The Story of Ehip, the Great Spider
On a wide open plain, two exhausted figures, hands clutching tightly to one another, scan the far horizon, looking for signs of … what? They both knew there was no turning back. The girl was young, dark hair parted down the middle, held in place by two braided pony tails, now beginning to untangle. The young man too had dark hair, matted and caked with mud, dust and evergreen needles.
James paused …
Old hands steadied a twig on fire
To light his pipe.
Smoke sprang to life
Dancing skyward in swirling motion.
An exhale … he continues his story.
The knoll upon which they stood gave them a full view of the surrounding landscape. The young woman allowed herself to fall against her companion and rest her head on his shoulder. Their eyes met briefly and in that instant she tried to find an answer to their dilemma. There was none. He averted his eyes; what comfort could he give? What direction, except onward, in this vast plain.
The soil was solid now with some sand under the thinning moss cover. How far have they come? She had taken off her moose-hide foot wear as walking had become easier. It was better that they last as long as possible. They will stop, she knew that. When they find an area where children can play and her husband can find food, they would stop.
But, where is the fruit? She had not seen any fruit since they left the river. The young man had also noticed that the vegetation was not of the nutritional variety. They must move on … this was not good.
“You will not come back … not come back … not … come back,” the words still echoed in the mind of young Wapam, as he tried to focus on the far horizon. Their people had banished them … banished them?! Yes, they had been told not to ever return. No matter how hard he tried, the young man could not understand that. An image of his mom, holding him close and crying, as he was being told to go, flashed in his mind and it made it more confusing. Why does she have to suffer too?
Aaaaww, his moshom (grandfather) was telling him a story! It wasn’t finished. Every week, he visited his moshom and on the last visit he was telling him about the adventures of the little boy who thought he was a giant.
“What is it?” Hana pumped into Wapam as he suddenly stopped in his tracks.
“That … rock … moved,” he said slowly and kept his gaze on the far horizon. She noted bulges far off in the distance which she guessed to be hills. Big hills.
“I don’t see …” she started. “What did you … see?”
Wapam did not reply because he was concentrating on the rock that moved. He was sure it moved. Sure enough, what he thought was a big rock was again moving slowly from right to left. What could be moving such a big boulder like that?
A familiar stirring started from Wapam’s lower back and crept up to the back of his neck. He could not define it but, he felt an irresistible urge to turn around and run. This moment’s hesitation triggered his mind to events that had occurred several nights back in their village. Once again they were standing in front of their elders who were to pass judgement on them. They had gone against a known law. An old law, they both knew about it. But sometimes … feelings can be so strong … when the moment is right.
As the elders and parents debated, there was a sector that understood changes in behaviour can be expected and punishment need not be harsh. The exchange of thoughts went on for a long time and finally, the consensus in the end was the sanctity of their laws must be given due respect otherwise, order would be forgotten. The couple had lost and they came for their punishment.
“You are hereby banished from the community, never to return again.” An older woman who had inherited the feather-covered Talking Lance for this moment, summed up the decision for the council. She continued “I find it irksome when we have to discuss items that are understood to be in place for the protection of our community. These laws provide guidance …” and as the voice droned on, the stunned Wapam slowly took Hana’s hand and steered her limp body around and half carried her towards the exit. A bright sun hit their eyes as the onlookers, who had crowded around the big meeting shelter, made a pathway for them. Both their mothers rushed forth wailing helplessly and beseeching for any kind of assistance from anyone with a heart. There was none.
Wapam held his mother close as they both walked home to prepare his departure. What he felt was emptiness. All things familiar were to be no more and he now must walk towards the unknown in the role of protector and guide. Hana will bring the strength and sense of hope which both will need to survive. She always did that. Still, the future looked very dark.
This was not the same … this was stronger. When parents, kin and the familiar land were taken away, Wapam felt displaced. He was unsure. Could this be what fear felt like in its raw form? At this moment when the rock moved, he was vulnerable, helpless and he wished to be somewhere safe and someone else, here, to take the role of leadership.
