A Suitable Offering (Part Two) by Shona Kinsella
Read part one HERE
Amondi paced the perimeter of the village, her sandaled feet kicking up dust that made her cough. She had never disobeyed her father before, even when she was a child, but she felt sure that the rain would return to the land if only she could find a suitable offering. It made sense. She was asking for a sizeable gift from Vash; after all, if it was easy to make rain, surely they would have it every day and not only for short times each year. Her offering had to be something difficult to give to create the correct balance.
Her father would never have refused to give a goat to her grandfather. If only there was a Nganzu in the village, someone she could talk to, who wouldn’t dismiss her attempts. But then, if they still had a Nganzu in the village, she wouldn’t be the one trying to figure out a way to save her way of life.
The idea came upon her like a stampeding herd. She would go looking for a Nganzu.
The hut was empty when she got back. She breathed a sigh of relief; she didn’t want to have another pointless confrontation with her father. She grabbed the blanket from her bed and wrapped some clothes in it before tying it all together so that she could carry it on her back. She took a knife and an empty water carrier and strapped them to her belt. Looking around, she thought of how her father and brother would feel if she just disappeared. She couldn’t do that to them. She tucked some goat meat and tubers into her pack and then headed off in search of Garnet.
“Are you mad?” Garnet demanded. “The nearest Emeni village is at least six days’ walk from here. And you don’t even know if they have a Nganzu!”
“Don’t you see I have to try?” Amondi shifted from one foot to the other, impatient to be off but needing her friend to understand. “We don’t have anyone left who understands the old ways enough to intercede for us. I need to go and find someone who can help.”
“What if you can’t find a Nganzu? Will you just search forever? The chief won’t wait for you; he’ll move us all to the city if things don’t change soon. Then you’ll be out there on your own, looking for help for a village that isn’t here anymore.”
“At least I’ll know that I tried,” Amondi said, resigned. “Please, just don’t tell anyone I’m gone until tonight. Then go to my father and Duma and let them know that I’m safe and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Garnet was flushed, and tears stood in her eyes, but at last she gave a sharp nod and hugged Amondi, squeezing her tight. “May the ancestors walk with you, my friend.”
“And with you,” Amondi said in relief, hoping that she was doing the right thing and that she would see Garnet again soon.
A few hours walking from the village had brought Amondi past a number of dry river beds, but she had passed no water. A while ago, she had seen a wyvern flying overhead and had tried to follow it for a while with some vague idea that it would lead her to water, but it had been far too fast for her.
She tried to swallow but felt her throat sticking with dryness. She would have to find something to drink soon. She started scanning the ground, looking for signs of water, or even some low-growing succulents that she could extract some moisture from. There was nothing. All she could do was keep on walking. There were waystations between her village and the one she travelled to, kept in order by travellers. She could hope to find something there.
The sun had set by the time she reached the waystation and even her eyeballs felt dry and hot. The hut for travellers had once been surrounded by palm trees and vegetation but almost everything was dead and dry; only a few succulents remained. Amondi hurried around to the back of the hut, where there had been a well for generations. The death of the plants left her without much hope. She dropped the bucket down as quickly as she could but there was no splash. Eventually, she heard the wood hitting off the bottom of the well. It was dry.
Amondi shook her head. I don’t know why I expected there to be water here when it’s gone from everywhere else. Sighing, she took the knife from her belt and cut one of the thick stems from a red succulent that lay close to the ground. She sucked greedily at it, savouring the green taste of the liquid that flowed into her mouth. All too soon it was gone. Amondi looked at the plant, considering taking another stem, but she knew that taking too much would kill the plant and – if the well remained dry – leave the waystation unusable. Reluctantly, she turned away.
Upon entering the hut, she did a quick check for snakes and scorpions before unrolling her blanket on the narrow mattress on the floor. She nibbled on a piece of goat meat before falling back onto the mattress, exhausted. How would she manage six days like this to the closest village? Had she been mad to even think of going?
As she drifted between sleep and waking, she could not help but think of all the travellers who had passed this way before her. Her father had made this journey when he sought a bride. He made the return journey with her mother by his side. She thought of them here together, how nervous her mother must have been to be going to join a new village with her new husband. A man she had known for such a short time. A man she had chosen because of his gentle nature, according to the story she had told Amondi when she was growing up.
Amondi had a hard time thinking of her father in those terms. To her, he had always seemed distant and forceful. Grandfather was the one who had always seemed gentle to her. Soft-spoken and wise, often making things with his big, strong hands, hands that she had never seen lifted in anger. Her grandfather had travelled this way often and she found her thoughts lingering on him, wishing he was here to guide her.
‘Of course I’m here, little cub.’ His voice came from everywhere and nowhere, as if the air itself was speaking to her.
‘I don’t know what to do, Grandfather,’ Amondi said, opening her eyes and peering around the hut. She had heard of people who were blessed with the gift of seeing the ancestors but, alas, this was not her way. She could only hear them.
‘Have you asked Vash what He wants?’
‘Many times,’ Amondi said, sadly. ‘I cannot divine an answer, like you did. I am not Nganzu.’
‘Just because you cannot read an answer in the shape of the clouds or the patterns of the ants, as I did, does not mean that you are not Nganzu. Each individual who would walk the borders must find their own path to the Creator.’ Her grandfather’s voice faded as he spoke, until she was straining to hear him.
‘Wait! Don’t go yet!’ she cried, leaping to her feet, as if there was some action she could perform that would keep him there.
‘I must. You are too weak to hold your end of the connection. I would not weaken you further.’
‘How do I find my path, a way to hear the Creator?’ she asked urgently.
‘Look to your own gifts, little cub. And pray.’ Her grandfather sounded distant and his absence left a hole in Amondi’s chest, as it did every time he left.
‘Thank you,’ she said softly, though she knew that he could no longer hear her. ‘I miss
you.’ She dropped back down onto the mattress and soon fell into a deep sleep.
Amondi dreamed that she was the desert, her body drying and cracking in the heat. She dreamed of the animals, birds and insects that made their home in the burning sands. Those that could leave her embrace were doing so and the rest were dying, just as she herself was dying. Desert Amondi was filled with sorrow but without the caress of the rain, she was helpless to save any of them. She did not know why the rain had forsaken her but she knew that she could not live much longer without it.
END OF PART TWO