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Past Loves Ch. 02: Bilal and Hana

Past Loves Ch. 02: Bilal and Hana

Kenna James

All characters and persons involved in sexual activities in this story are over the age of 18.

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2: Village of the Okaba Tribe. Modern day Papua New Guinea: 7,000 BC

Bilal and Hana

The ground was soft and damp, the recent heavy rains had saturated the hard red clay with moisture so that the paths through the forest had become thick red rivers of muddy sludge. Bilal tried to keep her footing as she trudged doggedly back from the fields with her basket filled with the large tuberous roots of the taro plant. Even if the rains had made her walk to and from the hut a sludgy nightmare, they had done wonders for the struggling roots which were the staple of her and her family’s diet. Bilal had always loved the rain and was sad to see the end of the storm season and the start of the sunny season.

The steady produce of grown crops and jungle harvest had given Bilal a short stocky robust figure, with wide hips and full bosoms. Her diminutive height was the result of a childhood on the edge of starvation, like a lot of folk she knew, but her figure had been filled out massively since with ample harvests and a variety of foods. Her long black glossy hair was tied back behind her head by a single cord of leather, which kept it from straying into her large black eyes and rounded, slightly chubby face. Her arms were strong and toned from where she had spent hours at a time grinding food down and her palms were similarly scored and calloused with years of chores. Such was the life of the farmer.

It had been a good haul so far this year, the pounding summer sun and occasional jungle storm which had ripped through the region had mostly left her small village alone, sheltered as they were by the protective cliff face to the west. They had heard news carried on the words of the travelling shamans, of the destructive power of the winds and rains which had ravished other settlements along the shore of the great lake. Occasionally they would see small families in their hollow log boats, rowing past forlornly, gazing in jealous envy at the village’s crops and buildings.

Thankfully the village was well protected by water to the south and east, and by the cliffs to the west. And to the north the men of the village had constructed a large wooden palisade to keep out unwanted people and the wild animals which still hunted in the forests. Only last year one of Bilal’s young cousins had wandered off into the forest convinced that he was going to hunt and kill a crocodile. Unfortunately the truth had turned out to be quite the opposite, or at least this was what everyone had assumed had happened.

Most people kept to the safety of the village and the fields. There was ample food grown and plentiful fish in the lake. Every now and then a hunting party of men and women would gather and creep into the jungles to hunt larger prey, but there was safety in numbers and a lone hunter was a good recipe for a dead hunter. Bilal herself had only been out with these hunting gangs a couple of times, being still relatively young at only 19 summers in age. She had found the endless trek through the sweltering daytime forest to be monotonous and stifling. But that was nothing compared to the terror-filled darkness of the night with it’s strange calls, cries and scuttling of unseen things in the dark.

Although the work was hard and repetitive, Bilal found it far preferable to work in the fields with her father and mother. Starting after the storm season, they would clear back an area of the young jungle growths, dig up the soil and plant the seeds which they hoped would grow into the thick bitter tubers which had become such an important part of their food. Once these roots were fat and white, it would then be up to the family to haul them from the ground and then pound and ground them down into a fine mushy paste. This would then be heated on a wide flat stone over the fire into a kind of bread which could then be eaten. Bilal had tried to eat the raw ripe tubers before they were cooked and had found the taste utterly foul, and the flavour had lived in her mouth for at least half a day afterwards. Only after cooking did the taro plant seem suitable for eating.

Over the past few years Bilal had found that she had quite a talent for cooking the thick pale paste of the taro root into something that even pleased the tongue. She had found that by adding a few of the peculiar white crystals that she often found dried by the shore of the great lake, she could vastly improve its flavour. And she had also taken advice from a travelling seed seller and traded one of her best pestle and mortar sets with them for a collection of ‘herb’ seeds. These seeds when grown had proved to be small but very flavourful, especially when dried and crushed into the paste as well before it was cooked.

All of this extra preparation had made Bilal’s reputation as a fine cook quite well known in the village and people had been willing to trade other fruits and meats of the forest and Sincan Escort even the occasional trinket or tool for access to her herb stocks.

