The day Lascaux cried

Published: November 19, 2015
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A Georgian man cries as he holds the body of his relative after a bombardment in Gori, 80 km (50 miles) from Tbilisi, August 9, 2008. PHOTO: REUTERS

The first light of dawn was setting on nature’s various wonders and the tribe of Shamosis was waking up to the incessant chirping of early-morning birds. The water in the nearby lake stood motionless. Serenity prevailed: nature reigned supreme, humanity remained at peace.

The Shamosis had been travelling for the past six months now without a stop. Usually, Closett used to initiate a gathering of elders whenever an area was discovered fit for encampment but the last such gathering had been a long time ago, when they had left the territorial fringes of modern-day Turkey and entered what one today recognises as the face of Europe.

Depletion of food resources had made the Shamosis leave the last camp. Disease, too, was a concern. Nearly one quarter of the tribe’s populace had died, including 23 able-bodied Sapiens. The women were feeling nauseated after the change in temperatures, while the young feared the unknown.

Closett, meanwhile, had just two concerns to ponder upon; food and Khasoo.

Khasoo had been a part of Closett’s establishment for the past ten years now. She had borne him seven male offspring and three female ones. All but three of the descendants survived Closett — the rest had perished during the long pilgrimage for survival.

However, a more pressing concern was Khasoo’s poor health. Her hair had shed due to the disease’s impact while her head burned like fire for most of the day. Nights were particularly terrible when she could not sleep at all – she passed the long hours of the night clutching Closett’s strong fist, while the rest of the tribe was asleep. She loved Closett and her illness had not depreciated the devotion she still felt for the ‘complete upright’ one.

Closett was beautiful. Not only was his courage exemplary, his eyes, too, seemed to have been carved out of pearls.

Language as we know it today, representing a codified word, had still not developed during the time. Not even a rudimentary variant of primary language existed.

Our earliest ancestors relied on much more substantial a source: the ‘tongue of sensitivity’. While this understanding did not comprise anything more concrete than particular sounds for pain and elation, joy and sorrow, disease and fear, it was in the very primitive nature that its greatest strength lay – the bond of community, of being tied to a clan where empathy was the first lesson taught.

These were the Homo Sapiens arriving in Europe around a hundred thousand years back.

Nature was about to stage its first greatest trick and one ‘significant other’ was about to face total annihilation. The epoch of humans was about to begin and without a doubt, it was bound to commence with war, ending with destruction.

The territory of the Neanderthals had been breached.

II

Samanch sat under the fir tree, immersed in retrospection. The signs were ominous, to say the least. Forty one killed in the past one week since the alien made his first advance on the Lascaux. Equipped with stone tools, sharp arrows and logs, he seemed well equipped. Although smaller in built as compared to the body weight of an average Neanderthal, he was very bright. His assembly was cohesive around its leader and the hordes fought in perfect coordination.

“Were the days of the Neanderthal nearing their end?” Samanch thought to himself.

Was the winter of death approaching upon the whole community?

At one point in time, his own race had been an invader of the land it now beckoned its own. But that had been a long time ago. Although there were no records to refer to, either in written or spoken word, the elders agreed that the species itself had been foreign once to the green landscapes of Lascaux.

Justice was supreme, nature seemed to run in a counter-rotation now. History itself seemed to be cyclical.

Samanch had no needs of portentous signs.

He had been apprised of Ramati’s formidable visions. The shaman had seen images of a new ‘Dawn’.

The world that the Neanderthal had called its own creation was now about to disintegrate. New ideas and tools were about to invade the snows. Everything was about to change. Ah, natural selection’s first masterpiece was about to be out on display!

Too dismal was the scenario that his race had to be at the receiving end of it all.

But, Samanch had a plan.

He will resort to the ‘ultimate refuge’ when the circumstances called for it.

III

The seekers had seen the establishment of the beast. The last bastion of resistance they had entitled it to be.

Closett, too, had a firm conviction setting within his heart that the sub-specie was finally fading away. Assaulted by modern weapons, well-thought out techniques and sheer unity, the beast, although mammoth in size and powerfully built, was nearing its end. It seemed to be the writing on the wall; the yellow god above seemed to be disfavouring Nature’s anomaly.

Time was ripe for an ultimate strike; a skirmish that will permanently settle the Sapiens’ glory.

No matter what the bravura of diversity might have been, the bugle had been sounded-vanquish or rise, defeat or sink to the bottomless annals of history, forever to remain obscure, eternally to be made the victim of pity.

Closett had to assemble his men for the last fight. The beast was not to be considered naïve. Desperation might move it to act in strange ways. Much was at stake to leave anything to chance.

On the night before the two species went to battle, the scene in both the camps during the evening was so unique that it calls for description. Although subsequent epics forgot the tale about how humans conquered humans for the first time in the fashion of large scale genocide, little of the facts are mentioned in history books.

Ah history and history writing! The art of delivering information as if the observer had been there, witness to the happenings one is so keen in describing. The art of deception perfected to near excellence!

Anyways, let us portray the two camps.

The Sapiens were gathered around the fire, with the able-bodied men sharpening their primitive stone tools while by their side, the elders were lost in meditative thoughts. The women of the tribe were emptying their days’ gatherings and food was being distributed. The new-borns were nestled in their mothers’ arms and the adolescents ran to help in various errands.

Elation of superiority is a strange feeling. It imbues the subject with not only a sense of power but also a feeling of shame.

