He'd gone on, humiliated and reminded that there was much to learn before he could read the signs of the forest.
He wove through a thick stand of tall fern, hearing small animals scurry off at his approach.
I must take the finest feathers, he told himself. They will see the great warrior I am to be. They will show our people there can be no dishonor in Pojucan.
Aruanã moved quickly until he came to a tangled growth so dense he had difficulty getting through. He cried out as thorns pierced his flesh, but he was already too deep into the brush to backtrack and so decided to push ahead. It took longer than he expected, and as he struggled along, he saw through a rare break in the trees that the sun was near the middle of the sky.
He had finally got through this barrier and was moving quietly on the thick carpet of rotting vegetation when he found Macaw.
The bird was on a low limb of an enormous tree, facing the opposite direction. Without a sound, Aruanã fitted an arrow to his bow, took aim, and released the string. This time he did not miss, and the bird toppled off the branch. With a whoop of joy, he ran to collect Macaw, and saw that he had long and magnificently hued tail feathers.
"Forgive, O Macaw," he said as he plucked them, "that I leave you so weak. This night your glory will dress the rattles of our people." When he'd finished, he laid the bird to one side, carefully wrapping the feathers in two palm leaves to protect them on the journey back.
When Aruanã reached the village, he was disappointed to discover that his father was not in the maloca. He greeted Obapira, but when her back was turned, he hid the palm leaves near his hammock. She was not to be the first to see his beautiful prize. He went in search of Pojucan, and was strutting through the clearing when he met two boys, sons of an elder in another maloca.
"We watched you," one said. "Your walk told much."
"What did you see in it?"
"The steps of one who is pleased," they both replied.
"I was alone in the forest where Caipora lives and have returned without harm."
One of the brothers said quietly, "We saw the palm leaves."
"You will see them again before this night has ended," Aruanã said. "Can you show the same?"
Their long faces said it all, but it was not every day that he could make those who had teased him squirm. "Did you find the feathers?"
"Macaw did not fly where we went in the forest," one said. But almost immediately his face brightened, and he added, "We found something else, far better than feathers." He looked at his brother, who nodded vigorously. "Come. Share with us!"
They had plundered a nest of bees, bringing back a honeycomb, which they had hidden near their maloca.
Before today, these boys would have led those who taunted him. Was he now experiencing the first result of success with Macaw?
They asked him to tell what he had seen deep in the forest, and then confessed that they had gone only to its edge. He was shocked that they'd admit such deceit at a time when they had been told to prove they were ready to be men. When he said as much, they looked genuinely scared, and begged him to tell no one.
He heard noises from the other side of the maloca: It was almost time for presentation of the feathers!
He should never have dallied this long, but they had kept pressing the sweet nectar upon him. He stood up, wiped his hands against the palm fronds of the maloca, noticing as he did that many people were already drifting toward the clearing. He ran to his house, grabbed the palm leaves in which he'd wrapped his feathers, and hurried outside.
Aruanã made his way to the front of the crowd gathered at the hut of the sacred rattles, where his age group had been ordered to sit. The boys who had shot Macaw were placed apart from the others. Aruanã saw only two with palm leaves before them, and ten boys who had often made his life a misery looking very gloomy.
Copyright Errol Uys. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this excerpt contact the author at http://www.erroluys.com.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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