Monday, September 5, 2011

Chapter 6 ~Flying Lessons

           The rain soon stopped, so we accepted Yohance and Jetta's offer to go visit their mother. Joel hesitated a moment at the top of the staircase. "Why did your tribe decide to build the Creator’s place up so high?"
          "Obadele, the Third Creator, created a gift to us of our friends, the eagles. We carved this place for him, so that he could see the birds when he was not flying with them." Yohance used his hands as he talked, making graceful, flowing gestures.
          "Uh, what do you mean that he flew with the eagles?"
          "He flew in the sky with them," Jetta said.
          "He actually flew in the air." Joel looked as skeptical as I felt.
          "Yes, yes." Yohance was quite excited, "Yes, Councilor, the history specifically and clearly explains how he flew in the air with the eagles. After all, he was a Creator and nothing was impossible for him."
          Joel and I exchanged looks, which did not escape Jetta’s notice. "You could fly if you wished to. Perhaps you would like to try?"
          "Not here." I answered for us. My brother started to protest, but I went down the stone stairs ignoring his complaints.
          Yohance took us on another meandering tour through the city streets until we entered a tunnel with steps leading downward. It led to a warren of rooms, hollowed out of the stone and lit here and there by flickering torches. We crossed a narrow bridge over a placid stream, and met up with Silkworm Grower Sela. She gave us a tour of the dark, dank rooms that had moths darting about. One landed on my hair and rested there several minutes until it flew away again.
          Sela and the other workers demonstrated how they fed the worms, and then took us to other rooms to show us the little wooden frames where silkworms wove their silken threads. She led us back upstairs, to reveal where they boiled the cocoons, so they could unravel the threads in preparation for weaving. It was so much fun because Sela explained the basics, and then let Joel and me ask many questions.
          It was with reluctance that we left so that Sela could go back to her work. Jetta took the lead as we headed for the northern gate. Joel was anxious to be out in the open, so he could try flying. She guided us through the network of streets, which still looked like a maze to me. As we hurried past endless doorways and windows, someone called out Jetta’s name. We paused as two boys came running up to us. I saw right away that they were identical twins, about seven or eight years old, and wearing short, sleeveless, blue tunics.
          "Jetta, hello,” said one. He touched Jetta’s proffered knuckles with his own. His twin stared at us shyly. "Yohance, you’re here, too. Where are you going? Will you take us?"
          Jetta and Yohance smiled at him. "These are our young and energetic cousins, Ulan and Pili. They have the distinction of being the first twins in many generations, an immense honor to their parents," Yohance explained. Ulan smiled at us, but Pili kept on staring. 
          "Boys, these are Councilors Celestine and Joel, who are the Creators that you must have heard about. I am showing them around and Yohance is writing the history of it," Jetta said with a touch of pride. The boys, to my relief, did not kneel down in homage to us. Joel extended his hand in greeting and touched the boy’s knuckles to his. I followed suit.
          "Would you like to go with us?" I asked them, seeing twin smiles light up. "Do you need to get permission?"
          Pili nodded and dashed away. As he raced back to his home, Jetta called after him, "Tell Grandmother you are going just with Yohance and me." To us, she said, "If he tells Grandmother he is going to accompany the Creators, she will come out and thank you and we will never get thru the gate." Pili came dashing back to us and halted beside his brother. He nodded at us, so we resumed our march.
          Ulan walked alongside Joel. "So, you are a Creator?" he asked. "You look like a boy. I thought you would be a tall man. Your skin is not dark, either. Is there something wrong with you, because you are so pale?" Jetta hastened to shush him.
          "It’s okay," Joel assured her. He turned his attention to Ulan. "My dad is here with us, and he’s darker, like you, but he is not a tall man. I wish you could meet my Mom. If you think I’m light, you ought to see her. Her skin is the color of the sand by the river, and her hair is smooth and not wooly. You’ve never met anyone like her before, I bet."
