The Village Fire

The Village Fire
By Douglas D. Germann, Sr.
© Copyright 2008, Learning Works, Incorporated. All rights reserved.

In those days many villages could afford only one fire. Their king could not bring himself to levy taxes on his people to build a palace or acquire purple so he, living on horseback, visited his people around their village fires.

“These people are my kin,” he said to himself as he dismounted his horse, “I have nothing to give for their suffering but myself. I can but hear.”

“When you give ear, it is enough” muttered Barbar, his tattered servant, dismounting at his side. Sometimes it felt as if Barbar could read his thoughts.

Tonight there were twenty-two people around the fire besides the king and Barbar. He could see the outlines of 6 or 8 cobbled-together shelters circling the fire against the elements. A mother nursed her babe, three or four small children chased each other around the fire and village. The adults were long faced, creases mapping the troubles of their lives.

“We have barely enough to eat from night to night, and sometimes cannot find enough fuel to make fire on a cold night. My baby sometimes cries all day and night in hunger.” It was the young mother.

In words that came out passionately and staccato a young man, perhaps her husband, spoke next, pointing to the South, “See the village across the river? The people there have many fires. They celebrate each new moon. They have plenty to eat. We starve.” Having spoken, he squatted back down and poked at the fire with a stick.

The king could see the distended belly of the baby. He saw the small feast they were able to bring together for his royal visit. He took some broth but left the meager vegetables in the soup for the others. He might soon turn to shadow and be blown away by the wind, he thought, if he had many more feasts like this.

Barbar had continued all through the evening to mumble to himself. This was his way. People soon stopped listening to him. “Did God make us poor? Or did God make us wealthy and our thoughts make us poor?” The king wondered if only he had heard.

Looking to the young man, then up around the circle, the king offered what he could. “What they have is theirs. What we have is ours. We cannot know their suffering.”

There was a long silence.

Finally the village crone spoke. “Let us speak of the suffering we know. Last week grandfather Abu, tired, tired, tired of his sickness and weakness and maybe mostly his hunger, filled his belly full of the morto weed. Then he walked off into the desert sternly warning that none follow him. How can we not follow him, knowing, knowing he no longer suffers?” Tears were in her craggy eyes; the king knew they were tears not for herself but for the whole village.

Again, long silence.

More silence.

It was not the silence that rang in the ears of the king. It was not the words of the crone, nor even beneath her words, her suffering for her village. No, it was the murmured words of Barbar. The king spoke gently. “We have all the resources we have. We start from here and nowhere else.”

He was answered only by a crackle from the fire. Someone threw on a small piece of wood.

The king pulled his shawl around him against the cold, being careful of a pair of patches which were coming loose. Softly he asked, “What do we have?”

“Hunger,” said the angry young father. “Disease,” said a middle-aged man. “No firewood,” “desert,” “morto weed,” the words poured forth from around the fire, threatening to drown it out. The king waited, expecting.

A small voice on the far side of the fire offered “Our ancestors prospered in this desert, from the bounty of the desert. Maybe again….” Her voice trailed off. The king’s toes wanted to move. He willed himself to be still.

The crone spoke next. Or did she? It was a raspy whisper. Or maybe the wind rushing through the fire. Was the king imagining words? Had anybody heard? “Reverence.” “Life.”

Silence.

“We have our vegetable plot,” said a young grandmother.

“We have ten strong men, and a strong headed girl” offered one of these men. Laughter. The king breathed again.

Like a dance slowly gathering, the words skipped around the fire, coming out here and everywhere sometimes at once. “Fish in the river,” “wild cactus,” on and on came the ideas.

“Ideas flow people grow.” Barbar was poking the fire.

“It is time for a story,” the crone spoke into the whirling ideas and laughter. “In those days…” she started and people settled in. The children came to their fathers’ sides, couples looked at each other, even Barbar grew still. She told the story of her childhood village. She told the story of how the village had fallen on hard times, a story of much starvation and disease, death and dissension among the people. “In those days…” she said, “a visitor came and the people welcomed her and because she was poor, she showed them in their own hospitality that they were possible, that they could host another and share what they had. Soon the band had become prosperous, not in things possessed. They became prosperous in things shared with each other and given to visitors. Our village became a place many came from afar to visit. Peoples of all kinds came and saw how happy we were, and we exported our happiness to them with a willing hand and an open heart.”

At this, Barbar jumped up and scrambled over to the king. “Prosperity comes out of our ears!” he fairly shouted.

“But why are we so poor now?” asked a ten-year old, sleepily.

The crone puffed on her pipe and mused for a full three minutes. “Some will say we did not become poor, that we have the same wealth we always had. Some will say we killed our prosperity with our attitude—we became greedy, or envious of the people across the river. Some will say we tried to store up what we had and we stopped sharing everything. They are all right. But I hold that even more, we stopped hearing.”

She puffed on her pipe and blew three smoke rings. All knew that she would speak no more that night.

The years passed, and the king visited other village fires. In those days stories of this village wafted to him from time to time. They were tales of growing hospitality and prosperity and happiness. And the king sometimes allowed himself the luxury of telling the bit of the story about the village that hears.

But too soon, the king heard other stories, stories of how the village had again fallen into suffering. He longed to visit again, wondered about their young mothers and babes, their angry young men. He wondered whether their new crones would remember their stories and especially their ears.

“In those days” murmured Barbar.

For permission to reprint, please contact Douglas D. Germann, Sr. at 574/291-0022; fax 574/291-0024; e-mail: 76066 DOT 515 AT CompuServe DOT com; P. O. Box 2796, South Bend, IN 46680-2796.

Published in: | | on March 22nd, 2008 | No Comments »