In a small desolate cottage in the middle of a forest, a middle aged couple sat in comfortable conversation as they shared a midday meal of beer and red meat. The fire crackled in the corner of the room, the birds sang outside in a beautiful melody.
“Anything yet?” the husband asked expectantly.
“No,” the wife replied in a dejected tone.
For two years they had been trying to get a baby and more specifically, a boy to no avail. Time was not on their side and they weren’t getting younger. There had been a few false alarms and one miscarriage and as the days flew by, their individual desires drove the couple apart as they secretly shifted blame and resorted to bickering over trivial matters.
“Maleki, God will answer our prayers soon,” the wife comforted the husband. She understood his frustration and hoped that it was nothing but a phase in life.
Maleki made a face in a manner to suggest his diminishing faith. “It’s been two years now since we moved from the village,” he grumbled. “I want to play with my son and see him grow into a man.” Then suddenly he stopped talking and craned his neck.
A scared expression crossed his wife’s face. “What is it?”
“Quiet Robin. Shshhhhh…” They both listened. The birds’ singing had stopped and something in the way the wind whooshed sounded different. And then they both heard it and their eyes grew big with horror: the pounding of boots on the ground. Before they could react, the door was kicked in and four soldiers rushed into the room. Robin screamed! Two men grabbed her and the other two went for Maleki. The couple didn’t put up much of a fight as they wallowed in shock at their predicament. They were dragged outside into the afternoon sun and held from behind as a huge black horse approached. The rider was a man in a black hood. Robin shuddered in fright and the men tightened their grip, hurting her.
The rider casually got off the horse and glided towards the couple. They couldn’t see his face or his hands, and the gown he wore dragged behind him on the ground. And then the hood came off to reveal a burly of a man with a thick black beard and long disheveled hair. Maleki stared in disbelief. It was the sheriff from the nearby village.
“How long have you lived here?” the man asked in a condescending tone.
“Five years.” Maleki’s voice trembled in fear.
The sheriff shook his head in disapproval. “My name is Sheriff Contess and I own these lands. You owe me taxes for five years. What say you?”
Maleki struggled to find words and it was Robin who replied. “This land belongs to England, not you! We owe you nothing!”
“I am England!” the man bellowed and turned on the woman. “And if you love England then you would pay your taxes. This is the law of the land.”
She scoffed at him. “You take money from the poor and use it to finance wars abroad. An unjust law is no law at all!” The words of St. Augustine.
“I’m the law!” The man’s face was red with anger. “And I will not be questioned by a peasant girl. Hold her!” he commanded the two men. “You are a feisty one aren’t you?” The tone in his voice sounded threatening.
He advanced on her and she spat on his face. He laughed, wiped the spit and slapped her with the back of his hand. Her head snapped backwards and she cried in pain. She looked into the man’s face and the spark of malevolence in his eyes made her tremble: a trail of blood ran down her busted lip. She wanted to cry but she didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. Where was Maleki and why wasn’t he saying anything? Everything swam in front of her eyes: blurry hands, legs, and trees. She struggled to focus on the man’s face but something else jolted her back to reality …the man’s hand was on her inner thigh. She panicked, started screaming and kicking but the two men held her tight. She opened her mouth to curse but another slap on the face cut her off. Her body went limp. The man’s hand ran up and down her inner thigh at will and what sounded like a moan escaped from his lips. She was hopeless to do anything and her body trembled like a leaf. Where was Maleki? And then it stopped and the Sheriff took a step back.
“That’s just a taste of what’s coming if I don’t get my money. I will be back in a few days. Find it!” He jumped back on the horse and rode away, the four soldiers running behind him like lap dogs.
Maleki rushed to his wife’s side when they were gone. “Robin, are you okay?” he asked.
Robin’s eyes turned cold and stared him down. “Don’t touch me you coward! Where were you?”
“I was being held Robin, I couldn’t do anything!” Maleki sounded ashamed.
“You coward!” Robin repeated. “You just sat there and watched the man molesting me. And you did nothing…said nothing… what kind of a man are you?” Her face was an unusual crimson.
A chagrin Maleki stared in shock as the words hit him. They were the coldest words anybody had ever uttered to him and he didn’t know how to react. Robin turned and ran into the trees.
“Robin, don’t!” the husband yelled. “Please come back!” He sounded like a little boy. But Robin was gone and all was quiet but for the rustling of branches and leaves: the birds returned and the chirping resumed.
