A Thousand Words for Snow – Part Two


Continued from part one, which you can read here.

4.

The press conference is held in the morning. When the general delegates arrive, a line of important speakers are already on the stage. Tekk is on the stage too with a nametag on his chest. He is given a place at the side of the table, next to Hans.

The chairman makes a welcoming speech and emphasizes the deep importance of research into climate change. His speech is long. Tekk starts to doze, slumping in his seat. Then the chair begins to introduce the delegates on the stage: scientists, professors, activists, and so on. When he gets to Tekk, he announces Tekk as the ‘last Nanook from Greenland: the ice melting community.’ The audience applauds with excitement, while cameras click frantically. Hans hints to Tekk that he should stand up for photos.

Then the chairman continues: ‘Tekkeit Qaasuitsup, one of the last Nanook from northern Greenland will be making a speech in the next few days about his family’s traditional way of life, and what we can learn about the Inuit culture. Now, without further ado, let’s begin the conference…’

A few hours later, a huge close-up of Tekk’s face under his walrus fur hat has appeared everywhere in Berlin’s media. The headlines above the photo say things like: ‘LAST NANOOK IN TOWN!’ or ‘WHAT ESKIMOS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT OUR MODERN WORLD’.

The conference moves along smoothly, and soon all the delegates are having their lunch break. They are in the dinning room next to a very lush garden, enjoying a buffet. A number of people come to shake hands with Tekk, asking him about his family and his trip. Tekk’s attention is drawn by something in the garden.

His eyes are following a young woman in a red dress passing through the garden. Hans follows Tekk’s line of sight, and sees the black haired young woman, carrying a caged raven across the flower bed.

‘Did you see that? Hans? That black bird?’

‘Yes. A raven, actually,’ Hans answers, curiously. ‘A raven in a cage. It’s the first time I’ve seen a raven as a pet.’

As they watch the woman, she seems to sense their gazes and looks back. She smiles to them mysteriously. Just when Tekk runs into the garden, she disappears.

‘Sedna! I found my Sedna!’ Tekk cries.

‘What is Sedna?’ Hans follows him out.

‘Sedna! Our Inuit sea goddess!’

‘You mean the raven or the young woman?’ Hans asks.

‘The young woman! Her name is Sedna!’

‘Okay, calm down, Tekk.’ Hans says: ‘Do you want to tell me who she is?’

‘Yes. She was a very beautiful Inuit girl with long black hair, just like that woman.’ Tekk is still walking around restlessly in the garden, hoping to encounter the scene again. ‘Everyone in our region knows the story. Because Sedna was so beautiful, she was always turning down the hunters who came to her house wishing to marry her. But Sedna’s family was very poor, so her father wanted to marry her off. Her father said to her: “Sedna, we have no food and we will go hungry soon. You need a husband to take care of you, so the next hunter who comes to ask for your hand in marriage, you must marry him!” One day a hunter covered in smooth black fur arrived before their igloo, and asked Sedna’s father if he could marry his daughter. Sedna said yes, though she didn’t even see the man’s face. She was then placed aboard the hunter’s kayak and journeyed to her new home. You know what a kayak is?’

‘Yes, I know what a kayak is. So what happened to her and her strange husband?’

‘It was a long way on the sea. It was snowy and windy. They covered themselves in their heavy robes. For the whole tripe, Sedna never saw her new husband’s face. At last they arrived at an island. Sedna looked around. She could see nothing. No hut, no tent, no cooking pots, just bare rocks and a cliff. Her new home was a few tufts of animal hair and feathers strewn about on the hard, cold rocks. As they stepped onto the rocks, the hunter stood before Sedna and pulled down his hood. He let out an evil laugh. Guess what?’

‘Sedna’s husband was not a man but a raven! Is that the story?’ Hans smiles.

‘Yes, you Germans are clever people! He is a big ugly black crow!’

‘So then what? Did she live with that evil bird for the rest of her life?’ Hans asks impatiently, aware that everyone around them is finishing lunch. Yet Tekk and Hans have not started eating yet.

‘Of course Sedna didn’t want to live with that ugly black bird. But it was a long way home. She couldn’t just go back by herself… ’

At this point the conference organizer comes to them and interrupts Tekk’s story. ‘Hello Tekk, hello Hans, I hope you are enjoying the press conference this morning?’

Tekk shakes hands with the organizer. He then realizes how hungry he is. He rushes to the food table, grabs a plate and serves himself some food.

‘Indeed. I just hope our friend from Greenland can take a whole week of conferencing!’ Hans greets the organizer, heaping salad onto his plate at the same time.

‘Don’t worry. If our Inuit friend gets bored with all the talks, you can take him sightseeing. There is lots to do in Berlin – the Holocaust Museum, the Checkpoint and so on. What do you think, Tekk?’

