Raging Alone 6: Hiding
Desòchu groaned as he crawled out of a small opening in the cliff along the southern side of the valley. His hiding spot was near the highest point along the southern cliff in the valley. A low outcropping of rock scraped against his back as he managed to haul himself the last few feet before standing up on the narrow ridge.
Rubbing his scrapes, he peered around. It was dark but between the moonlight and a pair of nearby lanterns, he could see enough that he wasn’t in danger of falling and breaking his neck.
The thought brought a scowl to his face as memories of his mother plastered themselves across his mind. The smell of blood tickled his nostrils and he stepped back until the cold stone of the cliff stopped him. He choked on the memories, a raspy sob rising up in his throat. His eyes ached from the need to cry but there were no more tears left.
He took a long, shuddering breath. His throat ached from hours of grief. Everything else was sore from cowering in a cave. He wiped the dried tears from his face and peered up at the night sky.
“That you, Sòchu?”
He turned toward Gemènyo’s voice. His friend stood on a lower trail, the light behind him masking his face in a shadow. Desòchu’s memories filled in the rest: his friend’s broad nose, the easy smile on his lips, and the wide eyebrows over green eyes. From the corner, he could see a twig of matakila bobbing slowly as Gemènyo chewed on it.
“You still among us? No desire to walk toward the stars off a tall cliff?”
Desòchu gave a bitter snort. “Yes. I’m fine.”
Gemènyo reached up and began to crawl up on the next level. Rocks cracked further down the hill as he grunted with effort. “Give me a second.”
The idea of Gemènyo coming close turned Desòchu’s stomach. He already felt hollow inside, as if his mother’s death had carved him out. Another person touching him was too much.
Desert shook his head and wave off his well-meaning friend. “Not tonight. Just leave me alone.”
He stepped over Gemènyo’s outstretched fingers and headed down the path toward the main part of the valley.
Behind him, Gemènyo crawled up and walked after him. “Hold on. I don’t think you should be alone right now.”
Gemènyo stopped Desòchu with a hand on his shoulder. “Please?”
At the touch, Desòchu stopped in mid-step. The muscles in his chest tightened painfully. Tears rose up, choking him. He yanked his arm away and walked away.
“Sòchu!” Gemènyo grabbed Desòchu’s other shoulder.
Something burst inside Desòchu as a surge of anger rose up. Spinning around, he punched Gemènyo hard in the chest. “No!”
Gemènyo looked stunned for a moment before he stepped back. His bare feet scraped against the narrow path but he managed to keep his balance. His outstretched hand remained in the air, as if poised to touch Desòchu again.
“Leave me alone!” Desòchu belted out and swung again. His knuckles brushed against Gemènyo’s shirt but didn’t strike flesh.
His friend flinched away from the blow. Then his eyes grew wide as one foot slipped off the trail.
His cry of “Shit!” echoed off the cliff walls as he tumbled down, scraping his side and hand as he fell to the lower trail and then bounced off it to continue down.
Stunned, Desòchu watched as his friend landed near the bottom of the cliff. He hoped that Gemènyo would hit a rock and get some sense knocked into him, Desòchu wanted to be left alone.
Gemènyo groaned as he pushed himself up. His eyes were dark shadows as he yelled back at Desòchu. “Asshole!”
“Drown in shit, you festering boil!” came out before Desòchu realized it. Spinning on his heels, he stormed away as Gemènyo continued to swear him out. His frustration and anger beat against his chest, pounding his ribs with a steady beat that followed him around the circuitous route around the valley, past the shrine, and then back toward his home.
He half expected Gemènyo to ambush him but he was left alone. Despite the long route, he arrived at his family cave faster than he expected.
To his surprise, there was a pile of small items by the side of the door. At first, he thought they were Shimusògo’s colors: red, orange, and yellow. As he peered down at the small boxes, bottles, and letters, he realized they were white and gold instead. He frowned, not understanding the significance.
Desòchu reached up to grab the blanket. He started to pull it aside when he realized it had been changed. The plain red cloth had no embroidery, not even the clan name. Even his mother’s name had been erased from his home.
Tightening his jaw, he yanked it hard. It tore from one side of the mooring. The fabric dipped into the pile of mementos and knocked them over. He let out a low growl and stormed inside.
Tejíko, his grandmother, looked up from the couch. She was holding Rutejìmo in her arms as she bounced the newborn gently.
Desòchu stopped and waited for the tirade his grandmother was famous for.
