A Chapter by YouoweYoupay

For the remainder of this school day, I did not touch the neatly wrapped lunch in my school sack.

4. Jaraan 

I was not going to die. Not yet. I could explain. Fareed’s eyes did not burn with fire. Perhaps he was confused. 

“You promised us.” he breathed heavily, “You promised you would never see yourself bigger than your own friends.”

“I am not bigger than anyone! It’s- I wasn’t�"” I scrabbled for the right response. Why wouldn’t the words come to me? I had taken the longer route to school, the one tangled with marshes, reeds and uneven, bumpy roads. And still they tracked me down.

 Jawad and Munes, as I had suspected, hesitated to surround me, their feet shuffling as they waited for orders from their stoutly-built leader. But they didn’t care whether I reacted that way or the other.
Fareed’s father was a farmer. Munes’ father was a leatherworker. And Jawad’s father was a carpenter, retired after a grave injury due to a long fall from a rooftop. My father was the not the first nor the only teacher in Guloc. But for the past ten years, he had specifically been approached by students from highly-esteemed families; neatly-clothed pupils with trimmed hair who arrived at our doorstep with stars twinkling in their eyes and great expectations for their future. For this reason, I was shunned by the friends I cherished the most. For as long as I can remember, Fareed had been my partner in school, playtime and troublemaking. I begged in multiples ways for him to remain by my side and he agreed on one condition.

“Did you or did you not,” Fareed seethed with tight jaws, “make a vow before the Eagle Claw Rock two years ago?”

“Yes! And nothing has changed.” my heart beat loudly in my chest, I took a step back when he neared me, “I was jus�" I was just happy. Not proud. Never proud.”

“Nothing has changed?” Fareed chorused coldly, “Who is it, I wonder, who ran in the streets hooting and whistling when the news about Harun’s school acceptance letter arrived?” Arms crossed, he shook his head and scoffed, “I’ve always known you’re such an arrogant little imp.”

I swallowed the knot in my throat and shot a defiant glance at him, “When my father devotes himself to help a boy reach the city of the gods, what do you expect me to do? Sit and weep? It's called joy.” I emphasized slowly.

‘Choleem’. And it rang nicely and memorably in one’s ears. A word we had learned years ago in school. What couldn’t they understand? Yes, I admit. In the past, I had been a bit of a snobbish child. I used to find pleasure in smearing the stories of my ‘special’ father in the face of my classmates. But back in the days, I was small and stupid. I dare you to name one human who hadn’t gone through the stage of smallness and stupidity.

“What grotty bullocks are you spouting?” he sneered, turning to share a smirk with his minions, “Even the Mad Herbalist isn't as mad as you are. Your father didn’t help anyone go anywhere. The entire village knows that Harun is the most intelligent boy in Guloc.”

“That’s true,” Munes nodded, “my parents say he gobbles up his school books for supper. And drinks the ink of his pen like water.”

“And your brother?” Fareed savored this part, his teeth slightly showing as he watched my body tense and my face go red, “The philosopher! Need I remind you what everyone thinks of his wisdom eye?”
A terrible weight preyed on my skin. It hurt when I breathed. And my face grew hotter by the moment. Lumio’s ridiculous expression as he lolled out his tongue to mock me and the way he carried me upside down mistaking me for a monkey; the images flashed in my mind.
“You cork your filthy mouth or I will cork it for you…” one dignified stream of words. Not a single stutter. Heroic fury. “The only reason you speak ill of my brother is because your own brother wipes the floor with your face.”

Who said that? I was quite sure I had thought of the same genius threat, but I would never blurt it out loud. Not me. Never… 

Jawad and Munes could not even blink. Fareed looked like a bloated toad on the verge of explosion.  He pointed at me with blood-shot eyes, signaling the boys to attack. I turned to stone right where I stood. 
“Bring him to me!” he growled. And he also spat at the ground, his form growing larger and harder, “Let’s see who will cork whose mouth. Drag him to me so I can crack his egg of a skull and strip the flesh from his bones.”

The trail of the oak trees and rolling hills of yellow flowers blurred in my sight as I raced and galloped. 
“Come back, you spineless dog!” Fareed’s voice echoed in the distance.

This boy was made up of talk and only that. If he truly intended to tear me to pieces, he would have lept at my throat already, instead of snapping his fingers for his loyal servants to make the first move. But even mere words could make a fully-fledged man wet his undergarments and cry for his mother. Am I wrong?

My legs wobbled and my heart almost fell out of my chest but I ran nonetheless! Something vile tangled my foot and I rolled down the slope. A shape flashed before my eyes. Indigo blue. Wood smashed. My world circled and spiraled but I could not stop. I had to find my legs again. I groaned in pain, my cheek pasted on the dark moist earth . A pair of feet in tidy shoes slightly spotted with mud advanced toward me. The scatter of the broken wood and indigo blue cloth had been attached to a string that coiled and extended from the hand of the person towering over me. 

“Are you alright?” he said.

“Where’d he go? Find him!” another voice further behind.
I peeled myself away from the ground and sprinted again, leaving the boy and the kite behind; the dark blue kite I had destroyed upon the impact of the fall down the hill. I would apologize later.

