I’ve always lived outside, in the forest with my family. I’ve always been happy. I wouldn’t want it any other way. My brother Stormy who is currently seventeen, my mom named him that because she had a horrid pregnancy with him, is the only one of my siblings who wishes to not live in the forest. I have two other siblings, both girls, Hasnaa, who is the eldest of the children at age twenty, and my other sister, Kiyomi, who is younger than I, she is only five years of age. My name is, Lavanya, I am fifteen years old. My name and my sisters names all mean beauty in different languages.
My parents chose to live in the forest when they were eighteen. They made the decision because The Evil Place was becoming worst. Moeesha, meaning dawn out of water, is my mother. My father is called Agwe, meaning water. My mother and father both have other names, but they have never told us. They say that the other names were given to them by those of The Evil Place. I do not know much of The Evil Place, but Stormy does. He visited there once. He wasn’t supposed to go there, but he never obeys Moeesha and Agwe like my sisters and I do.
Every third full moon Agwe goes to The Evil Place. He hates to go. We miss him terribly when he is gone, but he must go. When he goes he gathers any supplies that we may need. I do not have a full understanding on what it is that he does, but when he comes back he always has new clothing for us and a special treat. One time when Agwe went to The Evil Place Stormy followed him. Agwe had always told us that if he ever caught us following him to The Evil Place he would leave us there. Based on the stories Moeesha and Agwe have told us, him leaving us at The Evil Place would be the worst punishment in the planet.
Stormy was not caught when he followed Agwe, he didn’t really follow Agwe, he tracked him. Stormy is a better tracker than Agwe is. Agwe has been doing it sense he and Moeesha left The Evil Place. Stormy has only been doing it for 13 years, he started when he was four years old, although he doesn’t have as much experience as Agwe has, Stormy always brings home the big bucks and fat hares. So, Stormy followed Agwe one day and found The Evil Place. He told me about it. I am the only one who knows he went there. Stormy likes me more than he likes the other sisters.
Stormy told me of the tall buildings. He told me that people walked around holding a thin box like thing talking into them. He told me about people that had something plugging their ears with strings attached to them. Stormy told me that babies and young children about Kiyomi’s age were pushed around in something that held them in so they could not move, he discribed them to be similar to the wheelbarrow we use in the forest. He told me about the ladies that had colors on their eyes and lips. I personally wish I could see that for myself, it sounds so pretty.
While Stormy was in The Evil Place he met a girl named, Izzy. I thought that was the weirdest name for someone to be called. Stormy told me she had blue colors around her eyes and red coloring on her lips. She also had a thin of strip under her eyes. Stormy told me about her long purple hair. When he told me that I almost died of laughter, no one has purple hair. But, Stormy told me people can have any color hair they want in The Evil Place, as well as they can color their nails any color they wish. I didn’t believe it when he told me that. Mine are almost always brown from working and playing in the forest. When I get the chance to, I sit down and scrub them clean.
Honestly, The Evil Place, didn’t sound evil at all. It sounded amazing. Stormy goes there once a week to see Izzy. She still doesn’t know that he lives in the forest. Stormy told me he won’t tell her that he does. He thinks she will stop liking him if she knew the truth. Stormy wants to run away to The Evil Place. He told me that the only one he would miss from the forest is me. He said that when he does run away he wants to take me with him. I don’t think I could. I love the forest, its my home.
“Lavanya!” Agwe calls for me. I put down the bird I had been singing with and headed off in the direction Agwe’s voice came from.
“Agwe? Where are you?” I yell when I think I am near him.
“Behind you hun.” I turn around and see him.
“What is it that you need of me Agwe?”
“Do you know where Stormy is?”
“Stormy? Oh, I do not know,” I feel horrible lying to Agwe, but I have to keep Stormy’s cover about him going to The Evil Place to see Izzy.
“Lavanya, you’re the only one Stormy tells things to. Where is he?”
“The last I knew he was going out in the woods, he told me he would be back after night fall,” I have to lie again. I hate it, I love Agwe, but I have to protect Stormy. He’s going to change my life one day and bring me out of the forest. He is going to bring me to The Evil Place and we are going to live new lives.
“Well, sense Stormy isn’t here, you will do.” Agwe hands me a shovel, “I want you to start digging on the far left side of the house, almost at the tree line.”
“Why?” Agwe looks angered at my question.
“Lavanya, you do not ask why when I or Moeesha tells you to do something, you just do it. Do you understand?”
