The Stray Princess
There is noise inside the hut, the man has already woken up and walks around the place, he moves the fabric that works as a door to let the sunlight come inside. It’s just a weak blue light what illuminates the entrance, after all is before dawn.
Last night when they got inside the hut, the man grabbed a lamp made with clay and filled it with oil, then took it outside and lighted it up with the flame that danced in the torch, it quickly became a small source of light that could be brought inside the shelter. They used that light to illuminate the interior and rearrange the piles of hay that they use as beds, first stepping over the hay and applying force to create a comfortable setting and then covering it with a blanket so the stems don’t get so itchy when they sleep over them. Chia spent the night sleeping near the girl, over the same blanket and it felt like her usual bed over the grass. It was a warm night, inside the hut the night breeze never appeared, the parrot was inside too and he slept over a log where the man usually seats.
“Wake up my little sunflower” The man whispers to his daughter.
Chia opens her eyes first, the next one is Green Mango and finally the girl. She mumbles for a moment and moves in her bed, the dog yawns loudly and the parrot leaves the place flying after singing a melody.
“Let’s go, I’ll wait for you outside” The man grabs the basket that his daughter brought last night and crosses the entrance.
“I’m going, I’m going” The girl sits on her bed and yawns, she looks at her right side and Chia is stretching her legs “G-good morning” she stutters a bit, even after being together all night she is still not used to the new creature.
The girl gets up and leaves her blanket folded over the hay, then joins her father outside. Chia follows every movement of the girl with her eyes and decides to go behind her. Once outside she notices how all the huts in the village were opening their entrances, many people were already walking on the streets even if the sun wasn’t in the sky yet.
“Good morning!” A black-haired woman greets while grabbing the torches, these don’t have any more fire on them.
“Good morning!” The father and daughter say waving their hands while sitting on the grass and leaving the basket between them.
The woman continues walking and collecting the burnt pieces of wood, her skin has the same beautiful color as the girl and is wearing a white toga as everyone else, on her left arm there are permanent markings made with black ink that show the silhouette of a crescent moon being partially covered with a cloud. She is not the only one tacking the torches from their places, there are around other five people with the same task. They keep greeting in a friendly way every person they cross while walking.
“Good morning!” Two boys carrying vases made of clay say as they pass in front of the girl and her father’s hut.
“Good morning! Good morning!” Green Mango says, he is located in the hut’s roof and moves his head and neck up and down.
“That bird has been coming a lot lately, huh?” The father says as he grabs the sunflowers from the basket and gives one to her daughter “He really likes you, and even brought you a present” he tilts his head in Chia’s direction.
“I don’t think that she is some kind of present, is just his friend” The girl takes the sunflower, it has a diameter of almost twenty-five centimeters.
She and her father grab the flower with one hand, the girl grabs it with the left one but the father with the right one, then they locate both hands over a clay bowl that the father left at one side of the basket and each one uses their free hand to start scratching the center of the flower. From the dry circle a dry and crispy sound comes, tiny pebbles start to come off it and fall into the bowl. This process is used to obtain the sunflower’s seeds, when they are ready to be collected the sunflower stops being its well-known yellow color and becomes gray. There are moments when scratching is not enough and they have to clap or punch the flower to force it to throw the seeds.
In this country there are many indigenous groups, this is just one of the smallest. But many centuries ago, it had its golden age, over two thousand people were united under the name of the group, they had a great civilization with rules and traditions and then this era ended with the arrival of the colonization. At first the foreigners were believed to be gods, they were even called the “shining gods” due to the reflection of the sunlight in their metal armors and there was peace for a short period of time, until they learned that the natives used gold, silver and gems as tools or sacred artifacts. The greed covered the hearts of these so believed gods and they turned into demons, they began demanding these objects and sometimes got them that way but when the natives felt that something was off about it and put a stop to these demands, the others began to stole them. After such actions, the inhabitants decided to cut any relationship with the migrants, they didn’t take it so well and resorted to violent methods to establish dominance using their swords and spears, ultimately, they won thanks to something that the indigenous group didn’t have: armor and gunpowder. Many people died from both sides, human nature can be very ruthless and sometimes is driven by thirst for power, this was one of the reasons why these people started to kill the natives and not only to obtain their treasures. Taking advantage of the fear caused, an era of slavery begun, the survivors from the indigenous group were divided in two: the ones that became slaves to the colonizers and the ones that were able to escape.
The slaves lost their traditions, their gods and even their dignity when they were forced to leave descendants by mixing their lineage with the one from the migrants. With the passage of time, they became the community that controlled this country calling themselves “Civilized”, now they live under different rules, mixed traditions and even new gods.
The “free people”, as the survivors that were able to escape called themselves for some time, didn’t have it easy either. They tried to warn other indigenous groups about the dangers of the “shining demons”, but failed. This was a time were other groups had feelings of resentment against them because when they became one of the largest groups it wasn’t with peaceful methods, many wars had taken place before to determine power or possession of land. So now in their time of need, everyone turned their backs against them. Some of the other groups said that it was a well-deserved punishment, others didn’t hear them and others attacked them reducing their numbers even more, sooner or later these other indigenous groups met the colonizers and had a similar fate. As a result, the free people ended up living as nomads for generations before they could find a place so settle down, and without a written language some stories and traditions were forgotten or changed by time including when they were a big civilization and when they lost it all. They used to have bowls and vases made of gold and silver but now they only use clay; once they were thousands, nowadays the small village where they locate has no more than fifty people and each year that number decreases. In order to survive and maintain their numbers they now welcome anyone to join their community, and so there are people that were former members of other indigenous groups. Thanks to this decision they got political knowledge and now are trying to get recognition from the government to legally possess the lands they inhabit and to be acknowledged as citizens of this country. It hasn’t been an easy task since they have been ignored multiple times over the years, in fact the girl’s mother and other members of the group are in the big city protesting and marching at this very moment.
