Rebuilding: Part Two
In the morning, those of us who wake up early gasp in dismay. We duck out of the tents, looking up to the sky, touching the damp leaves. It rained during the night. The tents are sagging with the weight of the collected water, and the fire has gone out.
All the wood, all the mortar, everything we have done is soaked.
We help the rest of us wake as well, and the children begin to cry again as they realize it's impossible that their home be built by tonight. They can't wait to have a place to go to bed in that's not just a piece of cloth, propped up by sticks. We calm them, tell them everything will be fine.
We cannot rebuild the fire yet, because all the wood we have, as well as anything we could get from the woods, is soaked. We rub our hands together, wrap ourselves in our blankets, hug our young ones close to us. It is the best we can do.
When the sun comes out of the clouds, brilliant and high in the sky, it is a relief. The sun will dry the wood, and we will be able to begin. We have lost the morning, but it is not the end.
We watch individual Neopets as they, after finishing a meager lunch, get to work. Annie the green Scorchio ties logs together with rope made from twisted vines. She strikes the rope against a tree to get rid of all the leaves. She lays the logs out next to each other and wraps the rope around it. She gives it a firm knot, tying it twice, then rubs her hands down her sides. She looks at them and they are blistered.
She ignores the pain and continues. Now she paints the areas in between two logs with sticky mortar. It sinks in between the two, filling the gap. As she goes onto the next space, she is careful not to jiggle the first log. Once she is done with the entire row, which will become a wall, she starts on the next. She needs to keep moving. She leaves the first to dry and begins to twist two vines together with deft movements, spinning them in her hands.
Cecily the sturdy, yellow Zafara, grunts as she stacks up stones on the east side of the village. This is to be where Rollan, our smith, uses fire to create tools, and it would be dangerous to make it of wood. She carries stone after stone from the pile near her, lugging them to the stack that is becoming a wall. After she places each stone, she paints the top with mortar, where the next one will be placed. She then puts the next on top of two lower stones, just covering the crack between the two. After a row is finished, she covers all the spaces and cracks with mortar.
Back at the clearing, Gail and Alison, red and pink Aishas, are working diligently making more mortar. The sticky substance is what holds everything together. They use sand and dirt from a large pit off to the side, water, and sap from the trees. Sometimes they even put crushed leaves. The entire mixture is placed over the fire to boil, and Gail stirs it with a wooden stick as Alison goes to find more materials. Once it is finished, Gail pours it into another wooden bowl, hands it to whoever is waiting, and begins another batch.
Gail feels like she is cooking. Before the invaders, she had loved to cook and bake. Whenever there were parties, she was always the one to prepare the food. She wishes they had time to eat more than stale berries. But all time, all effort must be concentrated towards rebuilding the village. It is the priority.
She continues to stir wistfully.
Carmen, a yellow Ixi, weaves together leaves and vines to create a knotty fabric. This will be the roofing for many homes, where the planks that stretch across some are not enough. In and out, in and out, she loses herself in the pattern. In and out.
The young ones are the only ones who are not involved in our steady work. They run and play, chase each other, climb the trees. They shriek in playful laughter and the sound of happiness is calming to our ears. Slowly we relax into the work that is our custom.
By the time the sun touches the tip of the horizon, we have made progress. Half-baked houses rise up everywhere, and stones line what are clearly paths. At one end is a community shelter, which, though temporary, will serve to be a home for all of us until we finish. We are tired of the tents, and happy to have a solid roof for us to sleep under.
We put out the fire and go to sleep. Even though we have still not built the fence around the perimeter of the village, with the job started, buildings recognizable, and our village visible in the near future, we sleep without dreams and are not frightened of the dark outside.
The next day is heavy working. Pulling up walls, leaning backs against the logs and straining so that sweat pours down our faces. Lifting stone after stone after stone. Running back and forth from one place to another, carrying tools, containers of mortar, logs, and stones. By midday, we are about ready to collapse.
Things go wrong. A batch of mortar wasn't thick enough, so now it crumbles and breaks down into powder. Vines snap and break, letting what were walls fall apart. The sun shines down hard on our skin and burns our eyes, pounding persistently until we just want to give up.
We know we can't. We know we can't just relax in the shade of the forest. This job needs to get done.
But the heat makes our tempers high, our determination weak, our bodies slow. And we mechanically continue to make the movements, because we have to, but our eyes are dull and our few words sullen.
The sun slowly travels to the highest part of the sky. It is midday, but the berries that had been collected have gone soft and rotten in the heat, so we ignore the time and continue to work.
Our mouths are dry, our tongues blistering, and our stomachs pleading for food. We ignore, ignore everything.
