The Milk That Happens
MAU HURRIED UP TO the Women’s Place and entered more boldly than he had done before. There was no time to waste. The sun was dropping down the sky, and the ghost of the moon was rising.
This had to work. And he’d have to concentrate, and time it right and he probably wouldn’t get another try.
First, get some beer. That wasn’t hard. The women made mother-of-beer every day, and he found some fizzing gently to itself on a shelf. It was full of dead flies, but they would be no problem. He did the beer ceremony and sang the Song of the Four Brothers as the beer required, and took down a big bunch of plantains and some whistling yams. They were old and wrinkled, just right for pigs.
The Nation had been rich enough to have four three-legged cauldrons, and two of them were up here in the Place. He got a fire going under one and dumped the plantains and the yams in. He added a bit of beer, let it all boil until the roots were soft and floury, and then it was just a matter of pounding it all together into one big beery mess with the butt of his spear.
Even so, the shadows were getting longer by the time he continued on toward the forest, with the oozing, beery mash dripping in a woven punk-wood bag under one arm and a small calabash under the other. It was the best one he could find: Someone had been very careful to scrape out as much of the orange flesh as possible and dry the rind with care so that it was light and strong, without any cracks.
He left his spear propped up outside the Women’s Place. For a lone man, a spear was no good against an angry hog – a furious boar would bite one in half, or spit itself on the shaft and keep on going, a ball of biting, slashing rage that didn’t know when it was dead. And the sows were worse when they had piglets at heel, so he was probably going to die if the beer didn’t work.
At least there was a little
piece of luck. There was a fat old sow on the track, piglets all around her, and Mau saw her before she saw him, but only just. He stopped dead. She gave a snort and shifted her big wobbling body, uncertain at the moment whether to charge but ready to do so if he made a wrong move.
He took the big ball of mash out of the bag and tossed it toward her. He was running before it hit the forest floor, crashing away like a frightened creature. He stopped after a minute and listened. From some way behind him came some very satisfied grunting.
And now for the dirty bit. He moved a lot more quietly now, making a big circle to bring himself back onto the path past where the sow lay. She’d come from the big mucky wallow the pigs had made where a stream crossed the track. They loved it, and it was filthy. It stank of pig, and Mau rolled in it until he did, too.
Globs of the slimy stuff slithered off him as he crept back along the track. Well, he certainly didn’t smell human anymore. He probably never would again.
The old sow had trampled herself a nest in the undergrowth and was making happy, beery snoring noises, with her family crawling and fighting all over her.
Mau dropped to the ground and began to crawl forward. The sow’s eyes were shut. Surely she wouldn’t smell him through all the muck? Well, that was a risk he had to take. Would the piglets, already shoving one another aside to get at the teats, work out what he was? They squealed all the time in any case, but did they have a special squeal that would set the sow on him? He’d find out. Would he even be able to get the milk out?