by Nicholas P. Snoek
Bhutan, July 1940
"What? Cheoki? What a nice surprise! How good to see you."
"Tesla, I am with child!"
"Well! That's good. What did Gendun say. Or does he know? You aren't big yet, are you."
"No, he doesn't know. It's still early. But this is my first, and well, I've been very worried. I just thought I should stay with you. Is that alright?"
"Of course it is. I haven't seen you for so long! But you know I have no experience in these things. I haven't married or even been with a man. I know nothing about babies."
"That's okay, I can tell you what to do. I helped others with this before, so I can show you what you have to know. We've got a lot to talk about anyway. When I get closer we can decide exactly what needs to be done."
"But that's a long time. What's Gendun going to think?"
"I've told him I need to see a far away shaman about not having a baby in these last two years, and I would be gone as much as five months. And he must not look for me, because that might interfere with the cure."
"Well I must say. You have a way with that man of yours. It's unbelievable!"
Tesla is a smaller woman than Cheoki, and plainer. She too grew up in Laya, but unlike her more confident sister, she has adopted the short cropped hair of her neighbors, and her kira is of the local variety. But she has some of her sister's spirit. She lives alone, as she has not found a man she cares to be with, and because of this, a thing very much frowned on, she has a tiny house, and just barely a subsistence plot of ground to farm.
But, she manages well enough.
The two sisters live contentedly for several months. The house is in Haa, a little place close to the border.
Summer passes quietly into autumn. Harvesting the barley by hand, stripping the stalks between two sticks as is the custom, keeps them busy for many weeks. The mountain winds blow colder, and the oak and walnut leaves are turning red and brown.
"Well, you're getting bigger every day."
"Tesla, I've got to tell you something. This baby may not be Gendun's. One day in the spring I was sunning myself up the hill, and a traveller came and raped me. He was a big strong hairy man. He was so fast and so powerful, there was nothing I could do, nothing. You have to believe me. I couldn't stop him no matter what I tried. Do you understand?"
"Well, I guess so. You and your headstrong ways! What do you mean, sunning yourself. Naked? Defying the gods! Can you blame a man? Does Gendun know anything at all about this?"
"Of course not. You can't expect a husband to accept such a thing. He would be crushed. And it would be even worse if the baby is not his. Do you see what I mean?"
"Yes, right. But how will you know? A baby is a baby. The little thing can hardly tell you who his father was!"
"I know, I know. But that's the biggest reason I'm here. If there is anything different about this baby, anything at all, I will not keep it. You'd have to help me do something with it, Tesla. And Gendun must never know."
"Oh, may the Gods protect us. What are we getting into now! Of all the people in the world who could be my sister... nice quiet gentle people, who never get into trouble. Women who do not fill their heads with strange ideas about who they are, or could be. Cheoki, Cheoki. What will become of us!"
"Now don't get all excited, Tesla. Probably the baby will be perfectly normal and everything will be fine. Relax. I'm not talking about killing it. Besides, it'll be a while yet."
"If this is not about killing it, what are you talking about? What could we do with it?"
"Do you remember that Christian monastery close to Sikkim about two days from here? Well, if there's anything very different about this baby I think we should take it there."
"They'll tell us to take it somewhere else, for sure! We're supposed to be Buddhist, remember."
"No, we won't get into that. Buddhist or Christian makes no difference for this. They would keep a baby there. I heard it has happened at other monasteries. We would just leave it at the gate for them to find. No one would know who brought it."
"Cheoki. You've got this worked out to the last detail. Is there more to this than you've told me?"
"Well, I have had some strange dreams. But I really can't tell you much. It's all very confusing. I keep seeing these two-legged hairy creatures laughing at me. Then I scream at them. And then I wake up. All sweaty and cold and scared."
"Hairy creatures? Like what? Do you mean like monkeys?"
"No, men, sort of. Big abominable men. Hairy men."
"Well, that traveller has had quite an effect on you. You better get him out of your head before you go crazy."
"You may be right. Okay, I'll try that, I just will not think about him any more. I'll forget about him."
"Yes. It'll be alright. Everything will be alright."
But she cannot forget the traveller. Or the apeman.
It's later in the evening, and Cheoki is asleep.
/// She is drifting, floating above her sister's little cottage. She can see down the valley; the moon lights up the bank of the stream, and the trees shine almost white.
She feels a curious pull to one side, as though impelled to leave here, and go towards the left. Somewhat dreamily she consents and starts to drift away. And she moves, faster and faster. She is flying!
She cannot feel the air. It seems to her she should be cold, she is moving so fast. How can this be?
She rises, up and up, along the mountainside. And still she wonders that she is not cold. She passes over the dense rhododendron thickets. There is snow below her now, and soon there are no more trees to soften the rocky slope. Steep and ragged rocks are reaching for her queasy stomach, but somehow they always miss; without aware involvement on her part she floats in safety past, so close at times she thinks she could almost touch them. But the urge to try is not enough to vex her quiet peaceful ride.
She has gone over the peaks now, and is going down the other side. The land is starting to flatten out. Her speed increases more and more, until the countryside is flying past in barely punctuated blur. Several times she sees a town, not like the settlements in Bhutan, where a central dzong holds all the local habitation in its sway. No, these have nets of streets, and equal sized houses spaced along them, and they do not seem to have animal shelter underneath. But it all goes by so fast she barely has time to wonder.