Robin ran like the wind, tripping over dead roots, picking herself up and running some more. She didn’t know where she was headed but she knew that she had to get away from her husband. How could he claim to love her if the touch of another man evoked no emotions from him? For two years she had endured his criticism… the times when he had blamed her for not giving him a child. But now, this, the realization that he was a fraud who couldn’t take a knife or a blow for her was the final straw.
Robin stopped at the river and drank some water. She was tired and dusk was drawing nigh. The whooshing of the wind in this part of the forest wasn’t as loud, as trees were huddled close to one another. The canopy of trees cut out the sun and left the air cold. Robin shivered then stumbled towards a huge tree and collapsed at its feet. Her breathing slowly decipitated and her eyes closed in fatigue.
She could see him clearly, the smugness, the rough face, the ragged beard. She could feel his hand on her, touching her in places she had never imagined. She could feel her insides shattering like glass … her humanity … her purity scathed…humiliation. He might as well have raped her for that was how it felt. An avalanche of emotions overtook her and she started crying and pounding her fist against the tree trunk. Her head dangled to the side awkwardly as she sobbed. It was hard to grasp and believe what had happened to her. The horrifying event would forever be seared in her memories.
And then another face appeared in her vision: a scared look, her husband Maleki. He just stood there and stared at her, unable to believe what was happening, unable to make a move and help. And Robin felt angry with him. How would she be able to look up to him again? She put her head against the trunk and cried incessantly.
They had met in the village five years ago and she had fallen in love with him on their first date. But before the date, she had seen him at the village slaughterhouse holding a pig, the other boys surrounding him. She had walked over curiously wanting to see what was happening. Maleki had been sent by his father to buy and slaughter a pig at old George’s farm which folks referred to as the slaughterhouse. Everybody knew the routine: you pay for the pig, go around the farm and kill it. But Maleki couldn’t do it. He kept looking into the pig’s eyes and the knife trembled in his hands.
“I can’t kill him, I can’t!” he had cried and the boys had laughed as they watched him flee.
Robin and Maleki had met a few days later and he had been skeptical of her but slowly opened up to who she was: a good person, a woman of incandescent beauty. They had been married two years later and it had been his heart more than his looks that had won her over. She knew how soft he was: a man who couldn’t witness the slaughter of animals … frank, honest, loving…lacking dexterity… and yet she sensed something reserved about him: an inner strength buried in the rabbles of fear. She couldn’t quite place it, but for years, yearned for it. It was why she felt guilty blaming him for her almost being raped. What had she expected? For him to step out of his character and become a fighter? Robin sighed. Who was she kidding; she loved him with all her heart. Saying goodbye was not an option. It was time to head back home before it got dark. A snake slithered over her feet and she sat very still until it was gone. Snakes were a norm in her life.
A movement in her peripheral snapped her back to reality and she tensed. It was fast, a shadow, an almost nothing. Another movement caught her eye to the left side of the forest and she quickly raised her head. Her heart froze at the sight. They looked like German shepherd dogs but they were not. Their heads were bigger, their legs longer. These were Wolves! The realization drove a cold shiver down the nape of her neck and she counted them. The number came to ten: ten ferocious looking wolves of different colors, approximately ninety pounds of muscle on each. The wolves had never come this close to her home before and she didn’t understand … wolves in this area never attacked humans … she didn’t have time to comprehend. A high pitch howl resounded through the trees and she knew that it was time to run.
Robin jumped to her feet, grabbed her long brown frock with one hand and dashed for the trees. The wolves growled and barked as they pursued her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the fangs … the long legs and raised hackles… black, gray and white fur. Robin wanted to scream for help but knew that it would be futile as there was nobody around for miles. Oh God, she should have stayed home. The backlash of a branch slapped her face and she ignored the pain.
She veered towards her house but the wolves cut her off and drove her deep into the forest. They were toying with her, taunting her, wearing her down. Robin ran until she could run no more, and then she fell to her knees and waited for her fate. Come and get me, am done. Silence. Nothing happened. She raised her head and looked back, but saw nothing. The ground where the wolves had previously occupied was covered with bushes and long grass. The wolves were gone. What! She couldn’t believe it. Quickly, she jumped to her feet and whirled around and scanned every side of the forest but saw nothing. What kind of a joke was this? Had she imagined the whole thing? And then she heard it, a noise from behind a tree that made her heart skip a beat. The sound was unmistakable; something she had dreamt of for years… yearned for in her womb. Strength sapped back into her body and she dashed through the bushes towards the noise. She parted the grass and stared mouth agape at the wonders of the universe. It was a little baby in a basket!
