“Here, you have no name,” Chief Bongo said. “You have no name until you are given a name.”
He waved a strong wand in front of me and I couldn’t remember what my name was. I was to be initiated.
Bongo took me on a tour of Musicologum.
“Meet ancestor Chieftain Homunculus,” Bongo says and points to an exhibit holding a primitive woodwind yodel that stretches from the ground up to above the crown of my head.
“Homunculus was very tall. He blew through this trumpet the sounds of our people—deep peace, deep tranquility.”
Bongo instructed me to put my hand on the yodel. I felt a strong presence of hummingbirds and large rivers, avalanches and the sweet scent of lightly-purpled flowers.
I saw the myriad ways in which I had been cruel or selfish in the history of my life. I wondered if a sea monster might swallow me. I felt as if the entire life process was a hideous exercise in humiliating my existence. I writhed under this difficulty.
Then I heard a faint whisp of sound, breathy in thunder-coated rough-softness. The sound warbled as it reached my mind, but when it entered it became a swift and lazy brook that carried me into a deep cove. I ducked underwater. There were glorious reefs, tiny anemones, talking fish. I popped my head back up and realized I was in a giant ocean.
The ocean had a choppy water. It began to shake and the waves all collected in a uniform fashion. They all began to shake at the same height, same spread, mathematical. The whole ocean boiled down to a small quivering in its surface tension and the whisp became a bellow. The water was calm, but it became heavier to hold up my body. I sank and was swallowed by the ocean.
“That is the song of Homunculus,” the chief remarked. He instructed me to follow him to a tree stump marked with sad and/or violent-looking engravings.
A man wearing a rooster’s skull on his head grunted at me and furrowed his look. “You must use this,” he said, and retrieved from his hut a caged owl. The owl looked nervous.
“I will now sacrifice this owl for you,” the man said. “You must use this.”
I stood there feeling very culpable. Both the chief and the rooster man had severe facial expressions and I was scared of them. I didn’t want to make them angry. I decided I would show my reservations about killing an owl by making a patronizing/ironic look on my face, and try to give off an aura of condescension about the matter.
The man took the owl out of the cage. “Hoot,” the owl said. The owl was held sideways on the tree stump. Its wings were wrestling with the firm grasp of strong hands. In one sudden motion the man unsheathed his knife and chopped the owl’s head off. It looked like you’d expect it to, the owl had his head cut off. There was more blood and it kept pooling up. The blood soaked the stump as if it had all the time in the world. And yet it moved quickly.
I puzzled over the apparent paradox when I realized I had seen death and should feel remorseful or at least profound and serious.
“Life is beautiful,” the rooster man intoned as he looked downward. Though his eyes did not contact mine, the meaning in his voice felt like he directed a main-line telegraph straight into my brain, everything he had seen, felt, heard up to that very culminating moment was just for me. All of it had been just for me.
The owl’s blood and twitching body seemed to swallow the whole of the world in this beauty I now felt permitted to appreciate. Bongo returned with a laurel of garnets and painted acorns that he placed on my head. He gave me a necklace made of cocoa beans and the pits of tropical fruit. He bent down to the ground and touched the tips of each of my toes slightly with the smallest point of his tongue.
“You are now one of us,” he said, “your name is Sleepy Morning.” I inhaled half a breath. Freeze-frame cognition-stop.
“But you cannot live with us,” he said. “You are wrong for this place. You are Sleepy Morning, and you must go from here.”
He raised his staff and pointed to a beckoning forest path whose tree twigs held pink eyes and whose flowers held question marks in their centers.
“Go!” he shouted in a voice simultaneously louder and softer than the apocalypse.
I, Sleepy Morning, took my things and left for the forest path.