Sticks and Stones
Once, not that long ago, the nomads had thrived. Food—both grown and animal—had been abundant. One of the hunters, Bheka’s eldest brother, had managed to make alcohol from the potatoes. They celebrated the birth of little Lwazi who would grow up to be the most prolific hunter of them all. His dad had been the best Bheka had ever seen. She missed the days when she followed him around with a new sense of wonder for the world.
That wonder was gone, along with all the hunters. Every hunter except herself and little Lwazi. He’d grown now. Twenty years had passed since they last told stories around the fire of what they hoped his life would be like.
Bheka led Lwazi through the plains as she often did. She kept ahead of him, but still aware of his position. He tapped her on the shoulder and pointed off to the side. He hadn’t always been mute, though she couldn’t blame him for it after everything he’d been through. She pulled her bow off her shoulder and nocked an arrow. Then she turned toward where he pointed. Her shoulder slumped when she saw the giant, stone elephant.
“Another one?” she said. Lwazi nodded and frowned. “We can’t eat stone,” she told him. “Let’s call it a day. It’s late and I’m tired.”
Back at camp, Sizani greeted them. There had been a time when she doled out medicine and tended to wounds, but Bheka had no need for a medicine woman. She only needed Sizani, her friend.
“Empty-handed again?” Sizani asked.
Bheka nodded. She gestured for Lwazi to enter the tent. “I don’t know what to do,” she said as soon as she was alone with Sizani.
Sizani stoked a fire. Above it sat a black pot, though Bheka was sure there wouldn’t be anything of substance inside. “Still no sprouts, either. Another night of broth for supper,” Sizani said. She scooped up a bowl-full of the liquid and handed it to Bheka.
“It’s spread here, too. We’ll have to move on,” Bheka said between sips of her broth. Her stomach growled, begging her for something more. There wasn’t any.
“I hear the north hasn’t seen it yet. The cold keeps it out.” The tribe had never been north, not that far, anyway. Mountains and blizzards had never appealed to Bheka. Her gaze wandered over to the tent. We don’t have a choice, she thought. Not as long as she wanted to keep Lwazi safe.
Sizani smiled. “North it is, then.”