Cardamom Milk

Cardamom Milk

A Chapter by YouoweYoupay

Great grand father

16. Cardamom Milk

“Why is it wrong to love our enemy?”

“Because, Beya �"” his voice sharpened with anger before he sighed and added more calmly, “Two words I have got for you.” he counted with his fingers, “River. Fiends. They envy us, my boy. They are ugly and stupid and they don’t know how to love. Thus they work night and day to turn one mortal against his own brother, mother, spouse and friend.”

“But that’s not what they taught me at school �"”

“And just who do you think writes all these school books, hm?” He raised his eyebrows at me, “Who do you think writes what we read; our stories and history lessons, the rumors and tittle-tattles?”

“The river fiends?” I asked and answered all at once.

“Who do you think governs our cities and villages? Who do you think orchestrates the prayers and sermons in our temples? Who do you think owns all the gold and silver in our lands?”

“But that is impossible!” my eyebrows wrinkled in confusion, “You said the river fiends were ugly and monsterous. If they had been living among us, I would have seen one by now.”

“My dear boy, what makes you think they can’t hide behind a façade, a human face, eh?”

A shiver ran through me. The night crickets rang louder in my ears and a wolf howled in the distance.

“I saw a woman with the face of a snake earlier this evening. She was saying all sorts of hateful things.” I recalled, “Does this mean she could have been a river fiend?”

“Perhaps.” He coughed a light-hearted laugh and the heaviness in the air lifted a little, “But not necessarily, Beya.” He warned, “My wife had the face of a sly owl. And sometimes a bear. Yes, like a bear when she lost her temper. And yet, she carried a heart bigger than that head of yours. And she followed me, she did.” He stared into the distance, at the veins of the naked willow tree. A single bright blue star blinked at us among the countless scatter of diamonds and pearls.

“She followed me even to this exile. I did not think she would come. But I woke up one morning, feeling like the last man on earth, trampled and misheard by everyone I knew. And there was, standing beneath that silly willow you see over there. She was wearing the yellowest dress you could ever imagine. The willow flaunted the hems of her dress too. She too was once young and beautiful, you know.”

Fifo loved yellow as well. She refused to dance in anything but her cumin dress. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Did you dance with her, Obi?”

“Did I dance with her?” he echoed with a scoff, offended that I even asked, “Boy, I spun her and embraced her until she could dance no more. I rained on her kisses like there was no tomorrow.”

My face grew warm and I lowered my eyes. 

“But, the general rule is,” his voice lost its romantic cheer, “that a river fiend could very possibly look like you or me.”

“Then,” I hesitated, “I guess my great grandfather must have been a river fiend.”

“Who was your great grandfather?” 

“Malik Ayar.” 


“The war criminal. His name was�"”

“Are you telling me you are the general’s great grandson?”

My lips parted slower than I had intended.

“I am." Unfortunately.

“The war criminal, they tell you…” he muttered, his whiskers bristled, “So that's what they’ve been teaching you? May their teachings be damned.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your great grandfather was no criminal!” he explained, “He was betrayed! Took a knife right in the back!” he sliced the air with his hand.

The painting of violet and blue skies rolled above me. The stars blurred. The skeleton of the willow tree swayed a little, like a thin tired man on the verge of collapsing. The cup had gone cold in my hands.

“Let me show you. Come with me. Come on.” he pulled himself up with a grunt, "Get up. Up, up."

The light of the oil lamp bloomed, chasing the darkness away. Vines cascaded from the ceiling and bouquets of dried lavender, basil and other flowers I could not recognize. What might have been a dinner table was now a forest of clay pots that dangled with bell peppers, tomatoes, thyme and other shrubbery. The kitchen shelf hung with beads of garlic and onions instead of pots and pans. Only the table in the corner rebelled against the plant life strewn all about the interior of the house. I stared at the hills of letters as Obi Ginnar opened a drawer, pulled out an envelope and tore it open with a slight knife. I shuddered, breathing out a small cloud of warm air. My eyes flickered to the dead fireplace by the shelves.

Has it ever been lit?

“Read, Beya.” He demanded.

My hand reached toward the paper. Something began to sink in my stomach, but the scent of dried mint and orange peel anchored my fears.

It was a letter from the Defense Assembly in Guloc: 

“When those of the Ulians resident in the aforementioned village who have to be moved are transferred to their places of settlement, their comfort must be ensured during this journey and their lives and property protected. Sick people, poor people, women and children should be sent on mules and others in carts or on foot, according to the power of their endurance. In cases where the emigrants are attacked, either in the camps or during the journeys, all efforts should be taken to repel the attacks immediately.

Commander in Chief,

Malik Ayar.”

My great grandfather had written this letter a hundred years ago.

“Why were the Ulians being forced to leave their homes?” I removed my eyes from the letter, “Haven’t we always lived side by side? Like neighbors?”

