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How a normal boy became a jaguar

I

The wind is always here. It blows through the trees and whispers in my ear. It tells me the news, gossips and future events. All I have to do is walk through the forest, I touch every tree I pass with love to thank them for the life they give us, and listen to the wind. Today it tells me of two lovers who are not allowed to be together and who are facing a terrible fate.

 

II

When I saw her for the first time it was as if the world stood still for a moment; the singing of birds, the voices of the people around me, all of it disappeared. I could only see her and ignored all the people around us. It was as if I could force the world to take us out of that village square we were standing on, and put us in a vacuum far away from there, where we only existed.

She was as beautiful as described in the stories and looked in principle like any other Guarani girl; long black hair that captured the sunlight with every turn she made. She was tall and had a straight posture. Her skin was caramel brown and her face round as the full moon with a perfect straight small nose. However the real beauty lay in her eyes. When she looked at the people in front of her she looked at me for just one second at least I think she did. Her warm brown eyes smiled at me and then and there I fell in love with her. Looking into her eyes I felt as if I had known her all my life, which in a way was true. When I was a child, my mother would tell me stories about her and her family; Hitabai, the daughter of Karay the Mburuvisa Guasu, the Great Captain of our land.

While her father started a long speech that kept the whole village quiet, I had time to stare at her and dream about talking to her. However, I right away realized I was being foolish and unrealistic. Me, a normal boy from an unimportant village would never be closer to her than as I was now on the town square. The pain I felt realizing the harsh facts surprised me. I did not even know her what was I thinking? I fell for her beauty and there were many more beautiful girls in my village. I was expected to choose one of them and marry her one day so I should focus upon that and avoid getting lost in dreams. For sure a girl like Hitabai was spoiled and had never done any work in the house so she would not be a very useful wife. These thoughts were quite comforting although I also knew I was lying to myself. I had always believed in true love and I knew it was happening now. But what could I do, I was raised to be modest and accept my status as being Yaci, the farmer boy.

I turn around to walk away and go back to my house; my father is waiting for me to work on the community lands. It is harvest time and that means as many hands as possible are needed. My brothers are probably already there and I cannot risk my father being mad at me. As I walk away from the crowd a man approaches me and puts his hand on my shoulder to stop me. I look at him but do not recognize him.

‘Please come with me,’ he says. ‘She has asked for you.’

I think I am dreaming but the man is real and with ´she´, I know who he means. I cannot respond and just nodd. The man turns around and expects me to follow him. We walk to one of the allies close to the main square and as the man turns around he whispers in my ear:

‘She will be waiting for you behind the temple after the sun goes down.’

Without waiting for a response he walks back to the crowd and leaves me behind wondering what just happened. I feel my body shaking while thinking about the words: Hitabai wants to meet me tonight behind the temple. I cannot believe it and tell myself to not be stupid. Who says it is Hitabai? The man did not mention her at all. I am living in this dreamworld where a princess could be interested in me which does not make any sense. I start to run to the field where I am supposed to be. But in the back of my head I cannot shake the certainty that the man was one of the guards of princess Hitabai. How am I supposed to go and help out my father harvesting now? How can I still focus upon my life with this news?

Somehow I still manage and get through the hours until the day is over. I wait until my brothers and father get ready and leave the lands to go back to our house. Our mother and sisters are waiting for us with food. The sun is going down quickly and I know I have to hide and get away from my family to see her. As slowly as possible I gather my tools and I walk as slow as possible after my brothers until they do not notice me anymore. While passing the village it is dark and I take the street that leads to the temple. I nervously wait for her, looking around in order to see if anyone is passing by. Then without a warning she stands in front of me. I smell her first before seeing her; earth mixed with the leaves of the Toborochi tree.

She looks at me and smiles: ‘it really is you,’ she says with a deep voice and I know I am a lost man.

 

III

He looked exactly as in my dreams. I had been dreaming about him for the past couple of months and when I saw him actually standing in the crowd in this reality I couldn’t believe it. Not at any moment had I thought he could actually exist he was nothing more than a ghost of my dreams. And right now while standing next to my sisters and listening to my father’s speech all of a sudden I recognize his eyes. They are as dark as in my dreams. I gasp when I recognize him and I cannot look at him more than one second. My sister looks at me and frowns.

