A Chapter by YouoweYoupay

An eagle never forgets the map of the sky.

13. Eagle

Memah Takhmeen had suggested that we enjoy our rollichs on the Hill of Sleeping Hats. But I already knew! And for this, I borrowed two straw hats from Obi Kiram’s basket shop with the promise of returning them by the end of the day. I had often ridiculed Jaraan’s exaggerated fomalities with the grown ups and the elderly, but today, with his obedient “Yes, meimah” we earned lunch without paying a single ochon. I decided that from that day onward, I would also conquer people's hearts with my noble manners.

But as Jaraan and I happily walked away from Memah Takhmeen's food cart, she did not warn us to stay clear of the Mad Herbalist's hut like the rest of the adults usually did. On the contrary, she said:

"Send my regards to Ginnar, that old fool. Tell him it would be good to have a chat again."

I had never heard anyone in the village speak his name until this moment.

Following our climb up the hill, two distant figures neared the top. From afar, they looked like tired, lost ants and as they came to closer view. It always baffled me how these people managed to cross wide distances carrying bulging backpacks. I had not considered this an intrusion until the man asked if he and his wife could join us for lunch. Jaraan warmly welcomed them. Sure, they had brought their own meal, but for some reason, the meadow stretching with white and yellow flowers seemed to have narrowed uncomfortably.

The man, Soren, was pale and almost sickly, as if he had not slept in weeks, with a sharp nose and a dry voice. His wife, Alma, was small and thin and easily frightened by the sound of a fluttering bird or losing her beaver-skin hat to the abrupt surges of wind. I made a genuine effort in ignoring their presence by occupying myself with my rollich. And my gods… it was madness. The leathery skin of the sausage snaps in your teeth, but its center was tender and garlicky. The shreds of lettuce crunched refreshingly. The chili peppers added an exquisite scorch which Jaraan found a little challenging. The cream and the cheese were mild in contrast, keeping the contents of the bread roll moist and smooth.

“I should have told her to drizzle more cream,” I sucked my greasy finger, “and throw in a few more pickled garlic cloves.”
“You’re joking!” Jaraan exclaimed, wiping his mouth, “In that case, no girl would want to kiss you!”
“That is perfectly alright.” I shrugged, taking another huge bite of my rollich, the cheese dribbling on the grass, but mostly on my chin and shirt.

I did not confess to Jaraan that there was no one I dreamed of kissing other than Fifo. And now that all was lost and she was getting married, my broken heart would not be mended by any worldly desire. Except, perhaps, by one more rollich.

“Let me tell you something.” Alma turned to us, intrigued, “A woman will kiss her lover’s garlicky…or oniony mouth in only two circumstances.” she counted on her fingers, “If he is drowning, or if his heart is failing.”

“Or if,” Soren sputtered, his cheeks stuffed with berry pie, “if the lover terribly misses his woman! She would have no choice but to �"”
“Absolutely not!” Alma objected as her husband leaned toward her, smacking his lips unpleasantly, his mouth still crammed with food, “Soren, stop it! Gods �" Why did I ever marry you?” 

When she accidentally stabbed his eye with her elbow, Alma took her words back regretfully, swearing to Soren that she adored being his wife. She dabbed Soren’s eyelid with a handkerchief she dampened with their tea. The big child of a husband was only satisfied when she hand-fed him the remaining bites of their lunch. 

“How long have we not seen a sky like this one?” Soren leaned back on the grass with a deep sigh, reclining on his elbows.
“About five years now, isn’t it?” Alma hugged her knees, closing her eyes to soak the warmth of the afternoon sun.

“How is that possible?” I asked.
“There is no sky in Peham.” she explained. My ears perked up with alarm.

According to Alma, architecture stretched far enough to touch the heavens. Every home and every shop and every school competed in height. The busy tall towers crowded any chance to view the skies. And at night, the stars refused to shine, feeling unimportant and offended by the dazzling lights of the city.

The city of the gods has no sky! The mere thought was dreadful. Having only lived in the city for a week, Jaraan seemed to be as disturbed as I was.

