19 Oct

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
” Oh dear me …Umbaga, venturing beyond the range of his hunting grounds, finds a clearing in which strange mushrooms grow, and eats a couple of them. “

Umbaga adopted his best furtive style and faded as inconspicuously as he could into the strange woodland that seemed to stretch in front of him for ever. Not that he could see that far because trees have a habit of conspiring together and limiting the view of the sharpest eyes by blocking out anything beyond them. Umbaga knew this. And so did Old Man Tiger, though he’d sneaked away and was too far off to confirm anything even though no inhabitant of the lands around had sharper eyes than him.

Umbaga hadn’t gone far when he came upon a feature he was unfamiliar with ” not that he was familiar with much this side of the pissing stump, for fear of the unknown had kept him well away.

Suddenly the trees gave way to a clearing. Now, you’d expect there to be clearings in woodland, maybe caused by a fire following a lightning strike at the end of a long, dry summer or some other natural phenomenon that occurs where there’s plenty of dry timber lying around ready and waiting to burst into flame, but Umbaga didn’t know of any. His woodland, from the river to the desert, was unblemished by clearings.

This clearing was covered by a rich variety of plants, and it being summer many of them gave forth with a range of flowers that were wonderfully pleasing to the eye, and a wonderful sweet aroma filled the air. Even Umbaga sighed his happiness at seeing and smelling them. After all, underneath his hunter complexion, which by necessity was rugged and carried with it a few scars brought on by long hours crawling through the wild, there beat the softest of human hearts, and he loved the sight and scent of flowers.

“Must bring Juju here. She love flowers,” he sighed to himself, forgetting for a moment that he had entered the Forbidden Territory and wild horses wouldn’t have dragged her past the Pissing Stump. Indeed, those same wild horses wouldn’t even have dragged her anywhere near the pissing post because that would mean she would have to piss on it and she was far too ladylike for that. It was perfectly reasonable to expect a hunter with his man’s equipment to direct his urine onto a particular stump, but a female? A woman? A delicate and thoughtful member of the superior gender? Not a chance! She pissed in private, which was only right and proper and to be expected of one as bright as her.

He stood at the edge of the clearing and stared around him.

Flowers in bloom can be a captivating sight, and he was captivated until he noticed the mushrooms.

He loved mushrooms and even though they were never cooked when he ate them he still loved them. We must remember that cooking required fire and, so far, the lighting of fires was unknown. He knew of fire, of course, there were sporadic outbreaks here and there, but they soon went out and he had no idea what caused them, just that they scared the loincloth off him. He might, if he thought about it, find fire useful but he didn’t realise that because you don’t miss what you’ve never known, and he had never known a forest fire with its flames consuming everything in sight. The tiny fizzing fires he’d seen from afar were nothing in comparison, but, in ignorance, he couldn’t compare.

Not yet, anyway. But times change. After all, a forest fire had most probably created this delightful clearing and had he seen its smoking, flaming, raging birth he might have been a tad less enchanted and more wary.

He stooped and picked one of the mushrooms and felt and smelt its firm flesh.

Juju would like some of these, he thought. Juju liked mushrooms as much as he did, and although he knew some were likely to cause severe cramps in the stomach it was worth the risk just to enjoy those that didn’t. Juju knew which did what and he might have learned had he stayed at home doing woman’s work, but he was a hunter and out most weathers hunting.

Hunters have little time to learn about anything other than hunting. And hunters aren’t really bothered if the learning doesn’t improve their chances of survival in a dangerous world.

He sniffed the mushroom.

It smelt like any old mushroom anywhere, even though it was a little bit smaller than those he was familiar with and looked slightly translucent, which gave it an appetising appearance, especially as he knew he was hungry and even mouse droppings might seem appetising.

“Yummy,” he murmured to himself, and licked it.

Then he held it carefully in one hand and looked at it carefully. Nothing quite like this grew anywhere near the place he called home even though there were many kinds of fungi and he knew where to find them, but this one was unfamiliar and he wanted to avoid the dreadful stomach cramps that eating the wrong kind of mushroom can bring on. In his mind and in the limited language of the day there were only mushrooms that grew like this, and no word for toadstools.

“It small,” he told himself, and his mind wandered along the road that suggested that small couldn’t really do him much harm. Small was too … small .. and unlikely to harm him, and if it did the harm would be proportionate to small. So he put the whole fungus in his mouth and chomped on it, squeezing the juices from it between his teeth, and savouring them..

The word delicious sprung to mind, because he was hungry anyway and anything edible may well have tasted delicious.

He bent down and picked a second mushroom, stuffed it in his mouth and sighed his contentment to a universe that was turning strange.

And as he looked up the sky became extraordinarily a beautiful psychedelic yellow even though he had no such word as psychedelic in his vocabulary, and he giggled.

“What’s so funny, little man?” asked a gerbil in his head or on his shoulder or somewhere close enough to want to speak to him, and it was hard to find an answer because at that moment all he wanted to do is fly like the big green bird that was circling above his head. The big green bird, large as a hippopotamus with emerald feathers and a beak as large as a palm frond and yellow as the sky, flapped its gigantic wings and that was so funny.

Umbaga had never seen anything so funny, but the bird clearly wanted him to join it in the sky, so he struggled to climb the tallest tree he could see. It wasn’t easy, climbing that tree, because it wibbled and wobbled and swayed and moved like trees shouldn’t, and it was all so outrageously funny.

“Why are you laughing?” asked Old Man Tiger, dribbling through his bright purple teeth and scratching his testicles with claws that left trails of green blood behind them.

“You’ll hurt,” Umbaga tried to warn him, but the words came out upside down and he actually said “Glug glug,” which meant so much to him he started weeping.

Umbaga had hardly ever cried, not even when Idju had been born and Juju had gnashed her teeth in unbelievable agony and bled from her woman-bits. He should have wept back then, maybe, but he hadn’t. But he wept now.

And with tears rolling like mountain streams down his face Umbaga fell the full half yard from the top of the tree and landed safely on his head, his landing cushioned by an exotic pillow of flowering plants and mushrooms.

Still he wept, and the tiger which had fallen with him joined in, and tears as red as blood washed from its eyes and down its face as it curled up with a fluffy lamb and licked it all over until the lamb was an apple tree and the blood was sunset and Umbaga fell asleep.

“Umbaga sleep at night,” he whispered, and something told him it wasn’t even noon let alone night, but what the hell…? He was tired and before he went back to Juju he would pick a nice bunch of mushrooms and take them to her, and lick her all over before they ate their fill together.

So, half asleep and with the beginnings of a headache grinding inside his cranium, he picked his big, big bunch of mushrooms and lay down, closed his eyes, and fell into a troubled sleep as his mind sought the reality he was used to, and slowly found it.

© Peter Rogerson 18.10.16


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