‘What is wrong?’ she asks.  

‘Nothing.’  

I stare at the crowd and pretend nothing is wrong, absolutely nothing. I quickly replay the dreams in my head and I am sure it is the boy that every night visits me in my dreams. With eyes as dark as the black stones I once saw in a bright river and with a soft smile that made me shiffer which was not like me at all. I think about a way to meet this boy and talk to him. I am afraid to look at him again but cannot help myself and turning my head towards the spot where I saw him I realize he is gone. I look around for him and see his back while walking away from the crowd. I have to think of a plan as quickly as possible. I look around and see one of the guards, Pirai, who I trust completely. I try to get his attention.

‘Pirai, please tell that boy over there I need to meet him. Tell that to the boy that is walking away from the crowd. I will be waiting for him behind the temple at sunset. Please don’t tell anybody about it.’

Pirai nods without saying a word, and leaves. From where we are standing I can see Pirai talking to the boy for no more than a few seconds, then leaving the boy behind in confusion. But he does not look up once and continues his way. I can only hope he will turn up.

 

It was difficult to sneak out without anybody noticing but with the help of Pirai I managed to do it. When I arrive to the temple I see him standing there. I stand still for a minute and observe him from the dark. He looks exactly as I remember but all of a sudden I realize I am on a risky mission; what if he will think I am crazy, what if he only came to meet me because I am the daughter of the Great Caption? There is only one way to find out. I approach him and from up close he looks even more like the boy I have been in love with in my dreams every night for the last four moons.

‘It really is you.’

He smiles at me a little shy but still with an open and trustworthy face. ‘The one and only,’ he says as a joke but we both feel uncomfortable with the silence that comes after.

‘What is your name?’ I ask him and very formally he kneels in front of me.

‘Forgive me for not introducing myself earlier. My name is Yaci.’

I smile and i take his hand to help him get up. ‘Don’t be silly. Forget for a moment who I am, treat me like a normal girl. ‘

He looks at me confused as if he wants to say: but you are not.

‘Let´s walk.’

So we walk in silence that first night and after a few minutes we dare to ask each other questions. I tell him about the difficult life as the daughter of the Great Caption. I tell him about how I feel like I am suffocating at times because my whole life is planned out and I already know what I will be doing every day at every given hour. He nods and says that it is the same for him, in a very different way of course.

‘My father is a farmer and therefore I will be a farmer. Me and my brothers will inherit his ground and we will work on it together. I am expected to find a wife in my village, one who will give me many sons. I love the forest and I love to work on the land but I am just not sure if I want to do that the rest of my life. There is so much more out there.’

While saying that he spreads his arms and looks around him in the dark. ‘You must know what I mean, you have seen it all.’

I only shrug when he says that. ‘I have seen a lot of different village plazas. It doesn’t mean I know what the world is like without guards.’

After our confessions we are silent again as if we feel embarrassed to have told so much to a stranger.

Although I am scared I still decide to tell him. ‘I have dreamed about you for a long time.’

He looks at me startled and I explain. ‘For the last four moons I have dreamed about you. Nothing really happens but you are always in my dreams looking at me and smiling at me. I was shocked to see you today on the plaza, as if my dream had come to life.’  

He thinks about his answer it seems and when he is ready he stops walking and looks at me. ‘Well I don’t really care what these dreams mean. All I know is that I have loved you since I saw you at the plaza and I don’t care what it takes, we will need to be together.’

We are both a bit shocked about these revelations and don’t know what to say.

‘What do we do now?’ he asks me after that.

‘You need to follow us in secret. Leave your village behind, it will be your opportunity to see the world and become something else as a farmer. We will meet every night at the same time behind the temple in whatever village we will be. This will give me time to figure out what to do,’ I answer.

He nods without asking more questions. He did not kiss me that night and I did not want to be kissed yet. We were kids who had to grow up rapidly because of the danger our love put us in. But all of that we hardly realized that first night.

