The Voice of the Forest
By Murad Jalilov & N. K. Valek
Grandmother is giving us that look. It is the look of chores to be done. I glance to Musah, but it doesn’t seem like he’s noticed Grandma yet.
“Just pretend you don’t see it,” he mutters, getting up from the breakfast table to sneak outside before Grandma says anything.
“Isah, Musah,” Grandmother begins as Musah reaches the door. “Your father won’t be back home until tomorrow. That means you will need to shepherd the sheep in the forest today.”
“Both of us?” I raise my complaint. “But, shepherding is a one man job! Musah can do it on his own!”
“You are right, Isah,” Grandmother says, taking Musah’s and my dishes from the table. “It is a one man job. Unfortunately, all I have here are two boys. Now, do not argue.”
“Isah,” Musah stops me. “Let’s go.”
I frown at him for a moment, but then agree that it would be a greater misfortune to suffer Grandmother’s wrath than to suffer one day of shepherding. “Okay.”
We leave the house to go out to the forest with the sheep. The sounds of the trees are relaxing, and we can’t play much of anything because it would scare the sheep. Nothing happens for a while, and the sun makes the forest very warm. I get tired and sit against a tree, watching Musah watch the sheep. After a while, I doze off.
I wake up suddenly to the sound of my name.
“Isah, Isah!” A voice calls, “Why have you fallen asleep?”
I look around, but the forest is empty. The sheep are gone! I get up and find Musah sleeping against a tree nearby.
“Musah, Muash!” I shake him violently, “Why have you fallen asleep?”
He wakes up, looks around, and grabs my shoulders. “Where are the sheep?” he asks urgently.
“They must have run off while we were sleeping!” I answer.
He gets up and begins searching for them. We decide that we must split up to find them and start walking in different directions. We agree to call to each other at times so that we don’t get lost ourselves. After a while, I notice a strange bird that doesn’t make any sound. I see it in each tree that is seven trees apart. Sometimes it flies away, sometimes it lands, and sometimes it just watches me from the branches. I see no sign of the sheep though.
“Isah, did you find any?” I hear a voice call.
“No,” I respond as I had been the same way before. After a while, I call back, “Musah, did you find any?”
I wait for his response, which is the same as mine was, and continue searching. The sun is beginning to set and I see the bird again, opening its mouth this time. I cover my ears in fear, but no sound comes out. Why was I even afraid?
“Isah!” I hear a voice, but nothing else follows.
“Musah, did you find any?” I call back. I hear no response this time.
I imagine Grandmother’s face if we do not return with the flock. I am also afraid to face father and tell him the flock is missing because we fell asleep. I see the bird again. And again. I call to Musah. He does not respond. The forest is dark now. I cannot see the bird anymore.
“Isah!” A voice calls through the shadows.
“Musah!” I call back in joy. “Did you find the sheep?”
“Musah!” The voice echoes through the forest. “Isah, Musah!”
I stop in my tracks. That’s not my brother’s voice.
“Why have you fallen asleep?” The bird from before sweeps down in front of me and back into the branches of the trees.
“I’m not asleep!” I answer it in spite of myself. “I’m trying to find the sheep!”
“Your father will be upset with me if you two do not return home with the sheep!” The bird answers from the branch.
“Grandmother?” I utter in surprise at the voice.
The bird answers in a hollow echoing voice, “I was afraid that I would not find you, so I prayed for God to turn me into a bird to look for you two. You must find your brother and return home with the sheep!”
My fists are clenched so tight in fear that they begin to hurt and the bird takes flight again, disappearing in the shadows of the forest.
“Musah!” I call and begin to run to find him. “Musah!” I go on all night and never find the sheep or Musah. The sun rises much later and there is still the sound of us calling for each other.
“Isah! Musah!” The voice echoes, hollow, cold, and lonely in the dawn’s light on the forest dew. We still look for each other at night, calling each other’s name through the forest, and Grandmother flies through the forest to help us. For we can’t return home until we find the flock together.