“Good, get to work.”
I walk to the area that Agwe wants me to dig. I push the shovel into the ground and get to work. I keep digging until Agwe comes back to tell me I am finished for the night. By that time, the hole is as wide as I am tall and as deep as Agwe is tall, just about. I can not climb out by myself so Agwe has me hold onto the shovel handle and pulls me up.
I wait another hour or so before I start to walk in the woods to meet Stormy on his way home. He is smiling as he always is when he comes back from a day spent with Izzy. When he sees me he runs to me and picks me up in his arms spinning around. His arms are stronger than Agwe’s now because Agwe makes Stormy do all the hard work. Agwe mostly just tends to the gardens, goes to The Evil Place, and tells Stormy what to do.
“Stormy! How was it? Is Izzy well?” I ask him eagerly, I have so many questions, but I’ve learned to not ask them all at once.
“Awesome as always, Izzy is well also. Next time I go I want you to go with me Lavanya,” Stormy is so excited he is talking so fast. He puts me down on my feet and walks with me back home.
“Stormy...I can’t go with you. I have to stay here and cover for you when Agwe comes looking for you. I had to shovel a hole next to the house today for you. I told Agwe you were spending the day out in the woods.”
Stormy looks at me with sad eyes, “I did not mean for that to happen to you my dear Lavanya. I will do all of your chores tomorrow in addition to mine to make up for it.”
“Oh Stormy, do not do that. I will do my own chores, you must not make anything up to me. I am happy that you are happy when you see Izzy, I do not mind watching your back when you leave.”
Stormy picks me in another hug, “You’re the best sister in the world Lavanya. I promise, when I leave the forest to live with Izzy, I’m taking you with me. You will love the city.”
I am dumbfounded, “The city? What is the city Stormy?”
“The city, is the place I’ve been telling you all about.”
“No, you’ve been telling me about The Evil Place.”
Stormy chuckles lightly, “No, Lavanya, the city, is The Evil Place. That is what the people that live there call it. Lavanaya, around me, please say the city, but around Agwe and Moeesha call it The Evil Place.” Stormy sets me back on my feet.
I’m still a little confused about what Stormy told me, but I shake it off and change the topic, “We have better get back to the house before Moeesha comes looking for us. It is almost dinner time.”
Stormy nods and walks towards the house. I follow along silently. I wonder if I could leave Moeesha, Agwe, Hasnaa, and Kiyomin. I love them dearly. Kiyomin is only five, I could teach her so many things. Stormy seems to love the city. He promises I’d like it. One thing I know is that I could not leave Kiyomin, maybe Stormy wouldn’t mind if we took her too.
Stormy pulls me from my thoughts when he stops suddenly and I run into his back.
“What is it?” I ask trying to look around him. Stormy motions with his finger to be quite. I obey still trying to look around him. Stormy is so tall that I can not look over his shoulder. We are standing between two trees so I am unable to look around him. I will just have to wait and see. I see Stormy slowly lower onto his knees. Once I can see over him I can see a pack of coyotes. I can see that we stumbled onto them, they all have their backs to us.
If one of them turns around, hears us, or even smells us, we could be dead. Stormy jesters to his back, it takes me a moment before I realize he wants me to climb onto it. I do being as quite as possible. I can tell Stormy is unsure on what is going to happen, or what he is going to do. He stands back up. I have my legs and arms wrapped around him tightly so he doesn’t have to worry about holding onto me. Stormy reaches for the largest tree near us and starts to climb it. When we are high in the tree Stormy removes me from his back and sets me onto a tree branch.
“Stay, do not move,” Stormy’s voice is almost inaudible, he is whispering so low. I nod. Stormy climbs higher into the tree. When he finds a spot he approves of as being good he wraps his legs tightly around the tree and pulls his knife out of his pocket. He starts to saw away at a branch that is a little smaller than my torso. Stormy’s well developed muscles do not seem like they are sawing through a tree branch, they look like they are cutting a piece of bread off of the loaf.
When there is not much left to be cut Stormy pushes the branch with his arms towards the coyotes. It only takes one push from Stormy to snap the branch, it falls to the ground with a loud thunk. We hear a coyote yelp in pain while the rest of them run off leaving behind the injured one. Stormy slides down the tree with ease. When he gets to were he left me he pulls me into his body with one arm and slides down the rest of the way.
When we are on the ground we can see that the poor coyote’s hind legs were under the tree. I want to cry, I hate seeing animals hurt. Stormy hides my face in his chest. He can tell the sobs are forming in my chest ready to burst from me. Stormy picks me up in his arms.
