The Way of the Word

25. September 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 6

“I didn’t stop the wave,” Elomei said. Jamao nodded sagely.

“Something did,” he said. “You wouldn’t make us believe we all only imagined it, do you?”

“Of course not,” Elomei snapped. “There was something. But I didn’t stop it. I’m not nearly powerful enough to work the magic required to stop such a wave.”

“If you didn’t stop it, who or what did?”

“I’m not sure. Ghenni perhaps.”

“Ghenni?” Jamao snorted. “You mean Pahone’s older daughter? Nonsense.”

Ghenni suddenly didn’t find it so hard to keep from giggling anymore. If she had known magic, she would have taught Jamao not to dismiss her so out of hand. She felt a stirring beside her and cuffed Ankhoro with her elbow to stop him from teasing Miki.

“I gotta hear this,” she hissed. It was tight enough in the crawlspace beneath Jamao’s hut without those two monkeying around.

“You know what they say about listening to other people talking about you,” Miki reminded her. Ghenni nodded absently.

“She bested Zoltan and his bullies,” Elomei insisted. “She was there when the trees rejected Ikiri. She was at the beach when the tsunami came. If Ghenni isn’t working magic, something far stranger is going on here.”

“Like what?” Jamao asked.

“I don’t know,” Elomei said. Ghenni imagined a defeated expression on her face. “But I’ll find out.”

“Not if you keep insisting that Ghenni is behind all this.”

“I’ll find out,” Elomei said, stomping out of the hut. Ghenni felt the vibrations as the witch-woman went down the three steps to the ground. Obviously, the show was over now. Ankhoro and Miki crawled back into the bushes behind Jamao’s house. Ghenni remembered how they had found this crawlspace under the chief’s elevated house. She had used it to hide during hide-and-seek. It used to be fun to hide under the chief’s house when he discussed village business with the elders, or dispensed justice.

It sure was strange to be the subject of his deliberations.

Ghenni crawled out and, like her two friends before her, ran a wide circle before returning to the village.

If Elomei hadn’t stopped the wave, who had? Ghenni knew she hadn’t had anything to do with it. She didn’t know any magic.

If Habbassin hadn’t left…

“So what’re you gonna do now?” Miki asked. Ghenni looked up, startled.

“What do you mean?”

“What’re you gonna do about Elomei?” Miki said. “I mean, we three know you don’t know any magic. How do we convince her?”

“Dunno,” Ghenni shrugged. “I’m still working on that.”

“What’s so bad about it?” Ankhoro said. He picked up a stone and threw it almost vertically into the crown of a palm tree. The stone returned, landing beside him with a soft thud. “If Elomei thinks you have a talent for magic, all she’d do’d be take you under her wing and train you as her replacement for when she dies.” He picked up the stone and threw it again. When it came down again, it was accompanied by a coconut.

“Yes, but the village’d be in a pretty bad way when they’d find out their new witch doctor can’t do any magic,” Ghenni countered. She picked up the coconut and studied it. “Not ripe yet.”

“But what’re you gonna do?” Miki pressed.

“Nothing. If Elomei takes me on as her apprentice, she’ll figure out soon enough that I don’t have any magic. Besides, those weird things can’t go on happening forever. When they stop people’ll lose interest. You’ll see.”

Ghenni turned to see Jamao walk down the steps from his hut. As usual, he paused on the next-to-lowest step to look around.

“Me boss,” Ankhoro whispered, puffing up his cheeks. It was a tired old joke between the three children, but it still never failed to make them laugh.

Jamao went one step further and slipped. For a moment, he just sat on the last step. He made a face like a fish: wide-eyed, his mouth silently opening and closing. Then he rose, stepped on the sand and turned around. He stared at the last step while rubbing his behind with his right hand. He stopped and held the hand before his face. He looked up at the sky.

His face livid, he turned.

“That’s very funny,” he shouted. “Who put the rotten banana on my doorstep?”

Ghenni and her friends laughed. Jamao, hearing them, stomped over to where they stood.

“This is not funny,” he said, holding his hand toward them. “I could have seriously hurt myself.”

“We didn’t do anything,” Ankhoro protested. “But you should have seen yourself.” He paused, then laughed even harder. “That was so funny.”

Jamao grabbed Ankhoro by the ear. The laughter turned into a moan.

“We’ll see if you can still laugh about it when we’ve discussed this with your parents,” Jamao said. He waved a finger at Ghenni and Miki. “And your parents, girls. You won’t get away with it this time.”

“We didn’t do anything,” Ghenni said.

Jamao was hit in the face by a banana.

Ghenni laughed, Miki giggled. Jamao let go of Ankhoro’s ear. While Jamao wiped the rotten banana from his face, Ankhoro rushed back to his friends’s side.

