A Chapter by YouoweYoupay

Ah, juvenile ignorants. If only they knew what made Fifo...Fifo!

5. Fifo

The marvelous phenomenon Uncle Helal had dragged me to stare at in his vegetable garden adjacent to my maternal memah’s home, was in fact a golden Lemund mushroom. The recent spring rains had blessed my uncle’s mildly fertile plot with a variety of puffballs, eccentric tufts, and weeds, but it had been a decade since he’d seen any Lemunds; cheerfully bright with a lightly peppery flavor, even my Aunt Tula was happily stuck between preserving it in oils, sundrying it or cooking it for the spring festival. 

Uncle Helal was digging out the witchweeds and toxic flowers and my aunt absent-mindedly sang old an old poem as she unearthed button mushrooms, revealing them under the dry grass like precious eggs in the tangles of a nest.

“Our riches are taller, taller than” she chorused as she softly pulled the mushrooms out of the soil, “Taller than the towers of Peham.”

“Ye see that, wolf boy?” Uncle Helal pointed at the swollen petals of lion flowers, “You don’t pluck ‘em out with ye‘ bare hands. You never do that. That’s what choppers and weeders are for.”  He tapped the garden tool in his hand. The fiery bright reds and oranges of the petals served as a distinct warning of the flower’s evil poison. It was nature’s way of kindly steering humans away from mortal danger, my uncle would say.

“Why do I need to learn this?” I grappled with a stubborn curl of witchweed. 

“Because someday you’ll be weedin’ yer own garden, won’t ya?”

“But if I ever get a chance to live in Peham, I wouldn’t even grow a garden. I wouldn’t even need to work. My food would be brought to me on a plate of gold. And I’d have two servants, one to feed me and another to carry me to places. Maybe a third servant to bring me all the beautiful girls in the city!” I grinned, the dull-blue witchweed finally surrendering to my clenched fists. Its hair-like roots parted with the soil like a child being plucked from its mother’s arms.

My uncle’s face wrinkled and his eyes squinted in the sharpness of the sun. He leaned on his weeding tool as he stared at me, “Boy, who told you that?” 

“My friends at school,” I shrugged dusting my hands from the dry clay-bits of soil, “Habeeba once said her father traveled to Peham for trade, and what he saw was magic...People don’t even walk there, he said, they practically float and glide!” 

“Bah! Horse shite!” Uncle Helal mewled, dismissing my eagerness with his hand, “If that were true, we would be basking in the garden of the gods without a single fret. But we are human and we are alive. And as long as we live, we work and sweat and bleed.”
Aunt Tula lightly laughed as she settled beside me more baskets heaped with freshly-cut greens. 

“Your uncle’s right, Beya.” she unrolled her apron to let two large cauliflowers fall into the pit of the basket, “Even people in Peham must make an effort to earn a living. But let me tell you something.” her crisp smile pulled me in and I leant forward, “There is a sort of magic there, only different from what you’ve been told…. In the heart of the city, you will find folks of all colors and ages and tongues, busily marching and flocking in heaps and crowds that make you feel unbelievably small.”

“As big as the crowd at the light horse theatre?”
“A hundredfold bigger!” she buzzed excitedly, opening her arms apart. I held my breath for a moment, “In Peham, you will see women walking with their bellies and shoulders showing in the open. You will hear men who chat with one another in bird whistles and carry their god inside sea-green pendants they wear around their necks. You will come across boys and girls with silver hair and alabaster skin and others with long, thick legs and skin the color of ebony!”

“You’ve been there, Aunt Tula?”

“I have! Ten years ago. Kofe the poet was there, how could I not be?” Aunt Tula sighed romnatically, “Now, be a good lad and take these to your mother and memahs inside.” she handed me a basket of chives and radishes, “Can you take these as well? And don’t forget the mulberries by the shed.”

“Be quick about it, will ya?” my uncle urged.

“I’ve only got two hands, uncle!” I whined. He stared at me distastefully and clicked his tongue, but I knew he was holding back a laugh.

“Catch!” he called as I turned around, “Tell me how it tastes.”

“There’s a worm in it! It’s squiggling!” I let the peach drop from my hand like a hot coal.

"Is it an earthworm? Must be Noli." Aunt Tula smiled playfully, "That's Noli, isn't it? Troublemaker."

"No, it isn't!" my uncle protested, examining the peach, "Noli never liked peaches!"

I scrunched my nose and stepped away from the infested fruit. 

“What are you squealing like a girl for?” Uncle's moustache scowled at me, “Get on with it and eat the damn worm! You don’t know? It’s good for your gut.”

“No!” my lips snarled in disgust, “If it’s so damn good, YOU eat it!” 

I dragged my feet away with two baskets in my hands. Uncle exploded with laughter, beckoning me to take a real, good peach, that this time he was honest. My aunt lectured him to stop teasing me but she was laughing as well.