“Lavanya, do you now see you do not belong in the forest? In the city, this type of thing never happens. Out here, Agwe kills something everyday, when he is being lazy, he has me do it.”
I look up at Stormy with tears in my eyes, “Animals do not die in the city?”
“Well, they die, but it is because of old age and natural things, but, they are not killed on purpose for food like they are here. By us, your family.”
I blink a couple times, “Can we keep it?”
Stormy shakes his head, “No, we can not. I am sorry. He will die soon because of blood loss. Agwe and Moessha wouldn’t allow it anyways.”
I take one last look at the coyote, I can tell he is almost gone, “May we please leave now?”
Stormy nods his head and caries me out of the woods.
The days that Stormy did not go to see Izzy were very boring. We wake up at sunrise, eat breakfast prepared by Moeesha, work all morning. When the sun is in the middle of the sky I prepare lunch, most of the time Stormy will help me. We work all afternoon. When dark comes Hasnaa prepares dinner and teaches Kiyomin how to cook.
The days that Stormy does go to see Izzy normally are the same also. Stormy wakes up before sunrise and tells me goodbye and leaves for the city. At sunrise I get up and eat breakfast. Agwe doesn’t eat breakfast with us, when he wakes up he goes straight into the woods. After breakfast I work extra hard until lunch. I cook lunch then go out for the afternoon chores. Both times I do more work than normal so Stormy will not have to do as much extra the next day. Sometimes Agwe will come around in the afternoon for Stormy, I make up some lie and end up having to the work that Agwe wanted Stormy to do myself. Once I am finished I wait for Stormy. When Stormy comes back he tells me all about his day and what he learned from Izzy.
Izzy is teaching him about different things and the ways of the city. He is preparing for when he and Izzy live together in an apartment. Stormy told me an apartment is like many houses in one building. Stormy told me about stores also. In a store you buy food and other things you may need or want, but, if you want to buy something you need to have money. The only way to have money is to work at a job. Stormy has decided to be a construction worker once he lives in the city. By the way Stormy has described the construction industry it seems to be a perfect fit for him.
Now looking back when I was younger I’m glad I left with Stormy for the city. He didn’t tell Agwe and Moeesha we were going, we just left. We left sooner than he had planned. Agwe told him and I that we were the next ones who had to continue the family line. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but Stormy did. Stormy told me that Hasnaa was Kiyomin’s mother. I was ten when Kiyomin was born. Agwe told me that Moeesha had to be left alone while she was pregnant with Kiyomin and that Hasnaa was helping her. That was why I didn’t see them for a long time. Kiyomin is technically my half sister and niece. Agwe lied to me, when I found this out I realized that Agwe lied to us a lot.
Moeesha had a bad pregnancy with me and wasn’t able to have any more babies. Without more babies our family wouldn’t be able to survive for a long time, and in the long run, one of us would be the only one alive, alone in the forest. Agwe set Stormy and I down one night. That night will be forever burned into my memory. Agwe didn’t tell me the details on how I would be able to continue the family line with Stormy, but Stormy knew and became enrage quickly. He yelled words at Agwe I had never heard before and I could tell Agwe was shocked Stormy knew them.
Stormy said that he wouldn’t make his own sister pregnant, I, still not fully understanding what was happening just sat there. They continued to yell, then it became a physical fight. I became frightened and ran away to the house. Later that night Stormy came to me and told me we were leaving right at that moment. I packed my few things I had into a sac and kissed Kiyomin on the forehead. Stormy and I ran in the dark forest until we were tired. We rested for a bit then continued our way to the city. I was so exited to be finally going to the city. Once we got there I was overwhelmed by everything around me. We went to the apartment Izzy and Stormy had. Izzy was shocked but allowed us in quickly because it was cold outside.
Stormy and Izzy got married once Stormy turned 18. Izzy home-schooled me, because I had no schooling at all in the forest. I changed my name to Jennifer because many people thought Lavanya was hard to pronounce. Stormy got a job in the construction business as he hoped to. I lived with Izzy and Stormy until I was 22. At that time I had enough money saved up to rent an apartment of my own. It was in the same building as Stormy and Izzy’s. I’m dating a boy named Finn. He works with Stormy and that is how I met him. I would never go back to the forest. I have never been happier than I am now. I love the city, it isn’t evil as Agwe and Moeesha made it out to be.