Jigme was looking out of the window. The light from the cloudy sky shone on his pale skin , making it resemble the yak milk…
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Jigme was looking out of the window. The light from the cloudy sky shone on his pale skin , making it resemble the yak milk from his stables. The clouds rained down snow niggardly that day yet the loafing instincts remained for everyone in the village to dwell within the walls of their home. But Jigme wasn’t sluggish that day or any day of that week. His plans were as clear as his view of the landscape from his window. All he had to do was sneak out of the window, walk across the garden, climb down to the village plateau, cross the river, walk into the forest and after a couple of miles of walking again will lead him to the mountain of the migoi. His road map was his window and he tried to memorize it all by the end of the hour. And all must be done in secret or otherwise everyone will know of his plans.
‘The mountain of Migoi, Jigme,’ said his grandmother who was knitting beside the lit lamp. She looked at him once with those wrinkled eyes before saying ‘ Don’t ever dare to go there. For it is the mountain of the migoi and the migoi is real. He is there, dwelling in the forest at night to hunt and resting when the sun is in the sky. He has a large appetite and fondness for human flesh. Whoever has gone there, has become his prey and has never come back.’
‘Have you seen a migoi, mo la?’ He asked her with a tone of disparage.
She smiled. She began her story of her migoi encounter as her hands went slow with the knitting needles. He turned his eyes away in impassiveness. He has heard it many times from her, in bedtime stories, at the dinner table, even the time before he started distrusting her. Jigme was the only one in his family who hadn’t seen a migoi. Everyone on his family tree had seen a migoi either in the forest or walking down the river or in the most horrifying of the cases, in their garden. Whenever the subject of the migoi would come up before his friends, everyone would take turns to narrate the stories of how they and their forefathers had seen one and he would listen with the same attitude he listened to his grandmother. Even the English men who came all across the ocean had sighted one with its footprint in the snow. He was unfortunate in this matter. All he could ever come across were howls and growls of the migoi from the forest at night that his father made him listen to since he was a child. However, spotting an actual migoi wasn’t that much of a concern to him; for him a miogi wasn’t actual. Unlike everyone he couldn’t accept the fact the migoi was real. It was all fables that are to keep children away from the forest and the mountain. And all the sightings of the migoi, its howls and growls were nothing but those of the bears the forest sheltered. For he knew there was no “Abominable snowman” as the English men would say. However he tried to persuade all his friends and family whenever the topic arose that no such things existed. But the family would shut him up and his friends would make fun of him. Nevertheless he didn’t feel any hint of anger when they did so. It made him feel wiser and matured when he saw all around him in the depths of folly.
But all the rumors had only a day of life left. All the village would know there is nothing as a yeti when he would return from his journey. Only he had to wait out the day.
Gradually he turned to his grandmother as his favorite part of her narrative was about to begin.
Grandmother took a deep breath and switched from her migoi incident.
‘You know, Jigme? The mountain of migoi has a lake. Lake Lhaya. The lake of Migoi. It has peebles that are the size of the fist of a full grown man. A pebble from the lake can make any wish come true. To get their hands on a pebble from the lake, many people have journeyed to the mountain but have become the prey of the migoi.’
‘How do you know that the pebbles are there in the lake?’ Jigme asked, looking at her straight in those weary eyes.
‘It’s the words of our ancestors. They have seen the lake Lhaya and the pebbles in it.’
‘But you said that whoever has gone there has been eaten up by a migoi. Then how could they possibly know about the existence of the lake and the pebbles on it?’
Mo la said nothing. She continued with her needles, running them over each other. Jigme smiled like the devil would have and turned his eyes towards the window. For that moment, he felt he had been crowned with the crown made of those pebbles.
