Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dragon's Blood Tears

Response to The Economist's article on Socotra, an island off the Yemeni coast.

Elephant roses shaded Sameer's path with their thick thigh-width branches covered in smooth bark that narrowed in fatty folds to the size of pudgy fingers adorned with cherry pink blossoms. He hurried to match his uncle's pace as the consecrated dragon's blood receptacles hanging from ropes on his back jangled with his footsteps. He knew it was pointless to ask his uncle to slow down. They had to get to the dragon's blood tree before the sun set behind the mountains.

His uncle stopped at a rise in the path and stared down at the village's dragon's blood tree. The trunk was scarred where his uncle, the village elder, harvested the trees living magic. Sameer had cut some of those gashes himself. He had the gift. The sun glowing pink on the horizon cast shadows on the twining branches that held up the dragon's blood tree's needled leaves.

"Something is wrong," said Sameer's uncle under his breath before sprinting down the hill towards the tree.

Sameer couldn't see anything wrong with the tree, it looked the same way it had yesterday when he had harvested some of the blood to drink. The weight of his pack slowed him and he heard his uncle's cries. As Sameer neared, he noticed that the needles drooped, bending as the wind whipped through the limestone valley.

As Sameer's shadow crept across the white rock beside his uncle's feet, his uncle faced Sameer, his eyes boring into Sameer the way his uncle looked at Moha, a council member with whom his uncle rarely agreed. "You were out here last night drinking her blood." It was a statement, not a question.

"No." He felt bad about the lie, but it came to his lips without thought. Already, burning his tongue.

"Look at this," his uncle rammed his finger into the thick congealing blood in a gash along the side of the tree. The branches shivered and a brown needle fell to the ground to land in front of Sameer's sandals. His uncle lifted his finger to his nose, sniffed, and smeared the blood on the trunk. "It smells of your spoor."

"But I was thirsty." Thirsty for the power that allowed Sameer to fly over the mountains, releasing his soul to see. Even now, he could hear the winds calling his name and knew that he would be back again. He needed to fly, to feel the dragon's blood sap burn in his veins.

His uncle put his hands on Sameer's shoulder and turned him around pushing him away from the tree. "We will return to the village."

"What about the wells?" Sameer dared not peek at his uncle and when he didn't hear his uncle's voice over the winds, he wondered if his uncle had heard him. The wells were dry, again. They needed the dragon's blood to whet the wells and call up the water from the deep.

"We will ration what we have. Draining more blood from the tree will kill her."

"You won't tell the others, will you?"

"No," said his uncle, "but you must conquer the thirst inside if you before it consumes all of us in a dry burst of flame."

There was no way to quench it. How his uncle managed, Sameer could not understand. Hiking back to the village, Sameer thought of the sap and the hot tinkling way that he felt it in his blood after drinking it and the cool wind on his face.

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