Orange Dawn - Chapter 7

John Clark Smith
On the Monday of the next week, Harding's oldest citizen, Tosh Jones, visited us. The mass of wrinkles on his dry face, as well as the orange tinge to his skin, was shocking at first. If not for his steady walk and the fire of life in his eyes, I would have thought he was near death.
Aphra took Tosh by the hand into the hut. He sat down out of breath at the table. After a minute or two, he began shaking his head and making sounds of relief, as if a great pressure had been taken off him.
“I need to tell you…” he said, gasping.
“It’s fine, Grandpa Tosh,” Aphra said. “Lie down and rest.”
“But they may be following…Go. Now. Look.”
“I will,” I said, patting him on his shoulder.
I went to the door and looked out, then returned to him. “No one.”
We took him over to a cot, removed his shoes and covered him with a blanket. In a few minutes he was sleeping as if he hadn’t slept for a long time.

He was still asleep after Aphra and I returned from our morning explorations. When Tosh did awake, he stood up in a state of alarm, and said, “Quickly! We must go!”
I urged him to sit back down on the bed and explain.
"First we must leave. Then I’ll talk."
His destination was a mountain much higher than the ones we were accustomed to. Almost immediately, as we began our climb, Tosh calmed. It was a gentle slope, but it still required stamina. Clearly here was a man who had spent his life roaming in the mountains.
“Before you ask, Aphra, your mother is fine. In fact, that’s part of the reason I’m here. She wanted to let you know. And Glen said it was time for me to come to bring you the news.”
“Are we going back?” Aphra said, her voice full of hope.
“No, no, I’m sorry, Aphra.”
Aphra slumped, disappointed, and stopped to pet Peirce.
“What was that big gathering in the square?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Aphra, “what happened?”
“It all goes back to one morning several weeks ago, when we all awoke to notices pinned around the city. It said, ‘If you are interested in stopping the orange, come to the square at noon on Wednesday.’
“That sure got us excited. Though to be honest, some thought it was a hoax.”
“But it must have brought hope,” I said.
“It did,” Tosh said. “I was almost giddy.”
Aphra pointed at a tree a hundred feet ahead of us.
“I can’t believe it,” I said. “A Dark-eyed Junco. They’re never here in the summer. Check it off, Aphra.”
“Shh,” Aphra said. “I want to get up close. Here, Tosh, hold on to Peirce. I don’t want him to spook it.”
Tosh took the leash. Peirce tugged and whined.
I squatted beside him. “Now boy, you know how the birds feel about you.”
We circled around the tree so we ourselves wouldn’t spook it. We were now directly below the bird so that its white belly was visible.
It jumped up to another branch. and began to sing – a fast whistle with little change in pitch. Aphra tried to imitate it without success.
We high-fived and stood up. The Junco flew off.
“Sorry to stop you, Tosh, but that one wasn’t even on our list.”
“I understand. Haven’t seen one of those myself.”
“So what happened on Wednesday?” Aphra asked.
"The government announced a curfew for that lunch period. They claimed some fanatic was planning on bombing the square.”
"Did the person appear?” I took my turn holding on to Peirce’s leash.
“Glen works at the café in the square. He said no one appeared; there was no bomb. The next week the same notices were pinned in different locations, again the government called a curfew, again used the bomb threat, and again nothing happened. By then we had our doubts.”
Tosh stopped to rest on the slope. He massaged his legs and stretched them out. Aphra and I weren’t tired, but we sat down beside him. I knew that the next incline would be more strenuous. Peirce was happy to watch a bunch of ants near an ant hill.
"We were so tired of having no answers. Tired of the orange.”
“I would’ve thought a few of the citizens would’ve showed up,” I said.
“After the second curfew, some did protest. But they were too few in numbers.”
With a little support from me, Tosh stood up and started walking again.
“Some of them were jailed. Not your mother, Aphra. Probably because she was a friend of Paul’s.”
“What happened the next week?” Aphra said anxiously.
“Well, Wednesday morning came. Morning registration, everything routine.
“No notices. No curfew. At first we didn’t know what to do, but after much discussion the group decided we would return to the square at noon.”
“Mummy?” Aphra asked.
“Yes, and Paul and Abe. Many more came in the end. Even the Mayor came out onto his balcony, protected by Guards. The square was alive again.”
Tosh stumbled and fell. I helped him to his feet and led him to a log under the shade of several large eastern Hemlocks that stood over a hundred feet. He slowly bent and sat upon it, breathing a great sigh.
“I’ll be fine in a few minutes.”
We rested for a while, watching Aphra throw a stick for Peirce. Sometimes he couldn’t find it so she would find it herself, and Peirce would chase after her, not after the stick. Or Aphra threw the stick in the air and Peirce would jump and catch it in his mouth. They enjoyed this game until a squirrel distracted him. Then Aphra lay on the ground to spy on the lives of small creatures. Her hair melded in with the grass as she stared at white flies, aphids and pine beetles in a chunk of rotted wood.
When we continued, I waited for him to pick up his narrative. Aphra had no such tact.
“What happened next?”
"Well, at exactly noon, we heard this booming electronic voice from the top of one of the buildings: Silence! Silence! Silence!
“The crowd became silent. The soldiers were looking in every direction. The voice continued:
Why haven’t you come? Have you become sheep? For months the government has told you that the orange will disappear! Has it disappeared? No! So now you must prove your courage! You mustn’t listen to the authorities! You must listen only to yourselves. I will be here next Wednesday. In person. I will tell you what must be done to be rid of the orange forever.
"We could see the Special Forces scurrying about on top of the buildings. Many of us also were looking for the location of the voice. Who would broadcast such a message? Someone claimed to have a way to end the orange. Except for me, the others scattered around the square to see if they detected any speaker. I started to walk back and forth in an almost lightheaded nervousness. Some were jumping up and down. Some were yelling, as if the orange had already disappeared. If the Guard and the local police weren’t surrounding us, we might have burst into exuberant clapping. Yes, the voice threatened us. Yes, the voice called us cowards. But I didn’t care. The sincerity in the voice made me believe there was a chance. I watched the authorities frantically try to find the hiding source for the sound. My neck strained upward watching their search; but then suddenly Glen with Melinda appeared and stood beside me. I said, ‘I hope they don’t find it.’ Glen looked at me and smiled.”


[To be continued ...]

No comments :

Post a Comment

We welcome your comments related to the article and the topic being discussed. We expect the comments to be courteous, and respectful of the author and other commenters. Setu reserves the right to moderate, remove or reject comments that contain foul language, insult, hatred, personal information or indicate bad intention. The views expressed in comments reflect those of the commenter, not the official views of the Setu editorial board. प्रकाशित रचना से सम्बंधित शालीन सम्वाद का स्वागत है।