The evening came later that day. Jigme had taken a nap of three hours as he had to renew his energy if he were to travel miles. Before that he had already taken everything he would need in a bag and hid it under his bed. His gloves, his shoes, two bottles of water, some bread stolen from the last self of the kitchen, he had everything ready. He reassessed all his forest skills he learned from his father like building up a fire or assessing the call of the birds when a predator is nearby thoroughly. He had eradicated every cause of suspicion from his family and made sure that he avoided ensnaring himself while he did his complicity. He was all set for his adventure and he was very confident of the sluggish weather that would make his family go to bed earlier than usual, and as well as of himself that he would succeed in disproving the actuality of the migoi. But all must go in the order of the list of his imagined events; things getting out of the way he had imagined was something he didn’t like.
However, the night was all his. The family had their dinner as soon as the sky went dark. A bowl of thenthuk was enough for their stomachs to be filled and the feelings of slumber for the bed to attract them. Jigme having two bowls of thenthuk was improbable for his family as he never fancied thenthuk. They convinced themselves that it was the cause of increasing hunger in the early stages of puberty. However, the house was dark and the walls enclosed the silence of the night. Jigme was awake under the quilt, waiting with eyes wide open. Muted noises of snores from all the rooms were his signal to begin with his mission. He slipped out of his bed and pulled his bag out. He got in his shoes and left on his toes. The squeaky floors were silenced with a curse in his local language even when the voice was low. The slangs always worked. He walked to the window very slowly. The only one to be feared was his grandmother. Mo la had ears sharper than that of an antelope. His strong exhalation might wake her up, so he had to be very cautious. Anyhow he reached the window. Pulling one of the panes by his two fingers, he made space for him to jump out. He looked back once and jumped to his garden. From there, the journey was solitary. He walked across his garden and climbed down the plateau by paths seldom used by village people. He was very lucky not to encounter the street dogs as they would have awakened the whole village if they were to see a lone traveler in the night. In no time he reached the river that margins their village and jumping over the rocks on the narrow river, he stood before the forest.
Jigme was in the middle of the forest. His legs were seriously fatigued walking through the snow that was up to his knees. The night had changed since he had walked into the forest. The sky had rained down snow as if it had leaked. The cold wind started to flow through the trees bringing down both the temperature and his vitality. Nevertheless the moon of the thirteenth day was generous enough to light everything up for him to see clearly but that too was hindered by the voluntarily moving clouds susceptible of pouring down snow again that could make his journey difficult. The cold had gone so deep through his skin that it almost took him a minute to clench his fist tightly. His own foggy breath blurred him of his vision. Jigme had to start a fire. He looked around for twigs and sticks and if lucky, dead branches of the trees. It didn’t take him time to look for those but finding a shelter did. Walking around with those weakened legs he managed to find some branches of a tree arched down to touch the ground. He quickly assembled the collected wood and started a fire using the matchsticks which luckily happened to be inside the bag: his father’s smoking habit proved of any help for the first time. Spreading his palms very close to the flames , he sighed. The warmth of the fire made him feel the life that was still running through his blood vessels. Bathing his hands in the flames he relaxed and laid his back to the trunk of the tree under which he had taken refuge. He was debilitated; the reason his eyes drooped down denying his control. The frequent hoots of the owls were nothing less than lullaby to him, escalating the intemperance of the deepest slumber. He could have fallen asleep if his stomach wouldn’t have growled loudly. With those half closed eyes he pulled out some balep he had stolen from the kitchen and chewed it as hard as his fatigue permitted. Gulping the last of the balep’s bite, he conceded to his weakness.
The twigs snapped. Jigme opened his eyes swiftly. He could clearly hear the snow being pressed down. The twigs snapped again. It was someone walking through the snow. He took no time to understand it was coming towards him. His ears and eyes were triggered by the possible events of danger in his mind. A bear? No. He would know if it was a bear. Wolves? No. The wolves make no such sounds. A snow leopard? It could be. They are nocturnal and deadly. Even if the tales of leopard attacking people were rare, he could not convince himself this would not be the usual. He was still and stiff yet his eyes moved rapidly. The level of “flight and fight hormones” peaked with all the thoughts going on in his head at the same time. Any moment the sound grew louder or the animal got close, he would strike back with the longest of the burning branches that he managed to clench within his fist without alarming the predator.