Finally Bilal rounded the edge of the large rooted tree which marked the end of the path and entered the village. A collection of ten grass-roofed huts with dried mud walls stood in a semi-circle facing inwards around a wide open space, the dried mud of the clearing now similarly soggy and cloying to everyone’s feet as they walked through. She made the quick trudge through the mud over to her hut and deposited her day’s haul of tubers down on the front porch. Her mother and father were still down in the field cleaning up, and she would get to grinding the roots into flour when they got back, but not before.

For now, she traipsed around to the back of her hut to where her small garden of herb seeds was now starting to grow strongly in the late afternoon sunlight. Bilal stroked some of their leaves affectionately and then brought her fingers up to her nose, savouring the pungent scents which they carried with them. Her hut stood directly at the base of the large cliffs which flanked part of the village and only in the afternoon did the sun wheel around in the sky far enough to reach this particular garden, so her herbs were making the most of this time and were all leaning towards the hot sphere of warmth high above.

Just then she heard a noise behind her, and Bilal swung around to stare into the sparse undergrowth which littered the base of the cliffs. It was probably nothing more than a bird or some other small creature, but even if it was, Bilal was not going to take any chances. She had already lost two of her herb plants to slugs this year and she wasn’t about to lose any more to thieving birds. Whatever it was moved again, a rustling of something definitely larger than a bird behind a large bush. For a moment, Bilal’s heart was filled with fear, could something dangerous have got past the palisade and into the village?

But just as she was about to run for help, Bilal saw the human hand, slender and tanned, reach out from behind the foliage, palm outwards, facing towards her, as if in supplication. This was followed by the rest of the arm, equally slender, and at last the rest of the person who had been hiding there. The woman appeared thin, near emaciated, her cheekbones were hard and sharp, and her dark hair was netted and ruffled, filled with twigs and other bits of the jungle. She held herself small and weakly as she looked up at Bilal with large desperate eyes, half in hope and half in fear of what her presence would mean.

For a moment Bilal stood stock still, unsure of what to do with the revelation of this stranger. Who was she? Where had she come from? What was she to do about her? For one moment all of these questions swirled around in her head, and then they were instantly washed away as she saw the tears running down the woman’s cheeks and took in her tattered and dirty clothing, her abject and unavoidable deprivation. She must be one of the peoples whose villages had been flattened by the recent storms. She had probably lost everything and was just trying to stay alive, desperate and in need of help before facing certain starvation and death.

At that moment Bilal knew that she had to help this woman, she was small and malnourished and dirty and a fellow human being, and she needed help. Bilal smiled and dropped her defensive stance, reaching out her arm to this new visitor in an act of kindness. The woman looked up, seemingly unsure of what to do. Bilal had been there, seven summers back the villages’ harvest had been ruined by some sort of black rot and food had been scarce that storm season. She remembered just how hard even thinking became after weeks on weeks of barely enough food, how hard it became to recognise even people’s faces and expressions.

She saw that this woman needed her help to even accept her help, so very slowly she moved across the small cleared area that formed her back garden and took her softly by the hand. The woman recoiled slightly at the touch, but after Bilal tried a second time, she allowed her hand to be taken and gently led towards the hut.

‘What’s your name?’ Bilal asked softly, her voice, quite possibly the first human voice that the woman had heard in weeks.

‘Hana,’ the woman replied quietly after just a moment, her eyes still downcast.

‘How did you get in Hana?’ Bilal asked. In reply, the woman Hana just looked up at the cliff behind them and pointed.

‘You climbed down the cliff?’

Hana just nodded demurely in reply and held out her palms, they were cut and scraped in various places and Bilal could see the dusty red rock of the cliffs still clinging to them in various places. Hana looked up at the bluffs and wondered how she had done it, the cliffs were near sheer with barely a handhold or root to grasp in sight. This woman looked small and malnourished but she was clearly determined and tough as well.