Where is she going? She's slowing down. And the night is ending; she sees the moon fade. So quickly. And over there the sun's already coming bright. It almost jumps into the sky!
She approaches some tree covered hills. Where is she?
Her speed continues to decrease.
She's barely going as fast as a running dog, now. There is a path below her. Her body slowly comes vertical, as if she were a bird, coming in to land. She does. She lands, just beside the path, among the trees.
What is she doing here? Why is she here?
She hears a cry. A strange sort of voice, but a voice. It's coming from a small clearing she can just make out, farther up the path.
She peers around the tree trunks to see where the sound came from. And she sees several, what... people? Or not? One of them, a female, is squatting by an overturned rock, digging with a stick. And two others are looking down at her, watching. They're younger.
All of them are very hairy. And completely naked.
She goes closer, carefully, till she's less than thirty feet away. There is no sound. Except the scraping of the stick in the dirt.
They suddenly stop, and look towards one side of the clearing where another one has just come out of what seems to be a hole in a bank of dirt. He is bigger. And he's wearing something over his shoulders and on his chest. The tattered remnants of a ko? Very dirty, and grey from sun and water.
He stops close to the others, and all of them are suddenly moving their hands and arms around as if making signs in the air. And their heads are bobbing and leaning this way and that, all to the accompaniment of rolling growls and complaining cries.
Cheoki wonders if these are people. They are something like apes. And something like people. How strange.
And then, as quickly as he came, the large male is leaving the others. They're crying. But he looks angry and determined. He is coming down the path, towards her.
Cheoki is afraid, but has no time to move. He's going to see her. What should she do? To her astonishment he walks past her, only inches away, without seeing her. He is not blind. Why did he not see her? He must be very upset!
She feels she understands what is happening here. The male has been trying to imitate and get closer to people, like herself, and his family does not like it.
People like herself? Could he be the one?
No, the one who took her was not wearing anything. But he could loose that -- it didn't look as if it could hang there much longer. He must wear it to be a person, the way children do.
She turns to look at the others again. What? They're gone! And the clearing looks different, somehow.
She turns back, expecting to see the male going down the path behind her, but he's not there. And there is no path! What's happening?
She looks towards the clearing now. The hole in the bank is still there. It is bigger, and the bank seems more rocky.
Then she hears the sound of a horse, a subdued whinny. Looking around, she spies a number of horses, and men in uniform, with guns. They are tying up the horses, and it looks as if they're starting to surround the cave. They are soldiers. What is happening here?
One of them is quietly approaching the hole in the bank from one side. He carries no gun, but has something in one hand. Suddenly he throws the thing into the cave, then he runs back where he came from.
There is a muffled boom, and a cloud of dust comes from the mouth of the cave. And out of the dust come staggering three of the same creatures she saw before. They are darker. One is barely moving, apparently hurt badly.
All around her there is gunfire, and the three apemen drop like animals, doubling over and kicking, retching, and bleeding.
Why did they do that?
The soldiers come straggling out of the trees, and go over to view their victims. They seem neither concerned nor very involved, casually poking at the bodies with their bayonets to see what these creatures look like.
They go back to their horses, leaving everything as it is, without even looking inside the cave.
They're breaking out rations, and preparing to make a campfire.\\\
Cheoki wakes up, stretching. She is hungry.
"Tesla, come on, get up. Let's put on some tea."
More months go by, and now the time has come.
"Tesla, can we get ready? I think my time is here. I'm having pains. And don't talk about getting help. People have been doing this forever without any shamans interfering. It's a natural thing. Besides, the weather is very bad; before anyone got here it would be too late."
"Alright, Cheoki. But don't blame me if anything goes wrong. I will do what I can, and you just tell me what you want. I know there's no point in arguing with you anyway."
It's a cold December in 1940. Snow has piled against the door, and there is the familiar sound of the wind howling around the tiny house. The sisters wait. Cheoki's labor intensifies.
It is near midnight. A strong contraction convulses her sweaty tired body.
"Cheoki, it's coming, it's coming!" No reply.
"Again, come on, come on! There it is. Here it is!"
Still no sound from Cheoki. And now, no sound from her sister.
After half a minute, "Tesla, what is it. Why don't you say anything? What's happening?"
Hesitantly, "It's a boy, Cheoki."
"Okay, okay. A boy. What else? Let me see!"
"He is ... kind of hairy."
"Oh no, No, NO! I knew it! A little bastard ape thing! Get it away from me. Oh, I knew it, I KNEW it! What am I going to do? I feel so dirty! A little monster, out of my body!"
"Hush now! Calm down, relax!" She ties the cord and washes the baby calmly, absentmindedly, as if she had rehearsed the whole procedure.
"Cheoki, this baby is not a monster. He's not an ape either. He is a bit fuzzy, but otherwise he's a fine baby."
"Well, you may be right. But I'm not keeping it. I cannot explain that hair. Tomorrow we leave for the monastery. I will feed him till we set him in front of that door. And then we'll just walk away. Forever. And Gendun will never know, never! Do you hear me?"