By Akshay G.
It was an early start to the day. Her movements were unhurried but held purpose. Today was a special day. She could feel it in her bones.
With her pot of tea ready, she stepped outside her door onto her front porch. It was dark still, but the light would come soon. She knew. Occupying the old chair that rocked ever so slightly with age she poured herself a cup. In the sheet of pouring tea, she saw the light rise. She smiled.
With the cup of tea in her hand and the pot of tea beside her on a little stool, she was ready for the day. Her special day.
As the light rose higher and brighter, the valley around her front porch grew more defined. Mountains rose up in the distance and their shadows stretched down the valley spreading lightly over the fresh ground. In the young light, the mountain tops burned bright like candle tips.
She took her first deep breath in the cool air, tasting it, cherishing it, and smiled. This was the way it should be. Taking her first sip of tea, she pushed herself deeper into the chair, settling in for the day to start in all its glory.
It was the chirps that came to her first. It was always so, the hidden ones, the ones unseen make their presence known, almost as if they wished to be seen. The first of the birds darted across the sky, wings open, testing the weight of the wind, teasing the cool air of the new day. She looked up at them in wonder, as she always did, half envying those wings that stood out against the fresh blue sky.
Far away beyond the mountains, she saw clouds gathering, but she dismissed them. They were too far away to disturb her — her valley was safe.
She brought her eyes back to the ground, where a line of ants marched on in a precise line. She delighted in these little creatures, always so hard at work.
A rustle and a movement made her turn to her left. A tree grew out of the blooming earth to immense proportions. With the new wind of the day, the leaves danced — but no, as she peered deeply with her sight, she saw the little squirrels parading up and down the bark on their own way to find a good meal of nuts. Another rustle, and another tree with a few more squirrels. She watched their progress for a while, fascinated with the speed and skill they moved and clung onto the bark of the tree with their little paws.
She smiled, relaxing her head for a bit. Nothing can go wrong. Everything was as it should be. She took another sip of her tea.
It would soon be time, she thought. Time for the children to emerge and the day would transform into a day about them, so different from the early hours of the start.
She closed her eyes as if she was capturing the scene before her in her memory and when she opened her eyes, sure enough, toddlers, learning to walk found their way past her porch. They swayed and they stumbled and her heart went out to them, wanting to pick them up, mollycoddle them, help them like all mothers. But she knew what the right thing was and she sat there taking another sip of tea, denying herself her instinct for the sake of the children’s growth and future.
Instead, she looked further into the mountain’s horizon beyond which the inky sky was a dark cloudy gloom. It was closer than before. She gritted her teeth, hoping against hope the old bones in her body were wrong.
The children were at a distance now, almost learned in the art of walking. How quickly they had grown up, she smiled to herself. You blink and time races by.
She turned her head toward the hill side where the morning hunts had begun. The stronger will prey on the weak. The weaker will perish. So it was written, so long ago, and now, no one questions it. It has inadvertently become the law — the law of the jungle.
She watched the hunt, forced herself to relish the savage beauty. This was a part of her world, of her valley, and she would not deny it its audience.
She took another sip of tea.
With walking under their belt, the children were thirsty to learn more. She could see them at a distance, establishing a centre for learning, and the older ones, the wise ones would teach them all they know. She smiled when she realised the older ones were deemed the wisest. Oh, how she knew, the old ones made the same mistake as the children did. Wisdom was not brought on by age but by the foolishness of children.
But learning was a must, only then can you advance through the day. She knew. She had learned it herself. It was all going according to the way she had hoped it would. They would learn, but knowledge had its own cost. She glanced once at the apple tree in the orchard.
She sighed once. There was no escaping it. It is all part of the day.
She took another sip of tea and drained her cup. She looked at it in surprise. Already? From the pot alongside her, she refilled her cup with tea. The sun overhead was stronger now that the day was settling in and her tea sparkled in delight.
The second one for the day. She relaxed a little on her chair, which creaked as she leaned into it fully, wondering what more surprises the day would bring.
The kids were older now. She could hear their muffled laughter and joyful footsteps before they came into view. Bodies small and agile. Full of fun and energy — oh, to be that age. There was a shriek and another shush. They crept, slowly, silently to ward off all viewers. But they could never ward off her sight. No one could.
