Maka and Dreamboy

I have many beginnings, many books and many stories. Some are true, but most are better than true. Perhaps before anyone told any stories, there were two of me—two stories: Maka, whose animal was the Lyrebird, and the story of The Dream Boy.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, almost when time first began for our people on this old land of sand and forest, a boy was born to a young pair, Apari and Kadee. He was born beside the fire in the night time, so they named him Maka, which means ‘a small fire’.

Kadee was kind and loving and she fell in love with Maka as soon as she set her eyes on him. He was larger than her firstborn, which meant he stood a better chance of surviving. She remembered how much it hurt when Manya had died, and she didn’t think she could survive the death of another child. This was it. Maka was her last chance at happiness, and she could not take her eyes off him. He was beautiful to her. He was magic. He was her and he was Apari—his strength, her soul.  

It was an even better sign that, when she was giving birth, two birds sang nearby. One was a fish hawk, the other a lyrebird. Kadee’s people have spoken of their Dreaming and of Fish Hawk and Lyrebird. Some tell the dreaming where Fish Hawk and Lyrebird have a contest to see who can catch more fish—and Fish Hawk usually wins—except for the time Lyrebird uses cunning and wit to beat him. Some others tell the dreaming where Lyrebird sings Fish Hawk’s song and tricks Fish Hawk’s wife to lie and nest with him. Some others tell the dreaming where Fish Hawk tries to sing and can’t, but Lyrebird hides nearby and throws his voice so the others think he’s singing. Fish Hawk catches fish for Lyrebird to thank him for saving him from humiliation.

Kadee’s favourite dreaming is the one where Lyrebird hears all the other birds singing and he’s sad because he doesn’t have a song. Instead, he picks his favourite songs from the others and sings them instead. All the birds visit him and expect to find their own kind. So when they find Lyrebird they are confused.

‘Why did you sing our song?’ they ask.

Lyrebird would say plainly, ‘It was beautiful, so I sang it.’

All the other birds would then visit Lyrebird and ask him to sing them a birdsong they had never heard and he would sing something strange he had heard far away and they would marvel at his voice. Because of this he was the most popular bird in the forest.

Lyrebird was Kadee’s favourite. Apari liked Fish Hawk because he was a good hunter. They argued over which bird would be Maka’s totem until the next full moon. Other men might have beaten their wives for showing such spirit. But Apari loved Kadee very much and agreed on a compromise: they would wait and see who Maka’s nature most resembled, and that would be his totem. Kadee accepted this and was pleased because she knew, as his mother, she would spend the most time with him. She would make him smart and beautiful like the lyrebird, not fast and deadly like the fish hawk.

When Maka was five years old, Kadee was bitten by the biggest black snake anyone in the village had ever seen, and she died a few days later. Before she returned to the others her last words to Maka and Apari were:

‘Please be Lyrebird.’

 

Apari tried to be a good father to Maka, as he knew that’s what Kadee would have wanted, but one night, lying alone listening to the living forest, he couldn’t help but remember why Kadee had been bitten by the black snake: Maka had complained that he’d been bitten by ants and he cried and cried and cried. Kadee couldn’t bear to listen to her son cry, so she went looking for broadleaf to use as balm. As she searched the forest, she stepped on black snake’s nest. Black snake was terrified for its life and it bit Kadee deep and with all its venom.

Apari blamed Maka for Kadee’s death and he thought about ways to get rid of him.

Once, he left Maka in the woods where he knew there were many snakes. He told Maka that his totem wasn’t chosen yet and that he could be either Lyrebird or Fish Hawk. He told him that if he wanted his totem to be Fish Hawk then he would have to bring him the head of the black snake that killed his mother. Maka wanted nothing more than to impress his father, so he searched and searched for largest black snake around. When he could search no more, he returned to his father.

‘I cannot find the black snake,’ Maka told him, ‘and I am so very tired.’

‘Fish Hawk never gets tired,’ teased Apari, ‘you must be Lyrebird.’

This saddened Maka and he used to sit alone and imagine he had caught the snake because he could actually turn into a fish hawk.

                                        ***

In my other story. The Dream Boy. The one where I am better than true. I begin in the deep blue of the early evening sky. I’m not born, I just am. I am a fish hawk that is also a boy and I catch the black snake that killed our mother. Father told me he loved me and he kissed my hair

                                                  ***

In the tale of Maka, The Lyrebird, his father decided that if he couldn’t kill him he would make him miserable, so he teased him every day. He told him he was Lyrebird: a bird that didn’t have a song of its own.

