First Triumph

It is morning. The forest is still dark, but the sky is becoming blue. Ja is 5 winters old. He sits a little back in the cave opening with his mother. Light throws down a slender, brightening veil upon them. Pipings and twitterings of birds are everywhere, mixed with the occassional fear-inducing roar of a lion. Ja’s mother is pounding some berries with the end of a stick. The berries lie in the hollow of a large concave rock. It is like a bowl and she is making juice. The skin of these berries is thick and not tasty, but the juice is almost sweet.

Ja’s mother stops pounding to look at a hand-size rock on the ground, then drops the stick, picks up the rock and starts to pound the red berries. “Ai!” she yells, as she hits her thumb.

Ja has been playing with a long, slim, green reed, twisting it this way and that, then around one arm, then another, then around one foot, then, Hey! around both feet. He has strapped his feet together! What joy is his.

Ja’s mother picks up the stick again and is once more attacking the berries. Then she stops, stands up and goes far back into the cave to defecate. Ja untwists the reed from his feet and looks at the rock, then at the stick lying close by. The rock is shaped a little like his fist, and longer than it is wide. The stick is like his arm. Ja sees. Ja doesn’t hear the birds; he doesn’t hear the lions. He doesn’t see the cave walls or the trees or the sky. He is not smiling; he is not frowning. He just looks, intently and gravely, while he remembers.

Then slowly he picks up the stick and holds it between his feet. Then he picks up the rock with his left hand, and with his right hand tries to twist the reed around the rock and the end of the stick.

It is mid-day. Ja’s mother has been sitting behind him, and she watches him trying over and over to wrap the reed around the rock and the stick. The rock falls. He picks it up and tries again, over and over and over. She sits in wonder. She has never seen such a thing. She forgets the berries and the juice and sits watching, mesmerized, like one cat watching another playing with a leaf.

Then all of a sudden Ja raises the stick and shakes it! The rock holds! Does not even wobble! He stands up; he turns toward the berries; he slowly raises the stick way up high, then down, smash! smash into the berries! Juice flies into Ja’s face, into his mother’s face! She leaps up, stands in front of him, and all at once her arms are around him lifting him up in a huge hug! Now she drops him and leaps to the very edge of the cave. She fearlessly looks out at the dark forest and she raises her open hands to the patch of sky and the light, then clenches her hands as if pulling it down to her, as she shouts “Ja! Ja! Ja!”

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