There was a voice. Jigme was terrified by the speaking snow leopard. He pulled out the branch straight from the fire and held it before him in defense after he jumped on his feet to stand up. All he saw through the flames was someone falling down to the snow. It was not a speaking snow leopard. The person got up dusting off snow from his clothes and was stunned to see jigme. It was a boy. His attire was very mediaeval and traditional. His skin unclean and eyebrow straight. He was shorter than Jigme in height. But his eyes were sharp like the needle leaves of the forest trees and captivating. He breathed deeply twice before saying ’Who are you?’.
Jigme looked at him but he was not more stunned than the boy was. He said ‘I am Jigme. I am from the village. And you?’
The boy didn’t answer back. He stared back at him and his eyes became sharper like a knife, as if he was piercing deep into his mind. He looked away and walked to him. He crossed Jigme and put his hands above the fire. Jigme was staring at him perplexed. Looking deep into the flames the boy said. ’I am Zerdan. I know about the village you are talking about. I have been to it’s outskirts many times.’
‘But our village is the plateau. Except the forest, the outskirts ….’
‘ is the cliff. I know that.’ Zerdan said and looked at him averting his eyes from the flames. Those eyes glittered from the light from the fire as he smiled at him. He hadn’t had his voice broken yet there was a fine line of tiny hairs. His accent was exotic even if they were speaking the native language. His attire too was traditional. Jigme found it hard to comprehend the originality of the boy. To eliminate the doubts that were piling in his mind, Zerdan said ‘I am not from any village down the hill. I am from the forest. I come from the community of the hunter gatherers. Well the place where i live is remote and known to few but it doesn’t have communication with the other villages. Well my people prefer the old culture: you can guess that by my clothes. They prefer the traditional ways and somehow retrieve themselves from the changing world.’ He ended with a smile. In his utterance Jigme found every answer to his query as if the boy read his mind already.
‘So tell me what brings you to the forest in the middle of the night?’ Zerdan said, pulling out his hands from the fire and stood before Jigme. He struggled for words to answer him. ‘Are you on a migoi hunt?’ Zerdan said and giggled. Jigme felt offended.
‘There are no Migoi in the world.’ Jigme said to Zerdan with a ton of attitude.
‘I agree. But what makes you lost in the forest?’
‘I am not lost. I am going to the ….’ Jigme stopped. He thought twice over what he was about to say. The boy glanced at him with raised eyebrows. “Yeah. I am lost. I was lost collecting wood.’
‘Lost collecting wood? At night? I can see your collection was very scarce.’ Zerdan said and peeped at the fire Jigme had put on. Jigme said nothing. ‘Anyways’, the boy continued, ‘It will be deadly for you to wait out the night here. The cold will kill for sure, or a bear or a snow leopard might do the work instead. Put out the fire.’
Jigme nodded and turned back to carry out his order. Zerdan walked, assessing the sky once and Jigme followed him silently. Walking behind him Jigme asked ‘ What makes you walk in the forest at night, Zerdan?’
‘My father and I have been hunting hares. The branches under which you built up the fire we use it as a checkpoint whenever we lost each other. And if none of us is there, the home is where we head next.’
Jigme nodded. ‘And you said that you agree with me that migoi doesn’t exist. What makes you think so?’
‘The huge bears in the forest’ Zerdan said and both giggled.
Walking through the dense forest in the moonlight and imitating the walk of the crane to cross the snow, both exchanged a few words but lost a large amount of energy. The only motivation that kept them going on was the sentence Zerdan used to say “We are very close to home”.
