--Part 4--

louis martin
cns news & features

TUMORKA WAS a good sleeper but he was also a light sleeper. A sound in the brush or in a tree, or down by the little stream that ran by his camp site and down to Xamoro lagoon, could wake him instantly. He would then listen for a few moments till he knew what it was--he could always tell the sound of a fish breaking water or a sleek jungle cat quenching its thirst or a small animal stirring in the brush or a night-stalking bird swooping down upon its prey--then he went back to his dream. In fact he went back to his dream exactly where he left off, dream life and real life being a whole, a continuum to the storyteller Tumorka.

But this particular night when Tumorka awoke from his dream and listened for awhile, he was baffled.

He had been dreaming a new dream and the sounds that woke him, though unfamiliar, were perhaps part of it. He had been dreaming of a sunset over the lagoon so dazzling, so beautiful that it transformed all who saw it--even, yes, the Sisters. He saw people all lined up over the bluffs and around the lagoon staring, transformed, over the water to where the sun was going down. They were all silent but radiant and filled with light. They seemed for once to want and need nothing more. For once they realized that they had everything--that in fact they had had everything all along. All they needed to do was wake up to that fact. And now they had. Words were no longer necessary, and even the Sisters were there smiling, not trying to wrest one more thing out of somebody or something.

But as Tumorka heard a twig snap, then another, as he lay on his mat by a fallen Oakuku tree, he remained puzzled. These sounds did not seem to be part of the dream at all. If anything, they seemed to be trying to tear the dream apart.

A sliver of moonlight gave only faint illumination in the fog and mist that rose up the hill to the little camp above Xamoro lagoon where he lay among a stand of Oakukus, a tree that many thought holy and were afraid, therefore, to cut for firewood.

He held his breath and listened: These were not the sounds of the thirsty cat lapping water from the little stream. Nor were they the sounds of some small nocturnal creature prowling among forest leaves. They were slow, deliberate, muffled sounds, the sounds of feet, padded feet, creeping slowly his way.

Fear now gripped the storyteller, chasing the dream far away. He rolled sideways out from under the mat and over to the log; he lay still and listened. The muffled foot steps came closer. Quickly and flat on his belly he crawled like a lizard to the end of the log, then squirmed around to the other side. He lay there holding his breath, heart pounding, as the feet moved closer.

Now he could see the faint shadowy forms of two men who stood low and crouching over his mat on the other side of the fallen Oakuku.

He watched as one of those forms raised a machete and struck the mat, while the other form began to pound it again and again with what looked to be, in the shadowy darkness, a heavy hand axe. Each thudding blow caused Tomorka to shudder, and many blows were struck before the assailants realized they were only hacking and pounding earth and leaves below the mat.

But while the attack was taking place, Tumorka, crouching low, crept away.

From the concealment of a tight little grove of Pinuku trees he now looked back at his would-be assailants. One he recognized as a gardener from the Abode--or rather a guardian of the garden, necessary these days because of the growing number of plant thieves. The other he thought he recognized as a seller of fish heads, or rather fish eyes; for fish eyes had become a great delicacy a few years back at certain inns. Fried in the oil of the Mura-Mura fish and served in bowls, fish eyes were the appetizer of choice with the most conspicuously affluent--more because of the price than any special taste or flavor, some said, for very few citizens could afford "eyes" these days.

The guardian of the garden stood silently by while the seller of fish eyes flung the tattered remains of Tumorka's mat into the smoldering remnants of the campfire and, like an angry adolescent, kicked dirt and leaves around the camp. Then spotting Tumorka's bowl on a rock near the fire and raising his axe, he smashed it with a single blow, sending fragments flying everywhere.

"That is enough," said the guardian, breaking his silence. "I do not like what we are asked to do; it will bring shame to us. Let us go."

The two walked out of the camp, the seller of fish eyes cursing Tumorka for his irregular sleeping habits: "Why doesn't this damned storyteller sleep at night like everyone else? What is wrong with him!"

"Because he is smarter than we are," snapped the guardian, "that is why! Now shut up, or I will kill you and make it look like Tumorka!"

The two trudged silently away.