‘There’s nothing special about you,’ he said most days. ‘You just copy other birds’ songs.’

Maka didn’t know why his father hated him, but he had nowhere else to go.

When Maka was ten, Apari was away with the hunters. I bet they’re all fish hawks, he thought bitterly, and he sulked and waited for Apari to return. But when the hunters returned, Apari wasn’t with them.

‘Where’s my father,’ Maka asked.

‘He was eaten up by Crocodile,’ said his father’s friend, Orad. ‘He put up a good fight, but Crocodile was stronger.’

Maka thought it was odd that Orad didn’t seem upset about this, but he was only young and didn’t pretend to understand what it was like to be a man.

‘Both of your parents are dead, Maka,’ announced Orad: “you are bad luck. You are no good at all. I want you out of our land. If you refuse I will drive you out.’

What could Maka, a weakling boy, do against the strength of a fully grown man? He couldn’t outsmart him either. He had no choice but to leave.

For many years, Maka survived in the lands just outside of his kinsmen’s reach. He used the skills and knowledge his mother had taught him to find tubers and pick nuts and berries. He figured out how to hunt as well. He was surviving well, but he was lonely and he would often speak to himself at night when the fire’s embers died and he was truly alone. He would tell himself the stories his mother had told him—the ones he could remember, anyway.  When he ran out of stories, he made them up. He made up stories where he was the hero of the tale and where Kadee was still alive. He made up stories that weren’t true, but he loved them. He made up songs and stories where he returned to his kinsmen and they cheered and celebrated and feasted and danced. He even told stories where Apari, his father, was still alive and where he forgave him for how he treated him. In this story, Apari said that it wasn’t Maka’s fault that the black snake killed Kadee. He knows these stories aren’t true, but they make him happy until morning. These stories are better than true.

                                                  ***

In the other story I am The Dream Boy, floating high above the world. Then, in a second, I am in the trees above Maka. I am of the trees and birds and I can hear his stories and songs. They aren’t true, they are better than true—more than he could be. They make me happy and I listen and live through every song he sings. When he stops singing and sleeps, I sit by his side and listen to his dreams, and I stay with him throughout the night. He and I are one when he sleeps and I am still tethered to him when he is awake.

                                                  ***

In Maka’s story—which is really my story too—it’s one of my stories whether I like it or not—one day I get a little tired of singing stories by the fireside. Instead, I take a rock and carve a story in scratches onto the bark of one of the trees. When I’ve finished carving, I take a cooled piece of burned wood and colour in the lighter wood beneath the bark. The result is beautiful and makes me cry I am so happy. It’s a drawing of the time I saved mother from the great black snake that was as thick and as long as a tree. It wasn’t true: it was better than true, and I almost remembered the sense of vindication when I drove the black snake away by crying out and sounding the same as a hawk. The black snake thought it was the Great Hawk and it slithered away as quickly as it could.

‘Thank you, son,’ said Kadee. ‘You saved me.’

                                                  ***

In the other story, the one where I’m above the Earth, I am there when we trick the black snake. I am there when we are held by mother and told that we are her hero. I am also right beside me, the man, as he carves the next story on the tree. He takes some berries and crushes them to stain the wood red. In this story, he and I are a great hunter, famed for killing a crocodile with our bare hands. Our kinsmen celebrate our bravery and perform a ceremony on the crocodile. When they cut it open they find Apari, our father, inside. Somehow he is still alive and he thanks us for defeating the crocodile. He tells us he loves us and that he is sorry.

                                                  ***

In the tale where I am flesh, I walk to the end of our forest and look out over the sand land: more dust than rock, orange, red and ancient—perhaps older than Dreamtime. I take the earth back to my trees and I mix them with spit to make a paste. I rub the image of the sand land beyond the forest—the sky stretching out in infinite blue. Perfect blue. Eternal. To paint this sky I use a paste of the flowers from the blue-green plant my parents never taught me the name of.

When I’m finished, I marvel at its beauty. I made it and it’s more striking than the sandscape ever was.  On the sand, I draw the joyful dancing of my kinsmen, only it’s an old memory, a memory more invented than remembered. There are some things I do remember, though: the tum tum of the drum, the frenzied scuffle scuffle of their hard feet on the sand and the dizzy reek of sweat and the cooking meat, the fire’s smoke coating all of us. I feel all of this as though I was there again, little Maka, only it might not have even happened. I’ve told myself that tale of the dance so many times; I’ve smelled those heady scents on so many nights that it’s more real to me than yesterday or this morning.