 Helal meant the crescent moon, and Tula meant the verse-maker. Together, they were affectionately known in our family as the moon and his poet. The child-like spark in Aunt Tula's eyes and the cool rushing stream in her singing voice drove a shock into anyone who learned that she was nearly fifty years of age. Although our Lord Tambier had not blessed them with any children, Uncle Helal and Aunt Tula had their hands full with a nursery of their own to tend to with delicate care, from the tiniest parsley-leaf to the large fig tree that resembled a hundred-arms dancing woman. They even gave human names to the strawberry bushes, the birds and even the snails! They would ask me to help on some days, and it was funny at first. Time fluttered by as we watched my uncle discuss Guloc's history and economy with the black beetles, but then it got ridiculous and I would rummage my mind for a logical excuse to excuse myself. 

The kitchen hut greeted me with warm steam, the smoke of charred meat and a world of spices. The memahs cackled and chattered like chickens, interrupting one another as they minced and kneaded and rolled and plopped in sizzling pans. I dropped the heavy baskets near the girls’ table and jumped away on my tiptoes in haste to escape.

“Here you go.” I exhaled, releived of the weight I had been dragging, “Wash the radishes twice, aunt says. She’ll bring the peaches later. Return the baskets. Don’t waste the onion skin or tomatoe heads. Farewell.” I reeled off as I scuttled to the door.  

“Wait-Beya!” Sama shot impatiently, both hands on her hips, “Where do you think you’re going? Go ask Aunt if she’ll bring any peaches. We need-”

“I just told you!” my shoulders slumped from the heaviness of their requests, “She’ll bring them later.”

“Beya,” a voice like honey, Fifo's voice. My ears perked obediently, “Uncle said the front yard oven was being fixed. We need it for the lamb skewers and the chicken.”

“I’ll ask him if it’s ready.” I took the position of a saluting fighter and the girls around her table immediately began to mock and joke. 

“Oh, for sure.” Sama leaned against the doorway, her arms crossed, “If it’s for Fifo, he’ll do anything. No questions!”

“That’s not true. I came and went and went and came twice for you girls!” my defense only made the sarcastic jeering rain on me harder and I scurried out of the kitchen hut with gritted teeth.

The other day during math class, I was gradually falling asleep, with one cheek sinking into my palm. When Memah Lina twitched with anger at the sight of me and my eyes snapped open. I almost fell out of my chair. 

One boy pointed at me calling out:

“Memah, he’s not tired, he was dreaming of Fifo!” the entire classroom spiraled into a fit of laughter, the teacher’s knife-cutting warnings drowned in their amusement. I received their arrows of ridicule with a giant shield of a lazy smile. 

Ah, juvenile ignorants. If only they knew what made Fifo...Fifo!

Every year, when spring neared its middle age, the village of Guloc would turn itself upside down into a boisterous beehive, to celebrate the rebirth of Yozal, goddess of new beginnings and family. 

The festival lasted for seven days. Food vendors, contest booths and gift shops lined the market square. My father and uncles lit grand fires to grill lamb with large mushrooms and herbs. My mother and aunts cooked meals that repelled black-hearted river fiends; roasted artichokes, cauliflower and potatoes, bean and ginger soup, rose petal jam bread and last but not least, honey-almond cake, all of which were essentially prepared with seasonal crops and it was this brevity that made it all the more enjoyable, leaving a smile in one’s soul and belly. But at the center of all the celebration, lights, song and delicious cuisine was our spring blessing dancer: Fifo. 

Fifo or Fianna, as the elders called her, was my second oldest cousin on my mother’s side. Thank the gods, I still had a year or two before I grew larger, towering over all the female cousins with my hairy face and throaty voice, earning banishment by the memahs into the men’s sitting room. 

In their eyes, I was still a small, innocent darling and I could quietly squeeze in between the applauding women clumped in our grandparents’ backyard and watch Fifo move in her cumin yellow dress and her unfastened waves of black hair that smelled like rosemary when she pulled me in for an embrace. Last year, at a time like this, when she arched her back, hair falling like drapes of silk and arms swaying like fish in the water, nobody clapped or hooted. We stopped breathing. Fifo’s large dark eyes caught the light of the first stars at nightfall. My grandmemah once said that even the evening sky grew so envious of Fifo’s dancing that it dissolved into colors of a soft dream. And at the end of the song, you could die from excessive happiness: Aap choleem.

© 2020 YouoweYoupay

Author's Note

One of my favorite chapters. I love Fifo!

My Review

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This is superb writing, all technically correct & well-organized, nicely flowing & dynamic . . . plus, it's top-notch storytelling, packing every paragraph with a ton of descriptive observations, but not diving so deep into description that you bog down the progress of the story. Your dialogue is so well done, it sounds exactly like it would between older caretakers & child. Love how you pack all your chapters with a ton of cultural references that immerse the reader in new ideas, yet so thoroughly presented, we don't feel like we're in foreign territory. You tell a story with so much love for your surroundings, the reader falls in love with everything you describe, as well as your characters (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Almost at the end, you say "cumin yellow" (I applaud you for imaginative colors) but to me, cumin is brown, not yellow. Why not turmeric yellow or saffron orange?

Posted 5 Months Ago

Dang. I'm at a loss for words. This was a great chapter. Another wonderful character and more details of this wonderful land with its customs, gods and FOOD!
I couldn't help but notice that the Tula of this story and the Tula of my story are actually very similar in temperament. Could it be they are... dimensional equivalents? …. >.>
Anyways, this was a great chapter. I confess that I too love Fifo. I'm gonna go eat now. This book makes me hungry!

Posted 5 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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