As the conversation reached deadlock every soul in the room had left except the three of them. They were to be the last people to be called to the assessment officer’s room. Tired of sitting for too long, Mr. Skeptic and Nelly stood up and walked to the lobby with Maria following their every step, as it appeared she wanted to find more about them. Sometimes, she inquired about a few words they exchanged in a different language. When Nelly told Mr. Skeptic she had not put enough coins in the parking meter for the length of the time they had spent in the courthouse, Maria jumped to conversation that they could receive a parking ticket.
“You’d better go to the meter and put more coin before by-law officer arrives,” Maria told Mr. Skeptic, “This is downtown. They give you big tickets for parking without payment.”
“I have to meet the assessment officer to explain the problems with the bill,” Mr. Skeptic thought, without smelling anything suspicious about Maria’s suggestion except that Maria might find his wife a softer target and convince her to pay for the whole bill, “It is our turn in a few minutes. If they go in while I am gone everything will be ruined.”
“Nelly, can you go to the meter please?” Mr. Skeptic asked his wife, “The officer will call us soon.”
Nelly replied and walked to the elevator.
Minutes after Nelly had walked away, the officer called Maria and Mr. Skeptic to his office. Upon entering the room, Maria took the opportunity and apologized for the loud conversation again. Mr. Skeptic who saw the apology as pure public relations and an attempt to draw officer’s favorable attention was taken by surprise. They had apologized earlier. What was the need for repeating it? Eventually, he clumsily followed suit and apologized.
The officer asked Maria what she was doing there and received the answer that she represented Mr. Douglass as an agent. Mr. Skeptic added that he represented his wife.
“He cannot represent her,” Maria said, “And she is not here either.”
“How come?” Mr. Skeptic said, surprised “My wife has language problem and I want to speak in her behalf. I have made all the payments? I have done most of the conversations and all the writings.”
“You have been a witness, Mr. Skeptic,” Maria added, professionally calm.
The officer looked at them from above his eyeglasses and told Mr. Skeptic he could not represent Nelly unless he was a lawyer or he was involved in the matter.
“I am not a lawyer,” Mr. Skeptic said, baffled, feeling he was losing the case for a pure technical matter that he had not predicted, “My wife has left the building to put some coins in the meter and she’ll be right back.”
“That is not enough,” said the officer, “You have to be a party involved.”
“He has been a witness Sir,” added Maria with a triumphant artificial smile, while Mr. Skeptic hesitated to utter a word lest he embarrassed himself when it came to the definition of terms in legal terminology.
“Do you have the retainer’s agreement?” the officer asked Maria after jutting down something on the paper.
Maria uttered a few undistinguishable words and went into her file in search of the paper; and came out empty-handed.
The time had arrived that Mr. Skeptic understood why Maria wanted to see that agreement beforehand. He believed if she had seen the document, she would have argued over it and somehow she would have convinced him not to use it or, at least, she could have created enough confusion to unable him to properly apply the document in the debate.
“I have it, Sir!” Mr. Skeptic said, “And I have signed it too. My wife will join us shortly.”
“He has signed as a witness,” Maria added.
“How did you know I have signed it as a witness?” Mr. Skeptic returned, “You haven’t seen the document. Your own documents show that I had made all the payments and I had spoken to your lawyers about the whole procedure.”
Maria fell silent. Mr. Skeptic took the agreement paper out of his papers and handed to the officer and pointed at his signature in the middle of the original page.
In the retainer both Nelly and Mr. Skeptic were responsible as individuals and together to pay the lawyer his fees. Mr. Skeptic had not signed the document simply as a witness. Rather, he had signed it as the party involved. In that way, it was guaranteed that Mr. Douglass received his fees. Now in the court room in order to win the case his agent was trying to have Nelly with all her weaknesses on the stand.
The officer returned the agreement to Mr. Skeptic and allowed him to talk about the bills. He took out several pages of notes that he had prepared nights before and started in a calm way. All his excruciating anxieties of the past few months had faded away.
As Mr. Skeptic looked at his papers he was taken aback at the dark brown cracks in his fingers caused by months of constantly cutting vegetables at the restaurant to prepare salad. They resembled the cracks in his mother’s heels that he had seen as a child. Those were caused by hard working in the field and taking care of the flock in the poverty-ridden village of his birthplace in another continent; and these were the results of seven days working in the national capital of a prosperous land. Somehow the story was the same, but the stages were different. Those jutted stony mountains with the laws of instinct and claws and clubs and these paved streets with the dazzling civil laws bore the same fruit: suffering. No matter where he was, he was always at war.
