Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Waiting in Line for the Shaman

I’m sitting on a dusty wooden bench, staring down at my foot. The left one. Two weeks ago, me and the rest of our town’s militia fended off an attack from a neighboring tribe. One of them swung at me with an axe, a downward stroke he put all of his energy behind. I was able to avoid getting killed, but the bastard chopped off the ends of the first three toes on my left foot. My wife, Sani, applied the usual herbs in a poultice, but it refuses to heal. That’s why I’m here, waiting to see the shaman in the next town over. He’s known in lands farther off than I’ve been to. A miracle worker, many call him. I don’t need a miracle; I just need the stubs of my toes to stop oozing blood and pus.

I’m still staring at it. The ends of each of the wounded toes are wrapped up tightly; Sani did that right before I left. The skin around those toes, and the undamaged ones, as well, are red and swollen. Bending my toes and walking are painful affairs. I press down on the top of my foot. The skin turns white around my finger, and stays white after I release, but only for a moment. Then it goes back to red. Under the bandages the flesh is pink and wet, with bloated pockets of white and green near the surface. The bones, which had been even with the flesh, are starting to stick out as the flesh slowly recedes back. The smell is terrible.

I look up and see the man who brought me here, a farmer, talking to somebody. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I can tell they’ve known each other for a long time. They start to laugh. There were a few other people he’d brought along with me, but I can’t see them anywhere. I don’t know what business brought the farmer here, it’s neither planting season, nor harvest, but he did not charge me or any of the other travelers any silver, so he must’ve been coming here anyways. We live in a small enough town I would’ve heard if one of his animals died or if one of his pieces of equipment broke. Maybe I’m witnessing the reason for his trip right now: a social call. Maybe I’ll ask him on our way back.

Looking around me at the other folk sitting on the benches outside the shaman’s tent I see the group of sick and injured I’d expected to see: old men with crutches, mothers holding their children, the blind staring at infinity.

I wonder what it would be like to be blind. Closing my eyes I hear people chattering, the birds chirping at each other, the soft flap of cloth in the wind. I try and orient myself, but I feel the onset of dizziness despite being seated the whole time, and quickly open my eyes. What a punishment that would be! To be given sight by the Great Maker only to have it taken away from you. I think death would be preferable. I should bring this up to the town elders as an alternative to execution.

The others turn their heads in the direction of the tent, and I follow their gaze. A woman comes out, all tears and smiles. I’m glad for her, but I’m more curious about what’s in that tent. I try to look past her, into the tent, but it’s too dark, and the flap closes behind the woman too quickly for me to see anything. The man sitting closest to the tent gets up slowly and hobbles in. He barely opens the flap, preventing me again from seeing anything inside.

The others start to get up to fill in the space left by the man who went in. I steel myself against the pain I know will come from putting pressure on my foot. Once there’s room, I quickly get up, grimace, shuffle over, and sit down. Unfortunately, I didn’t look at where I was sitting, and I catch only part of the end of the bench I was sitting on. It tilts slightly, as there was nobody seated to counterbalance me, and then I fall to the ground painfully. The man to my right, with one arm in a sling, gives me his good hand, and helps me up. Carefully, I sit back down, more squarely on the supports this time.

“Thank you,” I tell him.

“Don’t mention it,” he says in response.

We sit in silence for a few minutes before the urge to speak becomes overwhelming.

“The name’s Walur,” I say, turning to him. “Walur Fraalich.”

“Ged Blavisol.”

Putting my right hand out to shake his I realize to my embarrassment that it’s his right arm in the sling. I give a nervous laugh and bring up my left hand, which he gladly shakes.

“So, do you mind if I ask what happened?” nodding toward his arm.

“Me and some of my workers just finished corralling my herd, and I was standing there talking to them on the outside of the fence with my arm hanging on the inside.”

He goes on for a few minutes. I don’t really pay attention.

“The bones aren’t setting proper, so I’m gonna see if this guy can help. What about you?”

