A Lesson in Friendship This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 9, 2010
A Lesson in Friendship

“Tala, tonight I will leave you in the forest.” My Ate had told me, “You must live away from the village until hanwi becomes big again. Return to us after that, and you shall be a man.” I looked to the setting sun in the west; there would be no hanwi tonight. I was allowed one last meal made by my Ina to strengthen me through the night, but no food could I take with me, I had to find my own.
Father led me into the forest once night had fallen. He gave me a bow and some arrows before gripping my shoulder, “Cinks,” my son, “May Wakatanka watch you on your journey.”
The next morning I awoke to birdsong, Ate was gone. Stiff backed and sore, I picked up my bow to find something to eat. High Sun passed and still I went hungry, not even a Zica chattered from the trees for me to hunt. A stream burbled nearby and suddenly I felt thirsty. The mini was clear and full of fish when I remembered the tricks Ate had taught me about catching them without a net. My first night alone found me full and warm by a fire I had built. Hanwi was just a sliver in the sky surrounded by the Great Spirits when I finally fell asleep.
The next few days weren’t as successful as my first. All the fish escaped my traps, even mastinca and zica dodged my arrows. I barely had the strength to hunt, when I heard a strange sound. It made the noise of a young tatanka, “Maw, maw,” I followed the sound until I found it source, a chikala ishta, small girl, was crying and shouting, “Maw Maw.” Greedily I eyed her basket full of currents and blackberries. Thinking only of my stomach I reached for some.
The ishta screamed and I fell back. She tried to run but her ankle was swollen and she fell crying, spilling some of the blackberries. I grabbed them and stuffed them into my mouth whilst she screamed. I swallowed and put my fingers to my lips, still she bellowed.
“Miyeloca Kola,” I am friend, I said. Finally she fell silent.
“Nituwehe?” Who are you?
The ishta whimpered, moving away from me. My eyes were set on her hair, Zi, like the sun but she wore no beads. I then saw the mud stained dress of a settler. The Lakota Oyate, Sioux Nation law said I should have killed her, but I couldn’t. Her golden hair gleamed in the sun, I wondered it if was as soft as it looked. I reached for a lock of her hair. She only whimpered, tears falling from her robin egg eyes.
The strands between my fingers were as soft a beaver pelt, not a snarl in it. I touched my own hair, feeling the matted black mass.
She must have known I wasn’t going to hurt her then because she stopped crying and stared at me. “W-what’s your name?” she asked, I couldn’t understand her.
“I’m Emma. Can you say it? Eeemmmmmmaaaa.”
She giggled, “No, Emma.”
“Emma?” The ishta clapped her hands. I had no idea what she wanted but when she offered me more berries, I didn’t refuse.
My father would frown on me for accepting charity, so in return I used what little supplies I had to bandage her ankle.
“Why do you have beads in your hair?”
I didn’t reply.
“Can you talk at all?” she made a motion with her hands near her mouth…words?
“Micaje Tala.”
I looked up from her ankle, “Ai.” I heard the calls before I saw what made them, but something inside told me it was Emma’s Ina look for her. I jumped to my feet to run away, before I did I told Emma, “Toksha ake wacinyuanktin Ktelo,” I will see you again.
And I did, practically everyday for a few hours. Emma taught me to read and write, I taught her the Lakota language, she taught me English, I taught her how to survive in the wild. We traded petty objects, feathers, rocks, beads and flowers. One day she was late. I waited and waited, sun down came and she finally arrived.
“Mama knows about you,” she told me, “She says I can’t play with you anymore because you’re a ‘savage’. Papa and my brothers think the same way. They say you can’t be trusted.”
“Ohunko, not true!” I shouted, “We are friends. We trade and teach each other, enemies do not do this.”
She smiled then, untying a bracelet of glass beads on her wrist, “I want you to have this,” she dropped the jewelry in my hand. I tugged the elk bone necklace off my throat and handed it to her, “Fair trade,” I said.
The moon was beginning to rise in the sky; it was nearly full as it escaped from the Iktomi’s grasp.
“What does your name mean?”
I thought hard for the English word, “Tala mean big dog.”
“Like a coyote?”
“No bigger,” I held my arms out for her to see, “and he make noise at hanwi.”
She sat behind me and started combing my hair. One of her favorite pastimes was to see how many snarls she could pull out before she had to go home, “Then Tala means…wolf?”
I nodded, “Tala is brother to Lakota people. He teach Lakota to hunt buffalo in packs. Now we keep Tala in our teepees to protect family.”
She stopped combing and left my side, “I have to go home now. Papa and Mama will be worried.”
I understood. As I watched her go, I wondered if my Ate and Ina missed me as well.
It was many days before I saw Emma again. Hanwi was almost full and I would have to return to Wicoti Mitawa, my village. I left her notes written on birch bark at our usual meeting place telling her what I must do. I also told her to meet me there the day of the full moon.
The sun was close to setting as I waited with a flute I had carved for Emma. On the side I had put an image of a wolf so she would remember me every time she looked at it.
The bushes rustled and I stood. Emma smiled sadly, and held her hand out to me. She dropped a fist full of blue beads into my palm; they were the same shade as her eyes. One by one she tied them into my hair. When she faced me again there were tears in her eyes. I handed her the flute and smile, “Fair trade,” I said.
Hanwi was full in the sky when I turned and ran. I heard Emma behind me trying to keep up.
Ducking into the bushes, I watched her run by then stop as she called for me. Yet I remained hidden, finally she turned towards her village and left the forest.
I never saw Emma again.

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