Well they did reach his community after a strenuous journey after which their legs were no longer capable of holding them up. Jigme stopped for a moment before he could step in. He looked at the place Zerdan called his home. The forest gave away to the inclined fields that went straight up to the mountain. He locked his eyes to the mountain for quite a time. The mountain of migoi that he watched all his life from the window was in fact the most massive thing he had ever witnessed in his whole life. Besides all the myths it had linked to itself, the mountain was in the height of a thousand of the yetis, standing straight piercing the sky. Coming down to the settlement, there were only a few huts stacked around each other in the margin of the forest. Those were made of mud and wood and the faint light coming from the windows made him realize the light was from lamps and candles. Some yards of the field lands were fenced for the cattle to live in. pushing his sion a little, he saw some part of the crop fields between the huts. Even though the landscape provided scenic beauty, the settlement was deprived of prosperity. It was more of a refugee camp than a community.
‘Told you, My people are way too traditional.’ Zerdan said and looked back at him. Jigme nodded and followed him. The air there was cold and it took minutes for Jigme to adjust to the chilling breaths. Zerdan entered the hamlet along with Jigme. The depth of the Night was the only reason he didn’t see any person from the community even when he tried to peep inside the huts. Crossing more of those Zerdan stepped up one big Hut which was more elegant and polished than the rest. It had cravings all along the door and the walls. Flags fluttered along the winds all around the big hut. Jigme took no time to comprehend it was a sanctum, holy to the people living here when he saw Zerdan taking off his shoes to enter there. Jigme too took off his footwear and climbed the steps after him to enter the sanctum. As it was a holy place, Jigme followed convenience and repeated everything Zerdan did while entering it. Zerdan saw that and a smile flicked across his face. Both went inside following the torches that were lit inside. Jigme’s eyes went all around like the bees. The shrine which seemed to be elegant from outside was not that capacious. It was slightly bigger than his room back home. The wood carvings he saw outside were not very different from those inside; only the harsh weather took the toll on the outer walls. There were many things there but what caught his attention was the deity. The light from the torches made the idol lucid to his vision. Jigme said with dilated pupils.
‘Is it the….’
‘The Migoi? Yes, ‘ Zerdan said and kept a bundle of wood from his bag in one corner of the room. ‘Come’ he said to Jigme who was staring at the idol and left to enter a door obscurely constructed on one corner of the room. Jigme followed him after he pulled his eyes back from the statue. They entered a room with smaller dimensions. Looking at the pillows and mattresses and the utensils piled up and a fireplace, Jigme concluded the room was the whole house for his forest friend. Zerdan told him to sit on the carpet and went to the fireplace to pull out three dead hares. He went on skinning them while Jigme’s eyes were busy exploring the embroidery on the carpets and the tapestry of the room. Analyzing the art keenly, he found many things new to him. He could read the work of needles as he was wonted with his grandmother’s talent of sewing. He turned his head to ask Zerdan something which caught his eyes.
‘Yes, we worship Migoi.’ Zerdan said while his hands kept skinning the hares. ‘Many of your people see the migoi as an evil creature but he is our guardian. He protects us from the storm, the avalanche and the predators from the jungle. The art on the tapestry tells many fables where he is our savior.’
‘But here some are being butchered or rather sacrificed to the migoi. What is the reference here then?’ Jigme asked, pointing his eyes to that certain part of the tapestry.
‘The men there are the evil men of the community who used to kill the livestock of others out of jealousy and anger. As a punishment they are being killed there. Moreover, these are just moral stories to keep the bad intentions in check.’ Jigme nodded and looked back to tapestry. The hares were put to the fire.
‘Zerdan! Are you..’ A man walked in from the door. Looking at Jigme he was surprised and scornful. He was tall and lean. A shadow of anguish was still in his face and a shawl having the same art as of the tapestry was loosely kept on the narrow shoulders. He looked at Zerdan once and both their eyes rolled in all directions as if they were talking to each other. Adjusting his shawl up to his neck he looked back at Jigme.
‘Father! This is Jigme. He is from the village across the forest. He was lost in the forest collecting wood. So I took him here,’ Zerdan said as he stood up. The man threw away his scrutiny from his face and pulled out a welcoming smile across his face. Jigme smiled back. He was sure that he hadn’t had any guests for quite a long time.