The early mid-summer day was dragging to darkness on the slopes of Willow Spring. The sheep and goats flock had been milked already. Staunch kids and lambs were just separated from their parents and the flock had left the tent camp toward the rocky heights of Ghawallee for nightly grazing.
Women of the camp were busy talking aloud; filtering the milk; and warming them in large soot covered copper pots on the wooden stoves they had built with clay and stone. Burning oak barks were giving an unbearably strong heat.
The boy had just arrived with his big black and white dog: Balak, to his mother’s tent as the dog constantly wagged his tail and jumped on him with his front claws, trying to show the maximum playfulness in the graying evening. The boy, in return, heartily hugged the animal; robbed his fury neck; and sometimes kissed him on nose while trying to avoid onlookers. When Balak stood on his hind paws with his stretched neck toward boy’s neck, he was his height. Again, furtively looking around to see nobody saw them, the boy let Balak lick his face. Apparently aware of the taboo, the animal brushed his face with the tip of his tongue and jumped down and ran to the edge of the gorge and came back to his awaiting playmate.
They had played for quite sometime that afternoon and the boy’s mother had received the campers’ reproaching words.
“Your son has become a dog-lover,” they had told her, “It is time he understood dogs are defiled. Dogs have their place and men theirs. You should teach him not to mix them. He is a grown-up boy now. It’s his time to take care of the flock during the day and let the poor shepherds rest.”
To all those objections, the mother had told his son to stay away from the dog.
“God and Prophet have forbidden mixing with dogs and swine Son,” she had added.
The boy had stayed away from the animal for a while until the sun started to set behind western mountains and a giant shadow of western slope of the adjacent mountain with its dense trees stretched all the way to the camp and expanded beyond it to the deep gorge to the east of the camp. In the descending darkness, the boy and the dog resumed their playfulness until they reached the tent.
“Did you make the barley-milk food for my dog Mom?” the boy asked his mother.
“I am busy warming the milk and putting the yogurt away,” she answered, “It is getting dark Boy.”
Without waiting for his mother, the boy took few handfuls of barley flour, added three scoops of the warming milk and mixed them until it became a big round ball. Then, he put the food in front of the waiting dog and went back to help his mother as the dog started to eat.
“Don’t you see how people put me down because of your attachment to this damned dog?” mother asked her son, “Eventually, I will get a heart attack because of you; and you will live a happy life with your dog and without your mother.”
The boy felt guilty.
“But, we keep dogs to protect the flock,” the boy answered, trying to find an excuse.
“Those are different from the dog you keep Oghel,” she said, “Those dogs are always with the flock. This dog is always around you looking for leftovers.”
“One day it will follow the flock Mom,” the boy said, “Now give him time. It is a strong and brave dog. It’s not a poppy any more. It has to be trained.”
“Well, train him,” said mother, “For now stay away from it. Dogs are unclean. Sometimes, we pray here. Dog’s hair, saliva, and even the rain water that drops off their fur are all unclean. Don’t cause more trouble for me Baalaam?”
“Okay,” replied the boy.
“Now put all these dishes in the tent,” the mother said, “Don’t forget the big pots. Turn them upside down. Your dog will stick its head in them. The sky is getting cloudy. It will start drizzling shortly. And don’t bring your dog inside the tent. It will not die in the rain. It’s mid-summer.”
The mother and son put their few bowls and pots in the large black tent made with goat hair. As the milk rose on the flame, the boy took it inside the tent and left it in a corner to cool. Then, he covered the cinders with a metal tray, went inside, drew the tent’s flaps, and turned on a kerosene lantern. One hour later, they had eaten their supper of bread and plain yogurt; mother added some yogurt to the still warm milk to make yogurt for the next morning churning; and covered the pot with an old woolen quilt. Soon after, they were in bed among the dogs’ barking and blowing wind that was normal in villagers’ camp.
It was barely after midnight when the villager woman’s prediction came true. It started to drizzle in the forest. The strong wind dwindled to a soft breeze blowing from the west. A few lightening burst in the sky and the roaring clouds began to move around, though they did not have much rain to pour upon the mountain and the forest. Instead, the drizzling continued until twilight when the sky started to clear and fog began to run away from the forest.
The sky was still cloudy when the shepherd was heard calling the campers that a portion of the flock was lost and he needed someone to help finding them. While their men were in the village at the foot of the mountain working in the fields, women looked at one another to find someone to go up the mountain in search of the lost portion. With plenty of work to be done and very young children to be looked after, none of the women could leave the camp.
