well i've never posted anything i've written before, but i thought this somewhat connected to some things i've been thinking and writing about. i wrote this two years ago, and it's definitely interesting to go back and look at it now. i'm not sure how i feel about it. anyway, i know it's especially long for a blog post, so feel free not to read it. but if you do i would love to hear any thoughts or comments--especially on what you think it's about. thanks. (oh and sorry for the formatting, it won't do tabs and spacing is weird for whatever reason)
The Pearl of Our Price
His son had certainly outdone him this time. Nine brides. More like concubines really. But what could the feeble old man do? Was he not just the same? Are the generations destined to follow their father?
He looked out a gap in the stone wall that served as an opening. A windmill blew steadily in the distance. He watched each wing descend and rise again. The breeze barely blew, but the spokes continued to turn. He picked up the flute from his lap and started to play. A soft melody rose in the air, bringing him a peace he used to give to others.
He paused for a moment as he heard someone calling from below. It was a woman’s voice, one he recognized almost before she spoke. It was his fourth wife.
“Where are you? Come down here. Do you here me? David.”
* * *
“Estoy Aqui.” the boy ventured to the voice calling him.
She found him hiding just below the small mound she had just climbed. “What are you doing out here? I have been looking all over for you.” She slid down the sand and walked up next to him. He was sitting against the bank next to a cactus bush. “Have you been out here all night?”
He raised his head and found her eyes cast down upon him. She stood with her hands behind her back. His hands instinctively found the sand below him. “I…I’m tired Ramona.” He turned and crawled up the hill just enough to see over it. “Did anyone come with you? Were you followed?”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“He wants to kill me. I never thought…” He turned back to her with a fear in his eyes she had never seen before. “Why? I don’t understand. Why would you…”
She took a step toward him, but he drew back. She stopped. “I would never hurt you. You know that.”
“How can I be sure?”
“Because we are friends. We are the best of friends. And maybe someday—”
“But he is your father,” he cut her off. “Your father is trying to kill me.”
She stepped forward again, but this time he did not move. He saw tenderness in her eyes that wasn’t there before. She smiled, and then walked up right in front of him. From behind her back she brought forth a small flower with red petals and a yellow center. She dropped it at his feet and walked past him up the mound.
He picked up the flower and climbed to the top. She was still walking away, slowly but noticeably steady. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could get any words out her voice filled the dry air.
* * *
The horn sounded, which meant they were coming into port. She leaned against the boat railing, waiting for her husband to come up with the bags. The waves chopped below as the boat rocked up and down. She was used to it by now though. Her time of getting sick on board was well past. The blue of the ocean water filled her with a sense of tranquility, but the choppy waves kept disturbing her stare. She looked down further at her hands on the railing. She raised them up in front of her, examining them closely. The lines were beginning to become deeper. She sighed and slipped off her wedding ring. She was always proud of it in front of the other women. A sign of my husbands true ingenuity, she would tell them. The band was ivory, and a perfectly sized shiny white pearl sat mounted atop it. Formed from waves like this.
Her husband came up from the stairs carrying all their bags. His forehead was moist from sweat and his glasses had half fallen off his face. She walked over to help him but he refused. “Just fix my glasses dear.”
She pulled them off and began wiping them with her handkerchief, then wiped the sweat off his brow. “You don’t have to work so hard on my account you know.”
“But that is precisely what I do and always have done,” he said. “You are a lady and a man should do all he can to make sure—”
“Yes, Yes, I know Frank. And now that we can vote I’m sure you will help me in that as well.” She turned away after she said this. The ship was docked into the harbor and the ramp was being lowered. She hated that she said that. Why do I snap at him like that?
They walked over to the ramp and stood waiting for the many passengers to get off. She fiddled with her ring while he held the luggage. As he started down the ramp she paused for a moment and watched him walk down. He could have been so much if he had not married me. And now look at him, practically a servant. Was it me who took away his greatness ten years ago today?
