I stand at the edge, overlooking the world. It’s flat, contrary to popular belief. Not the earth, but the world – my world.
Everything is cyclical. The stars, the plants, even human history. Circles are the perfect shape. Strange, smooth, and undefined, rolling where they want without you having a say in the matter. They are everywhere.
A dead dog returns to the earth, and its spirit is remade into a lion.
“Hey! Mister Philosopher, what you thinking about now?” I glance at Tau, smooth wrinkles curved into a smile.
“I’m thinking about Skye… It’s a place back home.”
His narrowed brows return to their original, happy place. “Ohhh, Angel-Land. I call it milk land because all the people are so white.”
I force a smile. “Yeah.”
His laugh resembles a high-pitched squeal. It reminds me of the laugh my uncle had. He walks around me to see what I’m staring at.
“There are patterns there in the earth. Circles. Like these.” I trace the faded engraving on the wall.
“Yes, circles. That is symbol for life.” He raises a weathered hand to trace the circles as well. “See here? Man.”
I look at the faint stick figure drawn in the center. “Yes, I didn’t see that, but I knew circles meant life. You know, it’s a symbol for hope.”
“Ah, ah-ha,” Tau nods. I almost go back to my journal when Tau grabs my hand. I look at his face, now solemn, making his chiseled features with leathery sagging skin match his mood. His solemnity reminds me of old pictures of native American chiefs staring distantly yet defiantly into the camera. “Why do you think so much, Mister Philosopher?”
To begin with, I should have never told the people that my name was Mister Joe Evans, paleontologist and historian. Tau had been so pleased to learn that my “paleontology” title came with the self-proclaimed title of “philosopher.” He’d asked what that meant, and I, a bit annoyed at the time though now I desperately regret the decision, told him it was a term for someone who thinks. His entire face had lit up, the corners of his mouth nearly touching his ears, and it became my new name, because Mister Philosopher is a much more interesting name than Joe.
When Tau first referred to me by this name, his sons had stared at him wide-eyed. Then they began trying to say it. Soon their wives and children and friends joined in until the small group of Himba had erupted into series of laughter and chanting Fil-oe-se-fer Fis–oe-se-fer.
I shrug. “I’m curious, is all.”
“That why you study my people? Leave big house and family to live in hut?”
“Yes.” I return to staring at the runes, if that’s what they could be called. Emblems might be a better word. Symbols left behind by early philosophers and historians who did not want their existence in the world to disappear. Their flash of light existences carved here in these stones.
“But you not study people here.”
“I’m studying the history of people,” I say quietly. There’s probably more symbols behind all the vines and discoloration.
“Hm. Not philosopher.”
“It’s all connected, Tau.” I feel myself getting annoyed. “History, sociology, paleontology, philosophy.”
“Big words… So, you go to different places, look at things, then think about them. This your job?”
I stop feeling the stones and stand up. “Yep. Basically.” When I look at him, he looks annoyed too. Then he smiles, and it looks like pity. He pities me, here on a grant from Oxford University in my slightly faded Levis and light sensitive glasses. Him, wearing a layered skirt the color of his skin with nothing underneath, no shoes, and a tight brown headwrap, the way all the elders of the eastern Himba tribe dress, probably the way all the Himba in Namibia dress.
Something plucks at my heart, and I feel it vibrate down to my stomach, threatening to make a noise.
“Those people?” He motions to the drawings. “Not my people.”
“What? But they–”
“They lie,” Tau interrupts with a laugh. I expect the vibrating chord inside of me to fade, but instead it gets stronger. Why would Tau’s people lie to me? They seemed so somber, all except for him, one of the elders still strong enough to walk the mountain, tasked with helping me understand things, who secretly annoyed me because my own grandfather had died of Alzheimer’s two years younger than Tau’s age. “It funny,” Tau shrugs, still smiling. “Not much fun here. Not many strangers from milk land… Come.” He holds his willowy arm out for me. “I show you something.”
He takes me to the top of the mountain, past the smooth, vine-covered rocks that were evidently peculiar to the curious eye. Rocks that told the stories of not Tau’s people.
“My people come from over those mountains.”
I glance at the sky.
“That’s… northwest. Beyond that is the sea.”
“Yes.” Tau nods. “Yes.”
“I didn’t know you came from the sea.”
“All people come from water and dust. Those people?” He points back to the rocks. “They left long before, go to different water.”
“Why did your Goya think it would be funny to lie to me.”
Tau laughs again. “Because. It funny.”
I stare at the green with brown jagged rocks coloring the mountains in a distinct American camouflage hue.
“Do you know anything about those people?”
“Do you know where?”
“No worry of where. Over more mountains. More water more dust. Maybe are in milk land now.”
“Tau, do your people have any engravings.”
Tau laughs and smiles at me, like the answer is an ancient family secret, and I, a child, did not have the authority to ask my grandfather, though he thought my innocent naivety adorable.
“Why you ask, Mister Philosopher? You have my people to talk.”
“Not when they lie to me,” I mutter.
“They no lie,” Tau says somberly. “You no hear. They say look at rocks. You think. You think for your job, and you think wrong.”
I sigh, and Tau looks at me with that grave, carven expression again, like the child is finally old enough to understand.
“We tell stories of past. No need for stones or pictures or circles. Only when we leave.”
“Why? Why only when you leave?”
I wait for him to finish, but when he mumbles something in a low voice, too low for me to hear and understand, I realize that he may not know this word in English.
“You don’t want to be forgotten? You want the people after you, if there are any who come after you, to know about you?”
He smiles. “And for our children. And their children. And their children. If they ever come back, they know why.”
“Why you left?”
“Yes.” He looks back towards the mountains. “You not first milk man to come, to tell our people of big houses and things. But I want to follow my fathers. If I live in big house, I will think about here. I will think about my fathers, the circle they left behind unfinished.”
The circles… They had been complete, similar to the circles left by my fathers in England, but were connected by lines. They were cyclical, like staring down the eye of a tornado, a spiral, and perfect Fibonacci sequence, a golden ratio.
“That mark…” Tau continues, holding up his fingers to make the symbol of a circle. “…made of lines.”
I looked at how each finger joint made a tiny corner on the outer rim of the circle, like a smoothened decagon.
“These lines are life. This shape is us.”
The circles are made of tiny lines, each line representing a life of a man or a woman and all of their ancestors, giving only illusion of a perfectly smoothened shape. Somewhere, our first ancestor was a line – not a circle – because nothing lasts forever except for God and maybe certain prevalent emotions like hope, grief, fear, or happiness. But aren’t those even made of tiny lines of beginnings and endings? And out of that line came more lines, and more, until families and even nations and races were divided into different circles, still connected somehow, like a spiral. Still growing, with each line making the appearance smoother.”
“How do you finish the circle.”
“No.” Tau smiled at his own rough-edged circle made with his thumbs and index fingers. “Can only help make circle. Not up to us to finish.”
(Photo: Robert Lukeman)