Indeed, I am the first descendant of the founding father of our village to ever do so; followed by you obviously. It was still dark when I finally touched the ground beneath the mountain. When I let go of the ropes I had descended with, you were still quite fast asleep. I slowly untied the rope securing you firmly to my back and gently moved you over into my arms’ protective embrace.
I rested my back against the familiar hard firmness of the mountain’s smooth rock and slide down to a sitting position, very exhausted. Then out of the impulse of a combination of my recent maternal habit, fear and uncertainty, I tucked a breast nipple into your lips and you suckled instinctively. Then I tiredly drifted into a restless sleep, beside the pair of ropes I had used to descend. The end of one of the ropes was still slightly tucked under my left thigh as I sat sleeping. It was an unconscious sentimental act of lingering to my past life, which I had left behind and I did this quite absent-mindedly.
I had no idea for how long I stayed sleeping like that, but I was suddenly woken with a start, without the faintest idea what woke me up. A pull at the other end of the rope, up in the mountain, had freed the end of the rope under my thigh. I stood up quickly. It appeared it was not dawn yet, only slightly brighter. I couldn’t exactly make out the ropes I had descended with as they laid in the unnatural imprint of the scattered remains of the other fully cut ropes I had thrown over earlier. When I finally distinguished the ropes as they snaked down the mountain side, they weren’t lying still on the ground within the twists of the other ropes like I expected they should, because they had been quietly pulled back up the mountain side while I slept and were still simultaneously ascending upwards the mountain side slowly.
After a brief moment of indecision, I swiftly reached out and took hold of the end of one of the ropes as it receded and slowly snaked its way back upwards. The other rope was being pulled back up at a faster pace and it was quickly out of my reach. As the rope in my hand tightened, I braced myself and gave it a sudden sharp pull with as much strength as I could muster from one arm, because my other arm still held you close to my breast. The rope I pulled on suddenly gave in and slackened. And for a brief while I thought I heard a voice call out faintly from behind me. I let go of the rope and turned around startled, but there were only tall motionless trees behind me.
As I remained standing in the near darkness, it was apparently clear that I was alone and all by myself, beside the mountain side. I turned back at the mountain side just in time to see the other rope that was already out of reach had stopped ascending. I heard the voice call out louder again. It took a while for it to register that it was from above me. This time I was certain and looked up. The voice got louder as it descended from the barely visible misty summit of the mountain, as it became more visible. Silhouetted against the fast brightening sky was a fast free-falling person screaming loudly in the most terror stricken wishful eerie cry I have ever heard in my entire life.
Descending rapidly, turning and twisting unsteadily. Shouting louder as he appeared larger, a fast falling man raced down straight at my standing position. I was too startled to think of my safety and move away as the fallen man splattered right there beside me with a very loud nauseating thud. His loud screams were cut abruptly short at it deadest loudest. Then an eerie silence, bloody still silence, held my stunned conscious cold body spellbound. I was trance-fixed, looking down at the dead body of my friend’s father lying face up and unnaturally mangled on the ground beside me, very dead. It happened so quickly but it seemed to me like every detail of it lasted longer.
The noise woke you up and you came around with a burst of sobs. I was too shocked to react to your cries. Then I heard, before I saw both ropes restart another upwards ascend again; this time faster. I watched as the ropes quickly went up the mountain side and back home without me. I was yet to recover from all this when I heard voices from behind me. This time the voices were indeed from behind me, from within the tall trees. Strange sounding words were shouted and cough like sounding screams accompanied the strange voices. Terrified, I held you close, turned around fully to face the tall trees and waited for the voices to reach me where I stood holding you. We waited for only a short while before I started to make out the shapes of the people approaching us as I stood rocking you in my arms.
We waited there, beside the fallen splattered mangled lifeless body, surrounded with the fallen ropes I had untied and dropped before I embarked on my descent from the mountain. I waited for the quickly approaching people to see me standing there, surrounded by my story. I saw them look directly at me as they appeared to have made me out against the background of the mountain and the dark shadows of the tall trees, in the poor brightening dawn light. They emerged from within the trees carrying sticks of all sizes and shapes. They had with them what at first sight appeared to me like strange hairy brown and black colored animals, with silly short ropes swinging behind them.
These were the source of the strange coughing sounds and the loud piercing screams I had heard earlier. I was terrified of them. As I backed further away, I kept my eyes on these short animals as they yelled at me threateningly with their salivating mouths wide open, sharp plentiful teeth caging a flashing red long tongue, but the animals kept their distance. The people were obviously restraining them from coming at me by shouting sharp verbal commands at them.
Though I was very frightened, I remembered the old stories we were told about animals that looked like men. They were called Monkeys and said to have been the source of the few warm thick bedding covers seen in the home shelters of The Eldest’s family. I compared the bodies of these animals to the warm beddings I had seen and realized that these animals could be the monkeys we had heard of but had never seen. This knowledge warmth my heart and I was confident.