The moment was surreal and so Robin bent down and touched the boy. The baby was surprisingly warm despite the cold breeze. The little boy stopped crying when he saw her and Robin picked him up from the basket and looked him over. He was probably six months old, a creature hovering between life and death in a belligerent forest. Robin looked up and searched the trees again, but saw nothing. Dark shadows appeared in the forest as darkness descended. Baby in her arms, she turned and ran all the way home.
Maleki heard the baby, looked up and saw his wife running towards the house. He rushed to meet her, hurried her inside the house and bolted the doors. “Is someone following you?” he asked as he looked through the windows into the trees. He could have sworn he saw yellow eyes… and then he looked again and they were gone. He turned to the baby in surprise. “Where did you find him?”
“The wolves!” the wife gasped. “The wolves guided me to the baby.”
He looked at her as though she was crazy. And she started from the beginning and told him the whole story. He listened without interrupting. “You don’t look shocked?” she finally observed.
He walked over and looked down at the baby, at the blue innocent eyes staring up at him. “It’s true,” he said to himself. “The Legend of the Guardian Wolves is true. My father told me about them but nobody ever believed him. Its true!” He sounded excited.
“What legend?” Robin looked puzzled and Maleki expounded.
“A long time ago, man and wolves ran together as a pack. Those were the days when man walked on all fours. The legend says that we used to be very fast but evolution happened and we grew a brain and started walking on two legs. After that, we became civilized and forgot.”
“The wolves never forgot Maleki!” Robin said. She was relieved that someone believed her but worried about the implications. “Don’t you see? The wolves have never forgotten!” He nodded in agreement.
“What do we do now Maleki?” she groped for an anchor.
Maleki walked over and sat next to her. “I always wanted a boy, my prayers have been answered.” His eyes looked distant.
“What will we call him?” Robin asked as they both looked down at the baby. Maleki stood up and paced the room. He seemed lost in thought and she realized that he wasn’t ready to answer the question and so she let him be.
The following day the couple slept in and woke up to screaming and yelling noises outside. They quickly dressed up, grabbed the baby and rushed out of the house. The scene was terrifying. A crowd of villagers was was trudging through the land, fleeing from their village. Maleki looked into the blue sky and saw rising tails of smoke. The women wailed, the children cried, the men bled from different parts of their body.
“What is it?” Maleki asked.
“The soldiers. The soldiers have burned the village,” a breathless boy explained. “They are killing people.”
Maleki looked around and suddenly something snapped inside his body. He paused and tried understand the new feeling. It came with no pain, but he had felt it, he was different. His vision on the future was clouded no more… all those times he had been told that he couldn’t… all the boys laughing at him and calling him weak… and suddenly, he was ashamed no more. A wind of change blew in the air and he inhaled it. He sprang on top of a huge boulder and yelled at the top of his voice. “Stop! Everybody stop!”
A few folks gathered to listen to what he had to say: a reflex reaction on some and a need to hold onto something for others. Folks wanted to be told that everything was going to be okay, even when it wasn’t. It was the human nature.
“Stop!” Maleki yelled again in bravado. “People of Gildenburg, we can not run away from our father’s lands.”
“The soldiers will kill us all if we stay,” a man yelled and a murmur erupted through the crowd.
“Quiet!” Maleki yelled in a voice that Robin had never heard before. “How far are you going to run and for how long? How are we going to look our children in their eyes thirty years from now and tell them that we fled from the land of their fathers when we should have fought!”
A few more villagers gathered and suddenly folks began paying attention to Maleki’s words. Robin felt pride well up inside her womb. Finally, her husband was the man that she had always believed him to be. Maleki stood tall on top of the boulder and looked into the villagers’ scared faces.
“We die today, we die fifty years from today in our beds, what’s the difference? If we are going to die, I say we die for a course, we die fighting for our freedom!”
The villagers were silent as they mulled over his words. A glint of hope sparkled in their eyes and Maleki saw them struggling with their fears. Then a woman yelled, “We are not soldiers, we are common folks with farming tools. Who’s going to lead us?”
The crowd began to murmur again and Maleki yelled. “Silence!” The grounds fell deathly silent. Maleki walked over to his wife and took the baby from her. Robin shuddered at the thought of what her husband was about to do. Don’t do it Maleki. But it was too late: her husband was on a roll.
