the journey home -- © 1996, 2000 ruth pettis

page five

For several moments she wondered where she was and what she should do. To her sight came only light and shadow and bright shapes she couldn't identify. There was a swelling and pulsing noise coming from somewhere beside her. It became more distinct and then she recognized it as one of the voices she had heard before. There was nothing in the world but that voice rising and falling, rising and falling in a regular pattern. There was nothing required of her but to listen to it, and as she did so she began to hear its meaning. The man was singing to her, chanting the same thing over and over so that she could understand.

Little by little the sense of it came to her. He was singing to her of a long-ago time, before anyone living could remember. There was no rain, the sun dried up everything, all the game had gone but the people had nowhere else to go. There was no food to be found and the children cried all the time. Their bellies hurt from being so full of hunger, he sang. The women had nothing but empty breasts to feed them with, nothing but sorrow to sing to them at night. Everywhere the people cried for help, he sang, to the sky that glared empty at them, to the forest that turned away from them, to the ground that crumbled to dust in their hands.

And then they cried to the sea, and the sea felt sorry for them. She sent them the silver gift of Yubash's people and asked only for prayers in return. And the shore people no longer had to worry about the fickleness of the sky or the moods of the land, for every year Yubash's people returned to keep the misery away.

Yubash's soul heard the old man's song and was touched by it. While she listened the lights and shapes condensed into colors that she had never seen before. One was like a sunset, but the deepest of sunsets, as if these people had caught the sun in their nets just before it fell into the sea.

She saw another color, this one that of a night without stars. The two colors were everywhere, on the clothes the people wore, painted on the walls of their houses. What power these people must have, she thought, to bring the night and the sun together in one place like this.

She could see everything now, and as she looked again she saw that the night color was always in the same shape, that of a creature leaping--it was she. Everywhere she looked she saw her own image, in the finest leap of her life, the kind she used to outwit her enemies and challenge the river. What a labor these people must have made, to trap these colors out of the sky and bring them here to honor her. It made her so excited that she almost didn't hear the old man asking her, was she pleased? Yes, she was very pleased--the response burst out of her with a loudness that surprised her, for it was not the sound of her voice but the sound of her soul leaping out of her body, resonating against the trees on the other bank and reverberating all down the river, to the place above the last rapids where her people were waiting.

She did not want to return to the river just yet. She wanted to enjoy this new freedom of floating in the air, of being able to see everything above and below the water so clearly. She watched the shore people lay her body gently on a bed of ferns, make a procession with it through their village, give her the rites they reserved for the holiest of their elders, and then return her body to the river again.

© 1996, 2000 ruth pettis

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