CHAPTER ONE – OLD MAN TIGER

16 Oct

This may or may not grow. It’s something new that I will post in parts when I’ve written it. Anyway, here’s part one.

It was dark under the canopy of ancient trees as Umbaga carefully made his way from the pathways that were known to him and his people and moving ever closer to those that were forbidden.

Umbaga was a brave hunter, everyone said so, but even he wasn’t brave enough to put as much as a nervous foot on the forbidden territory, though he had no idea why it was forbidden and who it was who forbade it. It was one of those unexplained facts that seem so important. Go a step further and all hell might be let loose.

He’d been this way many times before and had marked the furthermost stump of his people’s territory by pissing on it. And not only he ” every hunter in the tribe did that. The aroma of stale urine was a sign that all recognised, and obeyed. Go no further or you and your kin will be destroyed, it said in waves of stench on the breeze, though no man dared question what foe might be so powerful as to achieve such a thing. It was just accepted. Somewhere there was a power that could do just such a thing. Somewhere, maybe this side of the purple mountains, or on the mighty heights of them or even beyond them (if any place actually existed beyond them ” nobody knew for sure) there was a power capable of such a thing.

And Umbaga had Juju at home.

Home was a natural cave that had been on the hillside since the gods had wrought the world they lived on, or so it was said and who was Umbaga not to believe such a history?

It had been the home to the lame bear before Umbaga had wrested it from him, and reduced him to meat and winter furs and proceeded to settle into the warmth of that sanctum, away from the cold of winter and, as now, the overbearing heat of the summer sun.

Juju was his woman. Or rather (and herein lay the truth) he was her man. It was a matter of perspective, and everyone knew she was in charge. Women were. After all, they had the brains. They knew stuff.

And it was Juju who knew stuff. She was well aware of the passing of the seasons whereas Umbaga was too busy out hunting and pissing on old wooden stumps to have much time to remember such things. But Juju knew when the green time was coming. She could predict the arrival of fresh shoots on the trees and shrubs with an uncanny accuracy. And she knew when there was rain in the air. She could tell it. And later in the year, when the trees started casting off their leaves, she knew it was time to make sure there were plenty of furs in the cave.

“Umbaga, no hunting today,” she would say from time to time when he was reaching for his spear or fixing his outdoor loincloth into place, “rains coming…”

And that would be that. Instead of braving the big wide world beyond his cave entrance to go off hunting once again he would take a sliver of flint or a stub of charcoal and attend to his art. He was proud of his art because everyone said that his rendering of the wilds was better than that of any man anywhere. And in all truth it was pretty good. He could make a bison look like a bison, a deer look like a deer, even one with complicated antlers and a smile on its face. He could render those features on the cave wall with uncanny accuracy, and Juju rewarded him for doing it with a huge smoochy kiss before inviting their disparate neighbours in to take a look. So he was the artist in the family, the dreamer, the one who could create a representation of the world about him with two crude etching tools, and on the other hand she knew stuff and decided stuff.

He didn’t mind. It made sense because she had to be back in the warmth (or cool, according to the season) of their cave whilst he was out hunting. She had Idju to care for.

Idju was the daughter, and she was still short of seven summers old and so needed a great deal of support and encouragement. In fact, she needed a warm (or cool) loving home. Idju was like her mother, even had the same slant to her eyes and snub to her nose, and she was a thinker, too. So far as Umbaga could tell she was as bright as the sun at noon, which meant she was a very bright young person indeed. Why, despite her small size she could already count the trees in the forest and distinguish one from another with ease, and solemnly tell them which plants, when eaten, gave them stomach cramps and which didn’t even when consumed in copious quantities.

And they had to eat plants when the hunting was poor, like it often was in summer, because it was in summer that the herds of small deer that Umbaga found easiest to hunt, migrated to distant plains, well beyond his range even if he was away from home for more than a day. So he would collect armfuls of green stuff and they would eat it instead of meat. Some of it was even delicious, though other somewhat tough fronds were bitter and might even give them stomach cramps and turn their poo to foul brown water.

Umbaga smiled as he thought of his little family, and determined to do his best in the hunt.

But here he was at the furthermost end of his territory (though who or what had determined such a thing was beyond his knowledge). Juju might know, but she hadn’t said. She left matters to do with his hunting to him; if she didn’t she thought he might see her as an interfering bitch, and punch her.

The stump that told him to go no further was in front of him, so he pissed on it. It already gave off that rancid aroma created by more hunters than just him, for the stump marked a boundary for the entire tribe. This time his urine was both aromatic and plentiful, for he’d been of a mind to release the pressure of it into the undergrowth for some time but only too aware that it might provide false signals for other hunters, and that wouldn’t be fair.

He was perfectly happy as he shook his teaser to ensure the last drop was gone before tucking it back into his loincloth There was nothing he detested more than most things that stank, and that was the sour stench given off by some huntsmen if they were too lazy to properly shake their teasers. It was such an easy thing to do and it prevented the sourness of unclean men from wafting through the forest attracting anything that stirred with hunger. And there was Old Man Tiger. Everyone knew that Old Man Tiger was quite capable of detecting even a clean man from a great distance, and an unclean one would surely make life indecently easy for him. Common sense said that much.

As yet Umbaga had seen neither hair nor hind of any prey and he knew that Juju back home was hungry, for he was himself. Pains were beginning to gnaw at his stomach and a bitter apple would both start to fill it and yet make it worse, and all around him the only edible things were scabby crab apples. Crab apples might stave off true hunger, but they were no substitute for meat.

He turned to go back the way he had come because before him was the forbidden territory and no man dared place so much as a foot into it, not even at great need. And as he spun round his heart faltered inside his chest.

Because in front of him, close as close could be, was the grisly face of Old Man Tiger, and he was dribbling foam from his open mouth and yellowed teeth.

© Peter Rogerson 16.10.16

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