“Yes, yes, my boy. That was indeed how it began. However,” He carefully adjusted his spectacles, “what sort of neighbors steal from you? Burn and demolish your own home as you sleep? The biggest mercy we could offer them and ourselves in return was expulsion from our lands. Their lives had been spared, but their 'good neighborship' was renounced. The Ulians could no longer be trusted.”

The tongues of flame and the screams of mothers and children came to life in my mind.

“They stripped us bare, Beya.” He clapped one hand against his chest, his voice stained with both bitterness and pride, “But our homes were in our hearts. We were still rich. Here. Read this as well.”

I cleared my throat as I eyed the book with ear-folded pages. The paper was peppered with dust and the edges were chipped with age. 

“Not all is lost.” I slowly read. A spark of familiarity, "By Kofe Yaseer."

It was the poem Aunt Tulia sang all the time. All year long she would recite the words and the melody. Hums and murmurs that sweetly flowed through her, never stopping, never running dry. Like our river.

“If it wasn’t my grandfather, then who was it that massacred the Ulians?”

“There was no ‘massacre’…that’s another fiendish lie.” Obi Ginnar waved his hand to dismiss the notion, “But there was treason, yes. And blood hot with revenge… Your great grandfather’s right hand, Haleem Jene, could not bear to safely escort the Ulians when it was the Ulians who butchered his wife and daughter. His young son hid in the cellar of their home and his life was spared.” 

Haleem Jene's name meant: the gentle, patient one.

Obi Ginnar paced around the room. With baffled eyes, circling his hands in the air dramatically, he continued “The man had gone mad with grief! Haleem was the one who received your great grand father's letter. He mutinied against his commander's orders and foolishly took justice into his own hands, there at the eastern bank of the river. Other Gulocian soldiers, also wounded by the war, whose purpose was to protect the Ulian carts and mules, followed Haleem's example. To them, there was never a better time for retaliation."

I pictured the ripples of blood taking roots in the waters, the lifeless bodies washed along the smooth, polished rocks of the Guloc river and ones that lived merely to to witness the horror.

"Haleem regretted his bloodthrist years later. But it was far too late, of course." Obi Ginnar groaned in disappointment as he fumbled through the chaos of papers on his study table. "He preserved your great grandfather's letter and passed it to his son, and his son passed it to his son.”

Obi Ginnar was probably fifty years of age now, his father must have been been born atleast seventy years ago. His grandfather must have been a young man around nintey years ago, around the time the war was set ablaze. Haleem was the first to read my great grandfather's letter. Haleem's son had escaped death. The only proof that my great grandfather intended to protect the immigrating Ulians is here in Obi Ginnar's hut.

"You are Haleem Jene's grandson." I connected the dots.

Obi Ginnar stopped searching in the mound of letters. He slowly turned to me, adjusting his spectacles.

"I regret to say that you are correct." Obi Ginnar nodded stiffly, his face a little pale, perhaps startled by my swift conclusion. “You’re a clever boy, Beya. So, tell me." Obi Ginnar tapped one side of his head, “Upon whose shoulders, do you think, fell the blame?”

My great grandfather was an honorable man, a just leader, buried beneath the mountain of men he had not slain.

The lies hovered like grey clouds over my head, the dull snarl of thunder. But the truth was filling my heart with the certainty of the sun.

Resntment and hope both stirred within me. The aftertaste of cardamom milk and honey lingered in my mouth.

“Not All is Lost
By Kofe Yaseer:

The Guloc River bed
Smiles at me 
What I had found
Not stones. Not shells.
Rinse the silver 
Preserve its shine.

But all is lost. Lost.
All is lost.
Oh that heart-reviving silver.

Chase the hooligans
The thieves leave us nothing.

Nothing but three eggplants
In our garden
Shiny, sturdy and dark.

The thieves leave us nothing.
Nothing but my love
In my embrace
By our fireplace 

Not all is lost.
The eggplants cook
Slowly with tomatoes

Our riches are taller
Than the towers of Peham.”

© 2020 YouoweYoupay

My Review

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Nothing like life-shattering history reveals and Cardamom Milk. Two great tastes that go great together. Another excellent chapter! And an excellent ending too. The world you've made is getting more real with each chapter and it is mighty impressive. The dialogue between the herbalist and our Beya is sharp! Top notch! Keep it up!

Posted 2 Months Ago

I am not interested in war & strife, so my eyes glaze over to read about the logistics of this conflict. Every story has some strife, but this is where my mind checks out. I love the more graceful & peaceful aspects of your story. I did, however, relate to the first part of this old guy's philosophical spill . . . it reminds me of today's world, today's strife . . . it felt symbolic & meaningful & universal. Also I love that you used a poem, love the poem, but love using poems within prose like this. Not too much, just enuf (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 5 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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