I am living with them for almost three months now. On my repeated questions about their disappearing, they told me they were here all the time. They couldn’t see me but they did sense my presence. Maybe I didn’t sense their presence because I was new on the island…I don’t know.
Clan of warriors adopted me. The schedule still consists of running through the jungle. Even its dark parts. Whenever they turn into dark parts, I get back to the village. I think I will be able to join them there eventually. It seems it is on me now to know when I am ready for that step.
Sometimes I go with huntresses. I am not as skilled as they are, well, truth to be told, I am probably slowing them down. Nobody is complaining though. They are teaching me about the trailing techniques. I also like to spend time with wash women. They are really cheerful and know how to party.
Women whose job is fishing and food gathering told me I was very lucky with that fox-like creature. That first fish I caught is poisonous. Their ancestors used to apply its poison on the arrowheads to kill each enemy that is even scratched by them. Those berries my fox refused to eat, they are used for the potion that clears thoughts and makes ones mind sharper. Too much of them overloads the brain and kills the person that took them.
I don’t see my fox anymore. Sometimes I can feel her licking the scratches on my arms and legs in the darkness of my cottage but when I open my eyes, she is not there anymore. Every night I leave some food for her at the entrance of my home. Sometimes the plate is empty in the morning. Sometimes it is not.
There are also these healing women. I call them that even though that is not the official term. As I gathered, three of them are apprentices of the oldest woman in the village. Don’t let that label fool you. She is maybe a few years older than me. Her job is story telling and guiding. Her apprentices are doing their best to learn all the stories the leader shares. That is somehow important for the whole village.
I am ashamed to admit to myself that I do not know the names of the women here. Any name. I think they don’t even have them. Either that or they are hiding them from me. When I want to call them, I just say ‘Heeey!’ and always the right woman reacts. Weird huh? Well, there are weirder things here.
For example, no one has periods, no PMS-es, no ups and downs. Sometimes there are fights but women handle it pretty civilized. If knife fighting can be considered that. The winner of the duels is the winner of the argument. No one holds any grudge towards the others.
Sometimes some people drop by. They stay for one day and one night. Then they are gone. Some talk to the old lady. She asks all sorts of weird questions and they are answering them. I always wondered why do they talk to her so openly. I asked one visitor about it and she just shrugged her shoulders – “The only way to get better is to talk about whatever she wants to talk about. Even though that is not the reason one came here.” After the conversation with the old lady, apprentices take care of visitors. They help them meditate and gather their strength for what lays before them.
Some visitors are here to party. Or at least that is how it seems to me. They come, they drink that potion that enchances the mind and then they are set free to discover which ever part of the island they want to. There is this one guy, he was here a couple of times. And every time he was here, he spent a day full of adrenaline rush. In the evening, instead of hitting the sack like any other party visitor, he dances with women. The tribal fire stirs the blood of women. He uses that to invite them to join him in his cottage. Every time he does that, every woman accepts. Sometimes he invites more than one woman and they all accept. In the morning he is gone and those women continue their job as if nothing happened.
Other visitors that come for the party try to explore the island and all of its natural resources. They really exhaust their minds and lose their strength. It seems that the more intellectual usage of the potion is, the less strength one has.
There is one task clan of warriors have. This task is carried out by a few warriors every night. We have to stand on the egde of the village facing the forest and the darkness in it. If we hear any sound coming from there, we have to run into the forest and try to catch the sound maker. In these three months neither of us heard the sound. Nonetheless, no matter what happens we mustn’t stop looking in the darkness until the sun comes out.
Also, staying outside the village during the night is strictly forbidden. No one can tell me why. Yet, they all agree that their instinct tells them not to go there. My instinct is still trying to fully awake. Or, better to say, I am learning to trust it.
Today a woman disappeared. I wonder how they know a woman is gone. There are many women here and they all look almost the same to me. We have searched the whole village to find her. She is nowhere to be found. Warriors went out in the forest to look for her. I wanted to come too but they didn’t allow me. They returned empty-handed. The old lady shrugged her shoulders and continued with what she was doing before they came to report on their findings or, rather, the lack of their findings. I was trying to find traces of emotions on women’s faces. They seemed only a bit sad so I walked to one of the old lady’s apprentices and asked her why they stopped the search and why aren’t they more sad.
She looked at my legs and told me to follow her. We went into the forest. The walk wasn’t long and the ground on which we were walking was pleasant to my ankles. When we got to a hole in the ground filled with mud, the apprentice stopped. Steam that was rising from the mud was telling us the mud is hot. The apprentice took off that leather skirt she had, wrapped her hair into a bun and entered the mud. It seemed as if she was enjoying it. I did the same, took off all my clothes, tied my hair into a bun and entered the mud.
Mud bath was big enough for a grown woman to lay in it and not touch either of its edges. To my surprise, towards the edge of this mud filled hole there was a firm ground that formed a seat. It reminded me of jacuzzi seats. The mud was hot enough to make me sweat yet not too hot to burn my skin. She was sitting opposite to me. I could feel her toes touching mine. I leaned on the bank of this mud bath and closed my eyes. This feels really good.
I don’t know how long was I in here when I realized I asked the apprentice something and never got the answer. I opened my eyes and saw her watching me. When our eyes met, she began to talk.
“Tribal women have two ways to get off this island. You have just witnessed one. She disappeared and we cannot find her. We will never find her. According to the old lady, she needs to find her way back to us and there is nothing we can do to help her. She is the first tribal woman that disappeared since I am an apprentice. In fact, she is the first one that disappeared ever since the old lady was an apprentice. In the past some other women would disappear too. Neither of them came back. We are all aware it can happen to any of us but we do not know what circumstances lead to the disappearing. Since we cannot influence it, we do not worry about it. We miss her today but tomorrow is another day. She was here and now she is not. Life goes on.”
I am shocked. I mean I didn’t get too close to any of these women but to forget about any of them within one day of their disappearance seems impossible. And I know her for three months. Other women know her for years. At least I think so. I never actually talked with any of them long enough to get to know them.
Apprentice stood up. She is getting ready to leave mud bath.
“Wait, wait, you said there are two ways for tribal women to get off the island. What is the second one?”
As she was getting out of the mud bath she said: “Remember that wash woman we made a party for last week? You thought it was her birthday because we were all so happy for her. She was actually leaving the island. She jumped off a cliff into the sea on that place you used to fish while you were alone.”
I followed her on her way out. Not a single mud stain was left on my skin. She looked at my body and said…here you look much better now. My skin was smooth and hairless. So this is how they get rid of the body hair! Got it! We put our clothes on and head for the village. Suddenly it hit me – that cliff is so high that the jump off it kills you no matter how good jumper/swimmer/diver you are. She turned towards me as if she could hear my thoughts and smiled.