The people spoke to me calmly. I realized that with close attention I could, with some difficulty, understand many of the words they spoke. I held you closer to me, as I called out that I needed their help and knelt down, pretending to be in some pain. The people didn’t seem to understand my words. They conversed amongst themselves, debating about me, the scattered ropes and the corpse beside me. They were all men, I realized and one of them was particularly nice.
This man had inquired about my health and yours too, in his warm reassuring voice. I had no idea what had attracted them to me or at what point they knew I was standing there beside the mountain, but I guessed that the falling man’s shouts must have done so. The men wore light looking and feather thin white hides over their whole bodies and only their faces, hands and lower legs could be seen clearly. They examined the dead body and asked me if he was my husband. I told my story hurriedly and in stutters, but it was clear that they did not understand my words as clearly as I understood theirs.
They talked amongst themselves and agreed I should be led back to their village. Soon the nice man led four others to take us and my friend’s dead father’s corpse to their village. The others left us, turned away and walked around the side of the mountain as they proceeded on their hunting trip, all the coughing animals followed them. Only five of the men remained with me. I was glad the nice man stayed behind with the four other men. He examined the dead body closely and then he gave the other four men sharp instructions. As they spoke, they kept looking up and pointing at the summit of the mountain, from where they rightly decided the dead body had fallen from.
Then they picked up one of the ropes scattered on the ground and soon we were all on our way, headed back the same way they had come. The four men carried the corpse by it four lifeless limbs each and the nice man carried you and walked beside me as we all walked through the lined up confines of the tall trees. The nice man smiled at me. I wasn’t afraid but reassured and more confident as we all walked together quietly. We entered their village after walking for only a short while. The village appeared as soon as we emerged from within the tall trees. I was amazed at how close to the mountain their village was. If not for the trees, the village would have been visible from where I had reached the ground, when I descended from the mountain.
It was a flat terrain and only the trees had any real height all around the vast seemingly endless landscape. I had kept looking up into the trees as we walked beneath their tall shaded dense presence. It is in these tall trees that the vultures have their nests, overhead. I had short glimpse of their nests as we went by. No one in my village had ever taken that walk and I was glad I had achieved that bit of glory already. It was such a momentarily elating thought, I was briefly elated.
Dawn was fully revealed by now, visibility was quite good by now. As we entered the village a crowd started to gather. The early morning risers amongst them were ignoring their chores and walking alongside our little group, staring at the mangled corpse and naked me. I was enjoying the attention, it put a spring in my strides. The nice man played with you as he answered some of their inquiries curtly. One of the four men carrying the corpse gave more detailed answers to inquisitive villagers walking alongside us. But obviously, he only made them even more curious and wasn’t quite helpful.
It must have sounded crazy to most of them, like he was merely sensationalizing. Evidently, a still curious disbelief flirted on their amazed faces. We finally stopped in front of a large shelter, neatly made of dried sand rocks sides and long grassy roof. All the shelters I saw in the village were like this one. Their homes were very unlike ours on the mountain top, which were merely covered up spaces between naturally placed big rock boulders, beside hills or piled up rocks, covered repeatedly with sticks, shrubs, leaves and grass.
They called their shelters Houses, I was to soon learn and they were very neatly made, warm and quite spacious but not much durable than ours. They were quite protective and comfortable to stay in, I was to later experience. I had busied my eyes with staring at these houses as we walked by at first. Most of the buildings were like quite small, round sand hills with dry grass head dressings, standing in pairs or fours, but none was as large as the one we finally stopped in front of.
Some elderly men and women were already seated in the large open space in front of the large building, beneath a massive dark full tree. I was asked to sit down and the nice man handed you, now sleeping, back to me. The corpse was laid down some distance away and kept away from the people that were quickly gathering around the wide open space under the big tree, in front of the large house.
It appeared the commotion our very early entrance into the village had caused, attracted everyone in the village and even the late risers had jumped out of their sweet early morning sleep to part take in the spectacle. Then a woman, covered up in the white feather thin hide I later learnt they call Cloth, came forward and gave me some water to drink. The water was in a smooth container I got to know is a Calabash and not a knitted grass container stuffed with dead people’s fat and tree gum, like we used up in my village.
I drank up as the nice man started to loudly tell the silent gathering how they found me holding you beside the corpse. And like the first time I heard him speak, I was able to make out some of the words he used and could hear him end his brief speech by telling his listeners that he thinks I understood most of their words, but they could not understand my own words. Then one of the elderly men spoke softly. I could see that I was not the only one straining to hear his words.
