Eternal Fire

His heart was inflamed by the woman. His blood was hot. His body engulfed.

They had not exchanged a word last night. She had come to him at dusk, they had made love, and she had lain with him for an hour before departing. Who was she? he wondered. Why had she come? It was surely for something more than sex. He’d heard of tribes who went overboard in their hospitality to strangers. Love thy neighbour, truly.

When was the last time he had been with a woman? He couldn’t remember. He recalled nothing before he awoke on the white mountain, a week ago; from there he had begun his journey through the valley, towards the dark mountain. He didn’t know why he was compelled to go there, but if living is dreaming, then this was the place he dwelt.

It was quiet at dawn, yet he sensed urgency outside. He pulled aside the door drape and stepped into the hard dirt courtyard. Outside the circle of thatched, mud-plastered huts stood the huge effigy of a thick-bodied wooden man.

The man from the mountain’s heart stopped. If his knees hadn’t buckled, he would surely have turned and run. People rushed towards him. He tried to get away, do something, anything, but his weakness, and their strength, made it impossible for him to do anything but be carried along with this crowd. He felt like a dying beetle swarmed by ants.

Strangely, nobody was hostile towards him. It seemed as if they all cared about his welfare. Who could he trust though? The bearded elder who had welcomed him to the village? The red-haired woman with whom he’d coupled last night? Certainly not the boy who had discovered and flushed him out by firing beans through a reed? Surely they were all in this together.

The elder called out, “Today is Samhala – the day after which our village is named. It is a holy day always, and today, even more so. A stranger has honoured us with his presence. He shall celebrate with us. He shall be carrier of the eternal flame.”

The crowed clapped and cheered. Cows and chickens joined in. Children danced around the stranger. The man from the mountain shuddered. Was this his destiny – to be a human torch?

The elder said, “See how he shivers! The divine spirit inhabits him!”

He went into a hut and returned with a flaming torch. “Look! I have touched this branch to the eternal fire. All wood comes from the Tree of Life. Fire is the eternal giver. Man is its spark!”

The elder walked towards the man from the mountain, whose knees buckled once more. Was this the meaning of the pulsing red star he’d seen above the dark mountain – his burning heart?

The elder said, “Here, stranger, sent to us by God. Light this humble offering made by our hands. Then take the eternal flame to the dark mountain for us. Take it in your heart. The dark mountain is a place taboo for us. Only holy strangers may go.”

The wooden effigy burnt fiercely, as did his heart again that night. His blood was hot. His body engulfed.

The red-haired woman came to him for four consecutive nights. On the fifth day, when he awoke, the people of Samhala were gathered outside to bid him farewell.

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