“Soren and I would chase the daylight, begging our neighbors to let us view the sunset from their rooftops. But no one trusts anyone else in a big city.”
“What about your friends? Can’t they lend you their rooftop?” Jaraan asked.
“We have no time to meet friends in Peham.” That was Soren.
“What about your family? Do you ever visit them?”
“We don’t have the time to visit our families.”
“Do you at least send them any pip mail?”
Alma laughed softly, “We don’t have the time to entrust letters to adorable, round birds. Instead, we read one another’s mind using a magic spell called: silah.”
“Can you talk to Soren without words?” I marveled, “Isn’t that fantastic?”
“It is fantastic and tragic at times.” Alma elaborated, “Because not every single thought we conjure is pleasant or benevolent, and this wounds the ones we love.”
“You can simply apologize.” Jaraan suggested optimistically, “You can say: I have no control over what I think, but I still care for you.”
“We don’t have the time to apologize.” Soren replied more tediously.
“Is it true that you float from place to place, instead of walk or ride a horse?”
“That is correct.” Alma confirmed, “But only because we have no time to walk or ride or catch a train. And this is why our bodies are sore and stiff everywhere, and we are often depleted and weak..”
“Maybe you ought to eat better.” I guessed, “What do you have for breakfast?”
“In Peham, we don’t have time to have breakfasts.” Soren stretched with a grunt, “We stop at sugar stations for a quick gulp. That gets us through the morning.”
“Then when do you sleep?” I asked more anxiously, already predicting their answers.
“We don’t have the time to fall asleep, Beya.” Alma’s voice softened as she noticed the disappointment on my face, “And when we do try to get some rest, we fail. Peham is a city of lights that never slumbers, and its brightness keeps us awake.”
“Do you ever feel bored or frustrated?” Jaraan wondered.
“We don’t the time to feel.” Soren rolled his eyes.
“Then what do you have the time to do in your lives?” I fretted.
“Work.” they concluded in unison. 

I taught Jaraan how to cover his face with his straw hat, lie on the soft grass and take a nap after a zesty lunch. I was only passing on the legacy of Uncle Helal and Aunt Tula, the ones who actually named this place: The Hill of the Sleeping Hats. My family and I laughed and feasted and slept under the blanket of the afternoon all the while ignoring the small hut of Obi Gunnar, the Mad Herbalist, on the very peak of the hill, a home built with the unusual roof covered by dark earth sprouting with flowers and moss. The charcoal grey mountain that faced the hut, seemed to be the only thing in Guloc willing to listen to the stories Obi Gunnar told, deemed by the villagers as ‘dung’. The rocky mountain resembled a wise man sitting cross-legged opposite the residence of the herbalist.

Half-asleep beneath the shade of my straw hat, my disenchantment began to unfold. The crystal, dazzling, divine portrait of Peham crumbled to dust in my imagination… 
One thing remained that I still deeply envied about the people of the city. 

Every now and then, Soren would wave his hands in the air as if trapping the shape of the moment we were in. ‘Recording’, as they referred to it in Peham. A photograph was silent and unmoving, paling and fading with time, but a film, summoned through sorcery onto any surface of water or glass, was a moving picture that brought life to a memory as if it was still happening now.

As if he had heard my worries, Jaraan told me this:

“I will be an eagle and soar above this hill.” I lay still as the breeze combed through us with a sigh, “Because an eagle never forgets the map of the sky. So, become an eagle with me and remember this day forever.”

Even with my eyes closed and my face entombed beneath the large straw hat, I could still picture it in front of me; The kingdom of clouds in the late afternoon sky, crowned by the shy remnants of the sun, its rays showering the village with peach-colored light, the blackbird's soothing song drifting in the air and Jaraan complaining that the aftertaste of the chili peppers still stung his mouth.

What waited for us at home was a chorus of my small cousins wailing in the dooryard.

My father was passionately shaking hands with Kais Ulia, Jaraan’s father.

“We hope to show you more hospitality the next time you visit, if you allow us.” my father exaggerated in nodding. He exaggerated in his goodbyes. And the smiles he wore on his face made him look withered and old, his hair greyer. That was not the teacher and parent I took pride in.

