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The Birth of a Novel - Proverbs and Destiny 5 - The second trimester

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blog image rise early

Image courtesy of satit_srihin at

It is said that to rise early will not help escape God. - Oromo proverb.

I knew what I was going to write about until I sat down to type. Pregnancy, in the literary sense, has addled my brian. I think I mean brain.  I suspect it had to do with realising what’s important in life. I had a brain scan a couple of weeks ago and have been waiting for the results somewhat nervously: life on hold. I had the all clear, which is a huge relief and feel life beginning again. It isn’t the first time I’ve been in this position, and I’m sure many of you have faced, or are facing, the same thing… staring death in face, or the death of someone close.

It does focus you on what is not important in life. Things you may have quibbled over, or moaned about, when you were happily well are not given a thought. One aspect my novels have in common is that they’ve helped me see what is important. The Silence of the Stones deals with the loss of a child, missing and never found. I can’t think of anything worse than that, so why would I even think of complaining about toothache?

Touching the Wire deals with the holocaust and two medics trying to save women and children, the old and sick, from being herded to their deaths like cattle to an abattoir: having to make life and death choices. My mind frequently refuses to even think about it, and yet I forced it to, to bring Walt and Miriam’s story, the story of every man, woman and child sent to Nazi death camps, to a wider audience and a new generation. Did I say I couldn’t think of anything worse than losing a child? Living with the guilt of being responsible for its death?

Destiny also has its horrors. It’s a story that makes me realise how small and insignificant I and my worries are, and how sorely we under-estimate the power of nature, to rid itself of the scourge that is man. I’m not religious, but ancient man worshipped sun gods or the god of thunder, and goddesses of water, tree and moon. It seems to me that we can’t rise early enough to escape God.

Excerpt 5

Moti wagged a cautionary finger. ‘It is said that to rise early will not help escape God.

‘Our persecutors waged war upon us, and Waqqa stopped sending them rain, and the lands around our homeland burned to dust under the hot sun, and their cattle died and man went hungry. And Waqqa sent them pestilence, and floods from the sea to drown their fertile plains, and then he sent famine.

‘So they coveted our land and our cattle and our water, and wanted it for themselves, and in their arrogance they took what they wanted and the people of Boorana, who held nagaa Boorana, the peace of the Boorana, above all else, were pushed closer and closer to the vast desert that bordered these lands.

‘It is said most of mankind was on the move at that time, trying to escape the rising water. Many of our people travelled west in search of new homes and vanished from our knowledge. And some went south and almost certainly perished. And some, our forefathers amongst them, travelled north driving their herds of goats and their huge Boran cattle before them. They followed the great river looking for somewhere to settle, but always they were turned away for every acre of fertile land was fiercely defended, and they were pushed ever closer to the Great Sahara.’

The tallow lamp guttered: dark fingers fled from the crevices and the ring of light faded. Moti paused and indicated that he should light fresh candles. He forced aching bones to fetch some from the rock shelf and lit them. The ring of light grew again steadily, throwing the fingers of shadow dancing across the walls as Moti continued.

‘Many died on that journey of hunger and thirst, for there was no rain for forty days and forty nights. The old and the very young suffered first. Then the Boran cattle began dying and then the goats. Some of our people turned back and took their cattle and goats with them, but most fell by the wayside and their bleached bones lie scattered in the Great Sahara. A small knot of our men and women pushed on, skirting the great desert for some two thousand miles. When the last of the nanny goats and cows had suckled their young for the final time, our forefathers carried two fine bull calves and two heifer calves, and two nanny kids and two billy kids on their backs. And the meat and blood of their faithful cattle and goats sustained them, and for this we give thanks. This way they came finally to the foothills of Idraren Draren, which is Berber for Mountains of Mountains, and came at last to the high place we now call Guddaa Mana.

‘The people who lived here greeted our people warily. It is told that Birmajii, who had been Abbaa Seera, the memoriser of the laws of his village, put down the two fine bull calves in front of the strangers, and indicated that the other men should also give up the two nanny-goat kids, while he kept the two heifer calves and the billy kids. In this way he showed the strangers that we had something to share with them, and that without co-operation none would benefit.

‘Seeing that we came in peace and brought a fine strain of cattle and goats that we gave readily, and that we were not many, we were given a small piece of land, by the river that falls down from the mountains, where we could build our houses. And we lived in peace with ourselves, and the animals, and the land, for that is to have the blessings of Waqqa. But that was many fathers of fathers ago, and now our cultures and our bloods have merged and we speak a common language native to none, but which all can understand, though we keep some of our Oromo words and our god and our stories, for to remember the past is to remember the future.’

Moti looked at Abe and raised a brief smile. The children were asleep.

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