II – TREK
For uncountable nights, she moved slowly through the darkness with an empty spirit, neither dejected nor optimistic. In a world where starvation lurked like an evil gossip ready to cripple the unwary, there were no emotions based on the past or future. The present was the battleground. To drop vigilance by letting regret or hope briefly glaze alertness could mean missing an opportunity to extend life for a few hours with a captured morsel or drink.
She saved the blood of her catch, knowing it could lure birds of prey within range of her weapons, made fire with flint and carefully cooked the flesh. Bones and sinews were needles and thread for creating little pouches out of the skin to carry the water collected at the break of each day from shaded rock indentations and shrub stalks. The rest she added to her bedding.
The wasteland was an amphitheatre for her and free from the constraints of her birth cave she bounced her rebellious howl against the rocky mounds, scattering birds up and rodents down.
Whispering O-Wind, who thought he was moving so stealthily over the ground, was heard by Mei and she mocked him with her pursed-lip breath. She mimicked the scratches of the sightless shifting sand by grinding her teeth. Lofty riders of up-draughts, signalling each other with beak taps, were shocked and annoyed when Mei sent her own messages to them by clicking her nails. She believed by being a member of Nature’s orchestra Mother Earth might share her menu.
Mei had always been ignored and unnoticed. She was not going to be so any more.
On one lucky hunt, faint tracks led to a family of mice. As still as a rock until the adults were drawn to her body heat, she made two lightning slashes with the flint in each hand and then, preparing her feast, hummed her own version of a song of thanks made at her village before particularly sumptuous meals of large birds and lizards.
You are not beaten
Inside me there’s no shame
Every day I’ll sing your name
Until I too am eaten.”
She kept the two baby mice in her pocket, shared her food with them and slept happily during nights with the watchful half-doze of a protective Mother, stirring at the faintest whimper from her dependents. No longer alone, she enjoyed the new challenge of parental skills.
She delighted in the daily growth of the pink infants and their eagerness to return to the warmth of her hands but did not name her pets as some children do, for she knew nothing of names, always having been addressed only by commanding grunts and growls of complaint. Mei Ming was an identification she would acquire when she finally stumbled on civilisation and learned that names were a human custom.
Her two animal companions soon proved to be worth their life by foraging successfully and regurgitating edible treats for their gentle benefactor when she flicked their tiny stomachs. Their weak squeaks attracted the attention of aerial predators so Mei placed them in a cage of rocks and brought birds to land where she could easily kill them with her arsenal of flints.
As her small body grew from that nourishment, so was her confidence increased by the freedom to follow her instincts and learn from successes or failures in her survival experiments. She whistled and clucked to her little friends, glad she could raise her voice without hearing a stern bark of disapproval from her Father. To the birds that entertained her and sometimes fed her, she chanted her own cheerful hymn of gratitude and hope of joining their sky adventure.
Our hearts the same
Share your strong wings
That ride O-Wind
Guide me to O-Rain.”
If she ate a lizard, she asked to be shown shelter and O-Water, trusting her heart to find the right words for her song of praise and thanks.
I’m your new home
As we walk with pride
We’ll never sleep alone.”
Every dawn Mei bowed a welcome to her friend, still sleepy O-Sun, believing her tiny smile could show her appreciation, and to gritty O-Wind she clapped her hands daring him to lift and carry her to where O-Rain was working his magic for flora and fauna to flourish.
Both elements were capable of launching merciless attacks on her exposed existence and she thought it prudent to try to placate them with docile applause. Humans so easily believe Nature can be fooled with prayers and obeisance. She did not know O-Sun, King of the firmament, delighted in protecting her for he saw her unique destiny and commanded all his minion elements, rebellious O-Wind, solemn O-Rain, and insouciant capricious Breezes and Clouds to help him keep her safe. He did not trust humans to do it.
Twice, Mei saw sand plumes from running animals drifting into the sky and rushed to the rim to explore. Each time it was a gang of horsemen racing with urgent purpose, too frightening for her to make her presence known. However, it let her adjust her direction in hope it might lead to the mystic haven her fellow villagers had sought. Her nightmares on the desert soil were peopled with angry but well-fed men.
Mei Ming grew several centimetres during her trek and developed muscles she had seen only on those dust-caped riders. She could throw stones many metres into the air and often raced with her furry friends. She volleyed with such accuracy she could steer them anywhere she chose. The skimming flints made the young mice jump with fright and, wide-eyed on trembling legs, they scampered frantically to Mei, leaping gratefully into the safety of her waiting palms where they wrestled and nuzzled to release the excitement of escaping danger. Mei, like every Mother, smiled at her children’s emotions, so transparent, so short-lived.
Mei felt strong but her lips and mouth were cracked and peeling and eyes stung from grit scratches. Weeks of walking hooked together like identical beads and the anticipation that had always toyed with her pulse as she crested each rise, eventually evaporated and the dispirited girl found herself topping the dune peaks without even lifting her gaze.
Only the gradually changing landscape fuelled her optimism. The sloping mounds became greener, the grasses sweeter and moist, and bushes had berries that she did not hesitate to squeeze and let their juice soothe her throat. The sky also was different. A greater number of birds cruised overhead, swooping and chasing with unusual energy. Clouds drifted lower, darker. Sometimes she woke with moisture on her face and twice saw O-Rain shafting to the earth.
When she scaled that thousandth summit and looked down on a camp smoking below in the distance, she collapsed with disbelief and immediately sang thanks to her constant fellow travellers, O-Sun and O-Wind.
“Burden is all I am
Forgive me if you can
And in my own weak way
I’ll serve you every day
Till my life is done.”
Mei remained on her knees, chin on the sand, studying the many rows of tents in the basin below as she tried to organise the emotional barrage that swept over her: relief, excitement, apprehension and awe. There were women tending fires and babies and men who seemed to have no more violent agenda than keeping dogs from nosing food. She had never seen animals unafraid for their lives and wondered what they could be cooking.
Boys were racing ponies with laughing shouts, the extravagance of energy indicating an abundant food supply and everywhere was a wealth of clothing and possessions. Most amazing was young women washing garments and bedding at a rock-lined hole, splashing, spilling and sometimes even playfully dousing each other with total disregard of wasting precious O-Water.
Mei rolled and gazed at smiling Clouds gracefully scattering their downy limbs along the skyways. She closed her eyes and floated to join them. She had come to the end of her journey. Life could offer no more than all that was plainly available in that village below, a place where adults were able to steal a few moments of peace. She murmured little pleas and promises to the people to whom she was about to reveal her presence.
“Please welcome me. I’ll work hard for my food and do anything you demand.”
Mei had known only punishment and pain and struggled to understand why she could not hear angry voices or see anyone fleeing a fist. Surely tempers would flare, it was human nature. She wondered when and how soon they would be directed at her.