An Old Couple are Cast from their Tribe, when their Usefulness Ends.
| It was the warmth that woke him up. Of comfort. The feeling of someone putting a thick heavy blanket on him.
He reached out to stretch his arms. Something wasn't right. A sharp cold air in his nostrils. Raw wind. Or a breeze.
"We are complete now," he heard her say in a sad monotone, the aftermath of a tragedy, but when life has to go on.
"Nukilik." He gasped her name, his throat was dry. He was lying on his back, her crossed legs, his pillow.
"Oh no!" he sat up and a cold sweat formed on his brow. He put his gloved hands on his fur hood and breathed out steam.
The kayak rocked side to side, and alarmed Nukilik. She whimpered loud.
He realised what had happened.
Clenching his jaws, he tensed and shook his fist when his eyes caught the shore. The sea had already begun to form into ice, a pale white blanket of snow that would soon make everything one colour and herald the half year of dark winter. In the distance, a faint glimmer of fire, and the dying sound of drums and song. They were celebrating the going of light, when everyone could rest as much as they wanted. A time there was no food to be found, except for what they had stored.
His back ached, the joints on his elbows and knees complained.
"I am not young..." he lamented.
"Have water, my husband," Nukilik told him.
He remembered getting drunk. They were younger than him, they had energy, strength and arrogance - virtues he was once proud of. They kept on plying with him with liqour, saying things like "One last one, Poppa." And like a true hero, he did not refuse one last one. He should have known better!
And when he downed cup after cup, the cool, sad eyes of Nukilik watched on, as she sat with the women folk in the great hall on the far side, he was lost to joy and merriment of the party. She had known then!
But what hurt him most, was not the sly way they had parted ways with him . . . and Nukilik . . . but that he had fallen asleep not because he was drunk, but because he was tired.
He turned around, careful not to rock the kayak, and faced her. She handed him a cup and filled it with water from a wooden flask. It was cold, but it did quench his thirst.
"Not long after you passed out. The boys carried you to the kayak, they rowed us to sea into the tide, and left." He loved the sound of her voice. She was always calm, accepting, and above all strong. Just what her name in Inuit meant.
"No. I meant, when did you find out that we were to be . . . ".
"You mean left out?"
"I don't know . . .". His voice trailed off. He had always known they would end up as most old people did, when their usefulness to the people finished, but he never expected it to be so sudden, so final.
Before the parting from the village, the to-be-casted-out should also be given an opportunity to say their goodbyes, and even given a choice to be left on land, or the sea. He guessed that since he spent more time at sea than on land, his wife opted for the sea, even though she had never ventured further than waist deep water.
But why did they not ask him first? Maybe because he would have scoffed their suggestion, and asked for another ten years? And they would have had to wait. He was sure that greed had played a big part. All his things, and hers too...gone to them.
"To say the truth, not long after our last child died. I knew that this time would come then."
He spat into the sea. "I have been tricked in the most evil way!"
Nukilik then started to hum a children's tune. It worked and soothed him some.
"I would rather be here with you, than anywhere else right now," he told her after calming. She had her shawl wrapped around her face. Her eyes sparkled bright like the stars above and he could feel her smile coursing through the many layers of fur she had on. When she was a lass once, he had courted her with songs and treasures of animal skin and meat. And even now he was still in love with her.
"That is good. Nuliajuk will come and take us to our loved ones who already gone when we are both in our inner peace," she nodded.
"Nuliajuk?" he frowned and looked away.
"Nuliajuk is our goddess of the sea, who takes care of all life of the sea . . . and us. Don't speak bad of her!" she snapped.
"Where was she when our eldest son was thrown from his boat by that rogue wave. He never was helped." He would have liked to add that the son had died because he had frozen to death in the frigid waters, not drowned as was said and believed at the time. He would have also like to add that he didn't believe in Nuliajuk, or any other god. He would have added many things, but they didn't matter now.
Nukilik was silent. She didn't have answers, and it hurt him to see her tormented.
"Tell me wife . . . which one of our three sons did you love best?" he tried changing the subject.
She didn't respond.
"Please wife, let us not be like this," he pleaded. "I have my bad parts, and would like forgiveness."
She took her time and then chuckled.
"Husband . . . I bore you four sons! And one daughter. You said three sons."
"I . . . what. . ." he stuttered and dry swallowed. He tried to recall four sons. The eldest had lived to be a young man, to his prime, but the rest all died young, as did the daughter who would have been the youngest. She was right, but he couldn't remember all the faces. It had been over ten years since their last child died.
Then they laughed together, long and hard until he felt pain in his ribs. He raised a hand and forced himself to take small breaths.
The tide was going out and soon they would far from land. Maybe forever.
"Tell me husband, how are you feeling?"
He tapped his chest. "It is bad only when I take a deep breath. But I have for many years known how to control it."
"Last winter you lay in bed for most of it," she shivered as something splashed close to them. Maybe a large fish. "I was scared that you would not make it. It was then, I decided that it was time for the sea goddess to end our time with the rest of the people. It was my choice."
"Thank you," he nodded and accepted it. It was better leaving the village in your own terms, rather than being forced out. But he was also impressed with Nukilik at the same time, that she had courage to make the decision for both of them.
Did she sacrifice the rest of her life for him? It was too late anyway to return and start their life all over, but he still felt a pang of guilt.
He wanted to sing his death song. It would celebrate every proud thing he did, and every mistake, all his good and bad. It would have also a part for what was left uncompleted. But it was too hard on his lungs. And there were some things he didn't want his wife to hear. He decided he could sing it in his mind.
