Lorqan Nboleta was lying in a small clearing of the Sepori Forest. Ankle length grass brushed gently against the skin of his bare arms and legs, a small black beetle crawled around Lorqan’s neck, stopping to drink the sweat that had gathered in the hollow of his throat. It was a glorious day! The sun poured golden light into the forest, the sky visible above the clearing was a clear azure blue unmarked by cloud. As always the forest was a riot of green; vibrant, verdant and above all else home. Heat suffused the forest, heat and light bringing life and energy to the trees and fauna across the Expanse. Warmth from the day enveloped Lorqan and he drank it in. He loved the sun, he loved the heat and he loved his home.
Closing his eyes against the light of the sun Lorqan thought of his wife. They were only wed six days past. There should have been the excitement, passion and ecstasy of two beings newly joined, but instead he and Jenneh were awkward, uncomfortable and uncertain with each other. There was physical attraction, of that there was no doubt. Jenneh was a beautiful young woman and Lorqan had certainly noticed her on the few occasions their villages had shared festivals. Physical attraction alone, however, does not make a successful partnership. Their times alone were full of long difficult silences. On the occasions when they had made love it was stilted and disjointed, neither knowing the other well enough to recognise and interpret small signs of arousal or annoyance. It felt more like a chore than a pleasure as both were still too young and serious about sex to find humour in their shortcomings.
Their discomfort in each other was not purely their own fault. Theirs was a marriage made of politics designed to increase the ties and trade between the two villages. Such a thing was common within the Mwangi Expanse, but Lorqan wished that there had been time for him to get know Jenneh before their fathers had agreed on the union of their families.
Lorqan thought of his new wife. He thought of her gentle smile, the shyness in the tilt of her head when he made a bad joke, the way she spoke with the children of her adopted village. He thought of her eagerness to be part of his family, the way she joked with his sister and paid attention to his mother and grand-mother when they expounded wisdom and the secrets of a good marriage. He remembered the shared embarrassment of bawdy songs sung by the men of his village as they were ushered to the marital home on their wedding night. He thought of her light touch on his skin and the softness of her breathing when she was asleep. He thought of his desire to please her and the delight he felt with her approval. It was then that he understood that he was falling in love with his new wife.
He should have been overjoyed with this revelation, but instead he sighed as a deep sadness filled his soul.
Lorqan opened his eyes to the brightness of the day. He heard a droning buzz and felt a fly land on his cheek to lap at the blood seeping from his mouth. He raged at how cruel the world was when he could only realise that he was falling in love with his new wife as he lay dying.
He railed at himself for being so careless. He had not seen the signs or scat of wild boar that suggested a mother and her young were near by. He had been too preoccupied with scanning the trees for bee hives so he could bring home some fresh honey for Jenneh. She had mentioned in passing that she loved it and he had wanted her to be happy. The mother boar had rushed from cover to protect her young and Lorqan was too slow to in his defence. The boar’s tusks had ripped into his abdomen tearing muscle and piercing his bowels. Brought to his knees Lorqan was helpless when the protective boar turned for another attack. Her head had slammed into him, solid cranium cracking Lorqan’s ribs, pushing two into his left lung and flinging him onto his back in the clearing. The boar had then hovered over him, snorted hot, wet air disdainfully into his face and trotted back to her young brood. Lorqan was left in the clearing, bleeding and broken. He knew he would die here alone. He was surprised that he felt no fear, just sadness that he would not be able to live the life that he would have liked to. The fly skittered across Lorqan’s face to find a better position to enjoy its feast. Lorqan wanted to brush it away but he could not move his arms. He sighed again, blowing bubbles in the blood. He felt weak; the sun’s bright light could not shine life or energy into his failing body. Pain racked his chest and stomach sending juddering spears of agony through him. Despite his physical condition, the small primitive part of Lorqan’s brain picked up a rustling sound at the edge of the clearing. Fearing that the mother boar had returned, Lorqan tried in vain to reach his spear causing him to cough foaming blood on to his chin. Feeling vulnerable and alone he laid his head back onto the soft grass to await the inevitable end. Seemingly long moments passed but eventually instead of the boar’s bristly visage Lorqan’s eyes beheld the smooth, hairless face of a teenage boy. The boy looked down at Lorqan with empathy, expressive eyes leaking tears of compassion. Lorqan recognised the boy; he was from Jenneh’s village. He was the strange boy who spent hours meditating and when he looked at you it felt as though he could see inside you. What was his name? Koomba or something like that. The people in Jenneh’s village certainly treated him with awe and respect, even if he was only little more than a child.
The boy knelt and gently cradled Lorqan’s head in his lap. Lorqan tried to speak but only spewed blood onto the boy’s trousers. Tell Jenneh I am sorry. Tell her that I was falling in love with her. Lorqan willed the boy to hear his thoughts. Please, boy, please understand. Please help me.
The boy remained silent and staring intently into Lorqan’s eyes he gently placed a cool hand on Lorqan’s feverish brow. The instant the boy’s hand touched him Lorqan felt a pressure in his head. A strange pushing feeling against his sense of being, he had never felt anything like this before. It was like an itch inside his skull. The pressure grew, pushing further into his mind.
“Let me” the boy whispered softly
Lorqan looked into the boy’s wide dark eyes and felt the pressure build in his mind.
“Let me” the boy whispered again “It’s OK, let me”
Lorqan longed to say something to this strange boy, anything, last words that could be taken back to Jenneh. Instead blood dribbled onto his cheek as his last breath sighed out from his ruined chest.
As the last precious moments of air bubbled from his lungs Lorqan felt a pop in his head. Then he did not feel alone anymore. It felt as though someone was in his head with him. He could not communicate with this other being but he knew it was there. There was no feeling of threat or malice from the presence just that it was present. Lorqan felt oneness with it but also separateness. It was a wholly discombobulating experience to share his head space with another being that he knew but did not know. His mind slid away from the confusion taking the route of ignorance rather than risking his sanity. Unconsciously Lorqan accepted the other presence in his head and as he did so physical awareness returned.
Pain ripped through him burning away rationality, burning away thought and scouring away the brief understanding that he was still alive. Heat and pain were all Lorqan knew for many moments. His stomach roared in fiery agony as intestines, muscle and skin was forced to knit back together. Crunching, grinding pain seared into his chest as his ribs were pulled out of his lungs and reset by an unseen force. Lorqan could feel energy pulsing stark and cobalt behind his eyes, ripping through his body in flood of cruel and harsh healing, a violent restoration of life to a fragile body. Head throbbing, full with power and the alien presence, Lorqan’s eyes flew open and he gasped his agony, relief and confusion to the open blue sky. The lad, Koomba?, was still kneeling over him, only now the boy’s eyes were wide and full of fear, body trembling beneath homespun clothes. Lorqan gawped in morbid fascination when the boy’s face and frame withered as Lorqan’s own grew stronger. Youthful vitality visibly leeching out, his breathing laboured the youth tried to say something that Lorqan could not hear past the beating of his own heart. The young lad withdrew his hand from Lorqan’s head. The presence in Lorqan’s mind snapped out of existence at exactly that instant and the boy cried out in pain. The boy’s body lurched backwards as if pulled by an invisible string and, his eyes rolling back in his skull, he collapsed unconscious next to Lorqan.
Lorqan sat up and looked the youth’s now pallid and gaunt face as at last he remembered the boy’s name. Coombral ……. Coombral Ntakre. Walker-in-the-mind.