“No need, no need!” Kais politely laughed.  Smaller than my father, he had Jaraan’s dimples and light brown skin, though a little more hardened and creased by the sun and long travel, “Please don’t strain yourself. We already feel very much welcome in Guloc.”  At one side of his neck ran a sword-like scar, like he had been scalded, identical to the mark on his wife’s neck. This was the way Ulians sealed the vows of marriage; to honor, protect and serve one another. Before being branded with glowing iron, the man and his bride would swear on their jugular veins, a stream of blood protected by nothing but the thin skin of the neck, a reminder of the fragility of one’s life.

Surrounded by clucking chickens in the courtyard, Morjana was among the children dramatically sobbing as they buried their faces in their hands.  

“They sold the queen!” she bawled, “They’re taking her away!”
“What do you mean?” Jaraan and I shared a look. The understanding in his eyes reached mine moments later. But we needed to confirm this.
“There are thousands and thousands,” one boy bleated in between the tears, “thousands and thousands of cows in the world! Why did they have to choose Juria?”

The children sniffled and whimpered in a funeral of their own, and my grandmemah sat beneath the large mulberry tree. Rocking in her chair as if the world was going to end in an hour. Our shadows sprawled and stretched as the last bits of sunlight died beneath the horizon.

 Jaraan’s parents had already gone home, but he lingered. My father’s eyes pierced mine. My entire body tensed up as he passed by me like a slicing wind. 

My mother emerged into the dooryard with an oblivious, tired smile. She must have been busy cleaning after the redemption banquet.

“Has he gone, dear?” she asked him hesitantly, “Murad, are you alright?”
“Choleem na!” my father growled, frightening the chickens as he stormed inside, past my mother who clung to the doorway.
“Beya,” she turned to me, a hand on her heart, blinking profusely, “Ahm�"why is your father being darkly sarcastic?”

The children explained to us, choking on their tears, that my father and Kais Ulia took a stroll to the hills where Juria was resting and he asked my father if she was for sale. Of course, what was the price of an elderly cow in comparison to the hundreds of innocent lives, the forefathers of Kais, massacred at the Guloc river, by the very hands of my father’s grandfather? He could not but say: yes.

“I will talk to my father.” Jaraan reassured me, his hand on my shoulder. He kneeled down to reach Morjana’s level and smoothed her short chestnut hair, “Don’t cry Morjana, I’ll retrieve the queen for you. I promise.” Morjana’s squashed her eyes shut as more hot tears fell.
“Can someone explain to me what in Tambier’s name is going on here?” my mother demanded.

But before anyone could say another word, Loa, a boy from my school, who resembled a scarecrow, hurtled, almost falling over, in our direction as he blurted out:
“They caught them, they caught them!” he paused to catch his breath, pointing toward the market, “They caught an ungodly match. They’re at the Pillory Square. Two travelers from Peham.”

© 2020 YouoweYoupay

My Review

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A lot of thoughts this time around. More food! I cannot read this novel while hungry. I simply can't!
Peham sounds dreadful. Not at all like the city of the gods we've come to hear about. Maybe a bit modern in its ways.
That Ulian marriage custom. Yikes! Talk about hardcore!
They sold the Queen! NO! I just got to know that lovely cow. How could you, Aysha?
And it seems that something terrible is in store for our couple from Peham. This chapter, while so calm and peaceful, took such a turn!
Awesome job! I was hooked throughout.

Posted 4 Months Ago

One of my favorite moments is how you tenderly reveal that the narrator wanted to kiss Fifo. Your long dynamic back-and-forth between Soren & Jaraan, about mid-chapter, is well-constructed -- it conveys a definite tension between the two ways of approaching life -- but in the end, I'm not sure what to do with this comparison . . . what does it mean? But your story seems to leap from this long intense interaction, going back to the lighthearted carefree pace of the Jaraan group & abandoning the careful reveal about the stricter life of Soren. Nice cliffhanger at the end (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 6 Months Ago

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



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