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2020-11-24T13:29 [writing/story age/year-of-desperation]


The man who walks crooked awoke, and cursed to himself. Those roosters woke him again, but now he must rise. He could smell the cooking fires across the houses; the woman who never sleeps has started breakfasting early, as always. Do the roosters keep her awake? They have woken him for nearly the whole season. When the man does dream, he dreams that he is deep underground. Soundless. The man has two roosters. Last season, he had three, but some wild beast that the villagers haven't named yet carried it off as prey. So far, the hens keep laying the same way, so it may not make a difference. It may yet stay the same if he looses a second one.

The older rooster crows, then the younger. The man wishes that wild beast will come back.

The man tried to ignore the roosters for a longer period of time, as his body was sore from yesterday's irrigation. Today wasn't going to be any different —more hard work under the great Sun. Why is it that the great Sun doesn't awake as quickly as the man does? He supposed that the great Sun was simply more tired. After all, the great Sun sowed his warmth and shine over the whole earth.

The man's wife, the woman who throws stones, turned to him. She, just like the roosters, had no sympathy for him.

“Husband of mine, the roosters crow, calling you to work.”

“The irrigation will take the whole day, wife of mine,” the man could hardly speak, “It can wait some time more.”

“The field won't irrigate itself,” she said as she stooped, baking, “come, breakfast.”

“The roosters have kept me awake throughout the night; I didn't dream much.” He ate the coarse bread.

“I was not bothered by them.” She gave him an urn of milk.

“They should have named you 'the woman who sleeps like stone'. If it weren't for breakfasts across the houses,” he quaffed, “you'd never wake.”

“And if it weren't for roosters, you'd never wake.”

They finished breakfasting in silence. The man gathered his hoe and his ax, and started the walk. “I suppose then the roosters are divine beings of activity, then.”

“Go to the canals, husband of mine.” She goes inside to wake the children. They are to gather in the field, to pick it empty. It won't be hard work –the field was fallow.

The man left his house, and headed for the irrigation. He would beat the great Sun out today, just like he had done for a long time. He could not remember when the last time he awoke after the great Sun had already started his sowing. It must have been when he was just a small boy, leaning with a stick, going to the fields to help his father. His father, dead of course, had been on this exact path in that old time. Did roosters wake him as well?

The man arrived at the irrigation after all of the other farmers. They began work immediately. In silence, they tilled the earth away from the great River. They had been toiling at this for the whole season, their progress was just as prolonged. Instead of turning the fallow land into farming land, they were turning the hard earth into mud. Instead of sowing seeds, the farmers were uprooting stone.

The man grew unhappy as quickly as the shadows shortened, and by midday he felt broken.

“O, lamentations!” the man dropped to his knees and cried, and all stopped their work.

“O, he who walks crooked, what is your lamentation? Surely, you are as unhappy as the rest of us that are working? Why do you cry so?”

“I did not dream last night, nor many nights before. I wish...” the man trailed off, yet the rest of the farmers waited.

The man licked cracked lips. “I wish to know how to make roosters stop crowing!”

The tallest man said, “You do not suggest to get rid of them?”

“I do not,” the man who walks crooked said, “I simply wish for them not to crow.”

The man who grinds his teeth said, “Yes, I too wish that. It is as if those beasts worship their own crowing, and are in constant celebration.”

The man who looks upward, sighing greatly, said, “Maybe, the rooster is a divine being, meant to summon up the great Sun?”

The man who walks crooked chimed in, “Why would the great Sun need a rooster to summon him? Besides, the roosters do this all night, not just at dawn.

The tallest man shouted, “A beast that summons the great Sun for the whole night? They sound more like little braggarts to me.”

“Perhaps,” the man who falls down said, “the great Sun is just like the rest of us, and he can't sleep through them either.”

The day was long, but the irrigation canals grew longer, so the farmers were happy in their toil. Around midday, the man who walks crooked was exhausted. He was falling asleep at his work, slowing the farmers down. It was at this stage that breaking new canals was the worst –instead of cool earth, it was hot mud.

The man swung his hoe down into the mud, and the clang and the break seemed to echo in the field. He brought the hoe above the steaming mud, but he only got a piece of it.

He withdrew the other piece...along with the stone that destroyed the tool.

He swore to the stone, he swore to the hoe, he swore to the earth, he swore to the sky, and he swore to the great Sun. But most fervently, he swore to the roosters.

The farmers began the work, but the man who walks crooked watched in anger-filled eyes.

“You should help us yet,” the man who looks upwards said after some time, “perhaps you will chop and the earth with your ax?”

“No, that shall not happen,”the man who grinds his teeth said, “I do not wish to break his ax with my skull.”

“Hey, crooked!” the tallest man said, “You should go to your house and rest. You are of no use to us without mind and without hoe. We can see the anger in your eyes. Save your ax for tomorrow when we will clear the fields for the irrigation.”

The man who walks crooked came to his house, and what should he see just as he is getting there but the older rooster. The old rooster crowed at the man. The man's eyes burned in anger. He looked at his broken hoe, and then his ax that he held in his hands.

At the final meal of the day, long after great Sun sowed his warmth and shine over the whole earth, the man who walks crooked was well rested and happy. The anger no longer filled his eyes, and he was enjoying the silence from the outside. Some roosters crowed in the distance, but no matter.

“Father, tell again the story of what happened!” his youngest child pleaded.

“Child, you know full well that your father is no braggart!” the woman threatened the child with her fist, but the man who walks crooked stayed her hand.

“I will tell my tale in short this time, love. My child, when I was home, there were two beasts that were ravaging the house, looking for our livestock to eat. They were just finished killing the roosters, spilling their blood all around, when I came and slew them with my ax..”

“Did their bodies look all black and ashy when you destroyed them, Father?”

“Yes, child, they were very ashy monsters.”

“Maybe they came from the ash, and that is why we've never seen them before!

“And now,” the woman who throws stones said, “we eat their strange, ashy flesh to gain their fierce strength. It's a shame about the roosters though.”

The man remembered how they felt as he covered their bodies in ashes, and he felt no shame.