          I enjoyed watching the twins. After observing the boys for a while, I could tell them apart by their personalities. Ulan was outgoing and inquisitive. He kept shooting questions at Joel, asking him if he’d been to this place or that, whom he’d met, and what he’d seen. Joel kept up a string of answers. I tuned out when Ulan started describing how the eagles kill and bring their fresh meat back to their nests, and then feed it to their youngsters. Pili tagged along, right behind them, listening to every word, but not uttering a sound. Yohance wrote down occasional remarks from Joel, grinning at his nephews all the while. Jetta and I dropped back so we could talk out of earshot.
          "Can Pili talk?" I asked.
          Jetta nodded. "Oh, yes, he talks. He has an extended vocabulary, but has so much attention on him that he is shy unless he gets to know you. Ulan has an insatiable curiosity, and asks questions day and night. As you’ve observed, he is not the most tactful in his examinations."
          I smiled. "I like someone who is not afraid to say what is on their mind. Why do people pay so much attention to them? Because they are twins?"
          "Yes, many generations go by without anyone giving birth to twins. We see it as a sign of great favor bestowed upon us. Now, you and your brother are here, two Creators in one generation, which has never happened before. Your arrival is the start of great changes that we have prayed for."
          I felt rather overwhelmed, like the feeling of realizing that you are having a big test that you have not prepared for. Then I remembered Dad was with us. I also hoped that the Harun would be patient in helping us catch up on all the lost centuries of information.
          The northern gate was less elaborate than the main gate. We passed through it without ceremony to empty fields with brown soil and no plants. The dirt was muddy from the rain, and mud stuck to our feet as we walked toward a grove of trees.
          "Where are all the crops?" Joel wondered aloud.
          "This field is lying fallow for three harvests. We put nutrients in the soil, then plant again after it has rested and the soil has built up," Yohance said. 
          Joel decided that he would try flying, so we left him to it and made our way over to the trees. The shade was cool and refreshing. The trees had twisty trunks and smooth green leaves, each one the size of my hand. The twins laughed and chased each other around, as Yohance, Jetta, and I watched my brother’s hilarious efforts.
          Joel took running starts and threw himself in the air, but fell repeatedly. He did not appear to be hurt and his endeavors were tireless. He soon became quite muddy, but the dirt did not bother him. I giggled and even Jetta and Yohance laughed, though they covered their mouths each time.
          After watching for a while, Yohance could not help it. "Master Joel, you are most courageous and persistent. If I could be permitted to make a humble suggestion,” Yohance continued at Joel's nod, "maybe if you visualize yourself flying, you will fly. At least, that is what The First Creator, Obasi wrote, when he created us in the beginning. He visualized us as he tapped away at the rock and we emerged from the stone."
          My brother stopped all movement and closed his eyes. I watched him, noting what an unusual sight it was to see him so still. Then a gap appeared between his feet and the ground. My breath caught as I saw Joel rise in the air. He opened his eyes and let out a whoop, which caused him to drop a few feet until he caught himself. Putting out his arms he flew like a plane, learning at a rapid pace, and soon was looping and whirling against the bright blue sky.
          Jetta, Yohance, and I laughed and clapped, and then Joel flew down to me. "C'mon, Sistine. You gotta try this.” He tried to grab my hand and pull me up with him.
          "Let go! I want to learn by myself." I walked out to the middle of the field and tried to concentrate. I ignored the sticky earth at my feet and the clamor that my brother was making. I imagined that my feet were leaving the ground and that I was floating, just floating on the breeze like a feather.
          When I dared to open my eyes, I was hovering about ten feet up in the air. I gasped and then fell, hitting the mucky ground. Jetta ran up to me. “Councilor Celestine, are you all right?"
          I nodded and got up, not hurt at all. We brushed the mud off my dress as best we could and I tried again. After many tries, I floated, but I was shaky and uncomfortable. While my brother flew around me doing somersaults and tricks in the air, I poked along. It was just so strange, adrift with nothing to hold me. I was queasy if I looked at the ground and uneasy when Joel flew by with no effort whatsoever.