Two boys and a girl came into view. The boys hoisted each other up the fence into her yard. They didn’t know her, they wouldn’t see her. An old lady sitting on her porch drinking tea was not a sight they could comprehend. Not yet.
Crossing the fence, the boys went straight to the apple tree. One of them climbed up while the other remained underneath, his hands ready and waiting.
It was a simple plan and it worked. He threw those red bright apples from the tree into his friend’s waiting hands. The other boy caught them all. When they thought they had enough, the boy up on the tree climbed down. On his way, he glanced once at the place where the porch would have been. Shaking his head, he rejoined his friend and crossed the fence to the other side. He turned around to look one last time.
She took a sip of tea and smiled. It feels good to be noticed sometimes, though she knows it’s better she isn’t.
The sun created its own path and it was right over head. The noon of the day.
She heard a scuttle in the bushes. It was the girl and the boy from earlier, the one who’d climbed the tree. They were grown up, man and woman, coming out of the bushes beyond the hedges. Her cheeks glowed a berry red and the man’s breath was hushed.
Taking the girls in his hand, he mumbled something indistinct, and she agreed, nodding, smiling, twinkling her eyes up at him. With a last squeeze of her hand, the man sighed, turned and left, leaving the young girl there, beyond the hedges.
There was a pause as if the world had stopped moving. All was still, except the lady on the porch who filled the silence with a cup of tea.
The other boy from before, who’d stayed below the tree to catch the apples, came into view. He was shorter, balder than the other. He came forward, and entwining his arm into the girl’s who waited there, went off in the opposite direction.
The lady on the porch saw the stupid grin on the shorter man’s face and knew how this would all end. She had seen it before, countless times. With a sad sigh, she lifted her cup to drain the tea when she saw the clouds. The winds in the skies were blowing hard, the white fluffy clouds almost blown away and the dark heavier ones crossing the boundary of her mountains reaching inside her valley with their dark hands.
She took it as an omen, her body tensing on the relaxing chair. A wave of helplessness passed through her, the cup in her hand slipped and cracked on the ground below echoing with the sound of thunder which reached her from so far away, speaking her language, telling her the very thing she dreaded would come to pass. The day had started with such promise, but now…
She steeled herself, shaking her head to dispel the coil of thoughts taking shape inside her. There was still hope, and she clung to it like a magnet.
But first things first. She went inside her old home and brought out a broom. Clearing up the mess she’d made, silently scolding herself for acting out of emotions. She was growing old. Finally, with all the glass shards out of the way, she brought out an identical glass, smiling at the sheer pleasure of owning a set.
On the chair again, she poured herself another cup of tea that twinkled as if made by the starry sky above and beyond her valley skies and sat back, relaxing in her chair. The cup steamed lightly, and she cast her eyes about in the sky. The clouds had not yet entered her valley fully, obstructed as they were by her tall mountain ranges, the borders of her world, her valley.
Under the still blue sky, the two men worked together now, building a wall. They rubbed shoulders together, they spoke, they laughed, helping each other throughout. The brotherhood of man would do much if done together, she mused and took a sip of her tea. Slightly at a distance now, under the cool shade of a tree, sat the girl. No, not a girl, but a woman now — her belly twice as big as before. Hope.
The day was moving around them at a furious pace and she smiled. Taking another sip of her tea, she felt it righten inside her. Everything was as it should be.
The sun dove down as the day progressed to the musical sounds of her valley, given rhythm by the periodic hammer strokes from the men. A house in the valley, her first neighbours were starting a family. And before the sun disappeared, they needed the warmth only four walls and a roof can provide. She knew all about the cold, and gripped her cup of tea more fully in her palms, letting the heat tell her she was alive.
The cold was not a good place, not at all. And she knew it only too well. Her eyes shut for a moment, remembering lost memories in the dark.
When she opened them again, she looked around with a start. A flock of birds lifted themselves up from their tree homes, up into the sky, over the mountains and hills that bordered her valley straight toward the reddening sky, out beyond her sight where the sun had moved too low but daylight still remained.
She knew the day would soon end; the night would soon begin. But for now, the sun was alive, bright, a little distant, keeping the sky lit. It calmed her as did the rhythmic beating of the house next door. The woman carrying the baby was huge, in pain, and the husband was with her while the taller man continued his frenzied pace in constructing the house. He glanced up occasionally, to see the clouds that hung in the sky, and then slyly at the husband and wife who were sitting by the edge, delivering a child.
