Tas woke up in his small bed, laying flat on his stomach. His back ached from the day before, he had slightly tweaked it when throwing a box aside. He was full from the night before, having eaten two dinners to make up for the long work week. Today was sunday, his day off.
The sun was high in the sky before he got out of bed and he took his time to wash and dress. Not that it was much of an event to begin with considering he wore one cloth during the day.
He set out into a hot day, broken by mists and gusts of wind from the ocean. He went to the center of town, by the fountain and wells and bath houses to meet Annu and a couple of other coworkers from the port. They would spent the day outside of the city, pulled by a cart that Annu had arranged earlier in the week.
He arrived to see them already departing. Tas realized suddenly that they would not stop for him and ran to catch up, sprinting on the cobbled roads. He jumped from a risen rock onto the side of the wooden supports and found footing. He climbed up and swung his leg over the side, tumbling onto Dill, who then shoved and rolled him into the center of the cart.
Tas rose immediately, sensing no injury and shook the dust off his body then rearranged his hard and sat. They all laughed together as he did this, first Annu howled, then the rest followed.
“We thought you had forgotten us!” Annu exclaimed in between waves of ravenous shaking laughter. Tas couldn’t help but keep a grin for the next fifteen minutes while they reveled in the morning’s events. They left the city walls and forgot the city behind them as the moved south, into the jungle.
It grew warmer and warmer as they went deeper and deeper into the semi-dark, canopy of trees. The cart became rather rickety after a bit and so Tas left the cart to walk. A few minutes later, the cart-wheel snapped and they were forced to continue on foot, taking their food and supplies with them.
Annu seemed to be extremely frustrated by the breaking of the cart, but he kept to himself and helped to portion out the goods so they could take what they needed. “They journey home will take 3 extra days,” he said as Tas collected his portion. After they had distributed evenly amongst the six of them, they ate.
Annu pulled out a surprise of beer and some other rather harsh liquid. It was after mid-day and Tas had often seen the older men drinking at night. They called it boozing. Normally, he didn’t waste his money, but today he would drink with Annu. They clinked glasses and then took huge gulps, exhausted from the long haul from the city.
“You see my friend?” Annu asked, impassioned. “This is where you can truly find god.” He hugged and tree and then soon found himself covered in ants. Tas and the other howled with laughter as Annu’s cries of passion became cries of torture. He found his way to a large puddle by the base of a tree and then ants left him with countless red spots and bites. Tas truly felt bad, but let a last chuckle escape his lips before helping his friend.
“Careful,” Patel said sharply, looking straight at Tas. Don’t let yourself be overcome by the jungle. He looked off seriously as he finished, “I’ve lost a few friends out here… and I have a bad feeling about this.” He looked behind and all around, then moved his gaze up, into the trees.
Annu, finally recovering, said swiftly, “you think we are being tracked?”
“Yah,” Patel said. “My gut tells me yes.” But right now, there’s nothing we can do. He pointed towards the thick of the jungle, “we have to head towards the temple. There will be a clearing, and the ruins we seek there. Though, we will have to travel into the night. Which is not advised.” He looked harshly into the thick of the trees, his machete readied.
For the next three hours, they cut and hacked their way through the thick jungle brush, stopping every hour for a minute for water. Tas felt as though he had sweat every inch of his energy onto the forest floor, but kept finding more and more energy. He thought back to his days in the desert and found that this was not so hard in comparison. It made him smile to think of the old man and his teachings.
Every day, the lessons seemed to make more sense, but he could not say why. Everything else seemed to be more shallow and difficult at the same time without him. Though he was still angry about his last antic. Tas’ head still hadn’t fully recovered, though he felt that eventually it would.
They came to a clearing at last, but before entering the ruined temples, Patel stopped them. Ahead, through the last of the brush, Tas could see two white tigers, huge, roaming outside of one of the ruined structures. And when the second tiger moved away from the entrance, they could see three cubs, all very small. The mother seemed to have a roaming range, but Patel turned them around.
They were lucky to have seen the tigers before going any further. The entire crew started to move further north, towards the road, until suddenly Nilesh cried from behind to run. Out of the corner of his eye, before he could start sprinting, Tas saw a flash of white leaping towards them, far away but moving so fast. He turned and ran, as fast as he could. He saw Patel in front slashing through the jungle, and trudged through the thick mud and endless brush after him. Eventually, Annu caught up to them, and so did Nilesh, though Nilesh wouldn’t speak. Having called the alarm he had been last.
That meant Corle and Vesu were lost, or injured. But the other didn’t want to return and search for them, for fear of the tigers hunting them. Annu looked very sad for the rest of the day as this had been his idea. Tas tried to cheer him up, explaining that no one could have foreseen tigers in the future, but Annu would not hear it.
They spent the night further north towards the main road, paranoid and with little sleep. Tas could see Annu in torment and began to realize that Corle and Vesu had been his friends.
Tas supposed that he felt sad, but he also felt very lucky. He had survived a beast that would no doubt kill him at a moments notice. So strong, so powerful, pouncing towards them faster than he could look. He dreamed of its prowess and felt drawn to them in a way that he couldn’t explain.
In the morning they set out to leave, but Tas did not want to. He felt that he liked the wildness of the jungle, the loud noises and the endless brush. Annu looked at him like he was crazy. How would he eat? Tas replied that he did not know, but that he was sure he could find a way. Annu scoffed at him and left without a backwards glance.
Tas couldn’t help but feel a bit sad at his friend. He would not stay forever. He was tasked with returning to the old man, but he felt as though he should stay for a small time, to learn the wild ways of this place. He could hear the voice in his head, let go. And that night, he slept like a child after his meditation that was both louder and more peaceful than any he had ever experienced. But his stomach grumbled as he moved to sleep and he knew that in the morning he would find his food in the wild and so he grinned, unseen in the dark and noisy night.