Running with the Mustangs

by Julian Dimitrov

Biwil Hula was walking to her death with so much relief and joyful expectation she had never experienced before even at her birth which she remembered either by the tellings of her old mother, by her own dreams or by some mystic and legendary power she felt inside her, but couldn't explain. By the time she was born their tribe had already been misplaced by the settlers, as far west as possible, far from their sacred land and from anything they or their ancestors had known. She was the third child for her father who was already too old to have her and being the third girl made her a disgrace and a shame for the whole tribe - a stingy thread of behavior she successfully unfolded throughout her whole life. Now, walking to her own death she was about to change all this and redeem everything she had done, for everything she ever did seemed to be terribly wrong.

Her second crime, her birth being the first, gave Biwil Hula her name. She refused to be breast-fed and she did this with the adamant self-possession of a grown up (a rare emotional stability she kept all her life even now at the time of her death, which made the whole village think she was cursed and not completely human). Out of nowhere, one of the old women wailing uselessly around helping the mother, (years of blindly listening to their men made them completely inept in making decisions) gave water to the baby. The little creature that everyone looked upon with some unrealized fear sucked on those few drops and stuck its smooth pink tongue out for more. That's how they called it - Biwil Hula (literally "eats water") but everyone everywhere simply called her Hula like everyone everywhere was missing something about her, a part of her that remained forever hidden.

When Hula started eating on the third day of her birth she did it reluctantly as if refusing to connect to her mother, throwing off the dependance on her roots, searching out for new soils and new sources of life.

Everyone remembered the first and only time Hula cried. That day a young and particularly beautiful deer came down to the village. She had patches of golden fur on her back as if stained by the mountain sun and neck whiter than the snowy mountain peaks no one had ever stepped on. The deer slowly drank water from the river and then peacefully walked around, elegantly twisting her snowy neck, searching for something. When searching for something particular we often fail to see everything else. That's how the deer missed the small group of hunters waiting nearby and the spear that flew quietly and smoothly as if unable to damage through the whiteness of her neck. The deer made another step and realizing what had just happened, she looked at the river and the clouds and the snow peaks for a last time and lied peacefully on the ground.

Hula was just coming down to greet the deer and saw everything. Her smile dropped down from her mouth and broke into a scream that jumped high to the snow peaks where no one had ever stepped and for a moment made everything a shade darker. Hula ran to the body as fast as her four-year-old feet let her, put the deer's head on her lap, hugged the animal with her whole upper body and started crying. The hunters, a couple of boys from the tribe, tried to push Hula away from their plunder but she screamed and her screams seemed to take the colour out of the sky and of the boys' skins, making them dark and gloomy, so the hunters stepped away. The whole village gathered around scared by the screams they had heard. Finally Hula's father arrived. Being the head of the tribe he cannily applied all the hierarchies those boys had encoded inside their minds obviously for cases like this one and made them wait till the day after. Everyone went home for the sun was dropping down, waiting for Hula to give up.

Hula stayed like this the whole night, guarding the deer with every piece of strength she had. When the first stars started sinking into the dim light of the horizon going to other skies in different worlds, she stood up with firm resolution. "They killed you, my sister." -she whispered. "They killed you, but I won't let them eat you like I won't let them eat me." When the villagers got up, the dead dear was gone as if melted in the light of the horizon without trace.

Getting her horse was a turning point in Hula's life. It was born on Hula's fifth birthday, a beautiful baby mare, descendant of the two excellent mustangs the tribe had caught the year before. "How will you call her?" - Hula's dad asked, "I'll let her choose her own name." - said Hula as if this was the only thing that made any sense. Eventually the baby mustang was called by some combination of sounds that reminded wind whistle, burning fire and trouts splashing their silver tails on the river surface. Only Hula could pronounce it and that's why the mustang trusted and loved no one else but her.

No one ever found if Hula ever rode her mustang for real. What she loved doing instead was running alongside, next to it. "0ne day I'll run faster than her!" - Hula would say with the sound resolution so typical for her. Even when the villagers saw Hula on the back of her mustang, she was not really riding but just lying there as if guiding the horse with her thought. That's how they would vanish from people's eyes, the distance merging them into one single creature.

