7. Taypi's Discovery

Taypi crouched lower in the cover of the giant palm, praying that he'd not been observed. He took long shallow breaths, and closing his eyes concentrated on relaxing every part of his body. Gradually he became aware that the perspiration was cooling and that insects were exploring his motionless skin. He opened his eyes and began to tune his senses to the jungle around him, the myriad of sounds, colours, smells and textures that made up his environment.

The stranger was still in the vicinity, about twenty paces away from where he lay hidden. He couldn't see him, but he could hear him and smell the acrid odour of his body - a mixture of stale sweat, urine and a damp musty stench. Beneath the odours of sap and sweat and piss he smelt quite unlike any human that the boy had ever encountered. This in itself was frightening - especially when combined with the sounds that the man was making. Low mutterings, their rhythm strangely broken, clicks, dissonant humming; altogether a meaningless jumble of sounds that sounded like the raving of someone in a dream spell. Maybe he was preparing to cast a spell, and was some kind of magician? Maybe this was a test, a vision, and part of his initiation.

Taypi was in the middle of the period of his isolation, part of the ceremony that would make him a man. Only if he could survive in the jungle on his own for a full month, until the moon turned again and showed his jutting cheekbone and cold smile to the world, would he be allowed to return to his people, no more a boy. Until that time he lived in isolation, spending his days foraging for food and chewing the various roots and herbs which the Speaker (who held the knowledge of the Tribe and communicated with spirits) had given him so that he could discover his spirit animal. The Speaker had warned him that demons might try to trick him during this period - so Taypi was not sure if the apparition before him was human, or a spirit who had taken on this disguise to confuse him.

After some time Taypi relaxed his immobility and dared to stretch one of his legs, which had begun to cramp a little. Emboldened by the fact that the man did not seem to have noticed his presence he decided to risk sneaking a look at him. The palm he was hiding in was one of a stand, on the edge of a small clearing formed when one of the giant trees had toppled, crushing the vegetation beneath it. The Stranger was sitting on one end of the massive trunk, examining something that he held in one hand, and writing with the other, and the boy was able to crawl to a place where he could see him through the leaves. This took some time - he didn't dare risk disturbing the leaves in case it startled the birds roosting on the upper branches, so his movements were infinitesimal; he almost grew from one spot to the next.

The clearing was bright with sunlight, slanting down into the ragged hole left in the cover by the fallen palm. The Stranger was outlined clearly against the foliage by his light clothes, his head covered by a decrepit hat that had once been a creamy magnolia, but was now somewhat greenish in hue. Every so often he would remove it, and wipe his face and brow before replacing it on his head. Taypi noticed several things at once: he was covered from head to foot, except for his hands and face, with garments of a kind that he had never seen before. The skin that was visible was yellowed and leathery, and marked with deep grooves. On his beaky nose some kind of adornment was perched which covered his eyes, and hooked over his ears. He was hunched over, making it hard to judge his height - but gave the impression of having been a tall man. He was holding something in his hand which he squinted through, and which kept throwing off lightning in the sun - although it didn't seem to bother him. As the boy watched he put it down and began to write on a tablet with many leaves, sometimes pausing and scribbling on the back of his left hand.

Taypi forgot his crouched position, the branches that were digging into him, and the ants that had begun to make a regimented exploration of one of his feet. He was frozen in place; the sensation of movement a memory. The world narrowed to the bright clearing, and the Stranger, oblivious to his presence, and busy cataloguing a new species of orchid in a sunbeam.

The spell was broken when the Stranger began gathering his things, obviously preparing to continue his onslaught on the jungle. The boy suddenly woke up to his predicament, realising that there was no way he dared make a move until the man was gone. He only allowed himself to breathe again when the Stranger, having gathered up his travelling equipment, departed from the other end of the clearing. Within seconds he was out of sight, machete poised for chopping at any roots or vines, and leaving a swathe of mangled vegetation in his wake.

Taypi was left alone in the clearing to try to make sense of any of the things that he had seen. It still lacked a handful of days to his appointed return to the camp - the moon was not nearly full yet. To come back before that time was unheard of, nothing before this had ever made it necessary as far as he was aware. They came back, or they didn't; but not before the allotted time. And this? The presence of this man was something that Taypi thought the Speaker and the Chief of the Tribe would want to know about. What would happen if he delayed, and the Stranger stumbled across the pueblo?

Still they were a few days walk from his home, and Taypi didn't have any proof that the Stranger was even aware of his people's existence. He could watch him for the next few days, and return to the pueblo after his time was up with the news. That way he would not risk the disgrace, or banishment (or worse), that he imagined waited for one who broke his pact with the moon.

Chapter 8 »