 

IV

I kissed her for the first time the week after. For six nights after our first meeting we had walked beside each other shy at first and feeling more and more comfortable with each other by the end of each night. I was worried every night that we would be caught but Hitabai assured me we wouldn’t. ‘My guard Pirai takes care of us don’t worry.’

Pirai was always around although I never saw him but he protected us and made sure we had the time to get to know each other. Maybe that was also why I was scared to kiss her. What if her incredibly tall and muscled guard would jump out of the bushes and beat me up for it? But one night I just could not hold back longer and when we said our shy goodbyes at the end of the evening I took the risk and bent over to kiss her. She did not refuse my lips and did not seem surprised. Maybe she had been waiting for it. Her lips were soft and carried the taste of the chicha she probably had been drinking before coming to meet me. She smiled at me afterwards en hugged me goodnight. Seeing her now the evening after I don’t feel shy anymore and neither does she. We walk through the darkness holding hands and she tells me they are leaving the next day from my village.

‘If you want to be with me you will have to leave your village and never look back.’

I nod and I do not hesitate at all. I love my family and I will miss them but some things in life are just inevitable.

‘I will follow you wherever necessary.’ I smile at her and she smiles back.

I am excited to leave and see what is out there. I have always dreamed about what would exist outside my village but those dreams are always very blurry and unclear; not even in my dreams I know how to imagine something I have never seen.

‘What will happen after that Hitabai?’ I ask her and she knows what I mean.

Will we spend the rest of our lives meeting in secret walking through the darkness? Will I spend my days hiding in bushes and waiting until I can be with her?

She shrugs her shoulders. ‘I need time Yaci. I need to talk to my father and find a way to convince him it will be the right choice to marry you. He loves me a lot, I am sure he will find the kindness in his heart to let us be together and be happy. I still have two other sisters who he can use for his arranged marriages.’

The words that come out of her mouth sound hopeful and empty at the same time. They float around us and have an echo of despair that are scaring our hearts. But we both have no other choice but believing what she says.

 

V

I keep walking in circles around the hut we are staying in, me and my wife. Our children are divided over the two huts next to us; the villagers are always nice enough to receive us as guests. Pirai has just left our hut and my wife is sitting in the back, quietly watching my pace. Our most faithful guard has just told us the secret of what has been happening under my own eyes and after thanking him for his loyalty and honesty and after assuring him that nothing would happen to his favorite member of the family he left with a clear conscious. I feel an overwhelming and surprising rage. She is my daughter but she has to obey me. My first love has always been this land. My father raised me to put our forest first, no matter what. I am teaching my oldest son the same and he will teach his as well. Traditions never change and are there to be preserved. When it comes to richness or material possession with the Guarani I am no different than anyone of our tribe. I am expected to be the same as others but at the same time it is always my responsibility to save our land and having my daughter risk that is not an option. Although many will find it harsh or selfish, my daughters serve to arrange marriages that give advantages to our land and people. Marrying a normal boy is not an option. Hitabai is my favorite although I would never acknowledge that to anybody. Therefore it hurts even more that she has kept a secret from me all this time. I think about the options as for example marrying her as soon as possible to any of the sons of other Great Captions. But I realize that when Hitabai has decided something she will not change her mind on it. She has lost her heart to that boy and nothing will change that. A marriage to another man would mean she would either run away or embarrass me in front of my people. Oh Hitabai, how could you? Is all I can think.

´Please don´t do something radical!´ yells my wife after me when I leave the hut, she knows me too well. I will have to go and consult the Teju, he has to help solve it. There has to be a way out of this nightmare.

 

VI

The times are changing. I feel it every morning in my bones when I stand up. They shiver and they are scared. The wind blowing through the trees early in the morning whispers in my ear of changes  

that I cannot imagine yet. It tells me that different times are coming. My wife thinks I complain as an old man is supposed to do but she doesn’t know the mysteries of life like I do, she is not a Teju Warlock like me. I am not sure what it all means but I do know that in the future there will be no place for me or our community.