Tekk’s face cracks into a dry smile. He is busy with his deep fried schnitzel.

‘How did you find Berlin, Tekk? Have you seen our famous bear yet?’ the organizer asks.

‘Bear?’ Tekk swallows some schnitzel, startled. ‘You have bears in Germany?’

‘Yes,’ the organizer answers, ‘we have our own famous polar bear. His name is Knat.’

‘You are teasing me!’ Tekk stops eating, and is exasperated. ‘Where is he? Can we go to see him now?’ He turns imploringly to Hans.

Hans laughs. ‘Not now,’ he says, ‘but maybe later if you are not too tired.’

Journalists crowd around them, urging Tekk to pose in his fur hat and to smile at the camera. Tekk poses with the hat, but he cannot summon a smile.

 

5.

Tekk and Hans are queuing in front of Berlin Zoo. Like them, there are lots of people waiting to enter. Eventually, Hans gets hold of two tickets.

As they pass the entrance, Tekk is already impressed by the scale of the zoo, with its lush plantations and artificial hills. He asks lots of questions.

‘So people find all sorts of animals and then put them here, not killing them?’

‘No. That’s why we can see them, I mean, to be able to see a live tiger eating and running before our eyes.’

‘A tiger!’ Tekk exclaims: ‘I saw them on TV. Very scary animals! I don’t want to see them. Please don’t take me to meet one.’

‘Okay, no tigers then.’ Hans smiles, leading him further into the zoo. ‘I will make sure you don’t meet any animal you don’t want to meet. But you haven’t finished your story yet. About Sedna! What happened after that beautiful girl married the ugly raven?’

‘Yes… Sedna discovered her husband was only a black crow. Frightened and saddened, she tried to escape, but the big bird would drag her to the edge of a cliff, threatening to push her off. The bird also begged her to be his companion, as his life was too lonely to endure. So she became the raven’s wife, living on bare rocks. Everyday, the raven would fly out and bring back home raw fish. And that was the only food she could eat. She cried and cried and called her father’s name. The howling arctic winds carried the sound of Sedna’s weeping cries all the way to her father’s ears. Sedna’s father recognized the call in the air and knew it came from his daughter’s weeping. One day—’

Tekk stops narrating the tale. He is distracted by some big animals in front of him. His face is anguished and frightened. They are in front of some gorillas. Apparently Tekk has never seen a gorilla in his life. He is crying and laughing at the sight of such large, dark, human-like animals.

‘Maybe they are also men, don’t you think, Hans?’ Tekk asks with a trembling voice.

When a gorilla comes towards them, Tekk becomes very still. Then suddenly he drops to his knees, facing the fence and praying to the gorilla.

Hans observes Tekk’s strange behaviour, raising an eyebrow but saying nothing.

They move towards the enclosure where the giraffes live. Tekk carefully observes the towering animals, impressed by their long necks.

‘I wish I had such a long neck, so I could see the enemy coming from a far distance.’ Then he kneels down again: ‘Hans, we must pray. Otherwise they will revenge us one day.’

Hans shrugs his shoulders, watching Tekk pray to the animals while murmuring a string of inaudible words.

Finally they walk towards the zoo’s most famous tourist attraction: the polar bear. The area is surrounded by tourists. Everybody is waiting by the fence with their cameras and smart phones. According to the news report, the famous bear has made no appearance for a few days.

But as soon as Tekk gets close to the fence, things change. From behind some large rocks, a huge white body gradually appears. All the visitors hold up their cameras with anticipation. Tekk stares at the great bear, the famous Knat, who is now sitting on a rock by the water, looking bored and lonely. Paying no attention to the tourists and constant clicking cameras, the polar bear surveys the shallow water around him.

‘Oh Tekk, you are lucky to have a chance to meet our city’s super star. He has created about 2 million euros annual income for us.’ Hans says with some excitement.

‘How?’ Tekk asks.

‘How? You see all these people here? They bought tickets just want to see the polar bear.’

‘Knat…’ Tekk murmurs. ‘In Greenland we don’t wish to see bears face to face. We would wish them the best of luck, but don’t want to invite them any closer.’

A team of school kids arrive. They push Tekk to the side and jump around, trying to catch a glimpse of the super star animal.

‘Well, Knat has not been very happy in the last few months. Some animal experts say he is missing his native land, or he needs some companion. He does look a little sad. Sometimes he refuses to come out to bathe in the sun. He just hides in his caves, so no one can see him.’

Tekk seems to understand this situation very well. He says; ‘I would be the same, if I were put in a big cage. I would die, I think, probably in three days. ’

The more Tekk watches the bear, the more he is affected. As if caught by some magic power, Tekk is rooted to the ground. His hands grip the fence. His eyes follow every movement the bear makes. And he speaks as if in a dream: ‘I think he knows me…’

Under Tekk’s gaze, Knat finally seems to respond to Tekk. The animal’s eyes shine with sadness and hope. Tekk is in trance, and keeps murmuring. ‘Oh Hans,’ he says, ‘he is watching me. I think he knows me…’

 

6.

