by Ares Demertzis (Nov. 2006)
The sun had crossed the big sky, vanishing at the horizon, tumbling precipitously into that abyss at the end of the world, once again drawing across the infinite void a tattered blanket of darkness worn threadbare with uncountable perforations. Deep within that threatening, ominous blackness, beyond the wide ocean, the sharp sliver of a crescent moon was rapidly ascending, severing the heavens with undeniable certainty, resembling an eager medieval scimitar.
The Elders sat in a tight circle on the still warm sand of the high plain desert, before a bright fire that for the moment warmed them from the bitter, penetrating chill of that raw wind blowing from an approaching eastern obscurity. At a respectful distance behind them the male members of the village squatted in a rigid crowd; at a respectful distance even further away, the women, children and dogs were huddled together.
A young man, securely trussed in coils of bulky rope, his naked body shivering from the cold, was curled face down in a disfigured heap; the cord that was used to haul him still fastened around his neck. His mother sat beside him, sobbing. On his other side was stretched the corpse of another young man, the white cotton shirt covering his chest splashed a rigid, dried crimson; the knife still attached to his torso.
The Elder Teofilo, a one eyed indigenous ancient, was the first to speak. Pulling the coarse blanket covering his shoulders across his chest, the words tumbled from his lips into the chill night air in vapory puffs.
“I remember my grandfather talking of one who had killed another,” he proclaimed in a calculated, authoritative voice. “The one who killed was placed in the grave with the one killed, and the two were covered with the sand.”
“Perhaps we should advise the authorities?” asked one Elder with an extraordinarily wrinkled countenance, as he alleviated the itch in his crotch with a vigorous scratching across the white cotton material of his loose-fitting trousers.
“It is a two day journey by burro to the town,” objected another, placing an index finger against his nostril, blowing forcefully to eject the accumulated mucus.
“The dead one will stink, and be full of flies,” admonished Teofilo.
“Then we should send someone, in order that the authorities come here. They have vehicles, and helicopters.” insisted the wrinkled one.
Teofilo spat a thick blob of saliva into the flames; it hissed and disappeared into a thin vertical column of steam. “We do not need them to tell us that which is right. We are the Children of God; it is they who have strayed from the righteous path, from the side of justice. We have our laws, our customs, the traditions of our people to guide us. They must respect this.”
“Tell us why you killed your friend!” demanded the wrinkled one in a loud voice.
“We were quarrelling,” came the mumbled reply.
“That is not a reason to kill.”
“He told me he saw my sister at the well, and that she smiled at him.”
“This is not good, but this crime is not to be punished by death.” Teofilo retorted.
“If your sister disgraced your honor, then it is she that must be punished!”
“He said he asked her for a kiss. And that she kissed him.”
A low, collective growl of surprised incredulity issued from the villagers.
“Bring me this girl!” Teofilo ordered.
“Did you smile at him?”
“Did you kiss him?”
“Bah! I can see in your eyes that you are lying. Take her away! She will be dealt with at sunrise.”
Several men placed the dead body on a burro; others dragged the bound young man by the rope around his neck to the graveyard. Following behind were the women, children, and curious dogs wagging their tails in the vain expectation that the procession would end with some scraps being thrown their way.
“Please don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me!” the young man cried as his body was tied snugly, face to face, unto the corpse. Then they threw the dead one, and the other soon to be, into the pit as one. The villagers began filling the grave with shovels and sticks. The young man’s mother threw herself into the hole with an anguished wail, and had to be pulled out, crying, as the earth piled higher and higher, covering the bodies in their mortal embrace. Finally, they disappeared under the sand.
Everyone stood around the grave until the muffled screams from under the ground ceased. Then they made their way slowly back to their adobe huts to sleep until the rapidly approaching dawn.
No one ever mentioned that the slain youth was Teofilo´s grandson.
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