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Illapa Dances Behind My Eyes

by Jan Ackerson  
8/09/2011 / Short Stories

I've had this blasted headache for three days now. If I were home in Chicago, I'd hibernate in my dark and quiet apartment, with plenty of aspirin on hand and one of the many willing and lovely grad students to pamper me. Here in this tiny, primitive Peruvian village, the Indians are probably still making herbal remedies reeking of roots and dung. My doctoral thesis is on the mythology of the Inca, and living in the shadow of Machu Picchu has certainly provided me with the necessary atmospherebut I find that I miss civilization. I am surrounded in this tiny room by mildewing books and crumbling fragments of pictographsis it any wonder, then, that Illapa, the god of thunder and lightning, is dancing behind my eyes?

One day, Illapa was carrying his jug full of stars when he fellno, make that 'stumbled'stumbled on a mountain. The jug of stars fell from his hands, shattering on the sharp rocks below. The stars fell down to earth, but they changed tothe pictograph shows 'cloud'changed to cloud?no, to rainbut they changed to rain. Illapa grew angry, and he stomped

I'm distracted from my translation by noises outside. My little thatched house has no glass in its one window; I poke my head outside to see a child of about six or seven years carrying a protesting chicken down the dirt road. He is barefooted, and his nose is running. His life here must be very like that of his Incan ancestorsbrutal, filthy, diseased.

Despite my academic interest in the lively gods of this region, I believe that I'd have been an agnostic Incan, just as I'm an agnostic Chicagoanthere is cold comfort in gods whose only purpose is to explain misfortunes of the weather. If I were in the business of inventing gods, I'd invent one who was more concerned with how people were treating each other than with creating thunder and lightning.

The boy is singing as he carries his prize into a small white building across the road. The chicken squawks, and after a few seconds, I hear a thunk, then silence. Lucky chicken--my head continues to pound. Perhaps a different translation

Supay left the underworld of Uca Pacha to find something toburn? consume? No, it's 'eat', or maybe 'devour'He snatched up llamas and rheasnote to selfcheck translations for native wildlife 'llama' is possibly some other large mammalbut they did not satisfy his hunger. Supay scooped up some water from the river to quench his great thirst when a voice from the water called out

There are voices outside my window again. I look out, annoyed at the interruption to my work. The little boy is still there, and he's been joined by perhaps a dozen Indians in their colorfully woven clothing. They are all singing nowsome dissonant melody no doubt descended through generations of post-Incan Peruvians. I pity these people, who seem not to have evolved in several hundred years. Just as their song finishes, I start to cough, a deep chesty bark that won't stop. When the paroxysm finally passes, I glance outside one more time. Several of the natives are staring in my direction.

I wish for the millionth time that my doctoral advisor had let me do as I wishedto study these myths in the comfort of a paneled cubicle, with my computer and my iPod. The Incan pantheonCatequil, Pachamama, Ekkekois full of fascinating personalities. This little village is not.

Another spasm of coughing shakes me, and when at last I look up, an Indian woman is standing in my doorway, holding a steaming pot ofsomething. She speaks to me in her native tongueI can translate half a dozen pre-Columbian hieroglyphic languages, but I have no idea what she has just said. She holds out the pot and tries again, this time in Spanish: Aqu esta alguna sopa, seor, in el nombre de bendito Jesus Cristo. Para la tos suyo. She is offering me soupchicken soup, I guess, remembering that squawk from earlierfor my cough, in the name of blessed Jesus.

Suddenly I want nothing more than this very cup of chicken soup, offered humbly in the name of a surprising god. I accept it from the woman with a hoarse gracias, seora and she smiles shyly. She is missing several teeth, and she is perhaps fifty, perhaps seventy--and it seems to me that she is very beautiful.

Jan is a Christian who has traveled through sorrow and depression, and has found victory and grace. She dedicates all writings to her Heavenly Father. Check out Jan's website at
Copywrite Jan Ackerson--2006

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