One after another the girl and her father remove the seeds from the sunflowers until the vase fills.
“Great! We got a lot, you did a good job” The father says as he stands, then goes inside the hut and brings another bowl made of clay “Now let’s move to the chia seeds”
Outside the hut there are many dry chia plants tighten up in small bundles, what the girl has in her basket is just a small complement to what her father had already collected. They press the dry plants between their hands and while maintaining that force they start moving them with circular motion. Slowly opening them from time to time they let the small black seeds along with dry parts of the plant fall inside the bowl making very tiny but continuous sounds.
A rooster can be heard at a distance. The bearded man smiles and says: “About time he woke up”
The girl giggles as she continues her task “He always oversleep, what a rooster”
“Do you think that he is asking for his breakfast? Better hurry”
Chia hears them talking and laughing, human sounds are so interesting for her so she decides to get closer and lays on the grass near the girl.
“Maybe she is interested in the seeds” The man says “too bad they aren’t for you”
“Dad...” The girl pauses for a moment and wonders in her mind if she should continue talking or just drop the subject, but after just a couple of seconds, that for her were like an eternity, she decided to continue “… when is mom coming back?”
The man stays silent as he removes the seeds from one of the dry plants “I wish I could answer that my little sunflower, each day without her I feel so incomplete”
They don’t speak any more for about seven minutes. The sunlight is now shinning over the village, the morning has arrived and with it the grass starts sparkling thanks to the tiny drops that are over it, each one generated by the morning dew.
“Okay, we are done here” The father says “Grab the sunflowers and I’ll take these seeds with me, let’s go”
She does as told, takes the bowl filled with the sunflower seeds and starts walking behind her dad. Chia doesn’t understand why they suddenly decided to leave, she gets up and goes after them. They don’t go too far, just a couple of huts and stop at an open area. Here the huts stop being circular and have more of a rectangular shape, they are also smaller and humans don’t come inside or out of them, instead the living beings here are chickens and pigs and each area with these animals have a fence around it.
“Good morning!” An old lady with long white hair greets them, her skin has the same bronzed color of the bearded man but is full of wrinkles and thanks to the over production of melanin she also has some age spots on her face around her left cheek, on the hands and on the arms. Leaving these spots aside, her left arm has the drawing of a circle, the ink used to create this shape was black many decades ago but now its color has become greenish.
“Gran Gran!” The girl yells with a smile, this is the way how she refers to her grandmother.
“How are you feeling mom?” The man asks.
“Oh, nothing to worry about. A little of pain in the back is not enough to stop me” The old lady smiles and gives little hits with her hand to her back “But sure is annoying that my body hurts just for being old” She takes a look to the bowls that they are carrying “Hey! Really nice seeds you got there, chicken will love them. You have done a really good job on your first duty moon” She pats her granddaughter’s head and the girl smiles.
In this village there are many tasks to do in order to maintain their peaceful lives, like collecting food, taking care of the animals, making sure the huts stay in good condition, create fabric that later will be put together to give form to the dresses that everyone uses, collect clay that will be used for pottery, check the latrines, and the list could go on and on. To complete these tasks this group created many generations ago a system called “duty moon” and it consists in assign one of the tasks to a group of people during one month, when the full moon is in the sky again, they will shift such tasks and stick with the new one the same period of time. Sometimes there are people that want to stay doing one specific labor, these actions are allowed and the ones that go through this path are called “Experts” but they have to keep in mind that if another task is lacking workers they must help.
The duty moon starts when a person reaches their thirteenth year of being alive, last month the girl got that age and her first task was to make sure chickens had food, this implies collecting seeds, fruit or corn. Her father is an expert in the kitchen tasks but he’s asked to be with his daughter during her learning of each of the tasks. She is the youngest in this small indigenous group and it’s been a subject that worries many of the members, because if they don’t procreate, they’ll meet their extinction.
“Oh? What is that?” The old lady looks at the canine that arrives after them “What is a dog doing all the way here?”
“Mom, I have no idea but we are thinking about taking care of her”
“We called her Chia” The girl smiles showing all her teeth, the old lady does the same but there aren’t many of those white pearls left in her mouth.
“Come here Chia” the old lady says.
Chia looks at this woman and sees in her the image of the old lady from the market, nostalgic feelings return to her heart that make her tail wag. She decides to get closer and to let her pat her head. Moving her head to take a better look of the other two humans close by, she notices that in a way the man with his long hair and beard resembles that homeless person that saved her in the forest, and the daughter of that man with her smile reminds her of that little girl that liked to play with dolls and cups, that one that used to call her Princess.
“It’s like they are here with me” She thinks and presses her head against the old lady’s leg.