“Baajee Faatema,” a few called upon the boy’s mother, “Your son is the only one available for help. He should go up the mountain.”
“Lowo Jaan,” said Faatema, “Now, it is your turn to show that you are a grown up boy. Everyone is looking at you for help. You are the only one who can help this fallen donkey to stand up again.”
“Where am to go Mom?” the boy asked.
“Carefully listen to the shepherd’s instructions,” the mother said, “He is very far; and it is hard to hear him clearly. The sky is clearing. He says he can see a small herd of sheep near the Ghawallee spring. You remember where we camped last summer?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Take your club and your father’s poniard and follow the track that goes across the forest to the peek,” the mother said, “Look at the sky. See if vultures are flying in circle over a certain spot. Where they fly is where they have located some animals. You should go toward that spot. Hurry up. I’m afraid the wolves will attack them before you get there. There are plenty of them these days in these remote mountains.”
“Balak, Balak, Balak,” the boy called aloud, “Balak Hooy! It is our turn to rescue the sheep Boy. Let’s go Dog. Now, show your value to the campers. Yes, it is test time. I told you he is a valuable animal Mom.”
The dog ran to the boy with wagging tail and a furtive look at Faatema. Instead of standing on its hind legs and leaning against him, he passed between his legs with its ears drawn backwards and friendly noise, gently robbing his fur against the boy’s legs. The boy took its club; put his knife in its sheath; fastened it to his belt; and walked toward the spring to the south of the camp.
From spring to the summit was not a long way, but it was steep and twisted. So, it took the boy and his dog an hour to reach the summit. The boy was drenched in sweat and the dog was exhausted when they sat on a boulder in the blowing wind, looking around in search of the lost herd.
The sky had cleared. The mountain and the forest below were washed with the rain. The sun had risen already. And the mountain air was so pure and fresh that they easily could see several peeks far way. The valley to their north was so clearly visible that they could see moving vehicles on the road like moving ants.
The boy looked at the direction of Ghawaalee Spring. He could locate the exact location of the spring. It was filled with fresh cold water of the spring for droves of the sheep to drink after nightly graze were full to the brim. The excess water poured on a rock and from there streamed to the gorge bellow. The lost drove of the sheep could have gone there for a drink of water after nighttime grazing, but the boy could not find sheep around the spring.
The boy looked eastward to the place of a snow reservoir where in wintertime villagers stored the snow for use in summer. Top of those mountains was a relatively cold desert in summertime. Campers had to melt the snow in large baskets by leaving them exposed to sunshine to provide water for their flocks. It was a hard task, but it had to be done for a month and a half every summer; or as long as the snow lasted. The boy was fully aware that there was no tent around the snow reservoir as the campers had already descended those peeks to lower slopes of the mountain.
“Perhaps, the shepherd meant that place,” he thought, “Now that they are not at the spring at the bottom of the slope, the drove might have gone there following another habit.”
He shaded his eyes with his right hand against the sunshine and saw three vultures high in the clear sky flying in circles on the same spot.
“They must be there,” he remembered his mother’s advice, “They must be right there. They must be in danger. Vultures do not fly for nothing. They wait for them to die so that they could eat their carcasses. We must make haste,” he told himself with pounding heart.
The boy rubbed Balak on the neck and the two ran among the stones and boulders toward the snow storage.
They were not very far from the storage when the boy noted the presence of three dogs attacking his favorite brown ram that was running for its life. They did not look quite like the breed of the dogs he had seen in his life. They were more toward brown and black. They were bigger than normal dogs. He understood they were real wolves busily tearing the ram.
“Ooo,” the boy screamed at the top of his voice that was mixed with the outmost fear he knew in himself, “I will kill you all. You devils. Balak, let’s attack them I am with you Dog.”
The boy moved his club around his head and ran toward the wolves that had caught the ram on the neck and both hind legs, trying to pull it apart.
He was a short distance apart from the wolves when the one that had the ram’s neck let the animal go and leaped toward the club-wielding boy. The boy moved aside, but the wolf’s right claw scratched his face and he fell on the ground with his club a hand-reach away from him.
Horrified, the boy stood on his feet and touched his face. Blood streamed; his black woolen pants were torn on his left side. As he looked at his bruised thigh blood started dripping on his leg.
“Where are you Balak?” the boy screamed at the top of his voice, “Help me.”
Balak was sitting on this hind part looking at the fight between the boy and the wolf. It was not hard for the boy to understand that his dog was waiting for the wolves to kill the ram in order to join the feast.
