A bright shower of red stars lit up the night, turning purple, green, and then finally dissolving into nothingness, leaving the inky blue sky dark once again. There was another bang and more fireworks, as the villagers scattered below squealed in excitement. It was their new year after all, they were in a festive mood; and the arrival of visitors bearing these incredible shooting stars pushed many to a near-frenzy.
They were in awe at the display, they had never seen anything like it before, not even those who had been to the big city. They wrung their hands in excitement, stomped, clapped and cheered. Yusa stood away from everyone else, caught up in the magic of the dazzling lights, but not convinced yet.
The strangers had arrived two days earlier, bringing along gifts and sweet words dripping in promises of prosperity. The chief and village elders, along with almost two-thirds of the villagers hadn’t been hard to convince, the men hadn’t gone through half their cheap trinkets before they had been welcomed with open arms. Yusa and a few others had been wary at first, then suspicious, as the men made their request known. Could they have a little land in this vast landscape? Just a little…
The fireworks were over. The magic was finished for Yusa, but not for the villagers who were just getting started. The strange men had brought a new liquor with them, very unlike the fermented mango liquor they were used to.
This strange brew had turned the usually calm and sober-minded men and women into cackling, exuberant balls of energy. Drums beat, they danced, laughed, swapped stories and tawdry jokes and celebrated with an animation like never before. Yusa watched the unfolding mayhem with growing incredulity, until the chief got into a hopping match with a chicken, which also looked inebriated, and decided she’d spare herself the nonsense and go to bed.
It was a crisp, chilly morning. The village, built by a broad river, nestled in a valley between two towering mountain ranges, was still dark and covered in shadow. High up on the crests, golden light was turning the blue of the mountains to pink and peach.
Yusa sat on a ledge just below one of the lower summits in the west range, and watched as the sun came up and bathed the world in yellow warmth.
She stretched luxuriously and wrapped her fur around her shoulders as she drank in the magnificent view around and below her. The river sparkled as the sunlight finally swept into the valley bottom, illuminating the water and the lush vegetation that grew thick on its banks.
The village was just waking up, she could tell by the few spirals of smoke rising up from it, they had slept in late, Yusa thought with a smirk at the antics of the previous night. She’d better get back, remembering she’d not yet baked bread.
Yusa was back in the village before anyone had yet stepped foot outdoors. Fires rose from almost all the huts scattered about the village square, so Yusa knew she had to hurry.
Stopping at a large hut with a bigger chimney than those around it, she unlocked it, quickly built a fire, kneaded the dough she had left proofing the night before and was already done with her first batch of bread when the first stragglers showed up bleary-eyed at the bakery door. It wasn’t long before the hut was crammed with hungry villagers angling to get one of Yusa’s fresh loaves.
“…Yup, signed it last night…I think they’ll be finalising the minor finer details with some big lawyer today…”
“…I don’t like it… did anyone actually even see what they signed?’
“…Who cares? We’ll all be rich!”
Yusa couldn’t ignore the snippets of information anymore and pulled aside a young girl who had delivered bread for her before, giving her instructions even as she backed out of the hut.
The chief's hut was surrounded with red-eyed men, villagers, elders and the visitors, all looking tired but happy. Yusa marched right in.
“What’s this I hear about land having been signed away? As communal land, you cannot make this decision alone.”
“Come now Yusa,” the chief looked especially weary. Must be all that chicken dancing, Yusa thought wryly, “it’s only a bit of the land at the river bend, and we have plenty left over…”
“What! That’s the most fertile of our lands where the water slows down and filters clear for us to drink! It’s where the wild herbs we pick for our medicine…” Yusa’s eyes bulged and nostrils flared, and she sputtered, “Are you mad?!”
The raised voice had attracted most of the village. Her outburst had been loud enough for even those by their hearths and at the bakery to hear.
And not a few of them were nodding in agreement. The chief looked stricken, gawping from the visitors who were looking livid and the other elders who seemed to be rallying behind Yusa.
“We had an agreement…!” one of the visitors yelled, a short pudgy man who pushed past Yusa to wave a paper in the chief's face.
Yusa bristled with anger, snatched the paper from his fingers and tossed it into the fire where a pot of tea was brewing.
“You… You…” the man stepped up to Yusa punching a stubby finger in her face, then slowly lowered it as he caught the glares of the villagers standing at the ready behind her.
“I think it is time your visit comes to an end,” the chief spoke softly but clearly. “As you can see,” he pointed to the fire, to the paper-turned-ash, “We have no deal.”
Later, the sweet mango liquor burned her throat deliciously, warming more than her bones where she sat high up the mountainside.
The entire valley below was awash with golden light, the river glinting fiery red in some spots, the vegetation glowing luminescent.
Yusa sighed. How could anyone even consider selling off this beautiful motherland? It was priceless.