It will be a long and far road
I came from far to search for far things. will you show me the way ?
You must come when the moon says goodnight to the sun, just before the white bull is in the blue land, at the other side of the hill.
The night before full moon?
Yes, then there will be enough light to travel into the shadow side of the hill…..There are places in the desert where we have to walk at night.
Do you have enemies there?
I want Twihi, my daughter, the child of the winds, to come with us.
Is she old enough for such a long road?
Others of her years, have children run around them.
Why do you want such a one to walk at night?
Where the great hunters of the desert lives, I first only want to show her footprints. Among us, you see a woman best, by her tracks. Beautiful little feet tread footprints in the sand that transfers into the hunter’s heart.
Do I hear you right Xameb, are you looking for a husband for your daughter?
First we must only show her footprints to the hunters White Father.
Then many of the White Fathers questions will be answered without him asking the questions. You just have to look with your eyes and listen with your ears.
Aren’t there any men here, where we are now, good enough for her?
The beggars of the big roads?
But they are your people…
They are just shadows of what their fathers were. Wait till you see Twihi, my daughter, and hear her speak. Then you will understand why these beggars of the big roads for your iron horses, no longer can put a bow in front of her shelter.
Where do you hide such a one that I have not seen her cook a meal for her father?
Xameb turned to look into the distant horizon and answered quietly.
Two nights before the full moon she will be here with me waiting for you White Father.
OK then Xameb, three nights before the full moon you will see the light of my fire on that hill. Then you will know that I have not forgotten.
Our eyes will be on the moon, White Father.
Day after day, Schoeman observed the waxing moon and impatiently consults his calendar. Four nights before full moon he could no longer wait and he packs his truck with provisions for the long journey. Among the contents are several bags of tobacco.
At the appointed hill he settles and wait. He gets out his binoculars with the setting sun and search the breath-taking panorama. In the distance he could hear the night cries of the Berg patryse. His eyes search the landscape, for the patryse. He spots them observing something quietly. In the distance he sees two figures following the truck tracks. They stop at intervals, to peer towards the hill. The older figure sits down. Giraffes cross the view. The smaller figure has disappeared. A lion roars close by. As the sun disappears behind the distant hills, he sees a fire flicker into being.
Schoeman struggles down the hill in the dark, towards the fire. On his way down he hears someone singing.
He arrives at the fire and sees Xameb sitting next to fire. Xameb does not even look up. He just adds another stick to the fire.
Who is singing?
The child of the winds.
Tell me in a language that I can understand, what is she singing about.
It is more beautiful just to listen to it, than to skin it.
Yes, for you who know the content
Xameb does not answer. Schoeman adds more wood on the fire. He walks towards the truck to fetch a kettle. He stops and listens entranced to the song.
Far and long ago….. before the white bull with his red horns tore the black blanket….before he could tear the black blanket covering the dark cave to allow the red morning to open a path for great blue eye of Eloib…..the dark lying deep and quiet…..under the dark waters in the deep cold mud. A child was blown out of the dark night to a seedhut of a white lily. Who among us will know why women are still like their first mother….she sings her song of loneliness in the night.
Xameb rubs his chin, stares into the dark, and speaks as if from far away.
The roads upon which the young hearts search are far roads, but beautiful paths. On those paths you can walk, with your eyes on the far mountains. You don’t bump your toes on rocks. You don’t step on thorns. There aren’t snakes in the vlei-grass with the many mouse paths. There is no tired voice of a mother that calls you to take a crying child, or to come and wash a pot. Beautiful are the roads the young heart visits with their dreams.
Did you yourself visit those roads?
Xameb does not answer. From the hill Twihi’s voice suddenly sounds clearer. The wind must have turned, because the smoke suddenly brought tears to Schoeman’s eyes. He gets up and stands with his back towards the fire. From the darkness he hears Xameb’s voice.
For two winters’ nights I felt Twihi’s mother’s warmth against my body. Then she was taken from me. Then I found another, she was also taken…What roads are left for me?
But there are men that build a third fire?
Not among the Heikum, White Father. Among us the a women will not take a man that has been left alone twice. They say that he has the hands of death. You can ask all the Heikum men that you will meet on the long road. It is an old law among our people. It is never broken.
Did Twihi learn about the beautiful roads from you?
For many winters only she was with me next to the fire and what child’s heart ever tires of stories? It is the sunshine and the rain from which a child’s heart grow. With whom else could I make the long nights shorter?
Now that your hair is white, do you still long?
Is it not at night that we want to be alone the least?