Turmorka did not return to his camp that evening. He had, however, a second camp higher up in the hills from the lagoon, a camp that no one knew about, not even the children. The camp was located on the edge of the last remaining stand of giant Redukus, those trees so tall and majestic and so sought after by the builders of lodges. Many board feet of "Red" had been cut just to build the Abode. It was to this second camp that Tumorka now repaired.

Surely this attack had been some kind of mistake, he thought, as he warmed his hands over a small fire and looked down over Xamoro lagoon. He had no enemies he knew of, and he owed no money to the Drug Lords, a frequent cause for such attacks.

The fog had lifted, and the image of the Sister came to him now as he stared out over the lagoon far down below. The moon gleamed upon the water, producing in him such a different sensation than had the eyes of the Sister earlier that day: dark, piercing eyes with a look that chilled his blood and scared the "little ones."

What story had he been telling? That of Ni? Yes, that of poor, poor Ni who wore the look, seen so often these days on the faces of young Xamoran men, of deep affliction and guilt. The "hang-dog look" Tumorka had come to call it because it reminded him exactly of that--the look of a dog that had been caught in the act of who-knows-what?, stealing a fish head, maybe, and had been severely beaten for it; a dog that had pooped, perhaps, in the wrong place and had had its nose rubbed in it. A dog, anyway, that surely was not a healthy, happy dog. Yes, Ni was like that, as were so many other young Xamoran men: a dog with his nose in it. And Tumorka had said so but only to the children he had thought.

He sat for a long time by the small, sputtering fire, feeding it bits and scraps of bark and twigs, and watching the dance of light on the lagoon below. The lagoon itself was dark, like the eyes of Ne, he thought; and it contained monstrous fish with many sharp teeth that could tear you into pieces. But with the reflection of the moon upon its surface it was transformed; it became like a sparkling jewel, beautiful, fascinating, and lovely. Was Ne, then, like the lagoon? Yes, she was. Like the lagoon without the moon: dangerous--dangerous, evil, and ugly. Anyone, in fact, without the light was like that. Without the light a person was only sharp teeth in search of prey, a deadly tri-finned NeNe, Tumorka chuckled. This would make a good story, he thought. He resolved to tell it the very next day.

As he lay down and drifted off to sleep again, his dream became a song of trouble:

Xamoro lagoon without the moon,
An eye dead to the light;
Day has drowned in a night unbound;
No good here to be found.

Long ago my sister's hair
Gleamed gold in Mendodii's garden;
Now like a beast in bloody gown,
My playmate knocks me down.

Knocks me down and spins me 'round
And says the goddess hates me.
My love has drowned in waves that pound;
Love's body cannot be found.

Lost at sea . . .

A rustling sound in the brush nearby caused Tumorka to wake from his dream in the first grey light of dawn. His eyes blinked open wide and he listened intently.

He lay on his back, listening to the sound of leaves being stirred or crushed under feet some ten feet away. The sound seemed to be coming closer. He strained to hear what it was. It stopped, then it started up again. And, yes, he was sure now: it was headed his way. Had the assailants found his other camp?

He could see little in the grey half-light mixed with mist that had crept up the hill from the lagoon again. He was tense, ready to spring up and flee into the forest, when suddenly the sound seemed only a few feet away, yet no shadowy form appeared with it. He looked down at the end of his mat and saw a squirrel there. The situation was obvious. It had been prowling around, searching for something in the late night or early morning hours. Tumorka had heard the sound before. But his nerves had been shattered by the attack at his other camp, and he had failed to recognize a familiar sound.

The squirrel faced Tumorka for a moment, and Tumorka stared into the clear, innocent eyes of the little animal before it turned and scampered away.

Tumorka lay for a moment more under his mat in the cool grey air, then he got up. There was a spring nearby and he went there and cupped water onto his face. Although he could not see into the water now, he knew it was good clean water, for he had looked into the pool many times during the day. The spring was one of his favorite places to come and sit and think. And if he sat there long enough, a story always came to him. It's bottom was of solid rock, so that the water was always clear, and spongy damp moss clung along its edges. Surrounded by giant Redukus, its water was always cool, even on the warmest days. It was the most refreshing place Tumorka knew of.