I tell him my story, embellishing a bit to try and impress this stranger.

“…and then they all ran off. I threw the man’s head after them to show them what will happen if they try to attack us again.”

“Well, you’re a regular hero, ain’t you?” he says with a smile on his face. I can’t tell if he’s being genuine or sarcastic. Just in case he is being sarcastic, I draw back a bit.

“Not really. If I was I wouldn’t be here with a rotten foot.”

He was being genuine, and wouldn’t be deterred. “Still, your wife musta been proud of you.” His smile widens. “I’ll bet you got some action that night!”

I smile. “I sure did.” I didn’t.  I didn’t chop off the head off the man who cut off my toes. I didn’t even have anything to could’ve chopped off his head, or any other part for that matter. All I had was a stone club with a simple wooden handle. As that man stood there with his axe head embedded in the ground, toes on one side, the rest of me on the other, I hit him on the back of his head as quickly as I could. There was nothing there to protect his skull besides his long hair, which didn’t do much to cushion the blow. He let go of his weapon and fell face first into the ground. Terror and anger and pain and joy went into every swing after that. There wasn’t too much left of his head left after I was done, just a bunch of bloody hair sitting on one end of a dead body. That night was spent in a painful fever, vomiting every so often, thinking about what I had done and the sight of his brains sticking to my club, dark from the blood. I’d never killed anybody before then. I didn’t think I would have that kind of a reaction before it happened, and I still don’t know what it was that made me so upset. Thinking about it afterwards, even now, doesn’t make my stomach turn. What does is the thought of me red and sweating as I recline on my sofa, retching into a basin my wife is holding.

I push that out of my head and look back at Ged. “Do you think he can really help?”

“I don’t know.” He becomes very serious. “I’ve heard a lot of things. Never seen any of his fixes personally. Still, he can’t have stayed this popular if he was a sham. My guess is he at least knows some things other people don’t, and that’s good enough for me.”

The man on the other side of me turns and speaks to Ged. “He’s a blessed man! Blessed by the Great Maker to help His creations. No less! To say otherwise would be a slight against the Maker!”

“Whoa! Settle down. I didn’t mean any offense. I just don’t hold with a lot of hocus pocus. It doesn’t sit right with me.”

“What are you even doing here, then, if you don’t believe?”

“My arm’s broke, and if he can fix it, then I’ll believe, not before.”

The other man is obviously still angry, but he simply turns his back to us without saying another word.

“Can you believe that guy?” Ged whispers to me.

We don’t say any more for a while. I can’t seem to find the farmer who brought me here anymore. What was his name? For some reason, I can’t seem to remember. Hopefully I can find him again once I finish up here.

“Wup, he’s coming out,” Ged says, looking past me. I look over to see the man who had almost waddled in walk out as if nothing was wrong, huge grin on his face. Everyone moves over one space again after a woman leads a scrawny boy into the tent. “Watch yourself,” Ged jokes. I sit back down and the throbbing pain slowly fades away. I try and count how many times I’ll have to repeat this process, but it’s hard for me to tell who’s with somebody else, and who’s by themselves.

I think I see one of the people from my town who came over with me, but realize it’s not them once I get a good look at them. I look up at the sky. Cloudy. The sun’s already past its zenith. Wonder how long it’ll be before I can see the shaman. Will the others wait for me? Do they know where to find me? I told a couple of them I was coming here, but I don’t think I told the farmer. Maybe I did. Maybe he saw me sitting here in line when he was talking to his friend. He wasn’t facing in my direction, so maybe he didn’t see me. I start to panic. Will I have to spend the night here in this town? I don’t know if I have enough to cover a room, food, and to hire someone to take me back. If my foot’s healed, I should be able to walk back. What if it’s not healed? What if there’s nothing he can do? I really need to relieve myself. I don’t want to walk around trying to find somewhere to do that with a busted foot. I can ask Ged if he knows where I can go. He could hold my place for me, as well. Yeah, I think I’ll do that.

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