Once Escort Ankara they were inside Bilal’s hut, she sat Hana down on the small reed and straw pillow which stood to one side, the fire which often burned brightly in the centre of the single room now simmered low with a few small wafts of smoke rising from its ashes. Bilal quickly threw a few more small sticks and then a couple of larger ones at it to get it stoked up for the evening’s meal. Then she went out and filled a small clay pot with some water from the wooden carved water butt which collected rainwater off the roof, and went back inside to find Hana staring absentmindedly at the flames, as if she had forgotten what they were.

‘Let’s get you cleaned up.’

Bilal said calmly, as she dipped an old scrap of fur into the water and held it up to Hana’s dirt stained face. The woman did not resist, and merely continued to stare as Bilal gently cleaned away the rind which had coated not just her face, but her arms, legs, back and midriff. She was actually quite pretty, Bilal thought as she worked. Hana had a wide rounded heart-shaped face, with dark hooded eyes and long lustrous lashes. Nothing could be done right at this moment about the huge tangle of matted brown hair which covered her head, but when it was cleaned up Bilal thought that it would probably reach down to her lower back. Her arms and legs were thin with lack of food, but there was muscle buried under there, so she had not reached the stage of hunger where her body started to eat its own muscles.

Once she had Hana cleaned up, Bilal moved over to the basket of tubers which she had brought back from the field and brought it into the circle of light by the fire to begin grinding them. When she saw the tubers, Hana reached out impulsively towards them, clearly recognising them as food. Bit Bilal withdrew them from her reach, knowing that if they were not ground up and cooked then the roots would be bitter and would likely make Hana vomit rather than feed her.

‘Wait,’ she said firmly, holding up her palm.

She shifted around a bit til she was seated next to the large stone basin which sat beside the fire, along with her own stone pestle. One by one, she tipped the tubers into the basin and began to grind, mashing them down into the edible paste they would become. Hana looked at her as she did this, her eyes hungry, but also curious and seemingly fascinated. As she worked Bilal started to ask questions, trying to learn more about this mysterious stranger who had dropped into her life.

‘Where did you come from?’ For a moment Hana didn’t answer, but looked up and about as if confused, unsure of which direction was which.

‘Along the coast of the lake,’ she answered quietly, ‘The village by the big tree, we fished and grew fruit.’

‘What happened there?’

‘There was the wind, and the rain, it came so hard, harder than the huts could hold, they blew away, all of them, they blew it all away.’ For the first time an emotion flashed across Hana’s face, part fear, part sadness.

‘Your family? Did you have family?’ Bilal continued to probe,

‘My… partner and my daughter, they… They were taken by the waves, the water rose up and swallowed them all.’

Now tears were pooling in her eyes, and Bilal knew she had probed far enough for now, she knew what she needed to, and this woman clearly needed her help. Even though Bilal herself had never been in a close enough relationship to bear a child with anyone, she thought that she could imagine the grief that this woman must be struggling with, the empty hole in her life more painful than any hunger.

At this point the taro root was nearly ready, Bilal reached into the small pouch of her dried herbs that she kept hanging from a hook on the wall and crushed some up in her hand before grinding it into the mixture. She also added some of the crushed white crystals from down by the lake. That done, she took the large flat rock that she used for such things and spread the paste onto it in a thick loaf before poking the rock gently into the fire.

Outside, Bilal heard the sound of approaching footsteps and scrambled up to intercept, quickly thinking of what she would say to her parents to explain the situation. She ran through various different scenarios up to and including hiding Hana in the roof reeds, before she ran out of time and just decided to tell the truth. In through the door stepped her mother and father, both sweaty and dirt covered, carrying their own baskets of the taro root. As they stepped inside and saw the strange woman sitting by the fire, staring hungrily at the cooking meal, they stopped, their eyes swinging towards Bilal questioningly.

‘Bilal who is this?’ her mother asked, as she put her basket down beside the door frame.

‘Mother, this is Hana, i met her today out by the cliff, she’s hungry and alone and she needs help. So… I thought… that it would be kind to offer help,’ she finished sheepishly.

