A historical tale... | Daily News
Short Story

A historical tale...

It was nearing midday, and Ginja had been walking since sunrise.

His small wizened head lowered, tired eyes smarting under a pitiless sun, lips crusted, mouth dry, long hair wet with sweat, Ginja kept sliding through the jungle path. Pressed in by an oppressive jungle, the animal track he was following was barely visible. The covering undergrowth made up of stinging grass and thorny scrubs pricked and cut his coarsened skin endlessly, at times even tearing the rough waistcloth he wore on an otherwise bare body. But Ginja did not slow down. Having counted three sun rises he knew his destination was near.

Such jungle tracks usually led to water, and Ginja was aware that the abode of the big man he was seeking was near a large swamp. A man with an evil reputation; with dark and mysterious powers; the big man was feared by the villagers. If challenged, he could place a curse on that person, bringing destruction to the challenger’s family. If pleased, he could be agreeable, even benevolent. Those villagers who craved his favour approached him with gifts, mostly dried flesh from the hunts or grains and yams from their meagre harvests. They were offering to the resident gods of the jungle, thus consecrated. Only the big man could invoke celestial blessings.

Lives which were but a hair’s breadth away from unneeded every blessing they could call on. In the jungle; hunger was the norm, disease rampant, danger lurked: the thin thread holding things together was fragile. Many womenfolk in the village are possessed by evil forces. Their families take them to the big man’s abode for a cure. Some were cured by his magic powers, in others, the madness would not relent its grip; the victim withdraws, weakens and withers away. In such cases, the villagers accepted that the spirits that possessed the women were not pleased with their humble offerings.

The big man was known to be passionate, and women were drawn to him. There were many women living with him, with whom he had several sons. Now, adults, they were hard evil men, ready to do their father’s bidding. Some villagers who had fallen foul of the big man were found murdered in the jungle, and, there were reasons to suspect the son of the foul deeds. However, the villagers were too fearful to talk about these killings, they were not men inclined to go against the wind; in any event, what could they do? So, resigned to their short, nasty and brutish lives, the villagers passed the killings to animal attacks. Some even began to call the big man a King.

Forty was a very old age by village averages. Eking out an existence in circumstances as mean, sapped their spirit and strength. Too many an obstacle, some tangible, others elusive and obscure, stood in their way. The village interpreted the world around them; their lives, their environment, the changing seasons only in reference to mysterious forces; commonly given human aspects. When gods are angry, the world turns malevolent; appease them with offerings and sacrifices, they could be generous. Their incomprehension did not make life any easier for the villager, hopelessly trapped in a cycle of suffering and defeat. Living instinctively; their agriculture was only subsistence, livestock sparse and hunting methods wasteful, never was there a surplus.

Ginja’s mother died many moons ago when he was a mere boy. He had no memory of his father, apparently, he had gone into the jungle never to return. It was said that he had another family in a distant village. Ginja grew up in a small hut, shared by many family members. What he remembered most about the hut was the odour of unwashed bodies and the smoky air that clung to it. He helped other family members in their yam gardens, and later, when a teenager, took part in hunting with the men.

There was a girl, a cousin, who also lived in the hut. She was kind to him, he liked her. As happens in village life, in due course Ginjatook his cousin sister and moved into an abandoned hut. She produced three children in quick succession. The eldest, a boy, died a few weeks after birth. Another boy followed, who died when about five years, of a snake bite. Ginja’s favourite, the third, Kitchie, was a girl. She was strong and grew into an active young teenager.

Although Ginja was not a demonstrative man, he doted on her, never failing to bring Kitchi yams and fruits from his foraging. Squatting by the entrance to their hut he spent many hours telling her tales of the village, about his parents and the jungle. She would listen impassively, sometimes giggling when he mentioned persons known to her too. Kitchi made him feel alive, purposeful; a reason to plant, to hunt.

One day when Ginja returned from a hunt he found Kitchi down with a fever. In distress, both the mother and he consulted the village elders, who recommended various plant leaves and herbs found in the vicinity as medicine. But the fever did not go down. Kitchi had no appetite and began to lose her strength. Ginja was desperate and finally decided to go to the big man, the King, living by the swamp.

Ignoring the weariness of three days of walking, Ginja hurried his steps, the path was getting clearer and broader, signifying a settlement nearby. As the sun was going down he came upon a large swamp and saw a big rock nearby. By the rock were a few huts, similar to the huts in his village. He heard the bark of a dog and on nearing the huts saw a small group of people, preparing a fire for the night. Approaching them hesitantly he addressed a middle-aged man among them

“I beg an audience with the King of this land”

They stared at him with cold eyes; guardians of power assessing a humble subject. It will not do to make the meeting easy, or to demystify the encounter with the wielder of power.

“Where are you from?” the man inquired in an unfriendly tone.

Although in appearance not unlike those from his village, their smug attitude made Ginja feel intimidated, inferior.

“I am from the village of the Five Nuga Trees. My daughter has got the fever. I beg of the King to cure her”

The man who was sitting on his haunches, hawked and spat before he spoke, now in a softer tone.

“You have chosen a bad time. The King has flown away on his flying machine to a distant land. When he attends important matters in other lands, there is no knowing when he will return”

Despite himself, these strange words gave Ginja a pang. Fly away? He had seen birds fly, but nothing else. In the world Ginja inhabited, the only energy source available were the men’s muscles. When the heat was needed, they burnt wood. Internal combustion engines, defying gravity, navigating in the air, landing a heavy machine safely, were concepts that simply did not exist. This is magic, what he came here for. That the big man could do such a fantastic thing like flying on a machine only validated Ginja’s belief system.

The villagers did not form their world view based on the empirical. To the believer, the how’s and whys did not matter. Magic simplified things; anything could be done, the phantasmal can become reality, and reality can become an illusion. The animals in the jungle had no fantasies. By their fantasies, the villagers became.

The big man, the King, had got onto his flying machine and flown to a faraway land! Grappling with an idea so big, so fantastic, Ginjas’ mind went blank, he was drained of emotion.

What about Kitchi, down with the fever? Sitting in this place of magic, this hallowed abode of the King, Ginja’s village and things associated with it seem insignificant, perhaps they are all an illusion.

Ginja was too confused and tired. He sat quietly, gazing thoughtlessly into the flickering fire.


 

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