My anxiety increased when I spotted a series of pictographs adorning the commune walls. I understood even from a distance that they depicted the Omoro chronicle. An arched door opened when I neared the entrance, the walls dancing with life-sized pictographs displaying the images of my ancestors and their strange, star-bound vehicles. I approached them and traced their outlines with my fingers while in my mind hushed voices whispered ancient tales.
Coolness wafted from the commune's interior. A refreshing draft ruffled my hair and caressed my face. The drumbeat softened into a gentle heartbeat as five Omoro appeared from the shadows. With a thrill of recognition, I regarded two adults and three children. Joy filled my heart and buoyed my spirits when I realized I was no longer alone.
The group approached slowly. Poised, ebony-skinned and willowy-limbed, they wore their hair in elaborately coiled braids beaded with amber, coral and other precious stones. Golden thread glinted from the colorful batik prints of their robes. Beautifully crafted jewelry of amber and gold adorned their wrists, ankles, ears and necks.
The Elder, a man of noble stature and warm, patrician features, wore an embroidered sash of rank adorned by a large ruby the shape of a bird's egg. My eyes were drawn to a small tattoo on his left temple depicting several intersecting circles. He smiled and bowed, his deep chocolate eyes and rich voice familiar.
"Welcome to the homeworld, Kanuwe. I am Badarou, Elder of the Sofouru Commune." He turned to the others, who smiled welcomingly at me. "This is my wife, Nsangue, my son Renwati and daughters Tanifah and Dhoman."
We bowed in greeting, the action instinctive on my part. I stared at Badarou. He smiled and nodded.
"We have already spoken. I was present at your awakening."
I recalled the spectral faces in the tanks and glanced questioningly at the others. A shudder coursed through me as I thought of such a hellish incarceration. I wondered whether immortality was worth such a price.
"Such an existence was not their wish," Badarou said, reading my expression. "And I would not have insisted."
A question half-formed on my lips. Badarou gazed toward the lake and the majestic mountain range beyond with misty eyes.
"Look around you, Kanuwe. Such is the beauty of Omori, our home--a world of peace and prosperity, a people at one with nature."
Moving with regal grace, Nsangue approached me and took my arm. She smelled of musk and spice, the drowsy warmth accentuating the enticing aroma. When she smiled, her teeth were a flash of ivory against flawless dusky skin. Ankle bracelets tinkled delightfully as she moved. Her mahogany eyes melted into mine, her velvety touch a calming salve against the questions burning in my mind.
"It is time to meet your ancestors, Kanuwe," she said, leaving the others behind. "Come help me prepare for the evening tea ceremony."
We entered the deliciously cool retreat of the commune. Tiled fountains soothingly splashed amidst handcrafted furnishings of wood, metal and stone. Colorful tapestries, basketry and bold sculptures adorned niches and walls, reflecting muted sunlight from artfully angled windows and skylights. The setting was serene and peaceful, an embodiment of the Omoro persona.
"This is wonderful," I said as I admired the lovingly crafted décor. My fingers strayed to a mosaic plaque depicting the commune, placed to receive the filtered light from a nearby window. Vivid colors blazed with feral intensity.
Nsangue pointed to a dramatic copper mask displayed over an arched fireplace. "Many pieces are forged by Badarou's hand," she said, retrieving a deep tri-color basket and a small terracotta jug from a wooden cabinet. "I enjoy basketry and weaving. The children are gifted in music. Each Omoro has a special talent. It is a gift we honor by bringing it to life."
A glass-enclosed cabinet situated in the corner of the room away from the light caught my attention. Nsangue said nothing when I approached, my eyes riveted to a magnificently carved shield bisected by a pair of spears. Though the detail closely resembled the other artwork in the room, something about it seemed different. It exuded a sense of antiquity that spanned a time longer than I could imagine.
"You recognize the soul of the clansmen," Nsangue observed. "They were the original tribe. We call them the forefathers."
I touched the glass. "Kabila," I said, unsure why the strange word had suddenly appeared in my mind.
"Our heritage is long and noble, Kanuwe. Always remember that."
something," I said, looking around the room as though seeking an answer to my confusion. "This place is a crossroads."
"Omori anchors us to the spiritual and physical world. One cannot exist without the other."
I pondered her words as she led me to a central atrium garden. Sunshine filtered through verdant foliage, dappling a natural stream alive with delicate opaline fish and tiny green turtles. Women and young girls tended the multitude of greenery and polished intricately tiled pathways and bridges. A lovely teenager with fawn's eyes cut magnificent coral blooms from a long-stalked bush and placed them in a basket. Jewel-colored birds flitted from the branches, filling the air with delightful song. A sensation of gentle energy rippled through me.
"An oasis in an arid land," I said in wonder. "How is this possible?"
Nsangue dipped her jug into the bubbling stream. Bells distantly chimed to accompany the lowing of animals. I glanced out a nearby window and noticed a herd of horned goat-like creatures grazing in a cultivated field. Youngsters playfully bucked and charged their indulgent parents, their lush coats mottled with brown and gold. I smiled at their charming antics.
"The stream of life heals and nurtures," Nsangue said. "It is the spiritual core of our people."
She handed me the water jug. I sipped from it, savoring a pure sweetness that lingered in my mouth. We wandered outside to a lush, grassy area bordering the commune and surveyed a peaceful scene that suffused me with a sense of well-being. I smiled as children and their pets, furry, long-snouted creatures with endearing whinnies, romped while women picked shiny red pods from a surrounding bank of thick, prickly green hedges. In amazement, I watched two of them balance tall baskets atop their heads and calmly walk toward the commune without supporting them. Babies hung in slings across their mothers' backs, their lusty yawls a triumphant song of their own. Nearby, teams of men and teenage boys prepared the foundation for a new commune.
"These are aruna pods," Nsangue said, extending a thorny branch drooping with the weighty pods gleaming with a lacquered red shine. "Crushed, they produce the finest tea. The powder also has many medicinal properties." She handed me the basket and set the water jug on the grass. "The honor of gathering will be yours. You must remember to always fill the basket. The stream of life provides abundance for all. We must honor the gift."
I reached toward the glossy hedge, the sun a warm kiss on my back. The crescent-shaped pods snapped off easily, emitting dusty red puffs. Nsangue hummed while I stuffed the basket to the brim.
Suddenly, a wet nose snuffled against my ankle. I looked down in surprise as a plump gray furball affectionately nuzzled my foot.