‘Why were you out in the forest collecting wood at night?’ The man asked. His voice was frightening yet weak. Jigme baffled again for words. He should have thought for an answer when his son asked him the same. The man smiled when he didn’t say anything.
Zerdan came in between. `We were talking about the migoi and the temple and..’
‘I am the priest here’ The man cut his son off. ‘Jigme, you might find the idol we worship very absurd but the migoi is our guardian. He protects us from the storm, the avalanche and the predators of the forest. But he could not save us from the drought. You see, this year the crops have failed to produce grains and many of our animals have died. The grain stores are empty now. Many in our community are at the verge of death. Two days have passed since we haven eaten the last meal. We are lucky that we have three hares, one for each. The hare meat is enough for the night.’
‘But I have more,’ Jigme said and pulled out some pieces of balep bread that he had stolen from his kitchen. The eyes of the father and the son lit up like the lamps in the sanctum. Without thinking the priest held the bread close to his teeth and smelled it before he put it in his mouth. Zerdan gulped the whole bread at once. Jigme felt content on seeing them on the highest of the skies. The priest said, opening his eyes after the ecstasy ended, ‘the blessings of the seven skies to you, my child. Never have I tasted such food. I do not know how many days we have to live but I know this, I would take this pleasure of my tongue to the heavens.’
Jigme smiled. For a moment now he felt he was the guardian of these people. He was Miogi. He applauded himself for what he had done to these poor people and a little appreciation was of his grandmother who was good with the spatula too. The priest signaled his son to serve the meat to their esteemed guest. He pulled out the last of the balep pieces and the three enjoyed the meat and the bread from the tarnished plates. There was a small pot of water in the middle of the trio to quench their mutual thirst. There was no talking after that, just their hands moving from the plate to their lips and to the plate again. In the middle of chewing and gulping, Jigme looked at both of them. With his eyes made wiser and bigger said, ‘I know the time is hard and you don’t want to step out of your world of tradition but you don’t want your people to die of starvation either. Let me help you. Let my village help you. We can help you in this time of distress. We can provide you with food, clothing and shelter.’
The expressions on the man’s face changed. It was as serious as when he met the boy first. ‘I know my people need help. But will your people help us? Will they risk themselves through the deadly forest to help a handful of tribal people?’ The priest asked. His eyes sank in the truth.
‘I know my people. They will help you.’
‘What about my people? Will they accept help from the people they think have been tainted by the changing world?’
‘You are the priest of this temple. You are revered by the people. You must make them understand the dangers they are to face. We must do this for your people to live’
‘The priest sighed. He got up leaving his meal half finished. He stood before his small cupboard jumbling through the items kept on it. Both his son and his guest looked at him while he struggled. He returned with something within his fist.
‘I thought we would die by the end of the season. But I guess fate has some other plans. I do not know of your villagers but my people are not going to suffer anymore. And I want you to know this. You are the savior of my people.’ The priest smiled as he pushed his opened fist to Jigme.
It was a stone. It was a crystal with the color of a sunny sky. Jigme could feel the chill of the stone on his palm. It reflected the light of the lamps dimly on his face.
‘It’s a crystal pebble from the lake Lhaya.’ Zerdan said and came closer to him to peep into his palm.
‘The Lake? Lake Lhaya?’ Jigme looked at Zerdan with his eyebrows touching each other.
‘Yes. It is at the back of the mountain. Sometimes we go there to graze our cattle. Someday I’ll take you there too.’
Jigme was homesick. It would have been very hurtful to his pride although he would present that small piece of rock to his grandmother and tell her she was right about the whole lake Lhaya thing. He didn’t know whether the rock would bring fortune to him but he could be the fortune of this poor tribe.