A storm was coming. In all their hearts and bones, they knew it to be true.
But the day was not done yet. Before the sun could fully set, before the sky was taken over by the dark madness of clouds, under the orange sky the valley echoed with the cries of a baby.
A single tear dropped from her smiling face as she watched over the now happy family. Creation always carried with it its own joy.
It was a boy. The first born, just before the light dipped down to a dull greyness. He took his first steps in the darkness, but his parents kept him close.
There is a penetrating silence about the night. The hush of activities around the world disappeared, even the animals stopped their movements. The night bugs awoke to do their business adding to the silence of the night; but no, tonight’s silence was menacing. As if the valley was taking a deep breath, waiting, waiting…
A small fire flared into existence near the house. It was still not completed, the roof not yet laid down on the walls. The two men got to work, under the light from the flickering fire, the rhythmic beats began taking on a frenzy of their own in the dark. A slow wind picked up carrying a dark air with it and the child began to wail.
She noticed the tea in her cup had gone cold. She threw it out and poured herself a fresh cup. The night air was eating the heat from her tea and she took a large gulp of it, not the ideal way to drink tea of course, but she savoured the heat in the cold, her age old shawl wrapped around her neck and ears snugly. No wind could harm her, she knew, but it was not herself she was worried about.
A single streak of thunder lit up the moment for her. One of the men, the shorter one stood behind the taller man still working on the house, his arms raised with a hammer in one hand, ready to strike. The lightening lit him up casting his shadow on the wall for the other man to see, sense the danger and roll out of the way before the shorter man struck. There was a thunk as the hammer hit the wall, a thunk loud enough to be heard even in the wails of the wind.
The taller man did not waste time in being shocked and jumped on the shorter man in a full body tackle. They both went down on the ground, the hammer flying off in the dark. The taller man was above him and he punched the shorter man straight in the face once and stopped. They spoke, the shorter man raised his hands to the taller man’s collar and held it there as an accusation. The taller man only smiled, but with his guard down the shorter man was able to punch him in the gut and rolled around so he was on top.
The wind pushed hard against the walls of the little shelter they had built together as they struggled underneath it rolling around beating each other till they both bled. The woman and her child only watched with passive eyes.
Anger flared within the lady and she gripped her tea cup hard enough that it would have shattered before she loosened her grip. She had expected this.
The two men were now pointing at the woman and the taller man pointed at the child. The woman and the child only stood there at the other end of those points. The taller man shouted in the madness around him and the shorter man realising what he said slumped to the ground as if he’d given up.
The hammer was now in the hands of the taller man and he raised it up high and brought it down as thunder laced the sky highlighting him, spreading his shadow over the ground like a god handing out justice.
The lady was on her feet now. The trees gave way and the birds living within rose like black specks against the night only to be swept away by the wind. The thundering of many feet and paws reached her from a distance as all of life ran toward a shelter they would never find.
The baby wailed, igniting a shout from his mother. Another yell and now only the baby’s cry was carried by the wind. It continued for a moment or two — then all was silence.
The wind reduced in tempo as if its job was done. The gushing wind was replaced by pouring water and the sky wept upon the valley where the lady sat back in her age old rickety chair, tea cup still in hand.
After a moment, she closed her eyes, her face a struggle for her inner steel. It cleared and her eyes opened. But the valley still sat before her, bleeding like an open wound. Her face contorted and she threw her tea cup into the rain, where it burst and broke.
Today had started with such promise, but it led only to death. Was this their fate, to be born just to die? She would not accept it. The Others, they had told her about this eventuality. But they were not here now. It was only her and everything belonged to her.
She got up from her chair and sighed. Holding on to her vision of the valley, she retreated into her home. It was a simple home with a hearth and a bed and large shelf of tea cups. Along the other wall was a shelf full of tea kettles and she took one of them down.
Pouring a dark black liquid within the kettle, she sprinkled her choice of stars and stirred it well over the fire in the hearth. The cosmos took a while to brew and she yawned, as the day’s action took their toll on her. She left the kettle above the flames and walked back to her bed.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow would be a new day, and she would try again. She smiled once as the first of the stars began to twinkle within the kettle. Tomorrow held a lot of promise.
Akshay G. is a tea drinker and editor of The Coffeelicious. He delights in the irony.