Twihi arrives at the fire. Xameb and Twihi speak together.
The White Father can now listen to the paths on which the young heart travels. I will translate for you.
Twihi stars to speak, Xameb translates, the story of Xa-xeib – the man with the full moon on his chest.
There once was a man. His name was Xa-xeib. He had a fullmoon on his chest.
He also had a wife. She was very beautiful.
The two of them was as if one person. Where he walked, there she walked too. There were not two foot paths to their hut. At night when the others were already asleep, the two played in the bright light that shone from his chest. The night was theirs. They never became tired.
But as her months became shorter, she could no longer walk the veldt with him. For the first few days he did not wander far. He found no pleasure in walking their old paths alone. With the days he had to walk further and further, for his wife wanted honey, then eland marrow.
So he arrives at one day at a rocky ridge, where he sees bees flying against the midday sun.
But there was another who also saw the bees against the midday sun. It was not a honey bird, nor a honey badger.
It was a woman.
The first afternoon he left her only one small cake of honey.
The next day he was there earlier, to take out more honey.
She was there too.
This time he gave her two honey cakes.
The next day he left earlier and the whole way he was argued with himself.
She was not there, but there were fresh footprints.
His heart said to him he must go and look to see whether she is not trying to show him a new nest with her fresh footprints.
His head turned, and his eyes looked to the path that was behind him.
He found her in the bush that was denser than it was at the honey nest.
They stayed together till late because he had the full moon on his chest.
When he arrived at home that night, his wife cried a lot. It was dark in her house.
There were clouds covering the moon. A woman sometimes knows without having seen.
That night he did not sleep.
The next morning he told his wife that he would only look for food on their old paths. At first he did only look for food near the hut. But when there were more and more trees between him and the house he did not look back so often.
Then his heart won again and he left for the bushes denser than the honey ridge..
Far behind him at the home where previously there was only one foot path, she that must become mother, waited and waited. Only when the evening breeze blew colder and colder, did she go inside and tied the door from the inside. She did not want the owls and the wolves to see her tears.
On the new road, ahead where the bush was denser than the honey ridge, a bright light shone all night. There was a lot of playing and laughter.
For the one the night was without beacons. For the two it was a few winks of the eye.
When the white bull with the red tipped horns, tore the black blanket to shreds, for the morning to climb out from behind the mountains, Xa-xeib – the man with the full moon on his chest – did not feel like drying tears for the second time. He was also clever. In the bright light that shone from his chest, he could see that one woman does not like to cry in front of another woman. So he brought Kai-oris, his new playmate with.
And Kai-oris the black tipped vulture, came, looked around a little and said to herself; this house is for two not for three.
He, who brought his wife company, then went to a place in the field where the wind did not blow, and the sun shone bright and went to sleep. His honey knife he left behind.
Kai-oris saw the knife; she took the knife and prepared the house for only two. Before she dragged the one that did not want to cry before another woman, behind the trees, she took out the baby.
Because the child now entered the world too early, she stuffed him into a milk-calabash. She closed it with a grass stopper and rocked it to and fro as if the fat was separated from the milk.
When the white bull arched his back on the mountain and tossed the black blanket with its red-tipped horns backward over the plains, Xa-xeib got up. He was well rested.
Kai-oris heard him coming and hid away the calabash.
In the light that shines from his chest, Xa-xeib saw the empty place in the house. But when the blackwinged-vulture’s eyes said that this house is not for three but only for two that plays all night, he did not hear the wolf crying for his mates behind the trees. His blood warmed. And he tied the door from inside.
Many days passed. And little red toes in the calabash kicked harder and harder against the round walls. Kai-oris heard it and kept Xa-xeib outside by day.
One day the calabash burst open. When she rubbed the child of another mother with fat, she saw the full moon on his chest. She tied a hard skin around his chest and hid him in a big hole.
One day Xa-xeib returned on his old footpaths and saw the child. Kai-oris was not close by. He picked up the child. The child’s one little foot kicked against his heart. It was a small little foot that still did not have hard toenails. But it caused a small drop of blood to drip from Xa-xeib’s heart. Then he knew whose child it was. In the pain that came to his heart he could see the child clearly. He could also see the little full moon under the hard chest-skin. And he became afraid that the black-winged vulture would cut out the full moon with the honey knife. He held the child tightly and looked around. When the little foot again kicked against his heart, he did not wait for Kai-oris to come back. He took the little full moon to his first wife’s sister. He told her that the child has a weak chest and that she must never remove the skin.