The next morning was very encouraging for Jigme. Despite the sleepless night in that uncomfortable floor, he traveled down the hill to cross the forest and return home. Zerdan was with him to make sure he finds his way through the forest but left him once they could the village from the space between the last of the forest trees. Jigme climbed the village plateau only to see the village people rejoice his return. The news of the blacksmith’s boy who was missing since the morning only to return in the afternoon was spread faster than any other gossip. His family first rejoiced at the homecoming of their son followed by the tremendous scolding of that immature step taken by him. Jigme tried to calm them down for he had many things to say. The chaos turned local from personal when he opened up the incident from his journey. An assembly of the village chiefs was called promptly for what the boy had to say. Many refused to believe the boy yet some were with him. Numbers turned when he pulled out the fabled crystal pebble from his pocket. The amazement of the fabled turned reality had many favor the decision to send grains, clothing and milk to the tribe. And as the festival was the other day, helping the needy was something they didn’t want to abnegate. Preliminaries began right away for the rescue.
It was the day of the festival. Signs of spontaneity among the people were in the air. The weather was very soothing and cheering with the sun going down. All the wait was for the full moon to show up in the cloudless sky for the festivities to commence. Yet Jigme was in usual state, staring outside of the window. His eyes were on the mountain and the forest periphery. The rescue party was late to return. It was very unobvious of them as the village of the hunter gatherers was difficult to locate but not very far for the party to be late. He was feeling anxious as his father was on the same journey and not yet returned. In the middle of the thoughts that flew all around his mind, his grandmother had called him many times from the other room. Frustrated, he confronted her with an irked face.
‘Help me clean this. You are not to be anxious. They will return soon.’ She handed him some tapestries she had taken out of the upper bunk. Jigme nodded and did what he was told to do.
Jigme was careful with the tapestries. They had to be hung at certain places of the house. Most of the tapestries were the work of his grandmother and others were in his family for a long time. Only once in each year they would come down to the floor and be the festive embellishment to the empty walls and back to the upper bunk the next day. He dusted them with his tools of cleaning one by one vigorously. Watching the dust fly in the light of the setting sun gave him comfort. He always liked the cleaning of the tapestries since childhood because it was the only chore he was allowed to be violent with. As the dust left the cloth with each strike of his duster, so did his thoughts of the rescue party of his mind. Each of those were taking immense beating in the name of cleaning. He had already lost count of the clothes needed for the festival and ran his duster in everything that was next to him.
Suddenly he stopped. The strength in his duster ceased to a naught. He was holding a tapestry that caught his eyes, not because the art in it was pretty but it was something he remembered. Not exactly the same replica, but it resembled the images of the tapestry he saw in the room he was in last night. His lips couldn’t resist but to ask.
‘What is this, Mo La?’ Jigme asked his grandmother. She turned to him with skeptical eyes.
“This is something from my collection dear. It’s not for the festival. So clumsy of you to clean this.’
‘But what is this anyway?’
‘I bought it from a traveler in the market. It was the most unique of the things I had gifted myself. It is eccentric from the usual artwork. ‘
‘But what does it say?’
‘If you know how to read the art of the tapestry, you will have a story. And just like its art, it has a unique myth. You see, it tells the tale of the tribe that lives in the deepest of the woods. They are people with secretive nature and high intelligence. They, unlike us, worship the migoi. It is said that every full moon night they would summon the migoi and sacrifice humans for the migoi and in return, the migoi gives back everything they wish for. Well, this tapestry is not required for the festival now. Let me just put it back.’
Jigme didn’t move. All the movement was inside of his head and faster they grew each second. He could not think much. He left the room walking mildly. He sat at the window and looked outside. The panorama was the same but the evening sky was changing colors just like his mind. All his mental perseverance was in that myth. He knew the myth was a naught n the scale of reality yet he couldn’t get out of it. All he could do was to wait for his people to return and his mind would rest only after that. His eyes went straight to the way they would come back. It was dark almost and things were still being seen clearly. He was waiting to see torches to gleam out of the trees. But something else caught his eye. It was a bear. The foolish creature was trying to climb a tree. But bears don’t walk back in two limbs. It howled and growled looking up at the sky. It wasn’t the call of a bear. It wasn’t a bear.
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