There were many paths to the beach, and Tumorka knew them all. Fully awake now, he headed down the hill to the beach by a path known to few. This morning he wanted to be there for the sunrise.

Above the beach where he told his stories there was a high cliff. From the cliff it was almost straight down to the beach, the descent interrupted only be a few protruding, jagged rocks. And only a few of the most daring young men of the village had ever tried to climb down. One with a long vine rope had succeeded; but another, trying to impress a young woman, had been killed. The death had occurred in an opaque period of male pride now drubbed the Days of Great Foolishness. The rock at the bottom--really a giant boulder that had fallen a millennium ago from the cliff and was now completely submerged at high tide--was named for the unfortunate young man: Fool's Rock, though some sentimental villagers called it Love's Boulder.

The sun had almost risen over the hills in back of Tumorka as he stared out over the flat calm ocean to the line of the horizon. Inwardly he recited the ancient prayers of the rising sun. First he gave thanks for the solid land, the land that gave you a place to stand upon; then he gave thanks for the water, especially the water that flowed; then he gave thanks for the air which one could not see but whose presence one did not doubt, for without the air one quickly died; and last of all he gave thanks for the sun--that glorious, bright disc of light in the sky which he felt to be the source of all things, even himself, bone, marrow, flesh, and skin. He felt certain that without its warmth, its presence, its bright spark of fire, there would be no life at all.

And when he finished his prayers he resolved that he would tell a new story that day. Or rather that he would tell an old story, for he knew that there really were no new stories but that some of the stories, some of the important ones, had been neglected for a very long time.

Yes, he would tell the story of Zamorka and why he had packed up the rocks and gone away. The children ought to know that one--it was one of the important stories--and perhaps some of the adults should know it as well. So sad it was, he thought, that few of the adults seemed to show any interest in stories these days. All they seemed to want were those strange, unreal visions induced by ingesting or inhaling the medicinal plants--those visions that were called for awhile the Distant Visions and later the Tele-Visions. But perhaps that sad state of affairs was part of some other story--some Bigger Vision--that someone else would have to tell another time. He did not know. But today he would tell of Zamorka and why he had gone. And yes, he must, he would say something of the Sisters and of the lagoon. But he would be gentle with the Sisters, for he knew that they were not really bad, just terribly, terribly warped--just as the Brothers had been terribly, terribly warped at times. He knew that as part of the Great Law, reconciliation was inevitable. And he would speak of the sun as well, for he saw that many held the mistaken belief that Frozen Visions or Images were the true source of power.

Looking over the cliff he could now see some fishermen on the beach preparing nets and boats for ocean fishing--the village's few industrious fishermen, to be sure--and Tumorka felt happy, radiant as the rising sun.

Ne walked slowly up the path from Dark Cove, a sullen expression on her face. Ojo had tricked her, she had been deceived. Tumorka was not dead, but Ojo had not told her that till after he had had his reward. "What is the difference, little Sister?" he asked. "We will get him tomorrow, if not today. He is a dead man, I tell you, a dead man!" Her body felt crushed. She had had Kwaki and lain with Ojo on the Tigoro rugs, or rather lain under him. Had Ojo not first put several big cushions under the rugs, she would have been completely crushed. It had been a long time since she had visited the Drug Lord, and she was not sure whether he had been a more potent partner as a young man or with the additional weight. But, oh, how that man perspired as he worked himself up, as he tried to . . .

As the Sister came up the final stretch of the path from Dark Cove, breathless and heart pounding, for she avoided exercise as much as possible, she saw a solitary figure standing on the edge of the cliff as though in prayer --a solitary figure that reminded her of . . . but could it be the storyteller himself? He did not usually come down out of the hills till much later, so she had been informed. Was the "dead man" standing on the cliff right now? What a nice sacrifice to Fool's Rock or Love's Boulder, or whatever damn thing you wanted to call it, thought the Sister. It had been a long time since the rock had been honored with real human blood. And the time couldn't be better. There was no one to see Tumorka go over--only a few fishermen and they could be bought off if need be. What was a storyteller to a fisherman, anyway, asked the Sister. Less than a fish head without the eyes, the milt of a finless Mou-Mou.

The Sister crept slowly up behind the storyteller . . . .

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