Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Trial by Fire!

About two years ago I wrote a story of a couple where the guy was a missionary working with a tribe in an unknown country, and the girl was English landed gentry, all at the turn of the century. They corresponded with each other through letters about life, which included Jonathon, the male, upsetting the tribal elders through his antics, and Emily, the girl, describing her myopic crookedness, scoliosis, and rather unconventional beauty. I finally got down to writing a second part where Jonathon is initiated into the tribe and conveys this back to Emily.

"My dearest Emily,
Young Archie and I were bathing in the river nearby the village when I felt a stabbing pain in my foot. I ran out of the water as fast I could, in a way that Archie later told me Jesus Christ would have been proud of my efforts. Once on terra firma, I saw that a fish had latched itself unto me, but I was unable to get the fiendish piscine off my foot.
I hobbled to the village directly. All the village were excited and began chanting in their native tongue. As was later told to me by our interpreter (I still haven't mastered the armpit squeaks that go with this language), catching a fish with your hands is a very good omen to these people. I pointed out to him that cursed had caught me! My interpreter shrugged and said that it was a good omen nonetheless.
After it was pried off of me, I examined it carefully. It's unlike any fish I've seen at the fishmongers in Kent or Sussex, or in this land, for its head makes up half of its body and its mouth is filled to the gills with teeth that would make a razor envious. I decided to keep the fish in a bucket outside of my tent to take back home to university to see if it's an unknown specimen.
Archie recommended a name for it after me: Jonathanicus imbecilus.
I expressed my feelings in the most gentlemanly way possible given the circumstances, and I directly shoved him into the river. At the end of the day, I reviewed my notes of what happened, and Archie seems to recall that I was bitten in a spot quite opposite from my foot. I confess, I have forgotten where I was bitten, only that it would have made poor Job cry.

Always yours,

Day 2

"Well, it seems I'm in a spot of luck. The village elders convened last night on my behalf and based largely on the type of fish I'd caught and the manner in which I caught it, they decided that the gods must've smiled favorably upon me and seen me as a man, ready to be entered into the tribe. But as any young man in the tribe, I must undergo 4 different rites in order to be recognized as a member in the elders' eyes. The rites are of a vision where you drink a cup of tea (which I must say I'm looking forward to, even though I've not seen any sort of tea plants around here), and the gods give you a message of power (This people are quite religious!). The second rite is a trial of endurance which wasn't fully explained to me, but thankfully the time I spent rowing for university still leaves me with a strong physical constitution. The third rite is of a battle to prove my worth in melee. Perhaps it will be similar to boxing. The final rite is of magic which I use the words of power that the gods should have endowed me with when I drank the tea.
I believe this is the most intimate any Englishman has ever been with these native peoples and I look forward to competing tomorrow morn.
Anxiously waiting,

Day 3

"For the first rite I was removed of my personal effects until a most embarrassed and pale state, save for a leaf that was covering up the part where Archie said the fish had gnawed me. I was given the tea by the village chief and the entire village crowded to watch me. I must say, these people have a funny notion of what tea is. Firstly, it was stone cold. Secondly, it was bitter and reminiscent of currants that were overripe. I gulped the concoction in one sitting which drew screams of concern from the villagers. Perhaps I was a bit too eager to have the tea, but I remember thinking, 'Ha ha! They know not to get between an Englishman and his cup!'
Archie was watching with fascination and I requested a tin of biscuits that I knew he had to get rid of the bilious taste in my mouth.
He complied.
Directly I took the biscuit from his hands, the biscuit grew in size, a face sprouted out of it, and limbs popped out from the sides. I gazed upon it, agog, and it saw me and yelled:
'Oy mate! Watchoo doin' 'ere?'
'I am searching for the words of power that will enable me to complete the rite of magic!'
'Oh, rites of magic, eh? Yeah, dat's sumfink, innit? All yeh gotter do is just scream "Erin go bragh!" at the top o' yer lungs, and do the ol' pulling your thumb away from your fist act! If that don' work, just cover yer face wif yer hands and make like yer breakin' yer nose. That always gets 'em!'
'Erin go bragh? But you're not even Irish!'
'Aw shaddup yeh git? 'Ow many times have you seen a talking biscuit? I've gotter go, but I'll see you around next time for some char.'

And with that, the biscuit slowly returned to its normal size sans limbs and visage. Cheeky little blighter.

I looked around and the villagers were ameliorated. The chief clicked his tongue and the second rite began. I was placed in a circle with jugs of water around me. The other man in the circle was massively muscled. I then knew that I would have to lift various jugs filled with water to complete this endurance rite. Imagine my surprise darling, when I found out that I was just required to drink all the water in the jugs without leaving the circle!

