Chapter 12 – Her Loss
Three months passed and, though it was the end of winter, the air was chilly and the trees were bare. One sunny, clear day, Ayira was sitting down, sewing, when an Indian woman peeked into her teepee. The woman looked distraught, and she waved Ayira to follow her. Ayira hesitantly got up and followed the woman, who kept repeating Imani’s name. They walked to Imani’s teepee, but Ayira was hesitant to enter. The woman was persistent.
Ayira peeked in and saw Imani lying in her bed, sick, surrounded by Great Eagle, Dogsun, and two Indian women. Imani coughed continually and was sweating profusely. Her head rested on Dogsun’s lap, who looked distraught. Great Eagle knelt over Imani, chanting and blowing smoke from his pipe over her.
Imani smiled and said, “You came.”
“What happened to you?” asked Ayira.
“I do not know,” said Imani. She coughed before continuing,
“They have tried everything.”
“Why did you not call me?”
“I did not want to bother you.”
Ayira looked down, ashamed, and Imani laughed and said, “I was embarrassed.”
Imani tried to uncover her legs but had no energy. One of the Indian women helped her move the blankets. Disheartened, Ayira stared at Imani’s legs and was repulsed by what she saw.
Imani’s inner thighs were covered with a rash that she had scratched too much. Some parts of her inner thighs were bloody, while other places had spots full of puss and scabs.
Ayira was about to touch Imani when Great Eagle yelled, “Don’t touch it!”
Startled, Ayira waited for Imani to translate. “Do not touch it – Great Eagle says you can catch it.”
Ayira stared at Great Eagle with despair, and asked Imani, “How long have you been sick?”
“It started before I stopped going to your hut.”
Ayira started sobbing and asked, “How did this happen?”
Imani sounded embarrassed as she said; “I think I got it from Dogsun... It started after making love to him.”
She looked down, and Ayira quickly glanced at Dogsun. Ashamed, he also looked down.
“Why did you not tell me?”
“I thought it would go away, and I did not want to bother you. What do you think?”
“What have they done to help you?”
Imani coughed and said, “Great Eagle has made medicines for me, but it still has not stopped me from scratching. I think I made it worse by scratching.”
“You have scratched too much... You bleed in some places.”
Ayira started crying again and then touched Imani’s thighs. Great Eagle and everyone else was stunned. Imani appeared uncomfortable as Ayira touched her legs, and started coughing. Ayira was still crying.
“Tell him to show me his plants and medicines.”
She crawled to Great Eagle, and he uncovered his medicine bag full of plants, herbs, oils, spices, and pastes. Ayira grabbed one of the plants and ran out of the teepee.
Everyone stared at each other, confused. Great Eagle glanced at Imani, and she said, “Ayira is a medicine woman. She will come back.”
After a while, Ayira rushed back into the teepee and knelt next to Imani. Ayira showed Great Eagle what she had brought back from her teepee. Surprised, he nodded.
“This will stop the itching for only a moment,” said Ayira.
Imani nodded but turned away with embarrassment. Ayira stared at Imani sadly and then poured the oil onto her rash. She noticed Dogsun kept handing a jug full of liquor to Imani.
Ayira stared at Imani with concern and then filled a cup with hot water. She put herbs into the drink and blew on the water to cool it down, then gestured to Dogsun to lift Imani’s head. After she sipped from the cup, Ayira set it down while Great Eagle stared in awe.
“I do not think I am going to live much longer.”
“Why did you wait so long?”
“I...” Ayira wiped Imani’s mouth with a cloth. She coughed and shivered and then continued, “I thought it would go away.”
Ayira sadly stared at Imani as she continued, “But I knew you would help me – I knew.”
“Why would I not help you?”
“I did not want to trouble you with mine, because you have your own.
Ayira was shocked, and she cried even more loudly. Everyone in the teepee was saddened. She sat back in disbelief and said, “You are my friend – nothing else matters.”
Imani smiled and said, “I thought you did not like me.”
Ayira moved closer to Imani. With tears streaming down her face, she said, “You are all I have – you are all I have... I have nothing and no one if you leave me. Please – please –please do not leave me alone, please. Please don’t leave me alone.”
Imani grabbed Ayira’s hand. Tears streamed down Imani’s face as well, as she said, “Look around you – Look around you. You are not alone.”
Ayira did not try to look at anyone in the teepee, so Imani continued, “Don’t push them away, or you will be alone. You still have time.”
“You know me better than they do. It is not the same.”
“Then let them in... Let them know you...”
