Fiction Park

Sakata

  • When old forgotten myths are stirred, shadows become gremlins and murderers become saints
- SUMEDH MALLA
Sakata are the little people of the forest. They are tiny, maybe the size of my fist. But they can jump from one hilltop to another. They patrol the forest day and night, making sure no one is making mischief. In those hills of my fathers, every animal is equal. Every life is precious

Jul 9, 2017-It came back to me suddenly the other day—the harrowing oomph of that mournful drum climbing up the dark hillside. 

Dum...Dum…Dum…Dum—rising slowly like a storm from the depths of a memory long forgotten. 

It was not supposed to happen this way, not here in the frigid Iowan wilderness. 

I put the slingshot down quietly, and slid it behind Bishal, but the beast had already stirred. 

“Hey, the fire is almost out and it is dark here in the woods. Let’s walk back to those fields we passed through earlier. It’s brighter there, and we can sleep under the stars.”

...............

Dum Dum

“Shhhh.. Listen closely.”

Dum Dum

“Do you guys hear that?”

Dum Dum

“Listen! Dum Dum…Dum Dum... Now what do you boys suppose that drumming is?”

...........

“I think that is leather!,” Jay yelled out as he ran past me. We’d been wandering the school grounds all morning looking for a piece of leather to complete the slingshot we’d been working on. 

“No man, that’s someone’s shoe,” I protested.

He shrugged his shoulders and picked it up carefully. 

Sarki dai, the school cobbler, had asked us to find some leather because they wouldn’t let him use the school’s inventory to make slingshots for students—banned as they were. A week earlier, Jay and I had spent an entire afternoon meticulously carving out the Y-shaped body from a tree stalk with a flimsy blade we had unscrewed from a pencil sharpener. Then, employing fair amount of persistence, we’d manage to strike a deal. If we surrendered our weekly ration of candies to the Sarki dai’s grandson—a snotty little kid, two grades our junior—he would get us a slingshot. 

We just needed find the leather. 

“Come on, man, Sarki dai is leaving already,” Jay screamed as he ran back across the field towards the cobbler’s hut. 

I jogged along slowly, slipping my hands into my pocket. They were there; all four of them. The weekly ration of Mango Tart candies we received every Tuesday. This was going to be a long, tasteless week.

...........

“Now I’ve seen you boys running around the school compound with rocks. Sometimes stray dogs will get in through the fences, but if you leave them alone, they will not harm you. The other day I saw three of you chasing one. Even as it hobbled and yelped in pain, you continued pelting it with stones. Bijay, that frog could have gotten you expelled! This is not what we have taught you to be… Now listen to me closely, I will tell you a secret. Listen, I will only tell it once.”  

...........

We had all been shipped off to boarding school when we were merely five-and-a-half winters old. A half-an-hour drive from the city, the school lay perched on a plump estate, replete with vast open fields and fragrant gardens buzzing with bees, Monarchs and dragonflies. Sinful plum trees lined the walkways, their voluptuous fruit dangling shakily but out of a hungry five-year-old’s reach.  

There, torn away from the city and TVs, we learned to use the nature around us to entertain our curious minds. We caught garden snakes, frogs, bugs, slugs, worms and fireflies—hiding them in shoeboxes under our desks, stealing curious glances during class. We spent days scouring the estate looking for fossils among the abundant limestone rocks, finding ancient fish and bugs squished in the centre. Sometimes, we would even field each other’s Rhino and Pincher beetles against each other, only to realise that the critters wanted nothing to do with our games.

 

We learned very early on that nature could be controlled. 

Very easily.

..............

“The hills of my fathers are teeming with leopards. But do you know a leopard will never attack a human unless provoked? Perhaps, it knows that once it savours the easy and maddening taste of human flesh, it will never eat anything else again. The men too hunt only for food—deers and birds. Perhaps, they too knew that if they started killing for pleasure, they’d never hunt out of just necessity again...There, in those wood, children like you, armed with slingshots and rocks, turn pale as snow and die mysteriously. But it is not leopards that claim these boys. They are claimed by something else, something darker and far more sinister. Listen…”

Dum… Dum

Dum…Dum    

..................