Today he is coming. I have heard what has happened and my dreams have told me that the task ahead will be difficult because he will come to me for help and I will be expecting him. I wonder what he will come and ask me. But he will not be there before the sun is rising. There is time for coffee.

A few hours later he arrives dressed simple as always, Karay the Mburuvisa Guasu. He looks older than the last time I saw him. But don’t we all? Or is he as worried as my dreams have told me? I leave my hut to greet him and we bow respectfully to each other.

‘How are you Karay?’

‘I come in need of advice dear Teju,’ he answers me.

I nod and let him into the hut. My wife has more coffee ready and then leaves discreetly to give us time to talk. Karay explains me quickly what has happened as if he already assumes that I know what he is coming for.

‘What is it you want from me Karay?’ I ask him with an understanding smile.

Karay sighs and tries to avoid my eyes for a moment by staring at the ground. ‘I need you to ensure that she cannot come near him anymore.’

‘You have guards for that.’ I tell him and smile encouraging. ‘You will have to tell me what you need Karay.’

We are silent for a while and we zip from our coffee while I wait until Karay finds the courage to ask me what I already know he will ask me.

‘I need you to make her disappear. I know her, she will not obey me and I have seen her determination. She needs to be as far from him as possible. You have connections to the other world Teju. Do you think the gods will welcome her?’

I nod and look him straight into the eyes: ‘Yes but there will be no way back Karay. It will be a goodbye for ever. The gods of the sky welcome but never return.’

My wife entered the hut again she always had a good intuition. She serves us lemonade and leaves again. We drink the lemonade while I give Karay time to make a decision. I close my eyes for a minute and enjoy the sour taste of freshly squeezed lemons. When we have finished the lemonade Karay prepares to leave.

He stands up and looks at me before leaving my hut. ‘Make it happen Teju.’

‘I will my dear Karay. You will have one day to say goodbye to her. I will send her to the gods of the sky so that whenever you look at the sky she won’t be far. She will be the stars in the night sky.’

That evening I prepare my ritual for what is coming: the spell that will be needed, the herbs and I clean my mind to be ready for tomorrow. I allow myself a few moments to feel sorry for the young lovers and the pain they will experience. Then I stand up and forget about these feelings. I am no more than a servant of the Great Captain and this land. I will always serve.

 

VII

Nothing could have prepared us for what was about to come. It was a clear night full of stars. We had met in a small field just outside the village where we could easily hide in the high grass by lying down next to each other. Had we been naive? Why had we never expected any consequences of our behaviour? Why did we not notice that us being together and falling in love was going too easy? Being in love made us blind for our surrounding.

She was lying next to me while the grass tickled us and she smiled at me. I had started to love every detail of her; the wrinkle in her nose when she would try to remember something she forgot, her

passion when she would talk about the beauty of nature or her laugh when she would tell the jokes her brothers had taught her. I am amazed how good it feels to know someone so completely, having seen every little corner of her brain and to love her so intensely. Sometimes I feel I know her better than myself. Even more surprising is how good it feels that she knows me just as good; she tells me about me and through her dedication I am starting to know myself better. I am who I want to be with her.

We kiss each other, I bite on her lip playful and she chuckles. It is a moment of perfection in which everything seems to come together: there is no future or past, there are no obstacles, there is just her and me and the grass that tickles our feet. It is as if fate had given us the chance to have one moment of true perfection before everything would change into a living hell. She looks at me and smiles and then out of nowhere clouds cover the stars and a wind starts to blow. In the wind I hear a man singing and I wonder how that could be. What powers are at work here?

‘It is going to rain. Come on,’ she says and we get up to look for a place to hide in the forest. We grab each other’s hands and start to run while out of nowhere rain falls from the unexpected clouds. We are only a few meters away from the trees and I look at her while the rain only makes her prettier and she smiles at me.

‘The gods are mad at us,’ she shouts and laughs. The lightning blinds my eyes, hits the trees right in front of us and keeps rolling over us. My eyes are blinded and I lose any feeling of direction. I feel her hand in mine while in the bright nothing I hear her scream and she lets go, I feel her hand slipping out of mine.

