Aruna and Bradley had labourly brought Ash back to where the rest of the group had been waiting. London had twisted her ankle amongst all the chaos, but apart from a good dose of shock and a bit of bruising, nobody received any serious injuries. They set up to rest at the edge of a small desert directly outside the forest of stone. On the other side of the desert stood a wide forest stretching forever on either side. The sky was cloudless and the sun hung with a sleepy red eye. The journey back to the group had been a slow one with a lot of awkward silences even when they had to pass through a wet cave with brown flowers growing upside-down from the ceiling. When they finally all regrouped Ash received a hero’s welcome. The first person he greeted was his little sister, placing his hands on either side of her face; their heads touched and was followed by a deep breath with closed eyes and then a kiss on her forehead. Everybody had watched in awe at the small family ritual. He later told them all about the chase with the rackaamataar and the emerald green snake. Bradley grew quiet as Ash continued. Aruna told Ash about their journey to safety and tracking back the path in their search for Ash. We saw the strange clouds and knew it had to be close to you she had said. Kurumi all the while gazed over at Ash withdrawing her watery gaze whenever their eyes met. When the main bulk of the conversation came to a finish and noticing something was wrong, Ash turned to Bradley.
‘What’s wrong Brads?’ he asked.
‘I thought I nearly lost you mate,’ Bradley replied. He could not bring himself to look at Ash directly. Kurumi started to cry turning her head away from the group. Aruna went to comfort Kurumi. London was in high spirits again now that her brother was back.
‘So this is brotherhood,’ Jumo said aloud in a sad tone.
‘Indeed it is, dear Jumo,’ said the tree spirit.
‘Be truthful Leafy,’ replied Jumo. ‘What is the percentage of survival on this journey?’
‘Fifty-fifty,’ said the tree spirit, ‘this journey is not bound by fate, but in the trust and knowledge in each other and the choices you make.’
Ash and Bradley both put an arm on Jumo’s shoulder.
‘This is brotherhood,’ said Ash. ‘Fifty percent and rising.’ They all smiled.
‘Leafy, why did the lemuranda save us?’ asked Bradley.
‘Did you not help the lemuranda?’ said the tree spirit. ‘And I believe one of you asked for help.’
‘The dragonfly!’ exclaimed Ash in disbelief.
‘Each of your actions were pure when within the forest of stone. Do not forget that this is a world of energy and communication can be done by thought alone. A universal language so to speak,’ said the tree spirit.
‘One more thing,’ said Ash.
‘You felt it did you not,’ said the tree spirit.
‘Felt what?’ asked Jumo.
‘I feel a bit stronger and faster here,’ said Ash.
‘Your strength and abilities are doubled in this realm,’ said the tree spirit.
‘Doubled. And can we go beyond that?’ asked Jumo.
‘No, that is impossible for you would not be able to control yourself. The energy in this world reflects that which resides within you. A balance is always maintained. However, only you can know whether you are at your limits,’ said the tree spirit.
‘Without super human strength what can we do against the other dangers that lurk in and beyond that desert?’ asked Jumo.
‘Do not doubt your own strength and the collective strength of each other for that matter,’ said the tree spirit. ‘Within each of you resides an element, which you can summon. This element takes on the form of an animal that which best represents you. Look at the palms on left hands. You will notice some markings. When they are complete only then may you be able to release your element. Maybe.’
Everybody immediately looked at his or her left palms. Starting with different strokes coming from different angles and positions, each of them had the beginnings of something being formed. The small markings were gold and visible under the surface of the skin.
‘When will they be complete?’ asked Kurumi.
‘When you are ready my dear one,’ replied the tree spirit.
‘Why didn’t you tell us about all this before!’ asked Aruna.
‘It would have been too much information too soon and you would have been confused in your ability to deal with something like the rackaamataar. An element has never been released here; therefore, it is not known how one can be released. This is something you have to figure out when the time comes. I will say though that mind, body, spirit and nature must all be aligned and one.
‘London doesn’t have any markings,’ said Ash.