A woman stood behind her that they had become friendly with throughout the cruise. “It’s sad to see it over with isn’t it dear? But it’s only your 10th anniversary. You’ll have plenty more to come. It was just a fabulous cruise though wasn’t it honey? I tell you I have never had better shrimp than they served…” She continued on, but only because she didn’t want to get off the boat either.
Frank reached the bottom of the ramp and turned around. “Are you coming?”
“Yes, dear.” And she made her way down the ramp. She reached her husband and kissed him after her first step on solid land. “Thank you so much.”
“Of course. I love you Helen.”
* * *
“Let me tell you all a riddle,” he said.
They were all sitting at the dinner table. The meal had finished some time ago, but the conversation had continued and laughter and stories filled the room. The group had grown quiet for a moment, a common lull that frequently happens in conversation. So Peter decided to make things interesting. His wife sat across the table from him, and he looked only at her as he said these words.
“A riddle?” one man said, “But it’s much too late for a riddle.”
“Ok. A story then. A story with two endings where you decide which ending is better. Does that sound good?” A couple of people laughed and smiled, but all held their attention on Peter. All except one.
“So here’s how it goes. It takes place some two hundred years ago in Africa. There was a hunter. A fierce man they called ‘Chisulo,’ which in fact means, ‘strong as steel.’ Well this man, Chisulo, was the greatest hunter in the whole land. From a very young age he killed lions and cheetahs and every sort of animal. He was the best on the hunting trips and the best at defending the village and its herds from wild beast attacks. It was even said that he could take down an elephant with a spear, something no one man had ever done before. ‘He alone can hit it in just the right place,’ they said. As he grew up the village hailed him with honor and fortune. All the women of the village wanted to be Chisulo’s wife, but he seemed uninterested in all of them. None of them could ‘turn his head,’ so to speak.”
“Sounds just like my adolescence!” one of the men said. Most of the table laughed. Peter smiled and paused a moment before continuing. She was not smiling, and her head was still bowed.
He continued. “So one day Chisulo was on a hunt alone, which by the way was nearly unheard of in those times. Well he was stalking a group of gazelles when they became spooked by a predator. They began to take off westward. Well Chisulo was not going to let the village down, so he began to run as fast as he could after these gazelles. With amazing speed and endurance he chased down the herd and took down two of the beasts. Throwing one over each shoulder, he began to make his way back. But to his surprise he saw a small well not far from a cluster of trees by him. He was far enough from his village that this was not their well, but one from another village. As he approached the well a woman was there drawing water. Instantly he was struck by her. He moved closer and began to approach the well. All alone and seeing a man from another village, the woman began pulling the water up faster and faster. He stopped and held up his hands. This only slightly reassured her. He walked slowly not far from her, by her things. He then sat down one of the gazelles next to the first bucket of water she had drawn. He smiled and she seemed not so afraid. He motioned for a drink of water, and she brought it to him cautiously.”
“Are you telling us a love story?” One of the men sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“Oh be quiet Herm,” his wife said as she jabbed him in the side. “I’m liking this. Please continue Peter.”
“Well to make a long story a little shorter. It wasn’t long before they were laughing with one another at the well. They couldn’t speak one another’s language, but they had fallen in love in that short time. She took him back to her village, which was quite small, and he left her with one of the beasts. Arrangements were made and he promised to return shortly while she prepared for the ceremony. Her family was very happy and doted over the girl after he left. He marked out the way back to his own village and kept it in mind.”
“Not a week later the elders of the village came to Chisulo very frightened. ‘There are wild elephants on the loose, they have been angered by some evil spirit,’ they said. ‘They are charging through the wilderness and we fear they are headed for our village.’ You see a spooked elephant is driven by the scent of food, and during these rare times the villages can be very vulnerable. Or, as the elders were always afraid, a witch had cast them upon the village. So Chisulo grabbed two spears and headed into the direction the elders pointed. Out in the wilderness, he came to the high point. In the distance he could make out two elephants, but they were not together. One was headed to his right, the other to his left. It was then he realized that they had caught two different scents. One was headed for his town, the other for the town of his newfound bride-to-be. The elephants were too far apart to be able to kill them both, so Chisulo had a choice. Which village did he save?”
