Cattail

Cattail

A Chapter by YouoweYoupay
"

Najmah and the cattail

"
8. Cattail


My great grandfather stared at me with nothing to say. His ashes sat in an urn of clay at the altar of the memorial temple. His death was not honored or made public, and his remains were abaondoned along with his companions at the borders of Shom, the omnious side of the forest where the ill-mannered dead roamed and the river of Guloc branched into a narrower stream crowded with cattails and mosquitos.
 
 Even the shape of the temple spoke of contempt, as if the villagers were burdened by the task of slapping the amber colored stones one on top of the other. Upon approaching, it was easy to feel as if the entire crumb of a building was about to tumble and fall apart over your head. 

My great grandfather never received a remembrance ritual because nobody wished to remember him. The walls of the memorial room tightened and narrowed around me. But we were taught you could not stop paying respect to your family, despite the feelings you harbored toward them.

“Obi, I have come.” I whispered, kneeling with my hands pressed together and eyes lowered in reverence. My nose itched and it interrupted this deeply concentrated reverence. I waved at a mosquito. I sneezed and shifted on my knees. I cleared my throat and started again.

“Obi, I have come.” I lifted my eyes toward the jar of red clay and I took a deep breath, “Obi, I am in distress. The Ulians want an apology, and I won’t give them one.” 

I adjusted the pillar of incantation leaning on my great grandfather’s urn. A vertical prayer was carved on the pillar:

‘Oh, lost ones, may you be gently guided home.’

“Obi, I… I have always wanted to speak to you, but my mother accompanied me in most of my visits. So I kept my mouth shut. All these years. Until now.”

 I shuffled on my knees. I turned my head right and left, to reassure myself no one was watching me as I said this, “Obi," I leaned in closer to him, "if you hadn’t died a hundred years ago, someone would have killed you by now. Maybe... I hope you’re happy that we are forced to pay for your crimes... Now that you’re on the other side of the river, I often wonder how you defend yourself. I wonder what excuses you give Lord Tambier for all the fathers, mothers, daughters and sons you have killed…That is -- that is all.  All I wanted to say.”

As I exited the temple through the back door, rushing and eager to be far and rid of the smell of rotten flowers and silent urns, my foot tumbled over a rolling stone and I fell, scraping my leg. I groaned and squinted my eyes in pain as I sat up. I examined my kneecap. The torn white patch of skin bloomed into dark red droplets and my breath trembled with anger. Yes, the dead had no ears, but in no way did that mean they could not hear! My great grandfather did not delay his revenge. He meant to show me that I had crossed the line with him. 

As I limped my way toward the tongue of the river, something vividly pink flashed in my side vision. A young girl crouched by the brink, the color of her skirt obscured by the height of the bushes. I hissed as I knelt at the edge of the burbling water. 

 When I was very young, I used to imagine that the moment I let my cupped hands sink in, a fish would get caught in the small pool between my palms and my discovery would have spared thousands and thousands of fishermen the hours and sweat under the sun. 

I scooped with my hands and I was about to take a sip but the movement of bright pink to my left caught my attention and I froze. Before I could drink it, the cool water in my palms slipped in between my fingers in a thin string. In my mind, the images flashed of that day a year ago.

“Don't come! Stay far!”

The chill of the passed winter still hanging in the spring air. The growl of a young beast. Its slobbering mouth twisted in a snarl. A pair of eyes like two full yellow moons. I had wet my pants and I could not stop crying.

I had cowered and screamed and wet my pants. Like a newborn.

Fareed’s father owned a mill near our temple, for grinding grains. The girl at the brink of the river was Najmah, his younger sister. She was crouched like a frog, slashing the cattail stems with a sickle. We often played together in a meadow of yellow flowers. But I had not seen her since the previous spring. She was a girl with dull eyes, a dull voice and dull games. We only let her trot behind Fareed and me when we ran to the woodlands to chase squirrels and hedgehogs. We would ask her what she thought of a certain game and she would always, always say: 

“It was alright, yes.” 

If I replaced my question with any other gibberish like: “What did you think of Tambier's Great Flood when everyone panicked and drowned?” I assure you she would still say: 

“It was alright, yes.” And her unchanging, placid face indicated that she could not even remember both important and unimportant questions. 

