© Walter Jardine 2018

A Short Story

Among the shrubs at the edge of the forest, a man crouches. I can’t tell you his name – he doesn’t have one. Hunter, I’ll call him, had chosen his position well. Experience told him where the deer would emerge from the trees to graze, so he had taken care to allow for the gentle morning breeze and had positioned himself down wind of where he expected them to be. As he prepared himself mentally for a long wait, he checked that the flint tips of his spears were securely fastened and that his spear-thrower fitted the spear butts snugly. There was no need to do that, he’d already checked them several times that morning. It was part of his ritual to help keep himself alert while waiting for the action to come. Being the leader of his group of hunters, he also checked from time to time that the others were still alert. He clicked his tongue several times, making a sound like an insect. Looking around him, he saw the heads of his hunting party popping up from the shrubs. Hunter held up his thumb by way of asking them if they were ready to respond when the deer appeared. They all responded by raising their thumbs. He then turned his hand palm down and lowered it. The heads disappeared back into the shrubs. All was quiet except for bird calls and the chatter of insects. Time passed slowly, marked by the passage of the sun across the sky. The peace was almost perfect, enhanced by the soft rustling of leaves and grasses, punctuated by the occasional fluttering of the wings of a bird grappling with prey on the ground. The hunting party maintained its quiet vigil, fighting the occasional urge to doze in the idyllic surroundings. Suddenly, a crashing noise in the forest alerted the hidden men; their patience was about to be rewarded. A small herd of deer broke from the cover of the trees and stopped at the forest’s edge to survey the plain. With quick, staccato movements of their heads, the deer looked around them and listened for signs of danger. Satisfied that it was safe to graze, they moved further into the open and slowly lowered their heads to begin munching on the grass. Hunter waited until he felt that the deer were relaxed and content to continue eating. He fitted a spear into his thrower, hoping that the others would be doing the same. Then he clicked his tongue to signal that he was about to attack. He stood, his heart pumped faster. He launched a spear, then another. The second spear found its target. He and the other hunters ran towards the deer he had hit, launching a salvo at the injured animal. The rest of the herd raced away from the running men, then veered back into the cover of the forest, knowing that their predators would not follow. Grunting their congratulations to each other, the men gathered up the thrown spears. Before leaving, they searched for a suitable fallen branch and tied the deer’s legs to it. With the deer dangling from the branch held between two hunters, they set off to carry their prize home. Their journey was no less stealthy than the hunt as there was always the possibility of other hunting parties finding them. Past hunts had occasionally proved a wasted effort when they had been attacked and they had been unable to protect their new supply of meat from being stolen from them. Today, they were spared having to fight to keep the deer. While the men had been away hunting, the women and children of their small community were also at work, but there was a noticeable difference in the way that they carried out their tasks compared with their menfolk. For the hunters, killing game was a serious business requiring stealth, discipline and patience if they were to be successful. Consequently, they kept as quiet as possible and any sounds they needed to make, they tried to disguise as noises made by creatures that would not be a threat to the larger animals that they hunted. This resulted in them having a repertoire of clicks and whistles to communicate with each other; sounds that wouldn’t alarm their prey. In contrast to the way that the hunters went about their task, the women of the group had no such restrictions on how they went about theirs. There was no leader directing what the others should do; it was a communal enterprise. The women encouraged the children to join in the work by making it fun. Today was cleaning day, which meant that the old straw on the floor of the shelter must be cleared away and fresh straw laid. As they were gathering bundles of dirty straw, they threw handfuls over the children. The children joined in by collecting more straw and throwing it back at their elders. Everyone made a lot of noise, laughing and shrieking at the odd effects that the straw and dust made when it stuck to their perspiring faces and bodies. All the fooling around meant that cleaning the shelter took far longer than was necessary but at last the job was done and the shelter was cleaned, with fresh straw laid. Tired, but happy, they all made their way to the nearby stream to wash themselves in the clear water that sparkled as it tumbled over the pebbles on the stream bed. Washing became as chaotic as cleaning the shelter. As they rubbed themselves with handfuls of water, they occasionally threw a handful at the person nearest, whether they be child or adult. One child found that by moving to deeper water, he could smack the surface of the stream with an open hand to direct a fountain of water at his neighbour. Others joined in and soon there was a forest of wind-milling arms spraying water in every direction. Although the stream was cold, their water fight warmed them. Clean and refreshed, their next job was to forage in the forest around their shelter. The forest could be a dangerous place so, while they searched for food, they kept up regular calls to each other to show that they were safe. They had no words but, because their community was small, they were able to identify who was calling by the sound of their voices. They also had calls that indicated that the caller had found a particularly fruitful tree or bush. When they had gathered sufficient fruits, nuts, leaves and roots they returned to the stream to wash the food which they then placed on straw mats to dry in the sun. With all the morning’s work done, they sat in the shade to eat a few nuts and berries. While eating, they often nodded and smiled to each other, making “mmmm” sounds to indicate that they were enjoying themselves. Sometimes, they made the sounds at different pitches that blended pleasingly. Today, something different happened. One of the boys suddenly uttered a noise that sounded like “bleurgh”, then began spitting and hooking food out of his mouth with his fingers. They all laughed, and his mother helped him to clean his face and repeated his noises as she wiped his mouth with the edge of her ragged loin cloth. The other children joined in, saying “bleurgh, bleurgh, bleurgh” for no reason; they just thought it was fun. The next day, when they were foraging, and calling to each other to make sure no one got lost, the mother of the boy who had eaten the bad berries called “bleurgh!” instead of the usual random call. Everyone stopped calling and listened to see what would happen. After a short silence, a call came back. “Bleurgh!” was the lone reply. From all around came the sounds of cheering and laughing. When the morning’s chores were done, they gathered to eat as usual and, as usual, they made humming sounds as they ate. The boy now known as Bleurgh suddenly grinned and pointed at the girl next to him and said “hummm”. Grinning back at him, she pointed to him and said, “Bleurgh” then at herself and said “Hummm”. This turned into game which ended with everyone, the women and the children, having invented names for themselves, or each other. For the first time they could identify everyone in their group by a name. Of course, this didn’t include the men who were away, hunting. Over time, the naming game developed so that when the men were quietly, patiently, hunting for meat, the rest of the community were busy inventing names for things, eventually for the men too. Gradually, they became more creative and invented words that described their surroundings, what they were doing, and how they were feeling – developing a language. When a boy grew older and was able to join the men’s hunting party, he had to be taught to remain silent and to use hand signals or clicks and whistles to communicate. The result was that the women and children seemed a happily loquacious group, but the men by comparison, seemed taciturn, morose even. A hundred thousand years on, it seems very much the same today.