 When my mortal capacity to endure this chase began to diminish, I spun around to inspect and only the lightly rustling trees met my fearful eyes; pines of crisp green along each side of the dirt trail. Their branches greeted one another, caressing and intertwining like old friends with endless tales to tell.
Had I lost them?
I bent over, palms on my knees. Every breath of air burned and my feet throbbed. Drops of sweat glossed my forehead and dropped on the dust and grass. A blackbird trilled and flapped its wings away in a rush. 

Someone had followed me.
Desperate, I dived into a tree hollow whose mouth was blanketed in bright green moss. The sound of footsteps crunched and scraped more clearly and I readied myself to pounce upon my pursuer.  
 It was a boy not much older than I. I had never seen him in the village before, honey-colored skin and dimpled cheeks. I sank into the hollowed tree with relief. In his hands, he carried a few thin segments of splintered wood and crumpled fabric of indigo blue. The kite owner.

“You’re being chased.” he guessed.

“…I am.” my heart quivered again. My eyes darted everywhere. Had he lead them to me? He was seeking revenge for his shattered toy.

“Are you in the wrong?” he asked, staring at me intensely as if he was trying to read the story in my eyes. His eyes were dark against his light brown face, framed with even darker eyelashes, long and thick like a girl’s.

“No.” I shot bitterly.

“Are you telling the truth?”
Who was he to interrogate my honesty? I glowered at him and opened my mouth to say something sharp but the boy’s head snapped distractedly in another direction and then back at me with alarmed eyes.
“Wait here. Don’t make a sound.”

The boy disappeared into a light sheet of mist and I closed my eyes to the sound of the morning breeze stirring the nearby trees. The gooseberry bush at the entrance of my hideout was still not ripe. Its fruit hung like marbles and its leaves fluttered with pearl-like drops that glistened in the timid sunlight, remenants of a recent rain.

A hand was laid out to me. I reluctantly took it, emerging from the hollow trunk like an enchanted forest creature too shy to appear before humans.

“I lied. I mislead them.” the boy told me with a small sigh, “But only for an honourable cause.” I blinked at him in wonder... 

He was trying to console himself. All the boys in my school lied. Everyday. My parents occasionally told what they consider to be, ‘harmless, loving lies.’ Even Lumio, the Eye of Guloc lied.

“I found him.” this was Munes’ voice, “I FOUND HIM. TURN BACK. HE’S HERE. TURN BACK.”

The boy had indeed set me up.
I clenched my teeth and my chest heaved. I felt like a fool for trusting a stranger but when I turned to look at him, he wasn’t victoriously grinning like the other three boys who strolled unhurriedly in our direction. His face was pale and startled.
“Beya, the courageous wolf.” Fareed dusted his palms and eyed me with disdain, “Who would have thought? Were you hiding in the shadow of a little bird?” his eyes flickered in the boy's direction.

True, the boy was smaller than me in size, but the words he spoke next were large and heavy like iron. I retreated and made to run but he caught me by my wrist, speaking loud enough for all to hear: 

“You will not run, Beya.” he pronounced my name with a stress on the middle part so that it sounded like:‘Bey-ya’. A different dialect. Familiar. His hand still clasping my wrist, he turned to Fareed with a composed face like that of a grown man, “We will not run from you.” 

But I wanted to run! It’s why we were born with legs!

It took me a moment to tell apart my skin from his, to locate the source of this strange vibration. Behind the valiant dark eyes and peaceful expression, the boy was shuddering! The warmth of his skin around mine, his silent fear not so different from mine, and the puzzled stares Fareed and the two boys shared; all of it watered down my intimidation. I fixed my feet both firmly on the ground, imitating the spirited boy’s body stance. If it was a fight they wanted, a fight is what we would give them. Although apologising to one another and walking to school together also sounded nice. Just a passing thought.

Fareed glimpsed something on the boy’s long-sleeved shirt. The wildness in his eyes suddenly mellowed and waned and it reminded me of the moments he caught sight of my mother and he would instantly pretend that he had not been strangling me or pinning me down roughly on the ground.

“You…” his eyes met with the foreign boy’s with a recognition I could not understand, "You're the new boy... A snippet of advice. And I will say this for your own good!" His voice haughty and rising, Fareed's arms opened theartically as he added, "Stay clear from the likes of him! At school or elsewhere. Unless you aim to be the joke of the village. Useless, pompous and a liar." the last word was strained with bitterness. He huffed a scornful breath before turning his bulky back on us, “Let’s go.” 

“But �"” Jawad’s battle fists slackened and lowered and his eyes were torn between us and his departing friend.

Munes made a sourly tired face and muttered under his breath, “Why did I even come�"” 

“I said let’s go!” Fareed bellowed.

A blackbird sweetly chirped from a tree-top. The boy’s dimpled smile accompanied a breeze that carried the scent of earth after the rain.  I returned the smile, opening my hand both to greet and thank him.

"I swear I almost pissed my pants a minute ago..." I admitted.