Najmah was nothing like Fifo, who sprang and hopped about with funny and witty ideas for playtime. And in the presence of the elders, she constantly and warmly inquired if anyone needed help carrying this or a hand washing that. Najmah's beauty was also nothing like Fifo's demi-goddess shine. My mother had once told me that girls and boys at this age grew uglier because the shape of their bodies lingers at loss between childhood and maturity. 

I took a long glance at her crouching form, to study her 'ugliness'; She tossed the freshly cut cattails into the tall basket slung against her back. I examined the blue cloth loosely thrown around her head, the exposed neck and collarbone, dark olive skin. Ears pierced with a silver dot. The slender red bracelets that tinkled around her wrists and the budding breasts prickling under the fabric of her blouse. She turned her head in my direction and the corners of her lips curved in the faintest smile. When she glimpsed the blur of blood on my knee, her smile faded. My face flushed as I shot up like a bursting flame. I stumbled backward and plunged into the water.

She remembered, she remembered! Water trickled down my head and I squeezed my eyes shut in shame.

"There is nothing wrong with pissing your pants." Jaraan had said to me, "It means you were trying hard to face your fears."

But his gullible theories did not offer me any comfort.

I regretted this. I wished she hadn't seen me. I wished I had just limped back home without stopping. I tried to lie myself, that Najmah was too dull to recall the incident. But even the biggest of fools and the dullest of the dull would remember what happened last spring near that cave. I would have run far and fast, but my knee burned. So I remained pathetically sprawled in the water for a moment, staring at the open hand she offered me.

"Beya, are you alright?"

Of course not. Such a meaningless question.

"Choleem." I blinked the water from my eyes.

Najmah broke open the head of a cattail, extracting a yarn-like lump, similar to a cat's fuzzy fur, and she dunked it in the water. Today, I finally learned why we called this plant a cattail and not a sausage.

"Why aren't you at school?" she squeezed the excess water and dabbed my knee with the moist cotton. I hissed in pain.

"Why aren't you at school?" I counterattacked.

She eyed my kneecap, gently pressing the piece fluff against the wound, "My father doesn't like it. So I stay home or help at the mill."

"Ayaya�"ow! Why doesn't he like it?" 

"He says the goddess Melusia had moulded women to be soft and mellow. School turns them rigid and pointy. Like thorns, he says."

As she adressed my injury, I recalled the only time Najma's eyes brightened with interest; when we spoke of herbalists or healers.

"I passed by the Mad Herbalist's hut this morning." I confessed to her. 

"It's a bad omen to look in the direction of  his house." she cautioned, "On your way back to school, you must avert your eyes."

“…I don’t want to go to school,” I sulked, “Don’t want to go home either.”

“School, I know why.” she set the large basket on the grass and crossed her legs, facing me, “And your home?”

I turned away and stared at the river bank. The white and brown mountains were giants that stared at their reflection in the surface of the river. A willow tree stirred, it was bent toward the rippling water like a woman leaning for a drink.

“Someone is waiting for me at home.” I pursed my lips, “And they will force me bow my head.” I turned to her bewildered and angry, “But I’m not at fault!”

“Then don’t �"”

“No, no, no. Don’t give me advice.” I pleaded, carefully hugging my knees, “Girls never give good advice!”

“Fine.” she agreed, “Hear my advice then throw it in the river.” she twisted blades of grass in her fingers and our eyes met, “If you like.”

I looked away. 

“Tell them you were not feeling well at the time, and that is why you did what you did.”

“That is ridiculous.” I flung a small rock into the water and it splashed with a deep, brooding plop.

“Then be brave and refuse to bow.” 

 “I am not brave.” I scoffed, staring at the unmoving snail shell between my legs, “I never was a brave one.”

Silence.

“But you're the bravest boy I have ever known.” 

My entire body stiffened. 

Was she mocking me? 

“You…don’t remember?” her brown, doe eyes eyes studied mine, “You protected me from the boy-eating wolf.” I drew a breath, but there was no air, “You could have been bitten. You put your whole self in front of me while Fareed, my own brother, hid behind my back and shivered.”

I furrowed my brows and my mouth opened with no words. The most vivid and painful part of the story I could always recall was my shrieking and my wet trousers. But now, lightning had struck in my head. The entire picture unfolded in my memory. 

