Fox IslandChapter 6
THE FEAR SUBSIDED as curiosity struck. They were not aggressive, rather inquisitive of the Traveler who sat eating his meal at the feet of the monolith. Two knelt down and put their palms on the area he had his supper, while one, whom he recognized from his foot race, communicated with the leader of their squad. They spoke a strange language, Latin or Arabic in fluidity, quick and effortless.
“Hullo,” he said, and his own voice startled him.
Like any man left alone, he had many conversations with himself (scores while creating his watering network in the ceiba, as it proved the preponderance of mental taxation). But he used his voice very little and even lesser still in the previous weeks. Hearing it again, and once more with the tone one uses when directed at a stranger, was as stupefying to himself as it was the native men.
They communicated amongst themselves again. He tried to interrupt and give reason to his journey in their country, but had a hard time getting a word in.
The men arrived at whatever deliberation they came upon. The leader was aiming to learn his name now. He opened his mouth to give it, but fell dumbfounded. He hadn’t a name. Like a wave that has taken its entire life crossing an ocean comes crashing onto the rocks—the realization caught up to him and fell hard. He didn’t know his name. It was terrifying and revelatory. The power of being without name brought with it the horror of being unwanted. And it made sense that he would be without one, for he feared in his heart, weeks now, the inconvenient truth—he hadn’t a place or people of belonging.
One’s name was one’s identity, the thing put upon them by a mother and father who cared and loved for them. It carried with it the idea of consummation and conception. Proof of care and proof of one being above that of an animal tossed to the side. A name was given above noun. It wasn’t a thing, but a being. A cat without a name is nothing more than feral and disregarded. But as soon as the cat receives the name Felix, it is a part of the family, loved, cherished, and justified. The name’s absence, or in this case, the knowledge of a name, brought with it the wonder of one’s futility.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
The men carried on. Together they were much more capable; rather opposite than his first encounter with the isolated native. Likewise, they were far from violent and amicable. They offered him a drink like spice and alcoholic. They motioned for him to follow, and he consented.
Over the next several weeks, the Traveler learned about the Liberi. The people he feared were cannibals and witch-doctors came to be nothing more than meager farmers. They were not savages, rather more like children, innocent and easily frightened. They valued honor and respected every form of life—notably the island’s. Stories and theories fascinated them; nothing was beyond the reach of their admiration and deference. Thus, the people accepted the Traveler into their village.
His renown spread as the will-o’-the-wisp. The strange man, visitation, and most of all the location whereof his discovery; each man and woman wanted to know of the Traveler found at the monolith. They thronged him, bringing fruits, bright-dyed clothing, and necklaces. Through pantomime, each inquired about the monolith called Cultus.
The affair was rather ornate, and he found it comical that his lunch at the feet of the monolith would grant him grace among the people. He assumed that the totem held a religious significance—though he would never understand it. It relieved him to be on the favorable side of it, as he could have easily disgraced the beliefs of the people with the same meal.
His guides, the five sackcloth-clad men, recounted his arrival, and then he never saw them again. He later speculated they were of a scouting or hunting party policing the wild jungle beyond the outskirts of the village.
The Liberi fascinated the Traveler. It was a remarkable thing, discovering a thriving, beautiful country amid a jungle on an island he assumed was undiscovered. What’s more, the people were generous, docile, and amicable. All his life, he believed the strange inhabitants of a secret village in the rainforest would be violent savages, shrinking heads, casting spells, and sacrificing humans. Upon seeing them, he couldn’t imagine these people prodding their own sheep.
The village was a pleasant interruption from his usual and daily activities of survival, pain, and prayer. He laughed when recollecting the many times he nearly died from starvation, weather, and peril, all the while being only a day’s journey from friendly neighbors. Here he could sit on a chair made of straw, eat food he didn’t have to labor for, and not worry about tomorrow’s meal. It was all very refreshing, and for the first time in a long time, he relaxed. The whole notion of repairing his vessel and venturing into the unknown ocean was horrifying now; He would have died at the doorstep of salvation because of ignorance.
He took the arduous task of learning their language, as he was in no rush to leave the people, and his presence pleased them. Through pantomime and mumbled words, he communicated about trees, birds, foods, crops, and tools.
The first and second words he learned were “man” and “woman”. While gesturing with a man, and trying to inquire who he was, the Liberi man pointed at himself saying the word “viror”. The Traveler wasn’t sure if the word was the man’s name or the word for all men in generality. When the Traveler pointed at the man saying the word “viror” and motioned back to himself with the same phrase, the man lauded him. But he wasn’t confident if the word represented Mankind or merely men. When pointing at a woman and saying the word, the man shook his head and asserted “vira”. So viror was man, and vira was woman.
The third word he learned was more meaningful to the Liberi. He reached down and took the dirt in his hand.
“Dirt,” the Traveler said.