“This is my job only,” the boy ran for his club and picked it up; and ran toward the wolves that had the ram on his thighs. He scared them away. But, it was too late. The ram was fallen on his side taking its last breaths.
The boy moved the club around his head screaming wildly while Balak was still sitting and looking at him. The boy turned toward the wolf that had attacked him. The animal was gathering momentum to attack him from behind when his club hit it on the face. It was too late. The wolf’s claws tore his shoulder and turned his arm red with blood.
The boy took the club with both hands.
“Now I attack you,” he screamed and ran after the wolves that ran away several paces and stopped on a knoll; turned aback looking at the boy. In an instant they ran toward other sheep and the boy ran towards them and brought a blow with the outmost of his strength on the biggest wolf of the three. The wolf ran away with a scream; and the other two followed.
The trio sat on the knoll looking at the sheep and licking their lips. The boy returned to the dying ram. He took the ram’s wounded neck in one hand and drew his knife out of sheath with the other. Shortly after the last drops of blood was drained out of the animal’s neck, the boy’s tears started to roll on his wounded cheek.
He wiped his tears with his bloodied sleeve and looked at Balak who was still sitting on his hind, enviously looking at the three wolves that were still looking at the boy.
“I don’t need a dog,” the boy screamed, “I am a dog myself,” he went on. “You don’t believe me?” he pointed his words at Balak, “This is my tail,” he took his open hand behind himself wagging it left and right, “This is my claws,” he lifted his club, “This is my fang,” he showed his knife, “If I lose it, I use my own fangs,” he showed his teeth, “I bark.”
The boy started to bark as he bent to grab a rock.
“And this is my blood,” he screamed, “You don’t see it? I’ll show you.”
He smeared his still-warm blood on the rock.
“Now, you don’t believe me, right,” the boy said and started to bark while taking a few steps toward Balak, “And this is your share.”
The boy threw the rock at the dog with the outmost power he knew in himself. The rock missed the target and the dog ran toward wolfs, uttering a friendly noise. That was the time the boy took his club and ran after the four of them. By many instances of falling and rising, he reached the knoll. By then, Balak and wolves were long gone.
“I have to chase them to the edge of the cliff,” the boy told himself and speeded his steps, “I will finish the job once and for all.”
At the edge of the cliff, the wolves were nowhere to be found.
“Perhaps, they are hiding in a cave in the mountain,” he thought; and turned westward and started to limp. Shortly after, he noted he had lost direction. Nevertheless, he continued.
“I will find it,” he told himself, “I learn from wolves. I learn from falcons, from dogs, from cats,” he started speaking in a loud voice as he hit a boulder and fell; his voice was carried westward on the morning wind.
As soon as he stood on his feet he saw vultures diving towards the summit.
“Now it is their turn,” the boy told himself and ran towards them, “And this is my right direction,” he uttered unrecognizable words at the top of his voice.
He had quite neared the reservoir when vultures flew into the sky beyond the reach of the stones he was throwing at them and the abuses he was uttering. Half of the ram was devoured and the other half was left with its inside all around the carcass.
Once back to the ram, he drew his knife and cut all its intestines out and threw away. Then, he gathered the rest of the lost drove and headed down the slope with the ram’s carcass tightly tied by the legs around his shoulder.
In the middle of the road the boy faced the shepherd, Faatema, and few other women. They were coming towards him. The boy started to cry. The shepherd took the carcass off his shoulder. Faatema took her scarf off her graying hair and started wiping her son’s tears and blood.
“Where is your dog?” the shepherd asked.
“I am the best dog,” the boy said among his sobs, “I do not need a dog. My wounds tell me that I am the best dog. Isn’t that true Mom?”
“Now you are a man: a true man Son,” Faatema said as they reached the spring and children of the camp encircled the boy to listen to his story, “You are my brave son; however they call you lunatic. I love that lunacy. Do you hear me Son?”
The boy turned to his mother with his swollen blood smeared face and nodded.
It did not take him too long to understand his mother’s words. Children in the camp whispered to one another that the boy had fought the wolves and the vultures because he was possessed by demons. They said his strength and prowess stemmed from his connection with the unseen creatures. His nighttime screaming added to the whispers. His fearless venturing the forest and mountains left them no doubt that he was possessed.
“My mother says they are always there to lend him their support;” they would tell one another with apprehension in heart of the unknown realm of invisible creatures, “That’s why he has no fear anywhere he goes. She says, in his dreams, he claims the wind of Ghawalee Mountain will carry his voice forever. The snow reservoir will tell his story to the campers who will camp there for generations to come. Isn’t this a true sign of lunacy?”
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