But a child that does not drink from mother’s milk is no one’s child. Everyone speaks loudly to him. On no one’s lap is there a place to cry, for one such as he, when a thorn sticks in his foot. He had to carry wood for every one’s fire. He had to clean every one’s ash heaps.
When his shoulders became hard from all the loads of wood he had to carry, and a thorn could no longer penetrate the soles of his feet, he went to look for another house. He walked for many days.
One day he arrived at a big city. There was a rich king that needed a lot of wood for his fires.
There was also a beautiful princess. But the illness from the swamps wanted to take her away each summer. One day he had to help build her a high platform of Tambotie poles, where the little wings from the swamps could not reach her.
For the milk that comes from Tamboti wood, his shoulders was still not hard enough, and his shoulders became bloodied. And just once he carried a lighter load. The king’s men saw it and said that he was becoming lazy. They nearly beat him to death and dragged him away to a little hut just outside the city and left him in the forest.
The king’s daughter saw how he was beaten and dragged away. That night she thought she kept hearing something in the forest. She thought she heard someone cry and then she thought she heard someone sing.
She waited till everything was quiet in the big city, and sneaked out to the forest. The door of the hut was closed, but from the inside she could hear some one play on a bowstring. It was so beautiful that she opened a small gap to look inside. There was a great light inside the hut and she could see clearly who was making such beautiful music. He was for her more beautiful than any man she had ever heard from her mother’s stories was. His clothes were so beautiful that it took her breath away. She became afraid of the small voice in her heart that asked; This man, who was kicked and hit by everyone by day, this man with the bloody shoulders could he not be the one I have so often dreamed of, the great hunter from that will come from the desert?’
In the days that followed, she sat on a hill near the king’s city and her eyes searched on the roads of the great desert. Every night when it was quiet in the king’s city, she sneaked back to the little house in the forest.
One night the man with the full moon on his chest heard a finger opening a panel in the dark hut. In the bright light that shone from his chest, he saw who it was. He sang-spoke to her on the bowstring:
In the great desert there is a high mountaintop. Ahaa
A house with many windows will be built on top of it.
At night many eyes will look towards it, and will ask;
‘Whom of our princes built that house with many windows.
Many will ask but only she will know who built that house on the high mountaintop for her.
Only she will know that it is not lamps shinning in that high house.
She will know where the many light comes from.
The next night she was there earlier. On each of the following nights she was earlier, until one of the king’s men saw her.
Whom amongst us would have the heart to scold her because she went earlier each night?
Whom amongst us would have scolded her for staying later and later each night?
Did not our hearts entered with her, when first the little door was opened from the inside for her?
Did not our hearts form a wide guardian circle around the little house in the forest?
Only the king’s spies did not join us in the wide guardian circle, which we formed around the little house in the forest.
It was a dark night when the king and his spies encircled the bush house.
First he called his daughter.
In front of the people with the hearts of hyena’s, he lashed out at his daughter with his tongue, and said that she was no longer his daughter that from now on her job will be to carry away the ash heaps.
Then he told his hyena’s to quickly get rid of the dog in the bush house.
The dog, though, was a lion.
And what lion hits out at hyenas?
He slung her across his shoulders, and just opened a small section on his chest to light the way ahead. She whispered in his ear; ” Run, there is nothing here for me to look back to. Take me to the house on the mountain top.”
After not many days the people in the King’s city started to ask each other at night;” That house with the many lights…It must be a very rich man to afford so many lamps in his house?”
Some people went to look. And those that went did not return. Then more went.
One day the King saw that all his people were gone.
By then he was so poor that that he himself had to carry his winter skins.
He followed the footprints of his people. It was a hard road for one like him.
When he arrived there no one could believe that once he was a king.
He had to look for his food outside the city, where the ash was thrown.
Because he wanted to throw the two young hearts to the black bee, his hard heart made him eat ash.
When Schoeman looked up from the fire after a long silence, he saw that Twihi was no longer at the fire.
She went to the koppie. Tonight her dreams will visit far paths.
Did she make up the story herself?
There was an old skin that she made more beautiful with beads and shells of her own.
Will she tell us another story tomorrow night?
She is a child of the winds. Who would be able to say where she will be tomorrow night?
Do you still want her to come with to the far away land?
Did the beads and the shells on the old skin, not tell the White Father how she longs for the big hunter of the desert?
Then we will wait.
We will wait white Father …so that the two of us will not also eat ash.
Adapted from “Jagters van die Woestyn” – PJ Schoeman