The man stooped down and picked up the dirt, uttering the word, “Koh.”
The Traveler repeated it, “Koh.”
Then the Liberi man stood and spread his arms wide, motioning everywhere at the trees, village, valley, and mountain peak, and repeating the word, “Koh. Koh. Koh.”
The Traveler understood that the island itself was Koh, and maybe even the entire world, for he wasn’t sure if the tribe even understood that there was a vast world beyond the island. The man continued speaking to the Traveler and pointed wildly at several things in the village, but it was all too much and too soon for him. He thanked the man in English, who subsequently misunderstood him, and retreated from his presence, repeating the words to himself.
“Viror. Vira. Koh. Viror—Man. Vira—Woman. Koh—Island.”
The Traveler was fond of retreating to the countryside when thinking and practicing the unfamiliar language. He appreciated the company of the villagers, but couldn’t help feeling uncustomary. They enjoyed staring at him. Processing all the information in front of others was nauseating. After three months alone, without warning, happenstance thrust him into a village, a home of flurries of questions, words, and jokes that he couldn’t comprehend. It frightened and humiliated him.
But he liked the idea of being one of them and learning from them. He found drawing pictures was a simpler method to their language. With his piece of burnt wood as pen on parchment, he drew a monkey and learned the word simor. This practice astounded the Liberi, for they never wrote words or drew pictures.
He explained that he washed ashore, but had a hard time describing the other places outside of the island, beyond the ocean (they called the Ançæps).
One day, while speaking with a few inquisitive Liberi, he attempted explaining it. “Here,” the Traveler pointed at his picture of the island. “Here, Koh.”
The group smiled at him. One of them clapped her hands; a man put his hand on the Traveler’s shoulder as if to congratulate him; another spoke too quickly for him to understand.
The Traveler continued. He ran his finger along the paper across his crude drawing of the ocean. “Here, Ançæps.”
They nodded again, realizing the Traveler hadn’t finished with his lesson.
He continued, pointing at a corner of the parchment where a vast island was drawn. He dragged his finger across the drawing. “Here, many Koh’s. Koh and Koh and Koh!”
One of the Liberi shook his head, and the others murmured. He couldn’t understand everything they said, but they were clearly frustrated. The edge of the island was the edge of their world—everything from birth to death; anything else was nonsense. No matter how many drawings he created or stories he told, it never bothered them to imagine a place beyond the ocean. This exasperated him.
He pondered what kind of culture or religion would birth a society that refused to dream. Every influential philosopher in Plato, Aristotle, and Newton believed in questioning the known, wandering into wonder, and thinking the unthinkable. The desire to dream was in mankind. Of course, it was in some greater than others. Some were born with it, others born to lead, and still some to follow. But never was a society obstinately reluctant to even try to wonder.
The Liberi was that society. Like a vacuous culture that never grew beyond the state of Neanderthal, they had little inclination for science and philosophy. Yet they thrived in honor and pleasure, were satiated in all they accomplished, and played handsomely when not working in their crops.
The Traveler hadn’t a name for himself, but the Liberi needed to refer to him as something. While he kept trying to discover the names of various tools, foods, culture, and verbiage, they kept demanding of him what he called himself. But he merely shook his head. Of course, it saddened him far worse than it perplexed them. Every time they asked, he grew dismayed and silent.
He offered dubbing himself Viror, as he was a man, but that did not satisfy them. He was a man, but he needed a moniker to delineate himself from Fred next to him (Fred was not a Liberi name). They didn’t comprehend his amnesia; the notion of him not knowing his name or people confounded them.
They often asked if he were Aquilyo, which he assumed a neighboring tribe elsewhere on the island. He shook his head at this too; still it crossed his mind a few times to accept the invitation to rid himself of the berating interrogation for his name. He feared what implications could come from assuming the identity of another. My God, he thought, what if they were at war with Aquilyo?! He laughed when he remembered how passive the Liberi were.
Before long, they relented and referred to him as Vulpunei. He accepted it without a choice; the finest names thrust upon us, rather than bear from our own free will. When he asked for the meaning, he received laughter and nonsense from the Liberi.
One slow afternoon, he heard a group of farmers discussing a gang of vulpun that ravaged their crop whilst chasing prey. He put together they spoke of a leash of foxes who destroyed their squash field in a mad dash hunt for rabbits. His moniker Vulpunei meant Fox.
He fancied the idea that the little fox he met at the monolith had made its way into his story as well. This pleased him, but from everyone’s giggling, he wondered if it were an insult. No matter—to him it meant something personal. Not only did he enjoy the brief visitation with his reddish-orange friend, but it brought back a lost memory deep in the recesses of his subconscious—a half-remembered dream of a fox pelt given to him as a child. A gift from his father, no less. He didn’t know for certain, but he reckoned it might be a memory, and for that the name warmed him.