          The mud dried and fell off us as we flew, leaving no trace of it behind. I began to feel more confident, but I was still cautious. Thank goodness that my brother got the hang of flying, because over toward the trees, we heard someone screaming. I saw Yohance drop his writing paddle and dash into the copse, toward the direction of the twins. From my lofty height I could see them yelling, and pointing up into a tree.
          Joel sailed past me and reached the tree in a minute. I saw a flash of tan or gold as the boys scattered and my brother fell to the ground, with something in his arms. The little boys kept screaming as they ran toward Yohance, who picked them both up.
          I fumbled through the sky, reaching the tree at the same time as Jetta, who raced there from the field. Joel was just standing up, alongside a leopard, which he must have caught in mid air.
          "Joel, are you crazy? Get away from that animal," I yelled, taken aback by his actions.
          My brother just stood there with a dopey expression on his face, his hand patting the leopard’s head. The big cat saw me and growled, but Joel beckoned me closer. "It’s okay, she won’t hurt you. See? She likes me." The leopard sat down beside him and leaned against his leg.
          "Wasn't she going to leap on the boys when you caught her? What makes you think she won’t attack you?"
          "Celestine, she must feel my power. If we are Creators, then we rule over all the animals, too. Come closer and pet her," he coaxed as I edged nearer. "Put your hand on her head and let her feel you." I put my hand on the leopard’s head and was surprised at how hot she felt. Closing my eyes, I connected with her and felt her wildness, while at the same time, her calmness. Her animal brain was fascinating to me and I stood for several minutes, working my way through it.
          I opened my eyes and patted her. She was not as soft as I expected her to be. Her face looked wild but distinguished, with exotic markings. The animal had large feet, fur covering her dreadful claws.
          Joel kissed the top of her head and she started to purr. "I decided to name her Harriet," he stated matter-of-factly, as if he had just received a fluffy new kitten.
          "Harriet?" I said. Now that I knew he was all right, I was furious with Joel. "How did you know she wasn't going to kill you? You are taking too many risks! What’s next? Wrestling crocodiles in the river?" I saw his eyes light up at that suggestion. Oh great, I thought, that’s all my little brother needed, more ideas. I hate tattle-tales, but I planned to tell my dad when we got back to the city. There was more I wanted say, but Joel was admiring Harriet, so I knew it was a waste of time to give him more warnings. Yohance was writing at a fast pace, making notes. Jetta and the boys stood nearby, staring at Joel and the leopard in awe. 
          "We aren't going to make Harriet tame are we, Joel? She won’t walk up to some hunter after this?" I asked.
          He considered it for a moment. "No, I don’t think that will happen, because she knows you and I are special. She might approach Dad, because he’s a Creator, too. If she saw our friends without us around, she might attack them if she were hungry." He lowered his voice. "All wild animals think kids are easy targets. Ulan and Pili are okay as long as they are with us."
          A sharp whistle echoed through the still air. Harriet lifted her head, and darted to Hunter, who stood beside a nearby tree. "What are you doing with my animal?"
          "Just admiring her. She belongs to you?" Joel questioned him.
          "All leopards belong to the Masamba. They were gifts to the jungle people, created for them by the Second Creator, Adanna, the supernatural and mysterious." Yohance answered for Hunter.
          Hunter gave a mocking bow to the Harun man, saying, "What brings you inquisitive children out beyond the city?" At first, I thought he meant Ulan and Pili, but then I realized that he was referring to Joel and me. I bristled at someone calling me a child.
          "We were out here, saving these little boys from being attacked by your beast."
          "A leopard is a leopard, and they must act by their instincts," he said, as he rubbed Harriet’s side.
          "Are you going hunting?" asked Jetta. She was looking at the band around his head, which held little feathered darts with their points sticking up.
          "Yes, now is when we hunt." Hunter pointed to the sun, which was starting to go down, in a bed of orange and purple clouds.