Imani coughed so hard she hurt her chest, and then she continued, “The Ayira I know–”
“We have been through so much. Please do not talk anymore. Rest.”
Imani shook her head and said, “I want you to understand them. All they want is for you to accept them. They don’t understand why you push them away. They are so close to each other. They share everything; they care for one another. They are like our people.”
Ayira shook her head and said, “Why would they care – if I accept them or not.”
“Because they consider you a part of their tribe. They are not used to one their own – pushing them away.”
“Why? They don’t know me.”
“No, but they want too. They are not what you think. They are not the people who took you from your tribe – from your family. They are not the people who put you on that ship.”
Ayira started to rub her head as she cried uncontrollably.
Imani continued, “They are not the people who sold you. They are the people who saved you. They are the ones who gave you a place in their tribe. They don’t see you as a stranger. They won’t see you as a stranger – if you let them see you.”
As Imani cried again, Ayira grabbed her hands and rested her own head in Imani’s palms. Chief Coyote stood up and asked everyone to leave. Great Eagle was deeply saddened.
Through her sobs, Ayira said, “I don’t know-how… I feel too much – I – I cannot take it anymore. I don’t want to lose you, please. You are my only friend. Don’t leave me.”
“You have a new family now.”
Ayira shook her head and said, “No – I can’t let them see me, I can’t. They will not understand me. No one understands what I go through every day. I feel too much – I see too much.”
Imani started to scratch herself, so Ayira grabbed her hand to stop her. “Rest, please.”
“At least I was happy.”
“Do not talk that way.”
“Rest – rest.”
Imani closed her eyes. Ayira cried quietly to herself and held Imani’s hand.
Ten days later, Imani died and the villagers planned a ceremony for her. It was night when they burned her body on a wooden stage. Ayira had tears in her eyes as she stood in front of Imani’s burning body.
She suddenly started dancing an African ritual around the fire. Almost everyone was shocked, but Yellow Feather stared at her proudly. Tapiwa smiled and stared at her with awe, and then he joined her in the dance. When she stopped, everyone tried to approach her, but she walked away, back toward her teepee, emotionless. The Indians then also danced for Imani as Ayira watched from afar.
It was bright and sunny, but chilly outside when Tapiwa peeked into Ayira’s teepee and said, “I would like to speak to you.”
Repulsed, she said nothing. He entered and sat across from her and asked, “How are you?”
She stared into the fire and continued to ignore him. “You do not look well. You can talk to me; I am not your enemy. I am happy you danced yesterday – for Imani.”
Ayira stared at the ground. Frustrated, Tapiwa asked, “What have I done to you? For you to hate me so…”
Ayira stared at him with hatred and then looked again at the fire. “I want you to be my wife.”
Ayira smirked, but Tapiwa smiled and continued, “I want us to have pure children. We will start our own tribe.”
Ayira started to get angry, and Tapiwa asked, “Why do you act this way? Do you understand that I ask you to be my wife?”
When she ignored him, he continued, “Imani would have wanted us together. To marry each other, to create our own tribe...”
“I would never marry you. You should go now.”
Looking worried, he thought to himself a moment, and then asked, “Why do you hate me?”
She glared at him, and her voice trembled with anger as she said, “I know that you helped sell our people to the white men. Every time I see you – I see the people you sold to the white men. I see their sad – sad faces. I don’t see you; I see them. I see every one of their faces. I believe you should run – run far away and never look back.”
Tapiwa sadly looked down.
Then he looked up again and stared at Ayira for a long time before he said, “I heard about your gifts. I did not believe you had gifts, but I believe now. I am not proud of what I have done to my people. I thought I was doing a good thing – by selling them as slaves. It gave my tribe more power, but I was caught with one of my leader’s wives and they sold me along with the other slaves... To see what the slaves go through when they are put on the ships is the worst... No – no one should be put through what we went through, and every day I regret it. There is nothing here for me. I want to go back – go back to my land. There is nothing here for me. Ayira, run away with me.”
Ayira looked disgusted, but he continued, “Come with me, and you can get us back to our land – you can get us back to our land. Don’t you want to see your tribe again? Let us go back.”
“I would have left a long time ago if I knew there was a way back,” said Ayira. She laughed and continued, “All this has happened for a reason. Just as what is going to happen to you.”
“What? What will happen to me? Please tell me what is to become of me?”
“You will be captured by two white men, and you will have the same destiny as the slaves you sold to them. You will spend the rest of your life serving the white men.”
“There is nothing here for me... I wish I was back in my land...”
Ayira nodded sadly. Tapiwa slowly got up and left her teepee.