VILLAGE SKETCH (FICTION) –27-THE CURSE OF THE GODS
Posted on August 3rd, 2012

ARCADIUS

“It’s the curse of the gods, this drought,” Kira said to his wife in listless tones. “It has never been like this.”

It was an unprecedented drought. Caked and cracking soil, bare trees with dried up twigs making metallic noises in the breeze; intense heat, the fierce glare and the dead grass a withered brown clinging to the earth. The earth was dead. There was only one sign of life””‚the creepers that hugged the big trees and fed on them. They were still green, still living.

Occasional rustling noises among the withering bushes were heard with apprehension. A cobra or a python looking for food crept out of the bushes and surveyed the dead world. The sharp eyes looked at the skeleton trees and regarded the king fisher perched on a dead branch.  Its brilliant wings flashed in the sun. The shadow of the tree lay like a carpet on the cracked earth, and in this haven a kabaragoya with its wrinkled skin lay motionless.

Haramanis, with a gun on his shoulder, walked along the footpath that lay across the forest.

“Sinner,” thought Kira. “The gods will be angered more at this killing. Better to starve than kill innocent animals.”

The ripening paddy lay prostrate on the field bed. The relentless sun burnt the paddy. It was at times impossible to look towards the fields. Occasionally, through the glare a flight of black specks could be seen. The paddy lay browning on the hardened soil, once slush and mud. A frog limped across the field, and an occasional stork flew over in slow flight.

”This time we are sure to starve,” said the villagers.

Kira loosened the earth around his few manioc plants. Kira knew that to survive he would have to save the manioc for himself and his family. A number of families who had tried chena cutivat1on had given up and gone away. They will come back, once this drought was over. Kira used all his strength, heaving the mammoty with all his might. The muscles danced on his bare forearms and the sweat poured down his body. The lifelessness round him was in Kira too. He worked automatically, like a robot, his strength sapped by the heat.

Like an ancient cross, a disheveled scarecrow stood in the middle of the chena. Bits of rags from its body lay fallen at its feet. A crow stood on the scarecrow and dipped into the soil Kira .had loosened pecking at a stray worm.

“There’s no water in the house.” Kira’s wife, pot at her hips, walked away across the paddy fields out of sight.

Crows pecked at the carcass of a bul1 stinking in the sun. Hordes of flies flew away when the crows approached. A kabaragoya, scenting food, tried to drive away the crows, slashing at them with its tail. The stench filled the air, and the breeze that could take the smell away merely raised a thick suffocating cloud of dust. Through all this the lone cry of a jackal pierced the stillness.

On Kira’s doorstep, his dog lay huddled, occasionally pecking away at his ear with his tail. The little pussy cat came and lay curled by him.

Up the tall coconut tree on Kira’s compound, a youngster sat against the branches drinking the water from a young coconut. In the strong sunlight, his face looked darker than it was and his white teeth shone whiter than ever. The water trickled down his chest and cooled his hot body. His moment of bliss was rudely shattered by the report of a distant gun.

“Curse that old sinner … He has killed some harmless animal. I’m sure the gods have been angered because of him, ” thought Kira of Haramanis, the hunter.

Haramanis walked out of sight along the path, a dead rabbit and porcupine in his hand. Stray dogs and hungry cows followed him as he walked on making a trail of blood. Kira’s wife and a few other women walked towards the chena, their pots filled with water, the1r hands wet, the life giving water making the whole environment cooler.

That evening, the villagers got together to plead with the gods for water. They broke coconuts, they chanted and begged and still the rains kept away.

“If this drought goes on, we’ll be dead in a few days,” Kira said to his wife.

“I think we will get water soon. This is a curse that gods have placed on us.”

When the birds flew back to the village, the people were happy once again. The wind got heavier and the bright blue sky darkened ever so slightly. It seemed that the clouds were low and the peacock at the temple once more opened its plumage and danced happily. The village waited for the wind to get stronger, for it to break the dried up twigs down to the ground, and they lifted their eyes and said their thanks to the gods.

Then the rains came. Lightning streaked across the sky, thunder rumbled over the village and the birds flew for shelter. The wind tore away dried up cadjan roofs in a fury and the longed for waters fell in torrents on the dead earth, making it alive.

Kira came in drenched from the garden, his body spattered with mud. He stood under the eaves and washed the mud off, savoring the feel of the life giving water.

“At last my body is cool after all that burning,” he said to his wife, breathing a long sigh of relief.

“I told you the rains would come. The gods have been kind to us at last.”

The little child danced with happiness when she saw the water pouring down the eaves. She touched the water and rubbed her face with her hand.

“Hinni, come in at once and don’t get wet,” her mother chided her from inside the house. She came out and carried the little one in cradling her in her arms.

Life came back to the village slowly. The dying trees began to live again, leaf buds sprouting where the branches had fallen. The buds came out on the flowering plants with the promise of bloom soon.

The wells and ponds overflowed. The sun shone bright but its rays did not burn and scorch, cooled by the rain as the earth was. The village road became a track of mud. The frogs jumped about and filled the air with their croaking. The water snakes were joyful. They danced in the brimming fields.

The earth was soft once more. The caked banks of earth began crumbling down. lying in heaps of mud. The wind became chilling in the mornings and the villagers went about well covered. The trees and bushes were constantly wet and the wind shook drops of rain off their branches. The weeds sprang up overnight and the cobwebs among these shone in the sunlight.

The cattle began to suffer. The rains poured on them. They stayed tied to their stakes and once again there was no grass. It was swallowed up by mud. The swarming flies bothered them every moment. Whatever noise the rain made their lowing drowned it. They cried most of the time.

“There’s no wood for the fire,” Kira’s wife grumbled coming in with a pile of dripping wood and a soaked coconut branch.

On December 21, the rain did not stop even for a moment. It rained consistently the whole day, never showing any signs of lessening. The Post Master walked to the Post Office in the town wrapped in a raincoat and with a hat to protect his head.

”You are going to the Post Office in the rain, Sir?” Kira asked him as he passed by. Kira was standing in his vegetable patch in the rain planting something.

“Yes. I cannot wait for the rains to stop. There are no signs of it stopping,” the Post Master replied.

It rained for a number of days. Some of the mud houses collapsed. There were some deaths. Soon the monks from the temple walked in a line down the village road, followed by tom-tom beaters. There was waling and crying and by the roadside there was the dead body of a dog, washed up by the rain.

“This is an unusual rain,” Kira said to himself

“This is a curse. The gods are angry again.”

Kira’s vegetable patch was flooded. All his plants lay dead on the ground. Tender jackfruits floated by in the floodwaters. The villagers picked them up. They would make a. good mallun if the water did not spoil them. Little boys picked up the small coconuts and played with them sticking them on ekels and throwing them far away.

The rains brought sickness. People died of cold and influenza. The fevers spread throughout the village. There was no one to nurse the sick.

“If this goes on for a few davs more, we’ll all be dead,” said wise Kira.

He said to his wife, “The curse of the gods is on us again.”

[Translated into English by Vijita Fernando, this short story was published in the Ceylon Daily News on 6 Jan. 1966. Arcadius wrote the original story in Sinhalese.]

Gunaratne’s book containing all of the 28 village sketches received the Editor’s Choice award from iUniverse (Bloomington, Indiana), which released it this week. Readers can purchase it directly from iUniverse (1-800-288-4677) at $15.95 for the paperback or $25.95 for the hard cover.

 

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