'Well, who gets to go first?' I cried. 'That's the point,' Archie yelled, 'you don't go at all.'

My eyes widened and I steeled my nerves. There was quite a bit of water around us two. This was going to be far more difficult than anything I imagined.

Endless gourds we imbibed, while the sweat cascaded, flowing down our backs and legs, whilst our stomachs were swollen with the water, sloshing, swishing, splashing. The other villager had enough after the 15th gourd. He burst from the circle and ran off with his legs tightly together. After a confirmation of my success from the chief, I soon ran off to the undergrowth in the same fashion.

The third rite began. Confidence poured from me and I sized up the person I was pitted against. The chief sneezed, signalling the start of the rite of battle. I proceeded to give the opponent the old 1-2. And he proceeded to give me the 3-4-5-6-7-8 and a few kick for good measure. It was after the 8th hook, that I'd noticed the world had gone rather queer and topsy-turvy, and for the first time in my life I'd noticed the Earth's rotation. I began fearing that the talking biscuit might return, but at that moment Archie helped me to my feet. He handed me a spear, and the chief called out that this round was to be won by the person who drew blood first. When the chief sneezed again, I threw my spear down and reached for the bucket I kept outside of my tent that contained that devil of a fish. I threw the bucket, water, and piscine at the warrior, where upon the fiend latched itself onto the same spot of the warrior as it had on me!
After the village helped the warrior to his feet, the chief saw the blood and declared me the victor. My final rite lay ahead. I grabbed the piscine by its tail and put it back into its bucket.

The rite of magic started in the dead of night around a fire. Jaguars could be heard caterwauling in the jungle, and various creepy things were crawling about. The village gathered around the fire, and the shaman appeared out of the smoke with his headdress on. He began by telling of all the demons he had summoned. The village 'Aaahed.' When it was my turn to tell of all the demons I'd summoned, I grabbed the fish out of the bucket, by its tail. The warrior from the third rite, who was in the circle, spoke up (through much pain) and declared that the fish was the worst demon of all.
The shaman then began crafting shapes out of smoke, creating jaguars, and men who battled each other. He then uttered several phrases and rose ten feet into the air! At this point in the trial, I was starting to miss Kent. But I screwed my courage to the sticking place and countered with "Erin Go Bragh!" and put my thumb in between my fist of my right hand, whilst letting my left thumb poke out of the fingers of my left hand. I simultaneously put my fists together and apart, giving the impression that I was removing my digit. The chief seemed pleased. The shaman looked irate.
He pointed to the fire and a jaguar arose that was completely of fire with black coals for its spots! I did what the talking biscuit told me to do, and start 'breaking' my nose to the delight of the villagers. The sound seemed to frighten the jaguar and it leapt back into its hellish home.
The shamen threw off his amulets and headdress and sulked away from the fire.

I had completed all the unspeakable rites (and a few unspeakable wrongs, as well) and endured the tests. I was a member of the tribe and recognized by the chief and the elders. The chief called me into his hut. I sat upon the floor and listened to his deep voice boom, "From now on, to this tribe you are Bantuku!"

The villagers let out a roar of laughter. I asked the interpreter what bantuku meant. He kept silent for a half-minute and spoke: 'It's a term of endearment for lovers...but in this case, since the chief does not wear his loincloth the wrong way, it's referring to its original meaning.'

'And that is?'

'Bantuku is the silly, young monkey who constantly stands on his head and makes faces at the other monkeys. Bantukus are pushed off trees and out of nests by its brothers and are always eaten by the jaguar.'


No matter. Whether I was a silly, young monkey with a penchant for standing on my head or a fully grown man in the tribe, the village accepted me as one of them and the festivities began.

After I'd eaten my fill of food and drink, I stumbled my way back to my tent and lay down upon my cot. I pondered all that had happened that day, and then noticed that my cot was rather damp. Sopping wet, actually. And that a slimy object was near my legs. A half-second later, my worst fears were confirmed when I felt teeth so sharp as to make a razor jealous, enter my flesh and clamp down with a formidable strength. I ran out of my tent, limbs flailing, to see young Archie grinning like a demon, until I managed to pull the watery fiend off.
I can stand a joke as good as the next Englishman, and I decided to thank Archibald for this humorous situation by attaching the fish as hard as I could to the part where the warrior and I had been bitten. Archie was seen attended to all the night by the shaman and the chief to much humor on his behalf, whilst I blissfully slumbered.

Until I see you Emily,
Your Dear [illegible, scratched out] BANTUKU!"
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