He studied his kayak, the paddle was missing. He had only carved the paddle a few days ago with a rare kind of driftwood that was light but very strong. There was no need for it anyway, they belonged to the sea now, and the sea would decide their fate. All their things by now had been divided by the villagers. It didn't matter anymore. Gone also was his prized harpoon that had been used for many a seal, and whale. What remained was the kayak tether. It seemed that someone had forgotten to untie this.
There was another splash. Something large and closer, and Nukilik reached out with her hand. He caught it and smiled. It was amazing, with the stars were so bright in the sky, he could see her and everything so clear.
"It's nothing to fear about," he comforted her. "The sea is home to many creatures, and they are all glad to meet us."
"Husband, I have to tell you something," she trembled and whispered. "I want to be on land now. I don't like the sea."
Just then the water around them erupted in splashes by tiny bright fishes, like stars.
"Ohh....!" Nukilik shrieked and clapped her hands. "They are so be beautiful!"
He was relieved at her joy.
"I think the goddess is near, why else would she send us such a wonderful gift!" Some water splashed on her face and she wiped it off, shaking her head against the chill. "Maybe here are her messengers, asking us to wait a little bit longer."
He nodded, still in awe of the moment.
"Husband, we have enough food for one meal. Maybe we should have it now." She started to reach for a parcel behind her, her worry gone.
There were many times he would have liked her to be in the kayak with him in his younger days, to show his skills and prowess. He would have liked for her to see how he owned the sea around him. To show and impress her with his heroics. It seemed an irony, that they were here, and there was no paddle so they could continue the journey to their hearts desire. He wondered what would happen in the coming time. How many sleeps and waking moments? Would they starve, or freeze to death? And who would go first?
It was then he realised why the fishes were here.
"No!" he cried out as an intense pain burned in his lungs.
Just beside them, a several dark shapes loomed up from the sea and knocked the kayak about like a small piece of wood. The water bubbled with a sudden violence of a big storm. He gripped the sides of the kayak for balance. Nukilik was on her knees, she had never been out at sea, fishing, or hunting for whales, so she never learnt how to steady a kayak in large waves.
He did what he thought was best and pushed her into the sea. Right with the whales, with their giant mouths open, sucking in fishes and krill. Nukilik splashed with her arms, she couldn't swim either. But her warm clothes kept her afloat until the whales had eaten their prey and dove back down. It was a few moments, and he had been a whale hunter long enough to know this. If he had kept her with him in the kayak, both would have gone into the water.
As the sea recovered, he fought the sharp pain in his chest and steadied the boat. Nukilik hadn't yet uttered any words or sound, maybe she was in shock, or she trusted him, or accepted her fate. He grabbed her anorak and expertly, like she was a big fish, or seal, he hauled her in. Her teeth were chattering, her skin was becoming pale.
"Stay alive!" he told her and rested her down before promising: "We will not die at sea."
There wasn't much by ways to warm her, not in this kayak. He took his jacket off and covered her. He tried to steady his breathing. His eldest son died because of the cold, he didn't want his wife to suffer the same fate.
So he went on his knees and used his hands to paddle. His gloves weren't for paddling, they were for something else. But now he didn't care. He aimed the kayak for the shore - now distant and moved his arms. And that was the hardest thing he would ever remember doing. Within two strokes, his hands froze and sapped his energy. Still he continued. Then his arms went numb, so he used his shoulders, swaying side to side. Each motion jolted only more pain into lungs. He carried on though.
"Please goddess," he prayed. "If you are there, then let me reach the shore before my Nukilik breathes her last. She will not die like this, of the cold!"
He paddled, not for himself, but for her.
It seemed an eternity, but finally the kayak scrapped against something below. Ice likely. He hopped off into knee high water and tried to grab the kayak tether. His fingers wouldn't move, so he wrapped it around his arm and pulled. By the time the kayak was on land, water had soaked and frozen his feet too.
"Fire," he uttered to himself. He ran around and gathered some small driftwood putting them into a pile. There was no flint, but he knew the work around for this. It would take longer, but he was experienced.
He used the kayak tether and driftwood to make a loose bow, wrapped another bit of driftwood stick and wound this into the tether and then spun the stick into the pile. Soon there was smoke, and the glow of ember, and then there was a small flame which he fed. He grew it until it was strong and warm.
He heaved the kayak towards the fire and rolled it on its side tothe crackling heat - the thick smoke rich with the smell of sea salt and wood.
Nukilik was mumbling something, but the fire worked it's magic. Her colour returned after a while and she stirred. When her eyes opened, he helped sit her up and pulled her wet boots off.
"Husband. I don't want to go to sea again. Ever!" she savagely snapped.
He chuckled and started to open the food parcel. It was the last food. Unless...
He allowed himself a little fantasy of building a hut, and hunting for animals that still roamed in the winter.
"You are my hero," she said and he couldn't help but feel pride. "What were those monsters?"
"Whale. Sometimes they are late in leaving. I always thought they had their food when the sun was about, but I learnt something new." He sat next to her and pulled his boots off too. He was also proud that she had observed his skill on the water.
The food was choice meat, and they skewered and heated it on the fire. He tried to explain why he had pushed her off the craft. But Nukilik wasn't interested, and he didn't pursue the subject any more.
"Husband, I am so happy. We are on land, and I am not afraid of anything," she stated when the last of the food was gone.
He was happy too.
It was about then when the sea glowed amber and a woman rose from it. It was Nuliajuk - the sea goddess. She snapped her fingers and a young man, their eldest, and their four children appeared beside her, all smiling. They all held their arms out.