I was about to get out of bed when Urk came into the cave.
Urk is my neighbour, who lives in the next cave over. He isn’t much of a neighbour. He can’t even throw a spear to save his life, and he nearly fainted when I gave him a woolly rhinoceros bone on his birthday. You’d think he’d never heard of cracking one open and sucking out the marrow. Also, he dresses up in leopard skins which he dyes purple with berries and red with crushed scale insects, and once I saw him braiding flowers into his hair.
Sometimes I wonder about Urk.
So there I was just lifting my sloth-skin blanket prior to climbing out of bed. My bed is a nice one, of dried grass lumped together and pressed down. It’s so warm in winter that you can barely feel the bedbugs bite at all. I was in the act of wiping the crust out of my eyes and yawning mightily when my female yipped in alarm, and there was Urk, standing right there in the cave looking down at us.
“What do you want?” I asked him, as my female, Ro, ripped the blanket out of my hands and pulled it up to cover her boobs. “I wish you’d knock before entering.”
“Can’t,” Urk replied cheerfully. “Nobody’s invented a door yet for anyone to invent the concept of a knock. Now I want you to have a look at this.”
“This what?” I peered at him and recoiled. “What have you done to your face?”
“Oh, that?” Urk rubbed his hand over his jaw, which was somehow as hairless as a female’s or a boy’s. “That’s one of my new inventions, baby. I call it a shave.”
“Shave? What do you want to do that for?” I rubbed at my beard, wincing proudly as my fingers snagged on some of my magnificent tangles. “You look like a kid.”
“I think it’s sexy,” my female, Ro, said. “You ought to do something like that, Bloog.”
“Here you are,” Urk said, and held up something I’d have thought one would use for scraping mastodon hide. “You rub it on your face and the hair is all cut off.”
“I haven’t gone crazy yet,” I mumbled. “I’m a man and men have beards.” To emphasise the point I tugged at my beard. “Long, thick beards.”
“I think I’ll use it on my legs.” Ro held out one of her legs from under the blanket. “It’d look good without the hair, don’t you think?”
“Next thing I know you’ll be bathing every full moon or something, instead of once a year like everybody.” My nostrils twitched as a breeze blew in through the cave entrance and past Urk. “What on earth?”
“That’s what I was going to show you,” Urk said triumphantly. He held out a small gourd filled with gunk. “Here.”
“Get it away from me!” I swatted at the air, desperately trying to wave away the odour. “It smells like a whole bush full of those pink flowers with the thorns.”
“That’s what I made it out of,” the lunatic said, grinning broadly. “A whole bush full of those pink flowers with the thorns.”
“Have you gone totally insane?” I asked. “I’d ask you to go see a shrink, only nobody’s invented psychiatry yet.”
“I’ll leave it here,” Urk grinned again. His teeth were big and white, not grey and worn like everybody else’s. I remembered hearing that he had stuck boar hairs to a twig and scrubbed his teeth with them twice a day. Crazy. “You can rub it on your body if you want.”
“What,” I roared, outraged, “and spoil my nice natural masculine smell for that...that stink?”
“I don’t think it’s a stink,” Ro said. “I like the smell.” She leaned forwards, sniffing, so far the blanket fell off her boobs. Urk didn’t even look at them. I told you I wondered about him.
“Oh wait,” he said, “I forgot something.” He’d stitched up his hyena skin robe to make folds in which he kept things – pockets, he called them. Reaching into one, he fetched out an object made of carved antler. “Look.”
I looked. It was horrible, a line of vicious spikes emerging from a bar at right angles. It looked like the kind of thing a deranged serial killer would use to make holes in his victims’ skulls in a Hollywood B movie, assuming someone had invented serial killers, movies, B or otherwise, and Hollywood – or right angles, come to that. “Um,” I said, shrinking warily away as far as I could.
“I call it a comb,” Urk said, waving the thing around without a care in the world. “Run it through your hair and it’ll clean it, sort out the tangles, and so on.”
“Why would I want to...” I began.
“Give it here,” Ro broke in, snatching it from Urk. Before I could react she’d stabbed it into my hair and dragged it through a few times, probably murdering a good few of my favourite lice. I yelped.
“Looks good,” Urk said appreciatively. “Well, I’ll be off. If you like them, you can pay me for them later.”
“I’m sure I’ll love them,” Ro told him. I didn’t say anything.
“Come along when you’re ready,” Urk said over his shoulder. “Gnork wants to talk to everyone.”
“What about?” I asked.
“No idea,” Urk said. “We’ll find out, I suppose.” Then he was gone, leaving behind the horrible smell of his pink thorn flower gunk.
“This is nice,” Ro said, running the comb through her hair, as though any sane female would do such a thing. “I’ll shave my legs and then rub myself over with that pink flower thing. Does it have a name, do you know?”
“I do not,” I told her disgustedly, climbing out of bed. “If you like it so much, give it a name yourself.”
“You know,” she said, combing away, “I think I will. Perhaps you’ll fume a little less when...that’s it. Perhaps...fume. Perfume.”
“Oh yes,” I said. “Of course. Right.”
“Ro’s perfume,” she replied complacently.
Sometimes I wonder about my female.
Gnork was standing in the middle of the open space before the caves, banging one stone on another. He was a dwarfish little gnome who was even worse at throwing a spear than Urk, though he knew how to crack a bone all right. He would crack and suck the marrow from all the bones he could get hold of, and he was always looking for bones. “Come on, come on,” he yelled shrilly. “Everyone come on. Zog wants to talk to you all.”
“Who’s Zog?” I asked, mystified.