Hula got more "normal" with time, serving no more surprises, only remaining faithful to her daily routines. Every morning she would cut holes in the river thick ice so that the fish could breathe, draw figures in the snow or plant flowers in the summer(always guarding them for someone to not step over) and, of course, give pieces of meat and other rare delicacies to the only dog in the village. The dog was white and ugly and looked as if it had always been old. It appeared approximately at the time when Hula was born and the villagers hated it, thinking it was a bad omen, threw stones whenever they saw it and deeply believed it was a ghost that had come to destroy their world and the order they had built. The only reason they still kept it was that it kept all the children safe from Hula, for Hula played with the dog instead of playing with the other children.

Despite turning almost ordinary, the villagers still secretly hated Hula, the way they hated summer, the only break from the ten-month winter here. Summer was the season that brought them out of their mountain trench and sent them in the windy prairie to hunt for mustangs and buffaloes. It made them dance in the evenings, their copper skins glistening in the light of the midnight fires. Summer planted flowers that bloomed like pale yellow, blue and violet fires on every patch of sunlight. Then one day when the villagers got to believe that the summer would last, they would get up in the morning and find the summer flowers caught in the grasp of the first snow, frozen and dead, and the summer that never grew old for it was blessed to die young would be over.

On her wedding day when she was fifteen, Hula was picking flowers to put in her hair. She secretly sang to them a sad song of a farewell for she knew they were dying. This was the last day of summer.

Hula had her daughter before the winter had ended. She remembered the green faces she saw when she got out of her mother's womb and their hunched noses that made them look like birds of prey, all gathered around her, passing her over with their ugly old hands, scratching her skin with their claws. She felt as if she had entered a wrong and lost place and the door out had shut irreversibly behind her back. That's why she only had her mother to help her when she was giving birth. When the baby got out, it immediately sucked on Hula's warm milk, connecting to the only thing in this new world it felt close.

Hula didn't name her daughter like she hadn't named her mustang. Unlike the mustang, however, her daughter never had the chance to pick her own name for she was killed before the next winter started.

In the hour of her own death, the memory of how it all had happened, lived inside Hula stronger and more vivid than ever. She left the baby to her mom and went down to the east in the footings of the mountain to look for the old white dog that had disappeared in that direction the day before. When they got down Hula saw in the light green vastness of the prairie a ball of dust quickly approaching, threatening to drown the whole world into its dust mouth with red dust teeth. "Take me far from that evil." - whispered Hula lying on her mustang and it ran north for that's where wisdom comes from, pushed from the east by the endless prairie, following the footings of the mountain as if besieging a fortress.

When she came back it had all started. The red uniforms of the dust soldiers bloomed around like some unknown carnivorous flowers no one had ever seen, unsuccessfully trying to stick their roots in the soil of land, people and spirit that was unable to accept them.

A party of warriors from the nearby village who must have seen the red soldiers coming from the prairie galloped past Hula expecting her to join. She didn't move; only the black screams in her eyes dropping a canopy over everything. That's how the people from the two villages saw her - like a stone statue, her silhouette printed on the sky surface above the hilltop. The new group of warriors flew like a mountain stream of brown water in the funnel of the trench forming a raging whirlpool in its bottom, where the village was. The red soldiers retrieved but the damage had already been done.

No one expected Hula to ever return to the village. When she walked in with the next twilight, the surprise and the fear surprises always brought to the villagers were quickly suffocated in their rage. In the rain of stones, garbage and ugly words the villagers poured at her, blaming her for all the misfortune in their world, Hula heard her mom saying; "Daughter I wish I never had you."

Hula went out of the village with her typical composure and self-possession and sat by the river on the exact spot where the villagers had killed the deer years ago. When the first sun rays appeared on the horizon, Hula stood up. The guards that the tribe had left until it was figured out what to be done with Hula walked silently by her, like the pagan priests of the dawn.

Hula was walking firmly towards the centre of the village, with a big smile on her mouth. When she reached it, the last stars were sinking into the sunlight. She looked around and pulled out a knife. The sound it made when running through her heart hung for a while in the cold morning air and then trembled away.

The next moment Hula was on the other side of the river next to her mustang, running faster than the horse towards the snowy peaks that no one had ever stepped on, melting in the white light of the dawn. Her daughter was peacefully sleeping on her left arm.