Let’s Talk

by Walter Jardine
© Walter Jardine 2018

A Short Story

Among the shrubs at the edge of the forest, a man crouches. I can’t tell you his name – he doesn’t have one. Hunter, I’ll call him, had chosen his position well. Experience told him where the deer would emerge from the trees to graze, so he had taken care to allow for the gentle morning breeze and had positioned himself down wind of where he expected them to be. As he prepared himself mentally for a long wait, he checked that the flint tips of his spears were securely fastened and that his spear- thrower fitted the spear butts snugly. There was no need to do that, he’d already checked them several times that morning. It was part of his ritual to help keep himself alert while waiting for the action to come. Being the leader of his group of hunters, he also checked from time to time that the others were still alert. He clicked his tongue several times, making a sound like an insect. Looking around him, he saw the heads of his hunting party popping up from the shrubs. Hunter held up his thumb by way of asking them if they were ready to respond when the deer appeared. They all responded by raising their thumbs. He then turned his hand palm down and lowered it. The heads disappeared back into the shrubs. All was quiet except for bird calls and the chatter of insects. Time passed slowly, marked by the passage of the sun across the sky. The peace was almost perfect, enhanced by the soft rustling of leaves and grasses, punctuated by the occasional fluttering of the wings of a bird grappling with prey on the ground. The hunting party maintained its quiet vigil, fighting the occasional urge to doze in the idyllic surroundings. Suddenly, a crashing noise in the forest alerted the hidden men; their patience was about to be rewarded. A small herd of deer broke from the cover of the trees and stopped at the forest’s edge to survey the plain. With quick, staccato movements of their heads, the deer looked around them and listened for signs of danger. Satisfied that it was safe to graze, they moved further into the open and slowly lowered their heads to begin munching on the grass. Hunter waited until he felt that the deer were relaxed and content to continue eating. He fitted a spear into his thrower, hoping that the others would be doing the same. Then he clicked his tongue to signal that he was about to attack. He stood, his heart pumped faster. He launched a spear, then another. The second spear found its target. He and the other hunters ran towards the deer he had hit, launching a salvo at the injured animal. The rest of the herd raced away from the running men, then veered back into the cover of the forest, knowing that their predators would not follow. Grunting their congratulations to each other, the men gathered up the thrown spears. Before leaving, they searched for a suitable fallen branch and tied the deer’s legs to it. With the deer dangling from the branch held between two hunters, they set off to carry their prize home. Their journey was no less stealthy than the hunt as there was always the possibility of other hunting parties finding them. Past hunts had occasionally proved a wasted effort when they had been attacked and they had been unable to protect their new supply of meat from being stolen from them. Today, they were spared having to fight to keep the deer. While the men had been away hunting, the women and children of their small community were also at work, but there was a noticeable difference in the way that they carried out their tasks compared with their menfolk. For the hunters, killing game was a serious business requiring stealth, discipline and patience if they were to be successful. Consequently, they kept as quiet as possible and any sounds they needed to make, they tried to disguise as noises made by creatures that would not be a threat to the larger animals that they hunted. This resulted in them having a repertoire of clicks and whistles to communicate with each other; sounds that wouldn’t alarm their prey. In contrast to the way that the hunters went about their task, the women of the group had no such restrictions on how they went about theirs. There was no leader directing what the others should do; it was a communal enterprise. The women encouraged the children to join in the work by making it fun. Today was cleaning