The word of the day: Belonging
Personal item; a possession; acceptance as a natural member or part
Last night, I was in a land before technology. A space without belongings. A time before friend requests and fire.
I meet a community of humans in a sweaty jungle. I’m ready to be speared, but they talk to me instead. At me, I should say. I don’t understand their language at all. It’s vowel-ly and grimacing plays an outsized semantic role. A man with long hair swings his fist to the ground and points his eyes heavenward: “Waaaap.” A woman with a baby on her hip pounds a prehistoric tree: “Dhuhh.”
Weak pedagogy, but I’m not so easy to understand either. My modern chatter only leaves them bemused. All syllables and stops and and sarcasm. It’s like dolphin speak.
“ Guys? I don’t understand any of this. “Waaaap?” Are you talking about the ground or the action of swinging at the ground? And, like, why? Also: does anyone know if these berries are edible?”
Minutes or maybe days later, the leader of the village emerges from the thick jungle brush. (I think he’s in charge, what with all the feathers in his hair.) He’s scraped up and bleeding in spots. The villagers wail mournfully.
“Dudes, he’s going to be OK,” but I’m not so sure. In 1795 you could succumb to a well-placed hen peck. This is a million BC.
Only because this is a dream, I unearth a tube of Polysporin from my bag. As I apply the salve, everyone is quiet. They sense a religious experience is taking place. I finally understand how David Blaine must feel every day.
For no reason whatsoever I make a show of putting the cap back on.
Days later the village leader demonstrates his scabs to every hut. There is curiosity about the magic gunk that saved the chief. Remembering the Prime Directive, I shield them from the multisyllabic Latinate brand name. I think this is important for some reason.
“Tube,” I explain, holding it up. The village people are ecstatic. “Chuba!” they repeat. This is my name from now on.
They award me a few hair feathers of my own and help me build a decent hut near the edge of the village. Lots of south-facing light.
I am trying to bring fire to our village, but it’s taken weeks to eke out even a wisp of smoke. The elder women check on my progress. Rose brings me edible berries. Blanche brings me the identical berries that make me vomit. Sophia delivers the past-due carcasses of jungle rodents. Hungry as I am, I can’t stomach the rotting rat flesh — but I don’t want to see ungrateful. At nightfall I hurl the carrion into a dark thicket. Even in the land before etiquette I can’t help myself.
Then one day there is smoke. And then fire.
I race around our village with a burning wad of kindling. No one cares. “It’s warm!” Some men act like I’m carrying a fistful of my own leavings. I think I see someone shrug. (Did I teach them that?)
Like all great tech, the kids are the first to get into it. Some children gather in front of my hut and feed the fire with small sticks. Alex P. Keaton (the kid is hilarious) throws a stone in and I admonish him. He nods respectfully. I think he understands.
Eventually our whole village is pro-fire, except our feathered leader—who I’ve dubbed Carl Winslow. He’s jealous of the attention I’m getting. Maybe he thinks I’m trying to steal Harriet. I swear I am not.
It’s a typical evening by the fire. Alex P. Keaton is dancing to entertain us and the old ladies are telling each other jokes that I desperately want to understand. Carl materializes with my duffle bag.
He raises the bag above the fire knowing what fire can do. “Carl…” I begin to say but he releases the bag from his grip.
Someone lets out the first gasp in history. Everyone looks to Chuba for his reaction. I do too. Chuba is neither alarmed nor angry. I just watch. Everything that’s mine is in that bag. I look around without moving. Nothing I’ve made is in that bag.
Seeing Chuba relaxed, the villagers soften their shoulders and relax their gaze. Carl sits by the fire, intrigued by the sound of crackling canvas and pungent scents new to this universe. Together our village watches the future as it’s taken by flame.