“How dare you not know Zog?” Gnork said, glaring at me. “Zog is the god who lives in this stone.”
We all looked at the stone. There seemed nothing special about it.
“How do you know he lives in there?” Hork challenged him.
“How do I know?” Gnork shrieked. “How do I know? I know because...because he came to me in my dream and told me all about it. How do I know? Hah!”
Nobody had had a god come talk to them in their dreams before, so everyone, with one exception, looked at him in respectful silence. That one exception was Hork.
“What does this god of yours want?” he jeered. “Did he tell you that?”
“Of course he told me,” Gnork said. “He said he wants bones. Each time you hunt something you have to give him the best, juiciest bones, filled with the best marrow.” He licked his lips. “Or else...”
“Or else he’ll make sure the hunts fail,” Gnork said. “The hunts only succeed because of him anyway.”
“I don’t think so,” someone said.
“You’ll see,” Gnork told him. “Just wait and see.”
That day the hunt failed. This was nothing unusual – at least two-thirds of the hunts failed – but by the time we got back to the caves some of the men were already whispering that Zog had made it fail. Gnork watched us triumphantly. “Well?” he said.
Nobody said anything.
“I told you Zog would make the hunt fail,” Gnork told us.
“Most hunts fail anyway,” Hork protested. “You know that as well as I do.”
“Zog doesn’t like scoffers,” Gnork said. “If you want the hunt to succeed, you’d better shut him up.”
Everyone glared at Hork. He blinked and looked away.
“Bones,” Gnork said.
The next day the hunt was a success, and the god got his bones.
A few days later, I came back to the cave to find Ro painting her toenails.
“What,” I asked as patiently as I could, “are you doing?”
“What does it look like?” Her toenails were the colour of blood and so were her lips. “It’s one of the new ideas Urk has had. He was telling me about them.”
“One of the new ones?” I blinked. “What others does he have?”
“He gave me a soft stone to rub the dead skin off my feet, and bear fat to put on my face to moisturise the epidermis and give it a healthy glow, and...”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute,” I yelped. “And how much is all this going to cost?”
“Forty mastodon steaks,” she said indifferently. “It makes me feel good and all the other women of the tribe are envious of me, that’s what matters.” She pointed at something that lay on the bed. “That’s another of his ideas. I’m trying to think of a good name for it.”
I looked at the object. It comprised a couple of half gourds tied together and covered with leopard skin, and a kind of very short leopard skin loincloth. “What’s this?”
“I tie the top part over my boobs, and put on the loincloth, and then I lie out in the sun getting a nice tan.”
I blinked again. I seemed to be doing a lot of blinking. “What for?”
“Tans are sexy, didn’t you know?” She looked at me. “I wonder what you’re going to say if he invents high heeled shoes, darling.”
“It’s the wave of the future, baby.” Urk went back to making marks on a piece of mastodon skin. “Now look, I’m thinking of the next year’s cut of loincloths. What do you think of this?”
“I don’t think anything of this. Are you stark raving insane?”
He laughed. “Not at all, sweetheart. Just a little ahead of the times. Why should anyone, male or female, stay stuck in the boring old days? I mean...” He poked at my best bearskin wrap, heedlessly mashing some of my most cherished fleas. “Look at that. I’ll bet it’s the same style your grandpa wore.”
“It is the same one my grandpa wore,” I said stiffly. “It’s been handed down through the generations.”
“There you are then,” Urk replied cheerfully. “When will you ever get with it and embrace the future, love?”
“Never,” I said. “What’s it good for?”
“Why,” Urk said, as though speaking to a small child, “I’m creating demand, you see. People will be hunting more to have the mastodon steaks to pay me, and that means that they’ll have more mastodon steaks left over than they would otherwise, and...” His eyes took on a fanatic glow. “I can see it,” he said dreamily. “Giant companies producing Ro’s perfume and combs and other things like that. Mastodon steak manufacturers, whose products will pay for the things that these companies make. Exchanges where ordinary males and females can buy shares in the mastodon business – or the Ro’s perfume business. Just think about it!”
I thought about it and decided he was a raving loony.
“You’re round the bend,” I said.
“You can’t stop the future, baby,” he told me.
“Oh, can’t I just?” I said, and stalked off to find Gnork.
“I’m calling this High Fashion,” Urk yelled behind me.
I did not look back.
Gnork was sitting by the god Zog, sucking the marrow from a mastodon bone. There was a pile of sucked bones lying behind him. He glared up at me.
“What do you want, Bloog?”
I came right to the point. “Can you tell Zog to declare that Urk’s High Fashion thing is against his will or something?”
Gnork finished sucking and threw the bone aside. “Maybe.” He belched. “What’s in it for me?”
I sighed. “What do you want for it?”
Gnork tilted his head, considering. “Two hundred mastodon steaks,” he said. “That sounds about right.”
“Two hundred?” I yelped. “Urk’s High Fashion is only costing me forty!”
“So far,” Gnork said darkly. “Wait till he invents fancy hats and knee-high boots and see what you end up paying.”
I gulped. “All right. Two hundred steaks.”
Gnork nodded and raised his stone to start banging on Zog and summon the tribe. But before he even got in the first blow, there was a commotion.
It was Hork’s female, Glood. She was breathing in the smoke of some leaves she held in one hand, and was, apart from some flowers in her hair, stark naked.
“Peace and love and all that groovy stuff,” she warbled, puffing away at the burning leaves. “Get with the flower power, everybody!”
Hork came up to us, looking disturbed. “What on earth do we do about this?”
I looked at Gnork. Gnork looked at me.
“You’d better tell Zog to invent the Taliban while you’re about it,” I said.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2015