There were a few laughs and chuckles from around the table. One man said, “It’s a simple ethical question you’ve put to us Peter. But why all the fluff? You could have just said the part at the end?”
Another woman was staring intently at her plate, apparently deep in thought. “Would he sacrifice all that?” she said almost to herself.
Peter might have seen her eyes watering up if he would have been looking. But he was staring straight down the table at his wife. She still had not looked up. “What would you do honey?” he asked her. She didn’t move. “You were listening to my story weren’t you?”
She finally raised her head and looked him straight in the eye. Her expression was firm and very serious. Her face revealed no anger or amusement. Only in her eyes there flashed a moment of sadness, but then it was gone. She did not say anything.
He looked at her mercilessly. “Well? Which would it be? Do you have an answer?” The rest of the table had grown completely quiet.
Peter’s face shifted. “Abigail?”
* * *
He threw another rock into the waves. Then another. Then another. He could just make out the bottle’s reflection in the dim light from the sleepy town behind him. He had thrown probably fifty rocks trying to hit it. The splashes would be close and then far away; the bottle would float close and then far away. Sheba sat behind him laughing. She was lounging in one of the beach chairs, another bottle of wine in her own hands sat resting in her lap.
“Maybe if I throw this one out there too then maybe you will be able to hit one of them.” She laughed again. He continuously stumbled as he threw, and she could not stop giggling at him. “I shouldn’t have brought you out here tonight. You have your test tomorrow and look what I’ve brought you to.”
He chucked another rock into the air. “My arm hurts.” He staggered over to her and took the bottle from her hands, but not before sliding his hands across her leg. “You’re doing a great job helping me study Sheba.” He laughed as he raised the bottle above his head.
She smiled too, but only partly; her giggle was running away. “I don’t know if you should…”
“I’m going to hit that bottle if it’s the last thing I ever do!” he yelled. He handed her the bottle and picked up five smooth stones as he made his way back to the shoreline.
She watched him go, bringing her lips together. “But your test,” she yelled. The waves were crashing and he couldn’t hear her anymore.
The rocks fell far from the bottle and he sank to his knees. “I can’t hit it Sheba! I can’t do it!” He put his hands into the air, reaching towards the moon. “Med school here I come!” he yelled.
She had walked up behind him now. “Maybe you should get some sleep. I mean tomorrow—”
“It’s too late!” he said.
“What do you mean? You still have two hours. The sun will be up soon but drink a little coffee and—”
“No! I mean the bottle’s gone. See. It’s floated off to sea.” He pointed off into the distance, but the bottle was closer to shore than it had been all night. She didn’t say anything to him as he leaned back and started to fall asleep. She watched the bottle wash up onto shore with the changing tide.
“You have to get up.” She shook him but it was no use. “Get up! Dave!”
* * *
David stood below the windmill, watching it rotate slowly. He sat down and began playing his flute, keeping an eye on the flock nearby him. The flute would calm the sheep and make them feel safe. But he knew that if a lion or any other animal were to threaten he would be able to defend them. He was an old shepherd, but he had done nothing but that since he was a boy. He knew he could have done other things. He knew he had his chance. He could have been king over more than just these sheep. Did he give it all up for her? Or did she take it from him? He bent down by the base of the windmill and picked a flower. He held the red petals up against his ivory flute. He smiled and stuck the flower in a hole, and continued to play. The petals of the flower shook in the intervals of his breath. His song filled the air and carried up by the turn of a windmill. The wings rocked like the steady waves of the ocean. And he dreamed of the sea, the rocks below turning to pearls.