There once was a man named Imber. Imber lived alone in a tiny hut at the tip of a tiny sliver of of a cliff jutting out above the sea. He lived off the land, hunting and scavenging in the nearby jungle for food and material but never taking more than he needed.
One day Imber found himself deeper in the jungle than he’d ever been. The Mana’Olai who’d moved into the area a few months prior had eaten all the local game. Normally he never would’ve tracked a boar so far into the forest, but Imber was very, very tired of living on fruit and fish. The steady trail of hoof prints brought Imber to a small clearing. The soft soil and clinging scrub of the jungle floor suddenly became barren and black and hard, crisscrossed with cracks and fissures. Imber didn’t like the heavy, oppressive feel of the place, but he’d come too far to just give up and go home empty-handed. He let his spear lead the way, clenched in white-knuckled hands.
The tracks ended abruptly at a small pile of ash in the center of the clearing. The remains of a campfire, perhaps, judging by the size of it. Imber kicked the ash with his bare foot in frustration. He was not an educated man in the usual sense, able neither to read nor write, but Imber knew that boars didn’t just spontaneously combust. The animal had to have gone somewhere.
“Good afternoon,” a small, soft voice said hesitantly.
His nerves on end, Imber whirled to face the speaker with his spear at the ready. The voice belonged to a tiny old woman standing just in front of a pair of charred trees at the edge of the clearing that bent together in a way strangely reminiscent of a door. She leaned heavily on a twisted walking stick, clothed in layer after layer of blackened, tattered rags despite the heat and humidity. Bushy gray hair sprang upward in thick patches from her high, sloping skull. She seemed somehow even warmer than her surroundings, the warmth radiating from her body in waves that distorted the jungle behind her.
“G-good afternoon,” Imber stuttered, lowering his spear and bowing politely. “What are you doing out here all alone?”
“I come here sometimes to ponder life,” she replied slowly. “It’s a beautiful spot, don’t you think?”
Honest to a fault, Imber shook his head. “It’s very dreary.”
The woman shifted, a subtle movement that conveyed a world of displeasure. The gesture was lost on Imber. “And what type of place do you prefer?”
Imber answered without hesitation. “My home, for one.” And with that, Imber launched into a monologue about the only topic in the world that could make speak that passionately for that long.
“My grandmother was the first to tell me about the sunset. She would sit me on her lap and hold my hands in hers and tell me about the D’battu, about the great exodus across the ocean from slavery at the hands of the terrible God Kings. Food was scarce, potable water even more so. The days were long and hot, the ramshackle rafts offering no protection from the elements. She insisted that the nights were the worst. In the dark she couldn’t see the other sailors, or the raft beneath her feet, or even the sea itself. In the dark you didn’t know if you were still really alive. That moment when the sky turned orange and pink and red, when the sun first peeked above the horizon—that was what kept her going, what reminded her that she was on her way to a better life.
“I made my grandmother tell me that story every day until the day she died. After the funeral I set out on my own, determined to see the sunrise with my own two eyes. I had never seen one—we lived in a deep valley surrounded by treacherous mountains that blocked the view, and the forest beyond was no help. I still don’t remember how long I walked, or even how I knew I was going in the right direction. But eventually I saw the sea, and with my heart soaring I walked all the way to the cliff where I would build my home. That first sunrise was even more glorious as my grandmother had told me.
“My home only has three walls. Nothing blocks my view of the horizon. Those first tendrils of sunrise wake me every morning, as gentle as my mother used to when I was a child. I roll out of bed and sit on the edge of the cliff to greet the sun and I know that I am still alive.”
The old woman stood stock still as Imber spoke then yawned when he finished. “So you’re the one that lives on the cliff,” she said mischievously. “How would you like to get an even closer look at the sunrise?”
“I’d like nothing better!”