A gust of wind blows above the zoo, carrying the sound of sirens and city traffic. Knat suddenly makes a sorrowful and angry cry. Slowly, he walks back to his cave, and decides to hide himself away for a little while. He shakes himself as if from a swoon, rubbing his eyes. Hans asks if he’s alright. Tekk says nothing, pulling at the fence, his head down. Then, suddenly, as if snapping out of a dream, Tekk resumes his black raven story.

‘So I was telling you that Sedna had to become the raven’s wife, and cries her eyes out on the cliff every day. Then one day, Sedna’s father heard his daughter’s cries through the snowy wind. He felt very guilty for what he had done to his daughter. So he decided it was time to rescue her. He killed a big walrus, preparing food to eat for the next several days. He loaded up his kayak with food and water, and followed the sound of the crying. He paddled for three days through the icy arctic waters to Sedna’s home. As soon as he approached the island of Sedna’s husband, he saw a red figure standing on a cliff. He recognized his daughter, wearing the same red dress she had had on when she left home. She was so happy and surprised to see her father, she ran towards him and quickly climbed into his kayak. They paddled away without hesitation. After many hours of travel, Sedna and the father turned and saw a black speck far off into the distance. They knew it was Sedna’s angry husband flying to chase her.’

At this point the polar bear inside the cave howls twice, as if he can hear the story and understands it well. The bear then emerges from his cave. Tekk stops speaking: he cannot help but be drawn in by the bear. The bear seems to meet Tekk’s gaze.

‘Maybe we should walk around the fence, in between the tourists,’ Tekk suggests. ‘So I can see if the bear really recognizes me.’

As they walk around the enclosure, at first the polar bear loses sight of Tekk. But after a few moments, the animal finds Tekk again amongst the crowd. It’s like some electric current passes between their eyes. But then suddenly two zoo keepers distract the bear by throwing a large rubber seal into the enclosure, their hope being to get the depressed bear to do some exercise. Knat seems to be roused into an angry state, leaping from his rock, and starts to tear the rubber seal apart.

Tekk turns away in disgust. He drags Hans away from the enclosure to a bench near a tree. With a sigh, he continues the story: ‘So the big black raven chased after his wife, steadily gaining on her, riding on the wind. Finally he swooped down on the kayak. Sedna’s father took his paddle and struck at the raven, but missed it. The huge bird continued to harass them. Finally the raven swooped down near the kayak and flapped his wing upon the ocean. A vicious storm began to brew. The calm ocean soon became a raging torrent, tossing the tiny kayak to and fro. Sedna’s father became very frightened. He grabbed Sedna and threw her over the side of the kayak into the ocean. “Here”, he screamed: “here is your precious wife. Please do not hurt me. Take her!” Sedna screamed and struggled as her body began to go numb in the icy arctic waters. She swam to the kayak and reached up, her fingers grasping the side of the boat. Her father, terrified by the raging storm, thought only of himself, as he had always done. He grabbed the paddle and began to pound against Sedna’s fingers. Sedna screamed for her father to stop but to no avail. Her frozen fingers cracked and fell off into the ocean. Gradually, all her fingers turned into seals and swam away under the water. She tried again to swim and cling to her father’s kayak, but again he grabbed the paddle and began beating at her hands. Sedna’s hands froze and cracked off. The stumps slowly drifted to the bottom of the sea, this time turning into whales and walruses. Sedna could fight no more and began to sink.’

‘What a sad story,’ Hans gasps. ‘The father is as bad as the raven.’

‘In Sedna’s desperation,’ Tekk went on, ‘she turned her body parts into sea creatures – her hair became millions of shrimps and little fish, her intestines became lobsters and octopuses, her sorrow became seaweed and her longing became a sand dune on the beach. Finally her red dress became the Mara Mountain towards the North Pole, protecting people from the icy wind. Now all the hungry Inuit families could get their food from the rich sea which had become filled with sea animals. They could now build their huts at the foot of the mountain. It is for this reason in our region that after a hunter catches a seal he will kneel towards the direction of the Mara Mountain and drops water into the mouth of the mammal before he kills it, a gesture to thank Sedna. Sedna is our sea goddess.’

‘But what happened to that horrible father and the evil bird?’ Hans asks.

‘Both the father and the evil bird were taken by a polar bear. Actually the polar bear was the master bear of that region and he knew all this was going on. So he punished the raven and the father.’

Tekk has finished his story. They both grow silent, as they gaze back into the distance. Inside the fence, the bear has already retreated into his cave. Hans sees this as an opportunity to leave. He promises Tekk that they will come back to see Knat tomorrow.

 

Read part three of this story

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