Hubris’ death caught us all off-guard. We couldn’t take it in for a few days. That is, of course, the most logical reaction of an immortal tribe, such as ours, to the sudden and voluntary death of one of its members.
The morning of the tragic event had passed just like all the previous ones of which there was memory. We woke up when our eyes were hit by the light of dawn. We greeted with the due ceremony the Sun, the River, the Trees, and all the Animals with whom we share our settlement. We took fresh milk from the goats, cornbread and honey for breakfast. Then, as was our custom, we sat down, each in our designated position, to contemplate the beauty of the Whole and the infinity of Time. Hardly half the day had passed when Hubris jumped up.
“Well, isn’t this boring,” he exclaimed and fell dead at our feet.
Throughout our long existence we have witnessed the cycle of life of millions of beings, the rise and fall of entire civilizations, and the genocide of several warring races at the hands of other equally foolish ones, but never, ever, anything like that. It was something unusual that, by the mere force of his will, someone would cease to exist.
He had, moreover, the tremendous discourtesy of leaving his body behind so that we would have to deal with him. We held an urgent meeting of the Council, but no one remembered ever having seen themselves in such circumstances before. Never had one of us left this world, for what we could remember at the time. We, therefore, lacked any form of funeral rites. On the other hand, we weren’t very skilled in the art of inventing things out of thin air that did not serve some practical purpose, such as plowing or building shelters for the rainy season. All the options that were proposed during that meeting turned out to be fairly insane. No solution seemed to represent our beliefs. It was impossible to imagine with what new system of destruction of bodies we could feel comfortable if a similar incident ever happened again. All that remained for us was imitation.
First, we tried to burn it, which seemed to be the favorite method of most mortal tribes. After three days and three nights of senselessly wasting wood, it was clear that this was not going to work. The flames floated around Hubris with no other effect than providing a beautiful purple light during the nights of the cremation attempt. His body remained so young and smooth after we got tired of chopping wood and throwing it into the pile as the day he had died.
Our next resort was to bury him. Recently, we had attended a number of mortal funerals where this method had been adopted. It seemed to serve the purpose of keeping the perished close to the tribe in order to visit and honor them. With that intention we built for him a clay box where we deposited him along with his most precious possessions: the feather of the falcon that once landed on his shoulder, and a stone necklace. This must have belonged, without a doubt, to some mortal. A gift from the time when we still loved them, when we suffered for them, before learning that our time and theirs are as different as that of the elephant and the moth. The point is the burial didn’t work out, either. Digging a hole in the Earth for Hubris to rest and cover it up again was a long, tedious and, above all, very tiring process. When, the next morning, we discovered with disgust that the Earth had expelled him from its bosom, we did not even consider the possibility of trying again. It wasn’t worth wasting any more of our sweat.
We wanted to give him to the river that crosses our land, then. Our intention was that Hubris would be carried to the Sea where he would become part of the Whole when he was devoured by fish. We thought that, at last, we had found the perfect solution. One that completed the cycle of life. We placed him on a raft built especially for the occasion with the most beautiful trees we could find. Without sparing any effort, we looked for flowers of all kinds growing on both sides of the river and covered him with them carefully. But once we placed the raft on the water, instead of moving away towards the sea, Hubris’ body looked like a salmon going up the rapids, refusing to abandon us.
Lacking better ideas, and, frankly, fed up with all that, we left him leaning against a tree, right there, by the river, hoping that, on the least expected day, his lifeless body would also get bored and decide to go away looking for adventures.
Several nights later, with his immortal remains still on the shore, we realized the main problem that Hubris’ death represented for our tribe. Now we were an even number. At the first Council we held after his death, where we would decide which grain to plant that season, we were sadly surprised by a tie between the wheat and the corn. We repeated the vote day after day, each of the two factions sure that, had he been among the living, they would have had him on their side. The arguments ranged from the bread that Hubris liked to eat for breakfast to how much he liked the color of the fields of one or another cereal. No one could say that any of these statements were lies, but none seemed to be sufficient reason to tip the balance. We even, on one shameful occasion, raised our voices and used an almost belligerent tone, tired of so much voting.
One of us remembered then that, in the old times, so old that they were already getting lost in the mist of oblivion, there was in our tribe the custom of begetting new beings, in a similar way as mortals and animals do. By putting our collective memory to work we were able to remember in disgust how new lives were conceived. That nauseating practice had been, incredibly, one of our main distractions when we were still a young race on this world. Some of us went so far back in our memories that we realized, to everyone’s surprise, that at the dawn of creation, we had been mortal like everyone else, until we were forbidden to enter the Underworld—a very sad story that I will tell you some other time. We concluded that it was because of such a ban that the body of the deceased remained among us, not because it resisted abandoning us by proving to be more stubborn dead than alive, but because it simply had nowhere else to go. Such revelations turned out not to be able to solve our problem. Even if that same day we had managed to conceive a new member for our tribe, something very difficult, this one would not have matured to vote before the harvest.
We remained silent until the words anger and selfishness were born in our language, with which we could finally express how we felt about Hubris’ decision to suddenly drop dead. We headed to the river ready to do whatever it took to bring him back to life, and if he was bored, well, let him hold it in like everyone else. We even resolved to resort to magic if there was no other choice, something that had not been necessary since the last invasion attempt by a mindless human tribe. Fortunately, on this occasion, it was not necessary to resort to such drastic measures. A woodpecker had made its nest on Hubris’ head, which remained leaning on the tree where we had left it. The bird looked at us with interest. We saw an opportunity and took advantage of it. We carefully placed a grain of corn and a grain of wheat in front of the animal in the hope that it would break the tie. That season, we planted wheat in the Valley.
Little by little, vegetation covered Hubris’ body until nothing of what he had once been could be seen. That woodpecker left, but others came and then others. As we drew almost every time we had to make a decision, in the end we always ended up celebrating the Council around him. With the vote in favor of the bird in turn, we decided that once every cycle, on a full moon like tonight, we would gather here, around Hubris’ Nest, and tell the story of how we came to leave the decisions of the Council in the hands of a bird so as not to allow this story to become a legend and disappear into the labyrinths of memory.