There Eryaman Escort Bayan was a moment of silence, as her mother and father shared one of those infuriating parental expressions which managed to convey so much meaning without words. Rather than suffering their silent discussion, Bilal simply went over and sat back down next to Hana, and placed a reassuring hand on her knee.

After a short moment her parents seemed to come to some kind of agreement and they both came over to sit by the fire as well. By now the taro patty on the rock had properly cooked through and the delicious smells of the herbs Bilal had infused into it were wafting through the small smoky interior of the hut. She could practically see Hana’s mouth watering.

‘Bilal,’ her father said sternly, ‘please serve dinner, and make it into four pieces.’

And that was that.

– – –

Over the next month or so, Hana began to slowly recover her strength, and seemingly a part of herself. As she began to put on weight again, her speech became less stilted and she became able to grasp more complex ideas. The rest of the village regarded her with suspicion to begin with, outsiders always being regarded as such. But soon they came to see her as just another member of Bilal’s family, especially as soon as she was able to start helping in the fields.

But of course, although Hana was more human now than the ragged bag of bones that she had been, she was still very closed off, quiet and insular, never laughing or even smiling very often. She was polite and kind, but she rarely spoke unless spoken to and often Bilal would find her in random fits of staring off into the distance, as if transfixed on something that no others could see. Bilal didn’t have to ask, she could guess that the poor woman was off in her mind, revisiting that awful day when her whole life had been swept away in wind and water. In these moments, Bilal would ask questions, calmly and softly and with this gentle encouragement, Hana would reveal a little more about her life, a morsel at a time.

She had been raised by her two mothers in the village of Yandir, which Bilal knew to be about two day’s walk along the coast of the great lake. There she had grown up, played with the other children, caught fish and helped to harvest taro root, just like she did here now. She and her first husband had met and the two had very quickly had a child together, but the little boy had died in the first three days of his life, and he had been given back to the great lake. Then a year later her daughter Alupwa had been born and she had survived into childhood.

Alupwa had been a rambunctious, hearty little one, always trying to play and help with children who were too big for her and inevitably getting in everyone’s way. When Hana talked about her lost child was when the first real fit of uncontrolled tears escaped. The rain clouds burst inside her and Bilal held her softly as she wept out the grief. It did not repair all the damage that had been done, but perhaps the storm inside her was less dark than it had been. After that day, Hana was occasionally seen to smile whenever anybody said hello, or helped her, and she even let out a small giggle every now and then when Bilal would playfully tease her by tickling before they went to bed.

As the hut was small and it was important to conserve heat on the long nights, the two young women shared a single bed of rolled reeds and grasses together. As time progressed, the two of them went from staying at opposite ends of the small cot, trying to maintain a semblance of personal space, to first holding hands as they stared up into the darkness, then sharing each other’s shoulders and finally falling asleep in each other’s arms. It was at these times that Hana would be able to let out a little more of her grief and loss, and she would weep a few silent tears while Bilal cradled her affectionately, every time, she cried a little less and for a little shorter time, and always afterwards there would be a small smile and a grateful forehead touch.

Bilal was sometimes confused and conflicted in her feelings about Hana. When she had first come into her life she had been a scared, lost desperate creature, closer to an animal than a person. Now several months later she had blossomed out into much more. She was still shy and quiet but the tenderness and gentleness behind her eyes could be seen every day. Bilal did her best to support her friend in her emotional healing, providing a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold.

But at the same time, she maybe started to feel things for Hana that she thought might be a little beyond just a friendship. She would catch herself shooting sideways glances at her when they were working, weaving or just sitting and watching the clouds roll overhead. She would pay attention to the details of her face, the long dark mane of hair which had finally been rid of its last tangles, the small rounded shape of her nose or the hazel glow of colour within her eyes. She also found herself wanting to touch her body in ways that were more than just casual friendship. She wanted to run her hand down the smoothness of her hips and back, to feel the softness of her skin and run her fingers through that hair.

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