It helps that I’m getting better at my colours. I think my women need some improvement before they look right, though. I make their breasts too big and they all have the same face. Mother. But it’s been so long that mother is like the dancing: she is repeated in my head and she has large warm eyes that smile and tell me I’m special, and her mouth laughs and sings the songs that no longer have words and her hair is a blur of black, its length constantly changing.

My men are accurate. Stark. Real. They hold spears and cut and prepare the meat. I draw them with the burnt wood from the fire. Burnt wood is all I need to draw men.

                                                  ***

In the story where I am with the stars. I soar through the sky with the freedom of an albatross—a vagrant, a voyager. The stars race me and swim into me and tell me their secrets. When the other me dreams, it pulls me from the stars to something so much more beautiful: I play with our mother, Kadee, or wrestle Apari to submission and our kinsmen laugh and say that he is a fool and that I am as strong as Crocodile himself. When Maka dreams, I am made into something new and then I am remade again, like the colours he mixes and remixes into a hundred different hues of deep scarlet, hot browns, grey greens and the cooling twilight azure. Once, there was a dream of playing where Mother took me to the river and we played in the water for hours. She caught a fish and we dried off in the sun as she cooked it with a small fire that she made.

When Maka, the real Maka, awoke and I was forced to leave him, he cried and cried for a day. He didn’t know if this had ever happened—if it was true or more than true. I watched him feel and I felt and lived his sadness. I felt his elation when he realised that better than true was all he ever needed to be happy. He danced about with all the spirits he knew were better than true—his inner forest of carved and painted trees. He would run and jump and scream until he was so tired that could not help but sleep, just so that he could dream of mother and of laughter, and dancing and friends. When he dreamed I could return to him. We were the same person when he was dreaming.

                                                  ***

In the earth story, I am lighting a fire when three men approach me speaking my tongue.

‘Have you any meat to spare?’ they ask, ‘for we have hunted for a day and a night and we have not caught our quarry.’

‘Yes,’ I say, ‘I have some and many nuts and berries I have gathered.’ I am excited to speak to them, to practise my words again to anyone other than myself and my trees. Their voices are low and they grumble through the floor. I had forgotten how they grumble. In my excitement, I am already imagining what will happen next…     

                                                  ***

…The Dream Boy—better-than-true Maka—dives down to the earth like the hail stones made of fire in the night’s sky. We are the same, and I shake each of their hands and sing them my favourite song. I feed them until they are all so full their eyelids fall heavily and they sleep. They wake up all at the same time, hours later, and they marvel at my trees. They marvel at the stories that are better than true. The sit around each tree and beg me to tell them its tale. I make the fire as big as I can, to warm them, and I tell them of the time I was the size of the largest tree and I show them the world and the people and me, towering above them, helping them by shaking the trees so the nuts and fruits fall down for them to gather. They cheer and whistle with delight even though they know it never happened.

‘There’s something special about your dreaming trees,’ they all say at the same time, ‘and we’d like you to come and make more for us and our kinsmen.’ I am carried by the men back to their home and they tell their families of my trees.

‘Show us!’ they cry in giddy excitement and we all run and skip to my home.

‘This was the time I was an owl,’ I declare, pointing at one of my first trees: ‘Can you see how I am an owl with manfeet?’ I ask. ‘When I was an owl, I would soar up to the sky and ask the moon why I must only hunt at night. The Moon, who sees all and says nothing, whispered the truth to me:

“You can only hunt at night because you are too fast and your eyes are too big. It would be unfair to the day dwellers if you hunted then, for you would find it too easy and you would kill more mice and frogs than you could possibly eat.”

‘I was happy with the Moon’s explanation and I flew down to the forest to hunt and kill.’

The people cheer and laugh and the children pretend they are owls swooping down with deadly, silent speed. I show them other stories: the dancing stories and the singing stories. The stories with Mother. And even those with Father. I show them the sand land and the young among them gasp, having never left the forest and seen the eternal red and blue and the huge birds with wings like the branches of trees floating still, impossible, in the sky.

In this story, I am the Maka I have always known I was: the undiscovered teller of dreamings—of story trees. They visit me every day with food and water or just to talk with me and play in the river as me and mother once did or might have done—it doesn’t matter if it actually happened. Maybe it never mattered. I am happy and loved and known throughout the land. I am Star Maka, The Dream Boy, the Lyrebird.