“What is it?” Hana was not sure what was happening. She was whispering and she surprised herself. She had felt his fingers tighten around her hands and as she grabbed his arms instinctively, as she had done before, they were tight. His body was like an immobile statue.
“What is it?” she asked again, louder this time. “What? Tell me what you see?”
Thoughts now swirled inside the young protector’s head. ‘Don’t panic! Don’t panic!’ They obviously could not think of running. This was an open field and if that thing saw them, well, there was nowhere to hide.
“See that big boulder?” he said with all the courage he could muster. “It’s moving! It’s moving from right to left … see it?”
“Oh good!” she said excitedly. “We’re not alone!”
“That thing could be dangerous!”
“Oh, c’mon. Let’s go see it?”
“It could be dangerous!?” he repeated emphatically. “Look how big it is!”
“Don’t be an old man!” she said. “Come, let’s find out what it is.”
“I … don’t … know,” he said slowly. “It would be a lot easier to change direction.”
“Come,” She said. “There’s a reason for this. Let’s not start running away from things we think might do us harm.” She took his hand and faced the big whatever-it-was. He found no reason to disagree and took her companion’s hand in compliance. ‘True,’ he thought to himself. ‘They could run away and miss a chance … a chance to discover.’
“Okay,” he said. “Okay ... things could not get any worse.”
The boulder got bigger and bigger as they walked straight for it. It was dark in colour, round at the top with smooth even sides. They could see big sticks sticking from the ground and leaning on the creature. The ground was sloping slightly downwards and now they were looking up at the thing. They had never seen anything like it. There was another boulder sitting atop the bigger one.
“Who are you?” the thing boomed, knocking them both to the ground. Trying to crawl away, on limps which were failing to respond, they were now back peddling on their backs and pushing with weak legs.
“Stop!” boomed the thing. Wapam could now see two eyes looking at them from the top boulder. He saw an opening that could be a mouth? He was not sure. It was not a mouth like theirs but, rather two barriers that swung out and in over an opening.
“Now Stand up,” said the thing in a more hushed tone. “Don’t be afraid. You must be from the human village. Wapam and Hana got up slowly as the thing continued to talk. “You are too far from home. It is almost ten days walking for you. Is everything okay there?”
“It … it is … uh … long story,” Wapam replied in confusion. A talking rock?
“Hhah, hhah, aaah, haaaa, ha,” the laugh they heard was long and loud. The thing shook, it was laughing so hard. “I … I’m sure … har, har, … not as long as I’ve been here … heh, heh … aahhh … I needed that!”
“You laughing at us?” Hana said in a huff, putting her two hands on each hip.
“No, no I am not,” replied their big new companion. “I am just so happy to have company. What your man-friend said sounded funny to me … a long story indeed, heh.”
“You have been here a long time?” Hana asked. Wapam was dusting himself trying to recover and he adjusted his clothing.
“A long time,” the thing replied. “And I will be here a long time to come … so, tell me … what are you doing so far from home … in tattered clothing? Were you in a fight?”
“No … not in a fight.” Wapam replied. He was embarrassed to say exactly and Hana was trying hard not to giggle remembering how they got the rips in their clothing. “We went through a bush and … did not know … how deep and thick … it was. We … well … we sort of … got scared in there.”
“Oh yes, some bushes can be very big,” their big friend helped.
“We started walking into it,” continued the young man, “but after a while we just wanted the brambles and clutching willows to end and … I started to walk faster and after more than half the day … we were both trying our best to run. I guess we panicked.” As he was talking Wapam was fixing his clothes, adjusting this and that.
Hana, meanwhile, was just standing there her body twisting back and forth slightly, her eyes peeking up at the boulder. It was scary yes, but now, it just seemed funny. She wanted to change the subject.
“What kind of boulder are you that you can talk?” she surprised both Wapam and the boulder.
“I am Ehip,” their new friend said raising itself slightly to make the important announcement. “I am the Keeper of the Gate. I am Otanapekayso (The Great Spider) of the animal tribe.”