A few years into boarding school, we had already transformed into cruel kings of the estate. We knew what rocks the beetles liked to live under and what trees the hornets nested in. We knew what rocks made for perfect projectiles and what flowers best attracted butterflies. Some of us had fashioned contraptions out of mosquito nets that we’d use to catch dragonflies, only to rip out their wings in glee. On other days, we’d gather spiders and Crane Flies from trees and pull out their legs one at a time, eventually swatting them with the hard covers of Hardy Boys, reveling at the colours that emerged from the crushed insects. They were mostly black, but sometimes red, sometimes green, and once a royal Navy Blue. 

Eventually, things became visibly evil. Bijay was almost expelled when he was caught trying to electrocute a frog in a bucket of water. Three stray dogs had been maimed and an unfortunate rabbit was blinded by a wayward rock. Jay had to be rushed to the hospital after he was stung on the forehead by a hornet when he ravaged a hive in the bushes with a bamboo pole.

The menace had to be arrested. So, one night, we were aroused by the gentle shake of our Prefect, asked to dress up and follow him in a single file to far end of the school compound.

Somewhere from the dark hills beyond, a silent drum oomphed a mournful beat.

Dum…Dum.

Dum…Dum

...................

“Sakata are the little people of the forest. They are tiny, maybe the size of my fist. But they can jump from one hilltop to another. They patrol the forest day and night, making sure no one is making mischief. In those hills of my fathers, every animal is equal. Every life is precious. 

To the tiny Sakata a human is no more important than a wild bee. The leopard is no dearer than the sheep it kills.

So you see, boys, Sakata ask for only but one thing: Respect. That is why whenever a leopard snatches little boys like you it never eats the body whole. When men bring home deer from the woods, they always leave the heart behind. 

It’s homage. A promise that you killed out of necessity and would not have done so if it wasn’t absolutely essential. 

So tell me, where is the heart of the stray dog that bled to death last week?”

...............

I turned to Jay, who was sitting beside me, as a pure, wild terror consumed his face. In his moonlit brown eyes, I saw hundreds of butterflies and beetles that had perished under our hands. A halo of hornets hung humming over his head. A dozen one-legged spiders were crawling up his body. The sparrow we had killed just yesterday with our new slingshot was perched on his shoulder.

....................

“The Sakata know everything, they see and hear everything. In the hills of my fathers, should you fail to pay your homage, a Sakata will always come find you. Remember that. 

 

Now I am going to leave you boys here tonight to reflect about how you treat what is around you. Think about how you treat animals, and birds, and trees and grass. Think of the dog that bled to death on lower campus. Think and watch the shadows for anything unusual. And most importantly listen to that drumming noise the Sakata make when he jumps from one hilltop to another. Listen!”

Dum…Dum…

Dum…Dum…

...................

Our eight-year-old hearts leapt to that mysterious beat wafting from the dark hillside all night. We saw thousands of phantom fist-sized shadows all around us, jumping from trees, from hilltops, and springing out of unsuspecting rocks. A dozen or so boys broke into sobs almost immediately; two, we learned later, wetted their pants. No one slept until the sun had emerged clearly from the eastern hills. 

As soon as I woke up to the morning bell, I ran wildly back across the estate to find that the slingshot had disappeared. Jay was already there, sweating, swearing that it had been gone by the time he arrived. His eyes made it clear who he thought had taken it in the dead of the night.

There on, the drumming would stay with us for at least a month, the lesson—a lifetime. 

Jay and I have never spoken again about the slingshot. 

Some beasts are best not be stirred.

................

It came back to me suddenly the other day—the harrowing oomph of that mournful drum climbing up the dark hillside. 

Dum...Dum…Dum…Dum—rising slowly like a storm from the depths of a memory long forgotten. 

It was not supposed to happen this way, not here in the frigid Iowan wilderness. 

I put the slingshot down quietly, and slid it behind Bishal, but the beast had already stirred. 

“Hey, the fire is almost out and it is dark here in the woods. Let’s walk back to those fields we passed through earlier. It’s brighter there, and we can sleep under the stars.”

Published: 09-07-2017 09:30

User's Feedback

Click here for your comments

Comment via Facebook

Don't have facebook account? Use this form to comment