                                                  ***

In the real earth, I hand each of the three men what’s left of my meat and nuts and they snatch them from me as though it was always theirs. They greedily consume my food and then notice my trees around them.

‘What’s with these trees?’ one of them asks; he’s smiling in the way that doesn’t mean he’s happy.

‘They’re my trees; I put stories on them so that I can look at them later and remember all of the things I have done.’

The youngest of them looks at the tree where the drawing shows me as an owl with the legs of a man. He rubs at the dye with his fingers and laughs:

‘Why would you ever say you did something you didn’t? Are you a liar?’ he asks, sneering like the wind in winter.

‘No. They’re not lies.” I argue, ‘They’re not like that. They are only for me, really. They aren’t lies at all.’ I am close to tears…

                                        ***

Dream Boy, me, is running as fast as he can away from these men. He uses his magic strength to pick up all of his favourite trees and run as far as the sand land and further…

                                                  ***

… I let out a faltering whimper and the men laugh at me.

‘If they aren’t lies, then they must be true? But how can you be part owl and part man? Or how can you fight a crocodile in the water and live?’

They are poking and prodding my stories—rubbing and picking at the bark. They are picking parts of me away and I want to scream and run towards the sands. They circle round me like dingoes and I am terrified.

‘They aren’t true,’ one of them says. ‘They never happened.’

‘They did happen,’ I protest, ‘they aren’t true, but they are better than true.’

They are men. Hard men. Men that I draw with only burnt wood. Nothing more is needed.

They rush at me and beat me and laugh and call me mad. They say I’m a liar, and when they have finished hurting me they piss on me and it burns and stings where their blows have torn my skin. They drag me towards their home. When I fall over and refuse to walk, they drag me roughly along the ground until it is too sore and I have to stand and stagger along beside them. When we get to their home they call for all of their kinsmen to come and see me. They tell them of my story trees and how I lied and told them I was once as tall as the tallest tree and how I was once an owl with legs.

‘Is this true?’ one of them asked, pretending to believe.

I hate them. I hate them, I thought. I don’t care what they think. I don’t care if they kill me.                              

‘No it’s not true!’ I scream…

                                                  ***

 Dreamboy’s voice crackles and burns with fire and lightning. And they are awestruck, silent, frightened of my mighty voice. ‘No. It’s not true! It’s better than true. It’s my truth. My trees. My stories!’ A ball of flames screams out of my mouth and I am the Star Maka, the better Maka, The Dream Boy—more real than yesterday.        

***

They beat me until I am asleep. I do not dream.

When I wake I hurt so much I can’t move at first. It is morning and I don’t know how I know that, but I know. My face feels like one massive bee sting and I can barely open my eyes. Someone is there.

‘Who’s there?’ I try to say, but my lungs falter and my throat twinges.

‘Who’s there?’ I whisper

A man coughs and walks towards me. I try to move, to crawl or scramble or slither, but I’m broken. The man gently lifts my head and holds some water to my mouth. He wets my lips and slowly pours drip by drip into my mouth. I gratefully swallow and splutter the water, feeling some life return to me.

                                                  ***

As The Dream Boy I am inert. Nothing. No pain. No love. No loss. The absence of meaning. All I want is for absence.

                                                  ***

The man takes me in and cares for me. He feeds me and cleans me gently. Gentle like Mother. But he never speaks. When my voice is better, I ask him who he is and why he is kind to me. But he does not speak. The swelling around my eyes subsides and the pain slowly drains away and I am clean and tender and soft like an animal. I think I am able to see now, but I don’t tell the man. I keep my eyes closed and wait until he is giving me water. Just then, I open my eyes and look into his. It is Apari. Father. It is a miracle. You were saved from the crocodile. It was me. I saved him when I wrestled it with my bare hands and they cut him out of its belly.

‘Father,’ I say. ‘You’re saved. I saved you.’

Father’s face distorts and he runs from the home and I try with all my might to stand. Fire courses through my limbs and burns through me, but I can move. I know I can move. I chase after Father…  

***

The Dream Boy is swift as the Fish Hawk and catches him in one breath…

***

The real Maka is struggling to stay upright and my heart beats like the drums and dancers’ feet.

‘Father,’ I call out to him, ‘come back. It’s me: Maka, your son. I saved you. I saved you.’

I can see Father in the distance. He slows. Then stops. He waits for me to reach him. His face is wet and he is sad. I’ve never seen him like this.

‘Why run, Father? I saved you and you saved me.’ I put my hand up to his face to check that he is true and not better than true. I need him to just be true.