‘Hitabai!!’ I fall on my knees and with my hands I try to find my way through the grass to find her. ‘Hitabai!!’ I cannot stop screaming her name while crawling through the grass in this white nothing that I have never experienced before. Then the lightning strikes and the thunder rolls. I hear something above me that hits my head. Then nothing.

 

The sun in the morning wakes me up. My clothes are wet from all the rain that has been pouring on me. The shock of waking up and remembering what happened last night makes me jump to my feet and right away I grab my head.

‘AAAUUU.’ I feel blood between my hair and I notice the branch next to my feet. It must have hit me when it fell off of the tree. Once again I run over the field back and forth to look for Hitabai but while doing it the horrible truth on what has happened dawns on me slowly; Hitabai has been killed by a miracle. Instead of crying or being angry while running over the field I slowly turn into stone; if Hitabai has disappeared then what is the point of life? What is the point of feeling any emotion?

Then I remember the voice I heard of the man whispering in the lightning. I know where the Teju lives. It must have been him who did this to us. There is only one option left to do. I leave the field behind me and start running towards the forest.

 

VIII

I woke up early in the morning and I still felt tired of last night’s ritual. When opening my eyes I hear him scream and be in pain. I hear him deciding to come to me and ask for the only thing I cannot do for him. Love drives people far but that is not news to me. I moan while standing up and stretching my legs. My bones hurt more everyday. I prepare some coffee and then sit outside the hut to wait for him, the lost boy in love.

I see him running through the woods not paying attention to the branches or the roots in the ground or the spider webs.

When he reaches my hut he sees me on the ground and shouts: ‘You it was you. I heard you in the wind!’

I only nod my head and look at him waiting for what is to come.

‘Why aren’t you saying something? Don’t you have an excuse for what you did?’

I shake my head and smile at him. ‘My boy, other powers are at work here. I have sworn to obey the earth I live on and this is what was asked from me. Do not feel pain my boy, Hitabai is with the gods of the stars now. She will be taken care of.’

‘Bring me to her. I will join the gods of the stars.’

I shake my head and tell him that it is impossible. The tears of the boy that run down his proud cheeks soften my old heart and I think about something to give him.

‘The closest to being her that I can give you is a chance to carry the stars with you,’ I tell him.

Hope changes the boy’s face completely and he nods without knowing what it will mean.

‘But there is a price to it boy. You cannot carry the stars on your human body; it will have to be an animal’s body. This is the way mysteries work,’ I explain to him.

The boy nods but is not really listening. ‘Let me be a panther then. I will be able to live in my dearest woods close to my family and still have her with me.’

I smile and I am surprised that the boy is so inventful he has caught me off guard. It is nice to be caught of guard. I am tired sometimes of knowing everything that is about to come. I think about it for a second and then I nod.

‘So it will be my boy. Don´t forget you will always remain our brother, even when you will have changed into a different shape. And so will your sons and their sons be.’

 

When night falls the boy sits in front of me while I talk to the spirits and ask for their magic. The god of the moon responds and agrees with me that the boy needs to be given what he has asked for. I can feel the rage and disbelief of the god of the moon; why do humans hurt each other so much over unimportant things as power and territory? But even the god of the moon does not know what the human kind will do to us in the future. I feel the magic spreading through my body and when the boy lifts up in the air and feels the changes happening to him I still don’t see any doubts or fear in his eyes. I can see the hair growing out of his ears and covering his face. I am amazed to see magic do its work and make two extra legs grow out of his changing body while his human nose slowly disappears and a tail grows quickly out of his behind. Then I see the clouds above us part and I see the stars coming down from the sky. This is the only way the boy can be with the princess and I don’t know if I imagine it but I see the stars falling down on his skin accompanied by the soothing voice of the princess. For a moment I feel intense happiness about my role in their love story. Then I realize the boy will not be a panther but a new creature. His fur turns yellow and the stars turn black on his skin. When he lands on his four feet he looks at me and I realize the only thing that hasn’t been changed are his dark eyes; they are still the boys’. for one last second he looks at me and then, without goodbye, runs out into the woods. ‘Goodbye brother jaguar,’ I whisper to the wind.