The last Neanderthal

Vaja has crossed the water alone after burying Tahna under darkness, debarking at sunrise below the eastern face of the limestone promontory. The windswept yellow sand of the savannah is in his beard and mouth as he makes his way up the rock, to the cave some twenty metres above. Soon the weather will change from the dry warm wind of the levant to cool and wet days on open scrubland. Everything changes, says Vaja, to no one.

He lights a fire on the hearth, unpacks the satchel. He rests against the wall of the cave. Everything is as he and Tahna left it weeks ago. Tomorrow he will go out to the salt marshes to look for rabbits or perhaps harvest mussels from the sea. He remembers that the dolphin time is approaching. If he is feeling up to it he will take the lucky spear and test his fortune. A gifted knapper, he will sharpen the chert and go in search of food. In the meantime he will try to sleep, but the pain will overtake him.

In the morning he gathers his tools and eats the last of the smoked mammoth and tubers. He looks to the horizon, wind in his face, and remembers the last time he saw the rising sun from here. Tahna was with him then. They talked of their approaching journey while Vaja hafted a spear and Tahna denuded the corvids of their feathers. They had seen so much death recently that they wondered Could God be angry with us?

Vaja said: we will cross the water where the Seer lives and he will tell us what to do.

As the morning light swells Vaja recollects their final days together. Tahna sang a song she had learned as a child. The song told of their people’s origins in the time of the Great Cold, when the forefathers led villages south across the icy plain. Vaja went out to the savannah and gathered aromatic herbs and tussock for weaving. In the dim firelight they remembered better times. The good times will come back, said Vaja. I know, said Tahna.

The wind is high today along the coast. Vaja can feel the weather is changing. He sits in the grass near a fragrant Juniper, turning the spear in his hands, gazing across the scrub. He knows that one day he will be gathered back into the fold of the departed. The Seer has told him so. He will hold Tahna in his arms again. The good times will return. God knows our suffering and is waiting for all of us—all Manaona—on the other side.

That is why Vaja is waiting for the sign near the fragrant Juniper. He will kill the prey that Xinnu sends and burn it as an offering. The good times will return for all Manaona. Vaja will then write a song like the one Tahna learned as a child, and the people will sing it evermore. The future generations will remember this time until they are gathered into the spirit realm, making their journey across a peninsula of bright light to the distant lands of immortality.

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