Closett sat gazing at the fire and wondered what tomorrow might bring. His pensiveness had its reasons too.

Khaso had died the night before and he felt sad at the parting. He felt remorse and tears had come out to tamper with his vision. Never had that happened in his entire existence.

During one or two instances, he also thought about how the world might change with the end of the beast.

Wasn’t ‘it’ also worthy of a place on nature’s supper table? Wasn’t he also a subject of the same passions; envy, love, hatred and perseverance as his own race? What made him different? His long pointed ears, protruding nose or the brawny built?

He seemed to be relative of Closett’s own race. The resemblance was so striking! And yet, he was on the cusp of defeat, pushed to the margins of extinction itself.

Closett knew his race was terrible! Full of deceit, trickery, animosity and shameless resolve, Sapiens’ descendants were bound to be corrupt. But there was something else at work too. What had become of the other specie? Why had the beast surrendered to his fate? In the last skirmish, ten of them didn’t even move as arrows were hurled at them. Although their chief still fought valiantly, the retreat evident in his eyes as well.

Were they surrendering to their fate?

If so, wasn’t it worthy of attention that they once did inhabit the land that his own race now laid claim to.

Necessity had made his tribe traverse the marshes and savannahs on foot, but had it also paved the way for this end?

If yes, nature itself was cruel and the powers it beheld were ruthless. The natural laws were inimical to justice and nothing in the world was ever fair.

At a distance of about a mile, Samanch sat with worries of his own. The night was cruel and the fire of the alien was visible. Oh, how had he conquered even the mighty fire? He was dexterous in his works, but it was his mind that continued to baffle Samanch. He never grew tired of his own cruelty! What a shame that such a creature had come into existence. He will conquer it all one day. Even the mighty skies and the illuminations in the night! However, after all that had been accomplished, what will interest him?

Where will his ambitions find solace?

He will advance at a meteoric pace, there was no doubt about it. But then he will outstrip himself in his hunger for accumulation. He will be his own worst enemy and his end will come at his own hands. Nature cannot tolerate such a pretentious creature for too long. Can it?

His own race; well, he had fought and resisted. He had gathered his best defences and had many times outsmarted the lowly hyena. However, the moonlight had long dictated that it was time to leave. It was time to leave for the stars beyond the hazy clouds. Each star had its world; Samanch will visit all of them to meet his kinsmen, whenever life ended. He knew this could not be the end. There was something beyond this material life, something eternal and permanent.

Justice would not have it that it all ends here. There must be more to destruction than the act itself.

Then he thought of his plan. Should he accomplish it? Why not? Didn’t he fear the brutal treatment that had been meted out to those of his tribe that had been captured by the invader? Even their dead bodies had not been spared. This specie ate it’s full. The very thought of that scared Samanch. But what about Soki, Rkau and Shooji?

Should he apprise them of the plan as well?

If so, will they agree?

He gathered then down below the deepest reaches of the Lascaux caves and gave them the solitary imprint. On his imprint in the wall, all of them pasted their own. They had assented to his scheme. None resented or even seemed to be perturbed.

Resignation is the ugliest emotion of all of them. On the caves of Lascaux that fateful night, acquiescence resounded through the deep cavities of the caves.

Dawn struck.

Closett led the expedition himself. There were terrible casualties on both sides: when a fire is about to extinguish, it gives it highest sparks before fading away.

Around a hundred Sapiens were killed but nearly 2000 Neanderthals died that day. Only the leader’s family remained on the battlefield. Closett had forbidden its killing. The beast will not be allowed to fade away, he had decided. He will become a friend. Too much was being wasted away in his devastation. And their chief had fought gallantly, again. He deserved life.

As the Sapiens gathered around the chiefs’ family, the beast became more and more restless. No one from Closett’s clan was brave enough to tarry near.

Ultimately, it was Closett himself who came to him.

In that one exchange lasting not more than a fragment of a second, the cycles of history were turned, successors to the throne were decided and future became determined.

Closett saw it through the gaze of Samanch and understood. His enigma had been resolved. The beast had accepted its defeat but in doing so, it had passed the terrible burden to him. He was now the new master of the realm, and although the realm was bountiful and glorious, it had its fateful entrapments. The land will itself lead to feuds among Closett’s children and much of his progeny will be annihilated during the various cycles of succession and rebellion. The beast had seen it and given up the right to existence. He had favoured suicide upon life itself. His weakened posture and half-closed eyes said much at that moment.

Fate had decreed Closett’s ascendancy and the vanquished ones were to be forgotten to history.

But the burden of existence, coupled with all its cruelties, envy, deception and avarice had also come the Sapiens’ way.

Samanch’s death signaled the Dawn.

Dawn had come but Closett lay by the beast. Again, he felt the water crippling his vision.

Alas! He wished that he could have been the one lying on the hallowed ground.

That was the day when Lascaux cried!

Its cry has been resounding throughout the millennia, centuries and eras. Its cry can still be heard even in our various conflicts today. Its cry will outlive even the Sapiens themselves.

The imprints of Samanch and his progeny are still evident in the Lascaux caves in France.

Taimur Arbab

Taimur Arbab

A former sub-editor at The Express Tribune, college teacher of Sociology and English Language and a graduate student at Aga Khan Institute for Educational Development, who leans toward the left side of the political spectrum and looks for ideas for his short stories and poems in the everyday happenings of life. He can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.