"There is nothing wrong with pissing your pants." He consoled me, "It means you were trying to face your fears.."

Who taught him this?

“My name is Jaraan.” Noble steed was what it meant or maybe peacemaking, but strong-willed colt. I could not exactly remember. He tightened his small hand around mine and he shook.

“You already know my name.” I met his strong grip with one I was hoping to be just as strong, “My ‘good’ friends told you a moment ago.”

"You consider those vultures your friends?" Jaran's eyes tightened with concern. My mouth opened and closed again. Because while I meant it as a joke, his question still hit a sore rib. I did not answer him. And he did not wait for an answer. 

The fallen yellow maple leaves on both sides of the trail reminded me of scattered gold on the floors of Lord Tambier's castle, the god of the Guloc River. His form was monstrously ugly and his power to control the waters was malicious, yet the river maidens fell at his feet and the mortal women cooed and romantically sighed at his handsome features. He was a dream and a nightmare all at once. Don't ask me how this was possible...

"Why did you take the longer route?" I asked him,  "Didn't your parents tell you that our school is near the--"

"I'm scared of bridges. So I avoid them." he confessed as we walked. Not a drop of embarassment in his tone. My surprise doubled when he added, "I'm terrified of bridges, to be honest. They're--" 

"Don't let the boys hear you say this. They'll laugh at you for all eternity!"

"But you didn't laugh at me." We stopped. He regarded me for a moment. 

"It's- Because!" What could I  have said to this? That I was a wonderful fellow? That he wouldn't find two of me in this world? Instead, I sighed and resumed walking ahead of him, "Have you never been to school before?"

"No." He lowered his eyes to his mud-stained shoes. 


"Alright, then" I cleared my throat to conceal my astonishment. "I'll teach you everything you need to know. First," I raised a lecturing finger, "Always, always look like a boy-eating wolf. From the get go, you must BEAR your fangs-- You ought to be fierce and-and ready for a challenge or a fight..." Jaraan nodded with vigor. "That's how you make them respect you."

We sauntered to school. I did not mind that I had missed first class or the mornings drills. And I secretly made a promise that I would never take the longer route ever again. I was not a six-legged insect, scuttling away from shoes and rolling carriage wheels . Nor was I a cowardly wolf.

Memah Leena not only ignored our lateness to her history class, she also ignored my presence completely, calling forward the new student to stand in the face of the classroom and introduce himself. She placed a hand on Jaraan's shoulder and with a patient smile, reminded him to lift his chin up and readjust his slouched back. It was still the slow beginning of the lesson and the boys still clowned and squabbled and charged at one another with deadly weapons; pen swords and stones made of crumpled paper. Nonetheless, Jaraan spoke through the noise of the battlefield.

"My name is Jaraan Ulia." a chill crept along my spine, "A few days ago, I moved from the West of Peham to Guloc with my parents. My father is a travelling merchant and my mother is a poet. I am pleased to meet all of you."

My armpits and back grew damp with sweat. Something whirred and stirred in the pit of my belly.

"Very well," Memah Leena nodded sympathetically. Then she crossed her fingers in prayer and continued, "Now, would you boys grant us all a moment of silence to remember and honor Jaraan's grandparents and the rest of the martyrs who suffered so greatly and endured beyond our imagination?"

But even before Memah Leena spoke, the entire classroom had already been buried beneath a boulder of silence. I sat upright in my seat. My jaw dropped and my arms fell to my sides.

Jaraan's neatly buttoned shirt was stitched with an emblem of an indigo blue snake. It was not a snake. It was a river; It was the shape I had failed to notice earlier, the reason why Fareed had resigned and left us unharmed at the edge of the forest, the symbol that represented the Ulian tragedy at the banks of the Guloc River; unjustly spilled blood that dyed the waters for days. 

For the remainder of this school day, I did not touch the neatly wrapped lunch in my school sack.

© 2020 YouoweYoupay

My Review

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My goodness. This is a stellar chapter. Your words flow like a Medieval Poet. I feel closer to man and nature just reading this book. Fantastic work, Aysha. I'm loving Beya and now this Jaraan character. And a glimpse of more historic details. I eagerly read on...

Posted 5 Months Ago

BARE your fangs (not BEAR) . . . early in the chapter, you mention Jawad and Munes, but I don't remember these names from earlier chapters, so I suggest you introduce them with a line or two explaining who they are, rather than just throwing them into the story & letting them float there without a tie-in. The first half of this chapter is not as easy to read as most of this book has been. It feels like there's a chase going on, but it's interrupted so many times by backstory & explanation & waxing poetic about this & that, it doesn't feel like a chase. Even tho your asides are well-crafted & artful, sometimes you need to clear out the junk & just let an action scene be a compelling, fast-moving action scene. This chapter felt a little "heavy" with extra stuff, so that the "chase" felt more like a "crawl". The last half of this chapter, things improved, felt lighter, & the storyline moved along more briskly (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 6 Months Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on December 5, 2020
Last Updated on December 5, 2020
Tags: poem, poetry, love, romance, dawn, meadow, nature, story, poet, writing, writer, write



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