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The Voice of the Forest

Grandmother is giving us that look. It is the look of chores to be done. I glance to Musah, but it doesn’t seem like he’s noticed Grandma yet.

“Just pretend you don’t see her,” he mutters, getting up from the breakfast table to sneak outside before Grandma says anything.

“Isah, Musah,” Grandmother begins as Musah reaches the door. “Your father won’t be home until tomorrow. That means you will need to shepherd the sheep in the forest today.”

“Both of us?” I raise my complaint. “But, shepherding is a one man job! Musah can do it on his own!”

“You are right, Isah,” Grandmother says, taking Musah’s and my dishes from the table. “It is a one man job. Unfortunately, all I have here are two boys. Now, do not argue.”


“Isah.” Musah stops me. “Let’s go.”

I frown at him for a moment, but then agree that it would be a greater misfortune to suffer Grandmother’s wrath than to suffer one day of shepherding. “Okay.”

We leave the house to go out to the forest with the sheep. The sounds of the trees are relaxing, and we can’t play much of anything because it would scare the sheep. Nothing happens for a while, and the sun makes the forest very warm. I get tired and sit against a tree, watching Musah watch the sheep. After a while, I find myself dozing off.

I wake up suddenly to the sound of my name.

“Isah, Isah!” A voice calls, “Why have you fallen asleep?”

I look around, but the forest is empty. The sheep are gone! I get up and find Musah sleeping against a tree nearby.

“Musah, Musah!” I shake him violently, “Why have you fallen asleep?”

He wakes up, looks around, and grabs my shoulders. “Where are the sheep?” he asks urgently.

“They must have run off while we were sleeping!” I answer.

He gets up and begins searching for them. It is decided that we must split up to find them and start walking in different directions. We agree to call to each other at times so that we don’t get lost ourselves. After a while, I notice a strange bird that doesn’t make any sound. It sits in each tree that is seven trees apart. Sometimes it flies away, sometimes it lands, and sometimes it just watches me from the branches. I see no sign of the sheep, though.

“Isah, did you find any?” I hear a voice call.

“No,” I respond, same as before. After a while, I call back, “Musah, did you find any?”

I wait for his response. It is same as mine. We continue searching.

The sun is beginning to set and I see the bird again, opening its mouth this time. I cover my ears in fear, but no sound comes out. Why was I even afraid?

“Isah!” I hear a voice, but nothing else follows.

“Musah, did you find any?” I call back. I hear no response this time.

I imagine Grandmother’s face if we do not return with the flock. Fear eats me as I imagine facing father and telling him that the flock is missing because we fell asleep. I see the bird again. And again.

I call to Musah. He does not respond. Darkness has covered the forest in inky black. Where is that bird?

“Isah!” A voice calls through the shadows.

“Musah!” I call back in joy. “Did you find the sheep?”

“Musah!” The voice echoes through the forest. “Isah, Musah!”

I stop in my tracks.

“Why have you fallen asleep?” The bird from before sweeps down in front of me and back into the branches of the trees.

“I’m not asleep!” I answer, despite my fear. “I’m trying to find the sheep!”

“Your father will be upset with me if you two do not return home with the sheep!” The bird answers from the branch.

“Grandmother?” I utter in surprise at the voice.

The bird answers in a hollow echoing voice, “I was afraid that I would not find you, so I prayed for God to turn me into a bird to look for you two. You must find your brother and return home with the sheep!”

My fists are clenched so tight in fear that they begin to hurt. The bird takes flight again, disappearing in the shadows of the forest.

“Musah!” I call, running to find him. “Musah!”

I go on all night and never find the sheep or Musah. The sun rises much later. Still, I call for him. He calls for me. Grandmother calls for us both.

Our voices echo, hollow, cold, and lonely in the dawn’s light on the forest dew. Years pass by. We still look for each other at night when the forest is dark and dreams abound in twilight mist. You can hear us now if you listen, calling each other’s name through the forest.

"Isah, Musah!"

For we can’t return home until we find the flock together.

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