The Uros

Fiction by Linda Woolven

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Her island floated.  Everyday she came to the edge of her home and watched as the water eddied on by.  She knew that anything that came or left from her island went by way of water, and if she wanted to warn the islanders of visitors she had to be at the island’s edge each morning when the sun came up.

Today, she knew, was to be the big day.  Manu’s family was to come for the reed laying, and there’d be dancing, singing and feasting, even some secret games that the children would play, never once suspecting that all children had played their games for the last 1,000 years on the island.  But that didn’t matter, today was reed laying day.

Chiwa was at the water’s edge even before the night had folded away, tucking itself behind the snowcapped peaks on the far side of the lake for another day.  Out of the darkness she heard nothing, saw nothing, yet she knew that out there in that blackness the small reed boat came, looking like a great yellow puma, its head proudly leading the way.

She was even ready with her hand outstretched to catch the great head of the boat and then help Manu and his wife onto the spongy back.  Their children needed no help—they sprang out from the boat, their feet sinking deep into the reeds that made up the floor of Chiwa’s family island, their laughter an awakening for all the children that still waited for boats from earlier times, just as Chiwa had.  The children smiled at each other, their teeth extra white in the bright moonlight that reflected off of the golden reeds that surrounded them all, a light they were used to; but I was not, I could not be: I had not grown up here so high up in the world that the clouds served as hats in the rain that rarely came at this time of the year.

Chiwa smiled at me, as did the other children. They did not take my hand at first, it is not their way, but bid me to follow with their eyes the way they could.  I followed, the only pale faced, flat boned, tall, thin one among them.  They wore their high cheek bones well, their nut brown skin like tight leather stretched thinly over their brown features.

Chiwa waited patiently for me to catch up, standing with her hands at her sides, willing them to stillness, as she must have seen the women of her island do for many years.  It was not women’s way to be still among her people.

I found her standing by the small drying hut that held the promise for today’s reed laying ceremony.

She was not alone—all the other children on the island stood with her, guarding the night’s departure, welcoming the sun with their throaty voices that hissed and sang like the reeds that surrounded the island.

With the sun came the adults from the island: the women waddling in their thick layers of skirts, looking like brightly colored pineapples, the men wearing their little mountain caps whose flaps covered their ears, and their woven ponchos whose patterns spoke of whom each was and from whence he had come.  They too smiled like they knew that today marked the soul of their people.  A facelift for their homeland and for continued life.

“Welcome, strange Puma,” Manu said to me.  There was a smile in his words.

The adults had already begun to remove the cut, drying reeds from the hut.  Reed laying was done at sunrise.

Each adult carried a bundle as large as himself and walked out in a steadily growing circle from the hut which was the center point of the island.  The circle moved until it reached the island’s edge and here each person began to spread out his load, retracing his steps over the next hour as the sun climbed high above the snowy peeks, until each stood back at the point that his journey had begun from.

The new layer of reeds was already beginning to blend into the countless layers that formed their island.  The oldest layers at the bottom of the island rotted, composting, allowing food to be grown, and filling the island air with the smell of home for the people.

The reed laying was complete for another cycle and the island would float for another time, rising with the flood waters, receding with the dry season, always changing with each passing season, as a babe changes into a wise one, as the years ebb by.

Then the singing began: deep, guttural sounds rising up above the reeds, the low notes for the singing reeds that sang in the wind that had come up, and the dancing.

I too was included in these strange steps, my feet gathering force as they sprung off of the new, stretchy reeds.  I heard wing sounds in the air and I believe I felt the ground move right away as I caught a glimpse of yellow feathers in that strong yellow sun, high up here at the top of the world.  The mythical winged puma had come once more, and all here knew its call.  It called to the reeds, to its home, to its people, and for a moment we all saw its great shadow, golden against the sun.  Even the sun looked pale in that moment.  Our feet were stilled and our voices silent—our island would float still.

The feasting began, and I smelled quinoa, many tubers and amaranth, all mixed in a riot of smells.  I watched the children free from my daily classes, slip away to their secret games.  I too wished to be a small one, nut brown, my smile pushing up under my high cheek bones, free, as they all were.  I had come here to teach; yet I could teach them nothing they need know, not on the island that floated.


Linda Woolven has published over one hundred poems in journals across Canada, the United States and the U.K. They have appeared in various journals including Dana Literary Society, Amethyst Review, Write On, Sepia Poetry Magazine, New Mirage Quarterly, The Kaleidocope Review, Canadian Writer’s Journal, Pink Chameleon, Fullosia Press, and others. One of her poems received an award from Dana Literary Society. Dana has also published two chapbooks. One is called Life’s Little Lessons and features twenty six poems. She is an oil painter artist. See lindawoolven.com

 

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