day, which meant that the old straw on the floor of the shelter must be cleared away and fresh straw laid. As they were gathering bundles of dirty straw, they threw handfuls over the children. The children joined in by collecting more straw and throwing it back at their elders. Everyone made a lot of noise, laughing and shrieking at the odd effects that the straw and dust made when it stuck to their perspiring faces and bodies. All the fooling around meant that cleaning the shelter took far longer than was necessary but at last the job was done and the shelter was cleaned, with fresh straw laid. Tired, but happy, they all made their way to the nearby stream to wash themselves in the clear water that sparkled as it tumbled over the pebbles on the stream bed. Washing became as chaotic as cleaning the shelter. As they rubbed themselves with handfuls of water, they occasionally threw a handful at the person nearest, whether they be child or adult. One child found that by moving to deeper water, he could smack the surface of the stream with an open hand to direct a fountain of water at his neighbour. Others joined in and soon there was a forest of wind-milling arms spraying water in every direction. Although the stream was cold, their water fight warmed them. Clean and refreshed, their next job was to forage in the forest around their shelter. The forest could be a dangerous place so, while they searched for food, they kept up regular calls to each other to show that they were safe. They had no words but, because their community was small, they were able to identify who was calling by the sound of their voices. They also had calls that indicated that the caller had found a particularly fruitful tree or bush. When they had gathered sufficient fruits, nuts, leaves and roots they returned to the stream to wash the food which they then placed on straw mats to dry in the sun. With all the morning’s work done, they sat in the shade to eat a few nuts and berries. While eating, they often nodded and smiled to each other, making “mmmm” sounds to indicate that they were enjoying themselves. Sometimes, they made the sounds at different pitches that blended pleasingly. Today, something different happened. One of the boys suddenly uttered a noise that sounded like “bleurgh”, then began spitting and hooking food out of his mouth with his fingers. They all laughed, and his mother helped him to clean his face and repeated his noises as she wiped his mouth with the edge of her ragged loin cloth. The other children joined in, saying “bleurgh, bleurgh, bleurgh” for no reason; they just thought it was fun. The next day, when they were foraging, and calling to each other to make sure no one got lost, the mother of the boy who had eaten the bad berries called “bleurgh!” instead of the usual random call. Everyone stopped calling and listened to see what would happen. After a short silence, a call came back. “Bleurgh!” was the lone reply. From all around came the sounds of cheering and laughing. When the morning’s chores were done, they gathered to eat as usual and, as usual, they made humming sounds as they ate. The boy now known as Bleurgh suddenly grinned and pointed at the girl next to him and said “hummm”. Grinning back at him, she pointed to him and said, “Bleurgh” then at herself and said “Hummm”. This turned into game which ended with everyone, the women and the children, having invented names for themselves, or each other. For the first time they could identify everyone in their group by a name. Of course, this didn’t include the men who were away, hunting. Over time, the naming game developed so that when the men were quietly, patiently, hunting for meat, the rest of the community were busy inventing names for things, eventually for the men too. Gradually, they became more creative and invented words that described their surroundings, what they were doing, and how they were feeling – developing a language. When a boy grew older and was able to join the men’s hunting party, he had to be taught to remain silent and to use hand signals or clicks and whistles to communicate. The result was that the women and children seemed a happily loquacious group, but the men by comparison, seemed taciturn, morose even. A hundred thousand years on, it seems very much the same today.

Let’s Talk

by Walter Jardine

Walter Jardine

Walter Jardine