“Last night, the wolves appeared to my wife and led her deep into the forest where she found this child wrapped inside a basket. His name is Robin Hood and he will lead us against tyranny and oppression of our leaders.”
The villagers stared at him in disbelief as though he was joking.
“The legend of the wolves is a myth told to young boys. This is the real war and people are dying!” Someone yelled.
“How is a baby supposed to lead us?” Another voice. “You are a fool, lets get out of here!”
“Wait, don’t leave!” Maleki yelled but the villagers shook their heads in a manner to suggest that he was crazy then started walking towards the trees. Maleki was nothing but the ranting of a foolish man, a dreamer with a clouded vision.
Suddenly, a burning arrow landed in the middle of the opening and everybody turned towards its source. The sight was terrifying: soldiers, almost a hundred of them, some on foot, some on horses. The villagers gasped, turned around in search of an exit but found none. They were surrounded. The sky lit up with fire as dozens of arrows flew through the air… the sound of a horn brought panic of impending doom… and then, a blood cuddling battle cry resounded through the forest as the soldiers attacked.
“Fight!” Maleki yelled. “Grab sticks and stones and fight!” He quickly pulled Robin behind a rock and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you Robin. You wait until the right moment and then you run into the trees!”
Robin grabbed his hand. “Come with me Maleki, you don’t have to do this!”
He smiled sadly. “I have to. I have been running all my life. I have to do this so that Robin Hood can have a chance to live.” He paused. “Remember that pig at the slaughter house?” She nodded. “Its time to kill it. Am ready for redemption.”
“Go,” she said. “And go with my love.” She had never loved him more than she did at that very moment.
Maleki walked into the mayhem, a rock in his hand. A soldier on a horse drove towards him, sword raised in the air and he released the rock, hitting the man on the head. The soldier fell and Maleki picked up the sword. It felt heavier than he had expected. He turned and saw another soldier drive a spear through the back of a woman, and he winced. Light glittered with every sword and spear movement as the soldiers hacked and thrust into flesh. Screams from fleeing villagers and cries from the wounded ignited the air with a sense of doom.
“Fight for your freedom!” Maleki yelled. “Fight with me!” A few men listened but their skills were no match for the trained soldiers. A massacre was in progress and it was only a matter of time before everybody was dead. A dark cloud curtained the sun.
Suddenly, a noise arose from the trees and everybody including the soldiers froze. It was the loudest howl anybody had ever heard and it reverberated from tree to tree and throughout the forest. The bushes parted ways and suddenly countless of angry looking wolves emerged on a full charge. They emitted a combination of short barks and howls as they attacked … the pounding of their big paws shook the ground. At one moment they were by the trees and the next, they were on the people, ripping and tugging at flesh in all directions.
“They are only attacking the soldiers!” someone yelled.
“The wolves are fighting for us!” A cheer erupted through the fighting ground and the villagers began arming themselves with swords and spears.
“Fight with the wolves!” Maleki yelled. And this time the villagers listened. A soldier swung his sword and cut off a wolf’s head but before he could turn, another wolf ripped his throat and severed the neck arteries: death came within seconds to a minute. There were too many of them and the soldiers broke their formation and began to run. But it was too late. The wolves had smelled blood and their demonic eyes glowed like fire. A wolf sprang on a fleeing horse and brought down both the horse and its rider. Wolves leaped in high arc and immobilized soldiers with a slap of their big paws. None of the soldiers escaped. None would leave to tell. The aftermath was a land full of scattered corpses: a soldier with both feet bit off flailing in front of the house… blood stains on the grass. It was judgment day in the land of Gildenburg… retribution.
Maleki ran over to his wife and found her where he had left her. There was blood in her hands: she had killed a soldier. “You were supposed to run Robin?” It was a question.
“I’m not going anywhere Maleki. You are my husband and where you go, I go.” He kissed her on the mouth and suddenly a cheer behind made them turn. The villagers were applauding, raising spears and swords into the air. Maleki looked shocked and emotional. He turned and looked at his wife in confusion.
“They are applauding you,” she said and kissed him on the cheek. “Go to them.”
A dazed Maleki grabbed the baby and climbed on top of the boulder. He didn’t know what to say and he didn’t trust himself to speak and so he did the only thing that he could think off. He raised the baby into the air.
“To Robin Hood!” he yelled.
“To Robin Hood!” the villagers cheered and this time when Maleki looked into their eyes, he knew that they believed. They would stay and fight for what was rightfully theirs. The trees would become their knew home. A new dawn had arisen in the land of Gildenburg.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...