The Aáninem Tribe (Part 1)

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“I will find another way,” he mumbled, poking his head out from behind a painted tipi flap and entering the late afternoon sunshine. The stab of light caused him to squeeze his eyes shut for a moment while vision crept its way back into place. Opening his palms and glancing downward into them, he already knew he'd done to them – red marks embedded small indentures from the sharp edges of his own fingernails, and as each beat of his heart produced another pang, he found himself wishing he hadn't let the woman's remarks upset him.

But her words did upset him; speaking cruel words though smiling lips does not ease the delivery.

Trudging ahead, a foot slipped in the mud and the young man caught his step, glancing to make certain she hadn't seen his mistake; after spilling her mother's soup only moments earlier, any chance he might have held out for help could be counted as a loss at this point.

Of course, the woman invited him to stay in their tipi and take his meal there.

But how he could he do that?

Imala had known of his desire to speak with her daughter privately, he knew this for a fact. The reason why he wanted to speak with her, however, the girl's mother had figured all wrong.

Fingers gripped the heavy hide-flap door opening, pulling it open and streaming sunlight into the single-room tipi. The young man's eyes met with the woman perched over a carefully laid out fur blanket and the body on it. The woman's fingertips barely grazed over the little boy's eyebrows.

He searched the woman's face for the answer, knowing it would not be there.

She only frowned and moved her eyes back to her son, her forehead wrinkled in worry as she wiped perspiration from the motionless body.

“Drink,” she almost begged, dripping lukewarm water from the gourd along his lips.

“You were not gone very long. Did you ask her?”

Squatting down next to his brother, Praveenshook his head without even passing an eye over his mother's face.

“No. Your sister makes me too nervous. I know what she thinks,” he did glance up for a moment. “How does her mind go to those places?”

“She is not like our mother,” Ela reminded him. “I should have gone to her myself, offered to decorate the cradle board for her daughter's child.”

“No! Mother, we have talked about these matters,” Praveen flung both hands in front of himself. “She already believes I am father to that child. Please do not encourage her.”

The space between them and the boy grew thicker with each passing heartbeat, both understanding the need to get at least some of that medicine.

“I will go back,” he decided. “She does not have permission to take the life of my brother.”

Lifting a braid from his chest and holding it from touching his brother, he lowered himself to the warm ear and whispered, “Soon you and I will be eating by the fire. But first, you must drink and regain your strength. Please, Tarak, drink the water from Mother.”

With those words, he hoisted himself to a standing position, rotating an ankle and his neck at the same time. Approaching his aunt required a certain amount of courage, but he did not have the luxury of waiting until a basket full emptied itself on his head. His brother lay at the doors to the other land and his aunt held the only cure.

Inhaling once more, Praveen trudged heavily toward the brightly colored tipi, allowing his memories to take him back to a more pleasant time when he and his uncle prepared the buffalo hides for painting. As tribal medicine man, it was appropriate for his home to attract an eye more than the other homes scattered across the village.

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