Og was a fireboy as well as a runner. He was drawn to the flames and was always glad to help the women make a fire and keep it alive. He also liked caves. Whenever the clan came across a cave he would wander off and hide in it, lingering almost until dark before running back to the camp.
A girl child had been born two summers after he. Because they were close in age, they played together as children, and as they matured their bond became even stronger. Her name was Naa. One day, when they were young adults, Og took Naa into a cave and made her afraid. But she went back to the cave with him again the next day, and the next, every day until the clan left the area. The following summer Naa gave birth to a tiny girl baby, and they called her Ggu. But she died after two winters.
Og and Naa had another child, a boy they called Ta. Ta grew up to be a hunter and a killer. Og witnessed Ta’s first kill of an antelopoid. Ta and three other young men had the animal cornered between a small hill and some large boulders in a cluster of thorn trees. The boys stalked the antelopoid before ambushing it, and in its alarm it leapt straight into a shallow gorge. The fall was not steep enough to kill the animal and it landed with a thump and looked around, its eyes dazed and its legs broken. The boys rushed down into the gorge and finished it off.
Og stayed above and looked down at the slaughter. He felt a jumble of emotions: fear and grief at the sight of the animal’s suffering, and shame because for a moment he felt what was in the helpless creature’s heart. But in a moment these feelings were wiped out by the death – and a rush of pride because of what his son had done, and what it meant for the women and children. And Og was hungry. He salivated at the thought of cooked bone marrow. The boys sliced up the carcass and wrapped the pieces in leather slings to take back to the camp. One man carried the legs and another the head and organs. Og took bits and pieces.
Naa had kindled a fire, and Ta dumped the meat beside her and disappeared. Og sat down and stared into his mate’s eyes. She understood: their child had just become a man. Naa and Og now ranked among the elders of the clan. Ta had run off to find his lover, a stocky young woman with a mass of tousled black hair.
After a few more summers, Og fell ill. Naa had given him berries to eat and later he had vomited and then fallen into a heavy sleep from which he could not awaken. After two days he did wake up, but found that he could no longer use his feet properly. A woman who had eaten berries from the same plant had died, but Og did not know this and Naa had no way of telling him. Naa had not eaten from that particular plant, yet the bush looked like any other of the safe berry bushes. Naa was confused and tearful. Nobody had noticed the white fungus that grew on the undersides of the leaves.
Og survived and even learnt to walk again, but from that time on he remained thin and weak, and the skin on his face began to wrinkle up and dry out like the face of an ancestor. Whenever he ate meat, his belly ached and he vomited. Og found that by eating only roots and tubers, with a few locusts or antoids when they were in season, he could stay strong enough to keep up with the clan. But he became easily confused, too. Naa eventually grew tired of him and bonded with Ta’s new baby instead.
Because he could no longer run, Og was becoming a burden to the clan. He knew this, and wished he could disappear into the sky; he would have liked to fall upwards while the rain was falling down. He felt like one of the large flightless birds that sometimes crossed the plains. Their meat was tasty, but they were even more difficult to catch than the antelopoids because they moved so fast. It was no good chasing them off a cliff. Despite their seemingly heavy bodies and feeble wings, they could get just enough lift in the air to land on their feet, and then they would run like the wind again. The men could never move fast enough to catch them. The big birds were no good for food unless you found one already dead, and found it long before the worms did.
In the last summer of his life, Og tried to run out with the hunters again. But he became confused, and instead of shouting to scare the elephoid into the trap, he ran straight across the tusker’s path. It trampled him to death as if it had not even seen him. One of its enormous feet split the lower half of Og’s face, crushing his teeth into the ground and leaving a hole where his jaw had been. Another foot flattened Og’s leg, splitting the flesh from the bone as if it were a twig. A moment later, the elephoid plunged over the side of the mountain and went smashing down to its death.
The young men shrieked in glee. They did not notice Og’s body on the ground. It took them a long time to hack the meat from the carcass below the cliff and they had to make several trips between the site of the kill and the campsite, where the women were watching the fires.
Naa looked questioningly at Ta. It was only then that Ta realised his father was missing. He went back to the top of the cliff and found Og’s body; he saw the face had been split in half and one of the legs crushed. He went back to the camp and gave his mother the hand signal that meant someone had died: thumb placed downward into the palm of the other hand, and then both hands flicked quickly towards the sky in a symbol of release. Naa stared emptily at the ground.
Whether or not one left the corpse of a person out in the open for scavengers to eat carried some meaning; it was partly an indication of who the person had been, although it was also a practical issue, and depended on whether the clan was in a walking or sedentary phase. Ta saw a picture in his mind – the sight of a scavenger chewing the flesh off his father’s body. The image caused a feeling of revulsion and anger to rise in Ta’s chest, so he went back to the place where he had found Og. Ta felt sad as he dragged large branches to spread across the body. He did not like the way he felt.
The burial chore was good for Ta and allowed him to work off his emotions. By the time he returned to camp, he was cheerful enough and could entertain his child as he would on any other day. Og had indeed become a burden and it was better that he had died this way rather than having to be killed by younger men or simply being abandoned on the plain. There was a storm on the way, and the fires would be rekindled once it was passed. Ta rolled another boulder against the branch that supported the skins under which his mate and baby were sheltering. By morning, the storm would have passed.