A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi
“But chief, I do not understand.” The man sounded frustrated. The argument between the tribesman and the chief had been going on for hours now, and it seemed neither party was going to budge from their viewpoint.
“He has more shiny rocks than you, so he gets to be the husband of my daughter, and the next in line to be the chief of this tribe. What’s so hard to understand about that?” The chief repeated his stance on the subject for the umpteenth time.
“The shiny rocks have no value. They are precious only because we think they are precious. The whole tribe has decided to use the shiny rocks for trade, and that is why you think he is rich. In reality, he is not.” It seemed as if the chief and the tribesman were caught in an infinite loop, repeating the same arguments over and over again.
“And what is your idea of reality? You draw pictures on cave walls for a living. You get paid in pebbles for what you do. You think I would marry my daughter to you so that she could live a life of poverty in your den? You are not that good of a hunter, and you are not even a good painter. I have to think about my daughter’s future, and in her future I want a mountain of shiny rocks, not a collection of mediocre cave paintings. I would have no more discussion on this topic, you may leave now.” With that the chief pointed towards the opening of the cave, and the tribesman had no option but to leave.
He went back to his place, gathered the materials he needed to carve paintings on the wall, and started on a half finished piece in a dark corner. This will be my best work. When they look at this painting, they will shower me with shiny rocks. They will put in a good word with the chief. They will…they will…
His train of thought suddenly disappeared, and his inner voice was replaced by that of the chief “You are not that good of a hunter, and you are not even a good painter”. He thought he had shrugged those words away, but they were now etched in his mind. He could hear the chief say it over and over again. He didn't realize that he had stopped working on the painting. His hand was still in the air, and he was frozen in his place. He must have spent an eternity in that position because his shoulder and elbow started to hurt, and the physical pain shook him out of the self pity he was feeling at that moment.
In those cruel moments, the severity of the situation came crashing down on him. The love of his life was going to be married off to another man, a man who inherited a great pile of shiny rocks from his father, a man who did not love her, a man who just wanted her so he could become the next chief. And worst of all the chief knew exactly why that man wished to marry his daughter.
I would go to her. We would run away. The thought lifted his spirit. He put down the chisel and headed out of the cave. After searching for a while he found her by the river. The sunlight filtering through the leaves fell on her shiny hair, and at that moment she appeared more beautiful to him than ever before. It did not surprise him; she had a habit of appearing more beautiful every time he saw her, or may be it was his love for her growing inside of him that tricked his eyes. Whatever the reason, he found his sorrows dissipating at the very sight of her.
“I talked to him, but he wouldn't listen. His mind is made up, and he would marry you to that idiot.” He sounded apologetic for a second but his tone changed quickly, “Let’s run away. We could go find another tribe. Claim that our tribe was killed by saber tooth tigers. Or we could find a nice quiet place away from all the tribes. We could still be together. Let’s go right now.”
There was a hint of a tear in her eye, but her face remained expressionless. He looked at her face and couldn't detect anything, there was no love, no sadness, no anger, nothing. Moments passed and nothing was said between the two of them, but the silence spoke more than words ever could. When she finally parted her lips the only thing she could say was, “Why couldn't you have more shiny rocks?”
Defeated, he walked away and wandered aimlessly for hours. His mind was foggy with depression, and he didn't know where he was going. Yet, he found himself in his den at the end of his journey. Once inside, he went straight for the chisel, and started destroying the wall painting in a fit of rage. After several minutes, he collapsed to the floor in exhaustion. He lay there and cried, and finally got up when he ran out of tears.
A time will come when men will not be measured by what they can hunt and kill. Their true worth will not be judged by the number of shiny rocks they hold in their possession. The thought crossed his mind as if someone else was speaking to him. I wish I was born in such a time, instead of this, the age of shiny rocks.
He felt the incomplete drawing on the wall calling to him as he picked up the chisel again.