          "Well, let's go, too. I want to see a leopard hunt," Joel said. Hunter shook his head and turned away. Joel rose into the air and hovered twenty feet over the man. "If Harriet wants to get an antelope, there's a small herd over that way," he informed everyone, pointing to the right.
            If Hunter was surprised to see my brother in the air, he kept his face impassive as he looked up. "Thank you, but we do not need any help." He started to walk away,
          We followed him anyway. He looked back at us, and then stared at Jetta, who smiled and promised, "The Creators are curious. We will all be silent."
          All of us looked at Ulan, who retorted, "I can be quiet."
          "You had better be, or you must leave," Hunter said as a warning. He turned and followed Harriet, who headed for the antelope herd. Joel floated overhead, but I stayed on the ground. Hunter trod silently, but the rest of us walked too noisily, which caused him to turn around and glare at us from time to time. Soon, we came to a rise where Hunter motioned to us to hide behind some rocks. The antelope stood in the long, yellow grass. Hunter and Harriet slid down the slope and crept away until they disappeared into the grassy sea. I wished that I had chosen to fly overhead like Joel, so I could see what was happening.
          Nothing changed for a long while, and then some of the antelope lifted their heads and moved restlessly, sensing danger. The grass shook as the leopard darted to the edge of the herd, and they scattered in panic. A small buck started running, but the grass was too tall to see Harriet behind him. It darted over to the right as Hunter popped up out of the grass and threw some darts at the antelope. One stuck in the middle of the buck’s neck, but the animal kept running and swerved to get away from Hunter.
          The animal did not go much further, before it fell. Hunter and Harriet walked up to the spot where it dropped. Joel floated down to the ground beside them. We took that as a signal to come out of hiding, and we walked through the grass.
          The animal was dead. It died with its eyes open, which was creepy and sad at the same time. Joel sighed. "If the buck had to die, at least it died fast. What was in that dart? Was it poison?"
          Hunter cocked an eyebrow. "Do you think my people would eat a poisoned animal?" When we stood there, waiting for an answer, he said, "It is a secret that my people discovered ages ago," and that was all he would say.
          Hunter wasted no time in searching around until he found two long limbs. He cleared the branches from them, and then unhitched a coiled rope from his belt, and began to tie the animal on top of the poles. We watched, fascinated. Then he picked up one end and hoisted the poles onto his shoulders. He walked at a rapid pace, pulling the animal along behind him.
          We marched along, the boys whooping and running before us until we reached the edge of the jungle. It was getting dark now and soon we would not be able to see. Hunter put the poles down. "I hope this satisfies your curiosity," said the Masamba man. It was his way of dismissing us.
          "But don’t you need help to get the antelope home through the jungle?" I wanted to know. He turned and motioned to Harriet, who bounded into the underbrush and disappeared from sight.
          Jetta moved closer to Hunter, giving him her loveliest smile and he grinned a little in return. "Thank you for the interesting experience of showing us how you hunt."
          "You are welcome," he said, looking at Jetta, then beyond her to the rest of us. "I hope you will leave now. Some of my tribesmen are coming and they would not understand why I am here with you." This time, Hunter sounded a little less curt.
          "Goodbye then, and thanks," I said, as Yohance and Joel echoed me.
          "I had fun. You are so brave and you tricked that antelope," said Ulan. "We want to see you again. My brother and I could help you next time."
          Hunter smiled at the boy and grasped his shoulder. "I will look for you. Now, will you and your brother be brave warriors and escort everyone back home?"
          "Yes," Ulan said, grasping Jetta's hand. He took mine, but his eyes widened in shock when he touched me. "Your hand is so warm and you are buzzing, like a bee."
          Pili reached over and took Joel's hand. "Yes, I feel it, too," he said in a soft, wondering voice.
          The Masamba man looked grave, and I wondered if he was thinking about when Dad touched him. My assumption was correct, because he automatically put his hand on the spot where his wound had been.
          We turned away and Jetta was last to go. Joel and I could see well in the dark, so we led the others to the road. As we found our way home in the twilight, the three moons rose, one after another.

No comments:

Post a Comment