The boy’s eyelids had somehow popped opened again. He stared up into the star-filled heavens.
Okomi, his father, shooed away the buzzing flies and swept his hand down over his son’s face. He then turned and made another attempt at fire. The tinder wouldn’t take. The fallen logs were soaked through from a recent rain and rubbing the stick back and forth, grinding it into the flat piece of wood, felt futile.
Yet he did not stop.
It took his mind off things. The cold desert night. The journey from home. The journey to see the witch doctor.
After some time, his hands nearly rubbed raw, smoke finally rose and the tinder glowed until flames spread onto smaller pieces of brush. He nursed the fire carefully until it was roaring at last. Seeming to sense Okomi’s victory over the elements, coyotes howled in the distant hills. He hoped it was a sign of things to come.
He didn’t want to rest, but he had been around long enough to know that if he kept on, he risked death. If that happened, all was hopeless. There was still much ground to cover before the doctor could wake his son, but his legs refused to carry him no further. Deep pain radiated across his chest and shoulders. Pulling the sled through gravel-filled washes and over uneven outcrops of granite taxed Okomi greatly.
He would soon cross into Vanyume territory. Every ounce of wit and strength he could muster might be enough to see him and his son through safely.
He pulled his son’s sled next to the fire and drew a blanket from his supplies. Upon finding a suitably curved stone on which to rest his head, Okomi cleared the ground of rocks and made his bed. Some of the stars moved tonight, each one zipping off until its light went out in a brief but brilliant flash.
He thought about yesterday. Okomi had been a wealthy man. Chief of all the Nuwa people because of it. Now he carried only a fraction of his riches, forced to abandon the rest to the tribe. He turned to his son, reaching out to stroke the black hair caked to his forehead. The boy’s face was pale and starting to swell. His head cold to the touch.
Let the fools fight over trinkets and chiefdom, he thought.
He dreamed of the boy’s mother standing in the village, all of the Nuwa lined up at her side. She cursed Okomi for refusing funeral rites. She said that if he left the village with their child, then Pokoh, the god known as The Old Man, would punish them both for wandering from their homeland. Behind her stood the god, his feet thicker than twenty men clustered together. Taking the form of a snake, the god’s great head touched the clouds and ground back and forth with a terrible noise.
Okomi ignored their warnings. He declared he would go south and fight the Sun and the Moon to find the witch doctor. Pokoh lifted his great foot. It blotted out the night as it came rushing down on top of Okomi.
His eyes shot open. The stars were still there. The crickets were singing. He got up and added more wood to the fire until it roared once again. While he swept a scorpion and several vinegaroons from the blankets wrapped around his son’s body, his eyes appraised the boy.
Let Pokoh and his people bluster, he thought. If Okomi buried his son, it would be an act of murder.
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