She stood up without a word. In her other hand was a leather skin. Droplets of milk ran down from the tip of it. She gave Desòchu a thin smile before turning to his father. “Kòru, are you up to handling the little one tonight? I need to meet up with—” She paused to look Desòchu. Her face seemed to grow older. She sighed. “—someone, and I can’t bring the babe with me.”
Out of sight, Hikòru grunted. “I know how to feed and change a baby, Mother. You made me do it before. Go see the man in white.”
She clicked her tongue. “Make sure you show Desòchu how to do it also. Both of you can handle little Jìmo if you take turns. I will come back at sunrise.”
She shook her head, her long braid waving like a tail.
Desòchu entered further into the cave as his grandmother handed the gurgling baby to his father.
Hikòru looked like he was being presented with a pile of severed heads. He scowled his face for a moment before sitting back on the couch. He set Rutejìmo between his crossed legs, bracing the little one with his head up high and his legs kicking.
Tejíko came around to Desòchu and held out her arms.
She hugged him. “It will pass, I promise,” she whispered.
“Why couldn’t I stay?”
Her eyes shimmered. “I’ll explain later.”
Desòchu felt the frustration rising up again. He balled his hand into a fist but didn’t dare even threaten his grandmother. She would beat him within an inch of his life he even looked like he would hit her. And then Yutsupazéso would make his life hell. After a moment of shaking, he hugged her back.
“If you need anything, Sòchu, please find me. Even if it is in the middle of the night, wake me up. I’ll be in my cave or near the front entrance. If not me, a warrior.”
“I will, grandmama.”
She squeezed him and then slipped around. “I’ll check on you in the morning. I’ll bring breakfast for all four of us,” she called out before exiting through the opening Desòchu had left. She stopped briefly to restack some of the items but gave up after a few moments.
He stared at the entrance for a moment and then headed toward the couch. Sitting where his grandmother had been, he let out a sigh and leaned back.
Hikòru stared at the ceiling as the baby squirmed in his lap. He didn’t move, didn’t say anything. Desòchu wasn’t even sure he was listening to anything.
The dark-skinned babe let out a little cooing noise as he waved his limbs. Then he stopped.
Rutejìmo burped and then let out a high-pitched cry.
Their father dropped a hand down to Rutejìmo’s face. He rested one finger along the baby’s lips.
Rutejìmo promptly grabbed it and brought it to his mouth.
Hikòru continued to stare at the ceiling, his chest rising and falling with his deep breaths.
Desòchu felt a kinship for the silence. He had just spent the last few hours in a cave letting the memories wash over him until he was sick to his stomach. It was too soon and the memory of his mother’s death felt like a knife in his gut.
His thoughts brought a dry sob into his throat.
He looked up to see his father glancing at him.
Hikòru looked back up. He pulled his hand away from Rutejìmo and rested it on his knee.
The baby jerked and then let out another wail. His dark brown hands clutched at the air as one wail ended and a second one quickly followed.
With a wince, Desòchu watched his father.
His father sighed. Reaching down, he picked up Rutejìmo and then set him down on the couch next to him. With a grunt, he stood up. “I’m going to bed.”
Desòchu started to say something but his father turned his back on him and headed out of the room. It was only a matter of seconds but then Desòchu was alone with Rutejìmo.
Rutejìmo wailed again, his cry scraping against Desòchu’s ears.
He flinched and glared at the baby.
The cries grew in volume.
“Boy! Deal with it!” snapped Hikòru from the other room.
Glaring, Desòchu got up. He walked over to his new brother and looked down.
Images of his mother’s broken body flashed across his mind.
He tightened his hands into fists as the tears threatened to fall again. It took all of his effort to push it down. Panting, he scooped his brother up from the couch and grabbed the skin of milk. He looked around before he spotted the crib; it had been moved from the bedroom to the main room. With a shrug, he set Rutejìmo and the skin down next to it.
Rutejìmo’s eyes were wide as he wiggled from one side to the other. He opened his mouth and let out yet another cry.
With another wince, Desòchu reached down and pushed the skin filled with milk over to the baby. It took another few pushes to bring the nipple to the babe’s mouth.
Rutejìmo turned and mouthed it for a moment before he caught it in his lips. He squirmed as he sucked on the tip.
Desòchu stared at his brother for a moment. A wave of exhaustion slammed into him, as if the entire day piled on his shoulders in a moment. With a groan, he staggered to his own room and landed on his bed.
He was sleeping before he even considered taking his clothes off.