Soon the nice man was speaking again, this time he appeared not to be addressing the large gathering but spoke directly to me. As I made out the words I could decipher, I understood he wanted me to tell everyone my story again. He asked me to speak as slowly and as clearly as I could. I stood there comfortably naked in front of all this strangely covered up people and started to speak. I spoke loudly, slowly and as clearly as I could. I pronounced my words more carefully and tried to sound like them as I gestured elaborately to buttress my emphasis, point directions and stress my points.
The gathering murmured as I spoke, but that did not bother me as I went ahead to tell them everything about the founding father of our village, our village, and our funerals. I ended with The Return; how I had foiled so very many decades of preparation, just the night before. I told them about the ropes and the corpse they found beside me.
They listened well enough and after I had finished they immediately started to deliberate about what they were guessing I must have said because they didn’t understand most of my words. While they discussed I realized that I was the only grown-up person in the entire gathering that was naked and I was a shade uncomfortable.
It then appeared that the deliberate way I spoke paid off and some of the elders were able to make out the gist of what I had said. I was happy to see learn and it was a great relief to me because it had occurred to me that if they didn’t understand me, there is a possibility that they would not heed my timely warning and a lot will suffer as a result. After a considerable number of days had uneasily passed by slowly and I had started wearing a large cloth around my body from the chest down to my knees like all the other women did in this village, it was obvious that some elabourate activities were taking place in the village as a direct result of the story I told the villagers.
I stayed with the nice man’s family and was learning to speak more like them. I was taught by the nice man’s father, who was assigned to properly hear my story and report back to the village’s elders. Soon I could converse loosely with him easily enough and I was able to thoroughly explain myself to him. I got to know that they already knew about my strange village up on the mountain top, but it warmed their skeptical hearts to know that the fresh human bones they always found and buried after we threw them down, were burial bones and were not discarded after we had eaten our fellow residents. They had just feared we were cannibals who ate each other on special festive occasions, but the elabourate plan for The Return was news to them.
They had always been wary of any form of attack from their neighbours from the top of the mountain. I was informed that young men had been stationed strategically around the mountain to keep watch for such an occurrence in the past. But as time passed, the village became complacent and ignored this measure. No group was sent out for that purpose anymore and had not the hunting party found me, I would have just walk into their village unannounced.
But he assured me that they had since remedied that, since my sudden appearance. Their body of elders had reasoned that all things being as they were, any threat can only be harmful when a warning goes unheeded and if nothing happens subsequently, the practice would serve to only prepare them farther for any order similar threat.
He went on further to tell me that in the old days they thought the burning fires and smoke they saw on the mountain top on clear moon lit nights, the loud singing reaching them on silent windy nights and of course, the occasional fresh human bones they found by the mountain side, were all the activities of some mystical Gods and not that of fellow human beings. This notion was dispensed with as the community grew wiser and less superstitious.
My revelations renewed and heightened their sense of security. Most of the villagers wholly believed me. However there was a section of them who strongly disputed my story and considered me a mad woman from a neighbouring village’ who had murdered her husband and was about killing her son before she was caught in the act.
Inquiries from the neighbouring villages about that possibility had yielded nothing yet. But still some unfortunately, were increasingly doubtful of me as seasons passed and nothing happened out of the usual from the mountain top. The fires and smoke, singing and dancing on clear moon lit nights and the occasional fresh human bones by the mountain side, still continued as their alertness humanly slackened again. I knew there had to be only one explanation.
It seemed to me that The Return is being delayed further, for I know it will definitely not be abandoned. I wonder sometimes if my fellow villagers up on the mountain had given up on The Return all together. Maybe they just merely postponed it, waiting for the opportune moment; when the people down here will be so unprepared. I fear if that is their intension, then they need not wait any longer again.
I have told you this story many times before now. I am happy that you believe me and wish to do something about it. Our people have a capacity for patience; they can wait indefinitely. I watched you grow up and saw how the Nice man took you as his son. I am so glad that I ran away with you. You are the only person from this village beneath the mountain, to leave for the white peoples’ lands. I know they sent you there instead of their own children because they feared it might not be a good thing to have done then. But you can see I am now the envy of every mother in this village. I had refused to follow you to the white peoples’ land because I know our people are still up there.
I crave for one chance to see my family again. And every time you return home I am always glad to see you safe. But please do not go back up the mountain with these white men with you, for my sake or whatever sakes. I know they are thrilled to hear your translations of my story again and they want to confirm it by going up the mountain. But it isn’t safe. I have since learnt that not all things noble are sensible or every sacrifice reasonable to all. In wishing to be vindicated and believed, I had not been careful. Now that my wish is coming true through your plans, I wished I had been careful what I wished for. But then my choice had been made and had. The choices and options I did not make or pick, I had missed out forever. My son;
‘Noble is not always sensible
Or every sacrifice reasonable.
Be careful, for what you wished,
Other choices are also missed.’