The wolf had still been young and hesitant. Its fur had the softness of infancy. But it towered over us and its jaws snapped. My soul hung in between his knife-like fangs. The air was still crisp and cool and I could feel its sting on my tear-stained face and the snot oozing from my nose. The warm wetness that spread in between my legs. Fareed's wailing and pleading. My open arms, like a shield. The stones I hurled at the beast with my trembling hands. My shattered voice. The smell of damp moss and tree stumps. The distant howling that drew the pup’s attention away from us. Its unhurried retreat into the woods. The fear that throttled us by our throats and then loosened its grip. We huddled closely, whimpering and panting in relief.
  
When we returned to the heart of the village, Fareed repeatedly insisted that he had not hidden in his sister's skirt. To avert the eyes away from his own shame, with every chance open to him to retell the story, he would emphasize to the audience in case they had not heard the first time: 

"And Beya pissed his trousers."

That day, I dissolved into a miniscule insect from the weight of their eyes. And that night, I anguishly cried myself to sleep.

How could I have forgotten all that? How could I have been mislead?

The morning was still only yawning and stretching into the village, the breath of bluebells hanging in the air. A blackbird that had been perched on a cattail squeaked tunefully and when the breeze brushed its fingers along the bushes, it dived into the brilliant blue sky. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a moment. Najmah was on her feet again, readjusting the handles of the tall basket around her shoulders.

I buried my hand in the pocket of my jacket and I fished something I kept concealed in my curled fingers. Najmah stared at me. 

I raised a finger at her, 
"One man's terrible sugar drop, is another man's treasure..." 

I've always hated my mother's green candy; edible grass, pressed and jelled with shards of nuts into shapes like stars and farm animals. At school, I thankfully distributed it to my classmates, and in the afternoons, I would rain down the grotesque pellets of gel into Najmah's hands. 

Her eyes widened slightly at the wrapped treats in my palm and she snatched them as if they'd vanish any moment. 

I caught myself grinning like a fool and I corrected my face before she could notice. 


© 2020 YouoweYoupay


My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register




Featured Review

Such harsh words for poor Najmah, I thought at first Beya was being unnecessarily hateful. But now. Now... I wonder if he doth protest too much... ;)
Fifo may be an open, outward facing dancing soul, but we stoic types need love too. I remember the in between stage of childhood and maturity. When I was no longer a cute little boy but not yet a ruggedly handsome man. Awkward years that everyone has to suffer through. Well, almost everyone. Beya has some growing to do still, and when he does he may yet see the beauty sitting right in front of him.
Young eyes, so misdirected and young minds so forgetful. There is power in these words you write. Keep it up!

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

YouoweYoupay

5 Months Ago

Dan, your reviews put a smile on my face. Najmah certainly isn't like Fifo, but in some other ways s.. read more



Reviews

This is the most dynamic & interesting & compelling chapter that I've read in your book so far. I had a little trouble discerning between flashbacks & real-time on the storyline, but all in all, you attacked this sequence of back-and-forths like a ferocious storyteller. There's still a ton of interesting cultural asides to explain startling concepts such as not giving the old guy a send-off, but still respecting him & talking to his ashes . . . but these explanatory sidetrips do not take over the storytelling, which stays forward-focused & brisk & exciting (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 4 Months Ago


Such harsh words for poor Najmah, I thought at first Beya was being unnecessarily hateful. But now. Now... I wonder if he doth protest too much... ;)
Fifo may be an open, outward facing dancing soul, but we stoic types need love too. I remember the in between stage of childhood and maturity. When I was no longer a cute little boy but not yet a ruggedly handsome man. Awkward years that everyone has to suffer through. Well, almost everyone. Beya has some growing to do still, and when he does he may yet see the beauty sitting right in front of him.
Young eyes, so misdirected and young minds so forgetful. There is power in these words you write. Keep it up!

Posted 5 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

YouoweYoupay

5 Months Ago

Dan, your reviews put a smile on my face. Najmah certainly isn't like Fifo, but in some other ways s.. read more

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Stats

40 Views
2 Reviews
Rating
Added on December 5, 2020
Last Updated on December 6, 2020
Tags: Short novel


Author

YouoweYoupay
YouoweYoupay

Amman, ..., Jordan



About
"The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms." ~Muriel Rukeyser "There is no one more rebellious or attractive than a person lost in a book." “He allowed himself to be swayed by his con.. more..

Writing
Memah Lemon Memah Lemon

A Chapter by YouoweYoupay



Related Writing

People who liked this story also liked..


Overslept Overslept

A Story by YouoweYoupay


Geist Geist

A Story by YouoweYoupay