“Who did that?” Jamao roared.

“Not we,” Ankhoro said.

Another banana hit Jamao.

“I think that came from there,” Miki said, pointing. “But I didn’t see anyone throw it.”

“I am the chief,” Jamao screamed, stomping off toward where Miki had pointed. “I am entitled respect, and by Wakano, I will have respect!”

This time, the banana appeared in front of his feet, providing another opportunity for Jamao to fall down. Which he promply did.

“That thing came out of nowhere,” Ankhoro whispered. “One moment, there wasn’t anything, then it was there. Out of nowhere. Honest.”

“What’s going on here?” Miki whispered back.

Another banana hit Jamao just as he was about to rise again. And another. And another. Soon, there were so many bananas flying at the chief so quickly that Ghenni gave up trying to count them. Howling, Jamao ran back to his hut on all fours. He scrabbled up the stairs and hid himself inside.

Ghenni went over to where the bananas lay. she picked one up and made a face.

“Those things went rotten several days ago at the least,” she said, discarding the fruit.

“What happened here?” Miki said.

“Magic,” Ghenni said. “I can’t think of anything else.” She thought back to the other incidents. “No wonder Jamao and Elomei think I’m a magician. Everything that’s happened happened when I was around.”

“Perhaps you are a magician,” Ankhoro suggested, “and you just don’t know it.”

“I am not,” Ghenni snapped. “If I’d conjured a tsunami, I’d know. And I dont’s, so I didn’t. So it can’t be me. No, there has to be another explanation.”

“Let’s go to the beach,” Miki said. She glanced at Jamao’s hut. “Do you think he’ll come back out again today?”

“Hardly,” Ankhoro laughed. “Come on, last one there’s a rotten banana.”

The race only brought them halfway.

“Going somewhere, runts?” Zoltan said. His accomplices stood by his sides. All three had their arms folded across their chests.

“Get out of our way,” Ankhoro said, imitating Zoltan’s pose. “Or don’t you remember what happened the last time you messed with us?”

“That was when the magic started to turn the island upside down,” Zoltan said. He took a step toward Ankhoro. “Come to think of it, perhaps there’s a connection. Perhaps there’s three runts got something to do with it.”

“Oh yeah?” Ankhoro said. “Perhaps we did.”

“If we did,” Ghenni said, “do you really think it’s smart not to leave us alone?” She waved her arms. “Because if you don’t, we will hex you again.” She felt Miki tug at her sarong and shook her off. “Well?”

Zoltan took another step toward her. Ghenni gulped. Did it mean he was leader because he was the dumbest of the bunch? Never mind. Habbassin had said he had prepared a surprise for Zoltan’s bullies.

I guess, Ghenni thought, we’re going to find out what it is. If it works.

“Do your worst,” she challenged.

She forced herself not to close her eyes as Zoltan’s fist came toward her face.

And she was glad she didn’t.

Zoltan’s fist never reached her. It stopped a couple of inches from her nose. Obviously, Zoltan hadn’t planned it this way. He looked much more surprised than she felt. His biceps bulged, his face became a red grimace of effort as he tried to move his arm. In vain. Something held it stuck in place. So much so that Zoltan couldn’t even take a step back.

“See what happens when you mess with us?” Ankhoro said. He used the opportunity to kick Zoltan’s shin. Zoltan’s leg buckled, but the frozen arm kept him from falling.

“I’ll get you,” Zoltan howled in frustration. He turned his head toward his friends. “Go get them.”

“Do you want the same to happen to you?” Ghenni said, waving her arms again. Xulia stopped. He cocked his head to one side.

“No,” he said.

Ghenni went closer to Zoltan. He grabbed at her with his other hand. Ghenni grinned when he couldn’t even move that one anymore either.

“I told you not to mess with us,” she said. “I think I’ll let you stand here like this for a while, so you can think about it. I mean, is it really worth all this embarassment just to try to beat up some children who’re smaller that you? Especially since it won’t work anymore? Why don’t you go and pick on someone your own size instead?”

Ghenni turned around and walked away. Ankhoro stuck out his tongue at Zoltan, then followed. Miki ran to catch up with Ghenni.

They went a couple of yards into the jungle before they stopped and laughed.

“That was great,” Ankhoro said. “Did you see Zoltan’s face? If that doesn’t make him leave us alone, nothing will.”

“Yes,” Ghenni said. “That was something. Habbassin sure picked the right way to pay them back. I wonder how long it will last?”

“Oh, about a turn of the hourglass,” Habbassin said. “Or two. It depends on how angry he gets. The angrier he is, the longer’ll it take to wear off.”

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