 

‘How did you save me?’ Father asks quietly, his voice just more than a whisper.

‘Well they told me you were eaten by a crocodile and I was on my own for a long long time. I developed certain powers. I went to the crocodile and I killed it with my bare hands and some men cut it open and you were inside—still alive after so many years.’

Father looks confused now, not sad. ‘That’s not what happened, Maka. I told the men to pretend I was dead so that you would have to go away. I did not want you without Kadee at my side. I hated you. I hated hating you, my own son.’

A lie? It was all a lie? Worse than true.

‘How could you?’ I ask him, Dream Boy is spitting out fire and lightning beside me. I should be sad, but I have felt it too many times now. ‘How could you send me out to be alone? I was barely more than a boy. I was your son. I am your son.’

Father looks at his feet and starts to cry.

‘I’m sorry, Maka. I’m so sorry. I have spoken to Kadee in my dreams and she told me I had wronged her and you. She told me that I had hurt her and that you were out there alone or dead.’

Father wiped his face, embarrassed at his tears. Men didn’t cry.

‘I thought about you once in a while,” said Father, “and once in a while turned into every day and every day turned into every moment and all I could do was eat and sleep and miss you.’

‘What about those men? The ones that beat me?’ I am The Dream Boy now. I am fire and lightning. He can hear it my voice and he’s afraid. ‘Do you know them? Did you beat me too when they all did?’

‘Of course not,’ he cries. ‘Of course not—‘

‘—BUT DID YOU STOP THEM?’ I roar…

                                                     ***

The Dream Boy is bushfires, destruction, hate and nightmares.  

***

He hangs his head low and cannot look at me. The real me. I strike him across his face. I do not know where I’ve gotten this strength from. Perhaps I am the fish hawk after all? Perhaps I am The Dream Boy? He still looks at the ground; his eye bleeds black blood in the redless, colourless night.

‘You are dead,’ I say to him, ‘you died back when I was a child when you were eaten by a crocodile.’

He mumbles something that might have been ‘Sorry’, but I strike him again, like a scorpion, and he falls to the dirt at my feet.

‘You died long long ago. That might not be true. But, for me, it is better than true.’

I turn and run as fast as I can run and I don’t care that I hurt. Only earth hurts: The Dream Boy doesn’t hurt at all. Stars do not hurt. I run towards my home. Towards my lives. My trees…

***

…I am Albatross, ever-floating, never tiring. I am Ostrich, fast, fierce, fleeting…

***

I am broken, limping towards my trees when I see the men running away from them, laughing. Oranges and reds flare and flicker in the distance and my heart breaks.

MY TREES. MY TALES.

I run at the men and there are rocks in my hands—I do not know how I got them. They are to break their bones and ruin their flesh. I screech and flail and thunder at them, but I am no match for the least of them. They dance around me, mocking me. When they’ve had enough, the biggest of them kicks me in my side and I fall to the earth like an old tree. They laugh and walk to their homes, to their soft wives and soft babes.

MY TREES!

I manage to stand and I race to the fires and try to beat them dead with a stick I find. The smoke is black and hot, and it crackles and seers into my skin, my lungs and my bones. It is omnipresent. It is everything.

I see the barks peeling and warping under the heat and flames. And for a second I see The Dream Boy on every tree. He is running and flying as he sometimes does. He is the owl and the tree and The Lyrebird…

***

…The carvings on the trees fuse and alchemise in the smoke; they are moving and swirling around me like the smoke, but they are all my colours, they are scarlet and hot browns and grey greens and the cooling twilight azure—they are blending and coalescing into some opalescent fantasy of me and of the world and worlds. They stream into and out of me, Me and The Dream Boy, Maka and Maka, and I know I am going to escape with him. He holds up his hand and I take it. He pulls me out of the inferno and he flies high into the sky and higher still, where the blaze below is but a tiny red star beneath us.

***

Below, a finite animal body burns. It’s made of earth, water and wood. It burns and fizzes away to nothing. Only one man grieves for him.

 

The Dream Boy and I soar across the world, chasing after one another. We giggle and laugh that anyone would worry about such cruel men or flames or fathers. We stop along our travels and tell our stories to anyone who’ll listen. We tell them it’s alright to dream, to paint, to write. We fan the fire in them: the part of them that knows they’ll live forever. We inspire them. We have many names: Maka, The Lyrebird, The Dream Boy, Apollo, Loxias, Muse, Lucifer, Väinämöinen, Myrddin, Prospero, Megan, Rick.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Peter McCune

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