Excerpt of The Names of Things by John Colman Wood
(Page 2 of 5)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
Nuyas, he said. Lets go.
Silence broken, Alis talk soon outpaced the mans ill-remembered
language. By afternoon they were walking again mostly in silence,
smiling at each other, noting familiar kinds of tree or bush, stopping to
chew and to wonder aloud how much longer.
Even before they reached Abudos camp it was too dark to see,
and he kept the path by following the camels silhouettes against the
stars. All day the windblown sand had chafed his skin. His neck and
arms and calves prickled with sunburn. His feet, which had taken a
beating on the rocks, ached. He walked with a sort of double limp, so
as not to put full weight on either sole. Hed grown soft in his years
away, unused to walking far in sandals. Hed filleted a big toe on an
acacia stump first thing, and the blood made his right sandal sticky.
In the gloom that evening, he stumbled and reopened the wound. He
could feel the slick fresh blood. He cursed himself for coming.
Then he heard the camp noises. Faint, windblown sounds. Clatter
of pots. Wooden camel bells. Tinny voices of women and children,
like old songs on the radio. He smelled wood smoke and dust and the
musky odors of large animals.
As he remembered it, the camp was a collection of some twenty
tents, sixty or seventy people, four or five hundred camels, and thousands
of sheep and goats. It was pitched now at Toricha, a place of
gnarled thorn scrub below the hills of Badda Hurri, far to the north of
where theyd started. He remembered Toricha from before. The sounds
and smells in the night air were all familiar. But it was not the same.
Nomads never camped in the same place twice. It was their business to
move, to blow with the wind. Doubtless there would be people here he
knew, who remembered him. There would be others he did not know.
And there would be those he knew, and loved, who would be gone.
Ali handed him the rope and went alone amid the tents to announce
their arrival and to find Abudos brother. They planned to sleep
at his tent.
He remained behind in the darkness. He could see the glow and
glitter of small fires within the matted tents. Here and there the beam
of an electric torch sliced across the blackness to the west, where the
sheep and goats would be corralled. He was glad to have arrived, glad
for once not to be walking. He was hungry and thirsty and, strangely,
happy for the first time in months.
The figure chuckled. A man, not Ali.
Galchumi nagaya? said the voice, a whisper within the wind,
offering the greeting of night. Have the camels returned peacefully?
Nagaya. Kesan nagaya? he replied.
It was Abudos brother, Elema. They stood together in the darkness
and exchanged the litany of greetings for evening, words youd say to
anyone: a familiar, a stranger.
Arma getani? Have you reached here?
Yagen, at geti? he answered. We have. Have you?
Elema took the camels rope, touched his arm, and led him around
to the right of the tents. Elema made the camels lie on their haunches
like sphinxes and left to get his wife to unload them. The front camel
shook its head and snuffled and began, teeth clicking like dentures, to
chew its cud.
K?t. Elema told him to follow.
At the tent door, he offered the usual greetings to those inside.
They were answered. Elemas wife was working over her fire. She did
not come out. Two children tumbled from the tent to see the stranger.
They were not old enough to know him. Light from the fire spilled out
through the curtained door. The children, boy and girl, clung to their fathers
legs and giggled. The father told them gruffly to bring a cow skin
for the guest to lie on, which they did.
Excerpted from The Names of Things
by John C Wood. Copyright © 2012 by John C Wood.
Excerpted by permission of Ashland Creek Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.