Jason Constantine Ford is from Perth in W.A, Australia. He works at a book shop and has over ninety publications of poetry and fiction in various literary magazine, ezines and journals from around the world. Edgar Alan Poe and William Blake are his main influences.
A Choice Between Two Rivals
For many centuries, the Juranji tribe of the island of Tatiaroa off the mainland of Tahiti believed that all forms of bad weather were divine punishment from their gods. Every year they offered animal and food sacrifices to their gods to placate their wrath. There was only one person in the Juranji who did not appear to have any fear of the gods nor of bad weather conditions. This person was a girl called Tabatha. No one in the tribe could explain how she was oblivious to fears that were prevalent among others in the tribe. It was commonly thought among tribesmen that she was possessed by evil spirits. Tabatha’s parents once hired a shaman to cast spells upon her in the early years of her childhood. These spells seemed to have no effect upon her. As she grew up to the age of seven, she lacked interest in weekly prayer meetings among the tribe despite her parents encouraging her to have a positive attitude to prayer. She was also very different from other children. Other children enjoyed playing with each other. Tabatha was not like this at all. Excursions to different parts of Tatiaroa were the only activities in which she engaged with other people. In these excursions, Tabatha would be a navigator giving directions to the adult supervisors with the usage of a map. Despite her talent for navigations skills, she refused to interact with other children her own age.
Her only interest was her pet cat called Misty. She would take Misty with her wherever she went. Every day from morning to night was spent with Misty. Her parents were so concerned about Tabatha that they concluded that the only solution to fixing her strange behaviour would be a removal of Misty from her life. In the early hours of one morning, Tabatha’s father took Misty away from Tabatha’s bedroom while she was sleeping. He locked up Misty in a cellar below the house. As soon as Tabatha awoke, she discovered that Misty was missing. She asked everyone in the house about the whereabouts of her cat. Everyone said that they did not know where Misty was. This resulted in Tabatha refusing to eat or do any work in the house. Nobody could talk to her. She became worse. Her parents eventually decided that negotiating with their daughter would be the only chance they would have of improving her condition. Tabatha’s parents met up with her in the lounge room after lunch.
‘You don’t talk to us. You don’t eat. What’s wrong with you?’ Her father asked.
‘I’m hurting.’ Tabatha responded.
‘Why are you hurting?’
‘Misty isn’t here.’
‘You can still eat.’
‘No.’ Tabatha shook her head in an aggressive manner. ‘I can’t eat without Misty.’
‘If you don’t eat, you’ll die.’
Tabatha responded by turning around and walking away from her parents. That evening, Tabatha’s parents met up with her again. They made a promise to her that if she ate food that night, they would find Misty on the following morning. After hearing this promise, Tabatha decided that it would be alright to eat. She woke up the next day to feel a tongue licking her cheeks. It was Misty. Tabatha picked up Misty in her arms and embraced her. Her parents walked into her bedroom to see her smiling.
‘Thank you. Thank you so much.’ Tabatha said.
‘We did this for you.’ Her father said.
‘This is the best thing you’ve ever done.’
‘We would like you to do us a favour in return for what we did for you.’ Her mother said.
‘Tell me what it is. I’ll do whatever you want.’ Tabatha said.
‘We’d like you to offer food sacrifices to Rahkalla.’
‘Why me? The others can do that.’
‘We want you to do it in return for what we did.’
‘O.K., I’ll do it.’
After having lunch, Tabatha’s mother gave her a map made of a baur’s hide. It was a map covering the plains area where a sanctuary of the god Rahkalla was located. Tabatha had been to the sanctuary of Rahkalla on many occasions and would not have had any trouble finding it. Tabatha’s mother gave her a supply of cakes wrapped in banana leaves inside a basket woven with reeds. Tabatha’s father gave her a mule and she departed the house. Tabatha waited till her parents were gone from sight before tying up the mule near a tree. She secretly went to her bedroom to collect Misty before heading off again with the mule. It took Tabatha about half an hour to reach her destination with the map. When she reached the sanctuary, there were three pilgrims who were leaving it. The sanctuary was a dome like structure made of thatched sticks with stick figure images drawn all around it. Tabatha knew the place very well. It was the only thing associated with religion which she liked. She hopped off the mule, told Misty to stay with the mule and made her way to the sanctuary with the cakes. As soon as Tabatha entered the sanctuary, she smiled at a statue of Rahkalla but there was no response. She took the cakes wrapped in banana leaves out of her basket and placed them before Rahkalla. Once again, Rahkalla did not respond.
‘What’s wrong with you? I brought you cakes. Aren’t you happy?’ Tabatha asked. Rahkalla was silent. His body did not move. Suddenly, Misty appeared inside the sanctuary. She was staring at Rahkalla who stared back at her. Tabatha became aware of a conflict between her pet and a god she did not understand. She was undecided about how to react to this situation until she realised how good Misty had always been to her. If ever she was ill, Misty was there. If she was wounded, Misty would lick those wounds. Negotiation seemed to be the only possible solution to the problem that was facing Tabatha. She looked back at Rahkalla.
‘I’m giving you something. Why aren’t you thanking me?’ She asked. There was no answer once again. Tabatha turned her attention to Misty. ‘Should I give these cakes to Rahkalla?’. Misty responded by shaking her head. Tabatha unwrapped the banana leaves, picked up all of the cakes and placed them in her basket. She made up her mind that she would no longer offer any sacrifice to a god who could not understand her feelings. Tabatha left the sanctuary with Misty. The two of them would be eating the cakes. Rahkalla would have no share of them. If anyone would have been willing to ask about what happened to the cakes, Tabatha was ready to tell them that Rahkalla ate them before her eyes. That was the kind of lie anyone in the tribe of Juranji would have been willing to believe.
First published in the Cortland Review
~Jason Constantine Ford