‘I should hope not. Or would you prefer that she too will enter into battle?’ said the tree spirit. ‘A child is not made for battle or war, and neither would she be able to control her element. I must warn you all. London’s life is in each of your hands, and you should never lose sight as to why you are here.’
At that the group grew silent again. The sun began to descend with speed. At the same time the tip of a great pure white plate with pale blue shades climbed out from behind the forest. The size of the moon was breathtaking. The sun disappeared into the moon, its flame glow sucked into a speck at its centre. The group looked up in amazement. Nobody uttered a word, except for what sounded like a wowaaaaoo. When the sun had disappeared completely, lunar coronae appeared around the moon, one after another until there were thirteen rings spreading out thirteen times the size of the moon itself. When the moon finally stopped climbing the thick night sky began to emerge and sparkle all over. Big bright stars shined like a sea of diamonds in a pitch-black room. The planets were close enough to see their markings, as you would the moon. How they gazed in awe at the rings of Saturn and Uranus, as well as the storm on Jupiter and its grand moons, and the binary system of Pluto. The night sky was far more vivid, with all the constellations like the big dipper being strongly visible and bright. The glow from the moon and stars was sufficient enough in providing good lighting to see one’s surroundings. Then came the sounds of night animals trickling through the air. It was nature’s lullaby. Ash sat and stared at the markings on his hand.
After stargazing for a good while the group huddled together. A warm breeze whistled through the stone forest behind them. They formed a circle and took out their lunch food from their backpacks. Beef and vegetable patties, maki-zushi, dolma and sour yoghurt, shemai, yam with spicy tomato sauce and jollof rice, and apple pie if you can remember. Each of them luckily had brought a bottle of water. Ash insisted on always bringing water because it served to neutralise the taste buds for when tasting the different foods.
Jumo took four bottles to put aside for rationing. They did offer some food and water to the tree spirit, but it naturally declined because as you would have already guessed by now, tree spirits are not in need for food or water. Jumo looked at his compass not for the first time, which since their arrival in Vaalbara continued to spiral around like a bicycle wheel offering him no sense of direction. The tree spirit had been very clear that nothing damaging to nature should be left behind. So they were sure to pack everything up including the rubbish.
‘What will we eat tomorrow?’ asked Kurumi.
‘No problem! Jumo will go hunting for us,’ said Bradley. The group laughed.
‘Only if you can make me a spear,’ he replied in a very African accent and a great dose of sarcasm.
‘If we can double our strength and abilities here, does that mean we feel double the hunger Leafy mi mate?’ asked Bradley.
‘No, in fact because you are stronger and breathe the natural air embodied with energy you will over time become less hungry than you usually are. As I mentioned before, on Vaalbara, you will find many fruits and vegetables that should suffice to satisfy your hunger,’ said the tree spirit.
‘What about meat? I like a good portion of meat,’ said Jumo.
‘Young master Jumo. I do not think you have time for hunting. And even if you could are really willing to kill? Eating your dinner from a plate, or buying food from a supermarket back on earth is very different from gathering your own food,’ said the tree spirit.
‘Killing an animal and buying meat at the supermarket is the same thing is it not?’ asked Jumo.
‘It is indeed in terms of the resulting action, which is to eat, but entirely different in terms of mentality. I feel it would be best not to make enemies of the animal kingdom during your stay here. We need all the help and free passage we can afford. Besides, ask yourselves this, could you eat something that died in great discomfort and stress just to satisfy your urge for meat?’ said the tree spirit, ‘for now though I strongly urge you all to get some much needed rest.’
At regular intervals meteors, otherwise better known in its common tongue as shootings stars raced across the sky three at a time one behind the other like a flock of birds on turbo drive and when the moment came for the fire rocks to fade out they instead bloomed into a silent firework display and slowly faded.
London saw a butterfly and followed it around in circles jumping and giggling. Not being able to stay still for long periods of time London was at times hard to look after. Ash stared at Kurumi who gazed at London. Bradley knocked him back to his senses with a nudge. The group huddled up against the forest rocks on a patch of grass. Ash held London close to his side.
