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February 19, 2024

Fire Night

By Sand Pilarski

The hyenas and jackals were gone, following the gazelle and zebra as they fled. The streamers of smoke from already burnt land behind me blew across the night sky, obscuring most of the stars that usually blaze through the darkness. I was running along the left edge of the road, its ashy, granular texture sliding under my bare feet, slowing me down, making my long strides into a churning stagger. The acrid air was making my chest hurt, and a stitch in my side was painful. I slowed to as fast a walk as I could maintain and ease the stab under my right ribs. I bunched up the brown leather cape and pressed my left fist into my side to make it stop hurting. My staff was in my right hand, and it helped me pull myself along a little faster. The fire was burning closer now, a red and orange and white line with orange glowing billows above it. So hot, so thirsty, so worried! I looked back along the road, but could see no one else. A tree was dimly lit in reds and golden browns by the fires beyond me, and my white cowrie shell bracelet on my left wrist looked like orangey ivory.

I could see the little house for the animals that we had built all of sticks, and the corral fenced with more sticks, and the trees that would shade my animals during the hot dry days, and the roof of the shelter made of more thin branches and pads of twisted dry grass. All of them dry and inviting the fire to change them into blossoms and fountains of flames. They were changing already, lit with lines and swirls of red as the fire moved closer still. I began to run again, clenching my teeth, moving more to the edge of the road to find firmer footing. My thin brown legs pumped, trying to find the running-balance that would get me to my animals in time to let them run free. My sleek, handsome cattle. My funny, squat little goats. Some might die, and some might stray, but some might find their way back to me after the fire was done chasing them.

I was breathing a little heavily, but in spite of the sight of the fire creeping across the field toward the little shack, I felt mostly of a sense of resignation. Nature is good, and not good, and good again. We live and we strive, and that is what people do.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2002-10-05
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