Our future depends on our perseverance.
Gail stirs frantically. She needs to make at least twenty more batches of mortar to replace that which went bad. Sweat drips off of her forehead and into the bubbling mixture; well, that won't hurt it, she thinks wryly. She takes the pot off of the fire and hands it to Alison, who pours it into a bowl then refills it with gunk that needs to be boiled.
"Why don't you take a break, Gail?" says Alison, breaking the silence. The red Aisha turns, surprised. This is the first word either of them has said since they started this job at daybreak.
"I can't. You know that. We need to get this done."
Alison resolutely takes the spoon from Gail's hand. "Come on. I'll do it. You've been working on this for hours. Take a break. Go in the forest and go for a walk."
Gail stays a moment, staring into Alison's eyes, then abruptly nods. She knows she has been dying for this for the whole day, but she also recognizes that Alison, also, has been working for the whole day and would probably like to stop just as much. She is grateful, and takes this gift for what it is worth. She will repay it later.
An hour later, the Aisha is wandering aimlessly through the forest. Though we villagers are townsfolk, we are also close to nature and know every tree, every root, every plant as if they were one of us. We know the silent paths that rope their way through the forest and never get lost. We admire and respect.
Today Gail feels the cool breeze that weaves through the branches and vines, and it cools her face and body. After walking pleasantly for some time, she sits down on a fallen log and watches the vines sway from the trees. She looks at her feet and fingers the fallen nuts and vibrant, springy plants at the foot of the tall tree trunk.
She picks up an acorn, staring at it. Across the forest floor is a hundred, a thousand more. She remembers making acorn bread from crushed acorns. She doesn't have the recipe, but she remembers crushing them into a chunky powder, mixing with syrup from the trees, water, and milk if she could find it.
She remembers the delicious taste and the pride of sharing the bread with her fellow villagers.
"This is delicious, Gail!" Alison says, munching on her slice of bread. "What did you make it with?"
"Mostly acorn flour," Gail responds. "I also added walnuts and berries to make it chunkier and sweeter. There's lots of things in the forest that we can use to make food. We don't have to starve, or survive on shriveled, rotten berries."
"That's amazing!" says Alison. "You should make it, and share it with the rest of us this evening!"
Gail's eyes go back to the forest, and she can remember wild asparagus which would make a delicious soup. Pureed berries and those little red fruits hanging on that tree she leaned against would be a nice dessert, and watered down could even make a drink. She could even try to dig up some potatoes, which she could flavor with shredded wild onions. And she was sure she had seen some wild rice out of the corner of her eye, over in that plain.
She gets to work.
When we limp back to the shelter we share, we are dragging our tired bodies behind us, eyelids barely held open. While we have made good progress and the village is almost finished, we are completely worn out, and our morale is down.
The food surprises us, shakes us from the depressed routine we have sunk into. The smell of just-baked bread and steamy stew reaches our nostrils and our tongues and wakes us up.
Slowly we all begin to gather, and the heat has gone from the dimmed light. Conversation becomes lighter and louder as we munch on the cooked vegetables and the crunchy nuts. Irritation melts away.
We could still be working. We probably should be. But we put the thought of what is left to be done out of our minds, and take this time to relax.
Enthusiasm rises up and the young Neopets begin to dance in a circle. Slowly, we join in, cautiously, timidly. It has been so long since we have been purely happy, danced and sang. But the mysterious strands of music begin to rise up out of people's lips, and we join in.
Feet whip past in a magical dance, one built on hope and beauty and full stomachs and a village that is almost built.
We dig into a delicious dessert with crusty bread on the side, watching the others dance.
We climb the trees and swing from the branches as if we were Myncies.
We find sticks and rub them together, beat hands onto stones to make a rhythm, make music, that goes faster and faster as do the syllables to the wordless song.
Two Gelerts act out a short skit of how one of us fell off of the ladder while working on a roof, and instead of being a reminder of our shortcomings their comical mockery brings us to laughter.
We relax and when we go to sleep it is peaceful.
We had forgotten that the village is not only the houses we are building, but these evening gatherings, our laughter, ourselves. Our happiness that we had lost.
We are beginning to remember and so the village is being rebuilt.
We are one, a village, an entity made up of individuals, one that may be hurt but will never be destroyed.
Whether or not we survive over the years, our memories will live on in our lives and our stories.
The village is rebuilt and, now that years have gone by, it seems as if it had never been destroyed, the invasion had never occurred. We live in it again as if it will always exist.
We continue to create our future and preserve our present, because we are our village and the village is us.
Nothing else matters.