‘Go to sleep now London, it’s okay,’ said Ash. He stroked the side of her head until she fell asleep. Kurumi stood up and looked out across the desert.
‘I wish I could stop time,’ said Kurumi.
‘Even if you could, you would not be able to change anything,’ replied Jumo. ‘What will be will be.’
‘I fool myself into believing that if I imagine the worse things happening to those I care about then it will not come true,’ said Ash.
‘You’re not alone Ash,’ said Aruna.
‘Can we change the subject, I feel down enough already,’ said Bradley.
‘Here here, what do you want to be in the future Aruna,’ asked Jumo.
‘Me?’ said Aruna looking startled. ‘Hmmm, though I do like fashion a lot, I want to be a vet and work on wildlife reserves. And you?’ she said whilst looking at the attire that the tree spirit had given them earlier.
‘Interesting. As for me, I want to be the leader of Africa,’ said Jumo.
‘You what? Africa is a continent not a country,’ replied Aruna.
‘Allow me to elaborate. I want to unite Africa under one name and one currency. Naturally, each country in Africa will keep its identity, culture and languages. A bit like the UK, except it will be the United Africa. Free schools for the poor will have a rotating schedule so that children can attend lessons, but also help with family chores. Schools will exist within mega centres that include a hospital and community centre, and the government will support home education if parents are confident in the knowledge and ability to do so. That’s all I care to divulge at this moment in time,’ said Jumo.
‘That’s like proper deep stuff there mate,’ said Bradley. ‘I like sports so I think I will become a sports coach.
‘How about you Ash?’ asked Jumo.
‘I don’t know,’ said Ash. Everybody looked slightly surprised except for Bradley who already knew Ash’s answer. ‘I want to work in conservation, I love athletics and I also want to be a good father. My job should be comfortable to bring income, but I know I would also like to do something creative like writing or photography. I also want to retire to a warm climate like in the Caribbean or somewhere similar.’
‘The way you care for your sister, I am sure you will be a good father Ash,’ said Jumo.
‘It’s hard to know without having a father-figure, but your parents are fine though, right?’ asked Ash. ‘Bradley’s are always arguing because they hardly have enough…’
‘My dad died of cancer three years ago,’ said Aruna. Fighting back her tears.
‘I am terribly sorry,’ said Jumo. ‘Kurumi you still live with both your parents, right?
‘Yes,’ she said tentatively, ‘but they don’t sleep in the same bedroom. My mother said it’s because my father snores loudly, but it’s a lie. They care only about financial security and convenience now. My mother loves shopping and baking and my dad loves working and getting drunk.’
‘Gosh Jumo, you’ve made everybody get emotional,’ said Bradley trying to change the atmosphere.
‘I am sorry,’ said Jumo.
Never before had the group spoke of such sensitive matters, for previous picnics together only touched on interests of music, sport, funny topics and all the other teenage antics. Under each and every laugh lies some form of pain and sorrow for nobody is immune to pain or the desire to want to be a part of something or someone, free from loneliness.
‘I want to start an NGO for children,’ said Kurumi, ‘children for nature. I want children to love nature again.’
‘That’s nice,’ said Jumo. ‘I think it is fine you do not yet know what you want to do Ash. I also admire that you do not seem frightened by that fact. The world is so crazy now. I think we all need to take a step back. Our ideals and ideas of the way love should be and what career paths people should follow have been highly influenced by the media, war, the industrial revolution and much more. We all face the scariest future. Nothing is certain, nothing is safe. Especially with the rapid development of artificial intelligence.’
‘Thanks. When I do finally discover my purpose in this life I will fight for my dreams and never take a day off, never!’
‘I believe you should all rest now,’ said the tree spirit. Its colour now a dark misty blue. They all agreed and slowly one by one they drifted off to sleep under the rayon blanketed sky. The tree spirit, if in fact it slept at all shrank into a seed, glowing ever so softly to rest on London’s shoulder.
B. L. Crisp | Copyrighted to © Barry Crisp