/ana/: Etymology of a Goddess
By Richard D. Treat
After a lifetime in pursuit of the mechanisms of meaning, he jumped at the chance to witness the flipside: the possibility of documenting a tropical Babel. So he hired a catboat and set out. The trip was based entirely on hearsay.
The Lewdwani, however, had been unusually persistent, not once wavering—even calling on the name of Lewdwa—insisting they'd been able to communicate with their neighbors a mere five years ago. But now they might as well speak in farts.
So The Professor had to go. He certainly didn't have any romantic misconceptions about island life. He was quite familiar with the monotony of high tide and the sickening rock of palm-roofed junks. He'd never understand their reasons for migrating to those malformed outcroppings, or why they'd willingly inhabit caves like a bunch of gypsies. Nevertheless, Babel called.
Two males helped him off the boat, then led the bearded man ashore, through the waist deep water and the crowd of blinking eyes. Nobody spoke. They simply walked through the crowd, and continued up a rocky switchback, which wound around the circumference of the island.
And they kept walking, all the way up to the cliff tops, where two islanders pointed at a circular opening, then headed back. It would be his home for the remainder of his stay.
The cave showed signs of previous inhabitation. There were two thick stumps to sit on and a fire pit. Petroglyphs of sharks and an assortment of fauna had been chipped into the rock walls.
Three letters, however, far outnumbered any of the naturalistic motifs. The word was everywhere. And not only on the walls. It was in the air too: on the winding switchbacks and the docks and the bobbing fishing boats.
He'd never heard a more minimal tongue; /ana/ was ubiquitous throughout: as an adjective, it denoted anything unknown or holy; as a noun or nominative root, it signified a god or animate being, or any inanimate object seen as having animate qualities; it became an intensifier as an infix, and a causative verb with the prefix n-.
He was astounded by the lexical paucity. The Lewdwani weren't mistaken: they sounded like a band of long-tailed macaques.
Even the grammatical structure had changed. The Professor, however, had little difficulty learning the diminutive language—which is how he came to know of the young backpacker who'd preceded him.
Nobody knew why she'd come. People would simply shrug: "Ana-nana-lo, mimol ana-nana." (Roughly: It came to be, so it was.)
What's undisputed, however, is that the islanders found the girl drifting at sea one exceptionally windy day, her hair glowing like mounds of silica in the midday sun. What's undisputed is that they readied a cave for the newcomer and welcomed her to exist amongst them.
Her backpack still sits in a chicken coop, which also serves as a makeshift shrine, to testify to her brief presence on the island.
The Professor imagined himself ripping off the informant's beads as he pushed rewind. "You should've seen her!" the female voice continued. "She'd climb to the top of that cliff and dive in, just like a gull, only prettier...That Ana!"
"And that's what got...'That Ana.'" He'd been hearing it for months. Ana taught us to speak. Ana cured our hemorrhoids. Ana this, Ana that. "And she didn't even bother speaking to you people," he said to himself.
He was correct: the backpacker had done very little. The islanders even admitted they'd had little contact with her. They led her up to the cave, and that was it. She kept herself cloistered until the day she killed herself—be it on accident or on purpose—and now they all awaited a miraculous return.
He had her pegged as an English major with too much Thoreau, but that was only speculation.
Either way, the sentence was the same: he had to listen to the daily testimonials, only to transcribe them by firelight. Otherwise, acculturation had been without a hitch. He quickly found himself blinking at passersby and boiling shellfish soup for breakfast.
"Has Tanat changed much?"
The Professor was startled by the sound of his voice.
"Oh, when Ana came, everything changed," a male voice replied. It was Na-Lanalan.
The flame bounced his shadow off the cave walls.
"Everything. The fish grew fatter, the catches tripled, not to mention the wife, she stopped burning the cassava bread."
"And she made my flowers smell sweeter," a female voice added.
"And my husband's stamina went wild!" Everybody laughed. And little Ap-Anapa whined, "Ana! I want Ana."
The Professor pushed stop and mimicked in falsetto. He thought of them coming at sunrise, face down in the dirt, repeating the backpacker's name—over and over—like an Allahu Akbar coming from a minaret loudspeaker.
He thought of the albino boy too, how he'd place the shellfish on one of the stumps, singing "Ana-pu-nana-nup-ana" with that prepubescent soprano of his. All the hyperbole and crude veneration had come to a head.
He stood up and walked to the mouth of the cave. The ocean roared below. Then he descended the winding trail, making sure to pass the other caves without waking the locals.
He didn't stop until he got to the metal enclosure. Chickens clucked as he fiddled with the latch.
The Professor unzipped the bag and began to rummage through the t-shirts and sunscreen and panties and tampons. He wasn't sure what he was looking for—until he felt the soft leather cover and the roughly cut pages. He put the book inside his pants, then repacked the rest of the contents.
The journal was peppered with a naïve carpe diem, which reminded him of years past, the whole thing elliptical—àla Céline—and quite pretentious. It began on Christmas, and chronicled the girl's first trip abroad, and her chance voyage to Tanat: how she bought a flat bottom boat with a little Yamaha outboard, and how she ended up dumping the gasoline overboard in order to let destiny take it's course.
It was overdone and simplistic, yet—the fact remained—the girl had the nerve to float in the enormity of the Pacific. It struck him as quite ballsy.
The Professor read the journal in its entirety, down to the last quote by St. Catherine of Genoa: "...the soul when purified...abides entirely in God...it's being is God," were the nun's words.
He didn't know much about souls—or anything else more metaphysical than X-Bar Syntax—but he did know that he wanted to know the girl better than anyone. He already knew things they'd never know. He knew that she was from Ohio, and that she liked to go skinny-dipping on moonless nights, and that she used to be self-conscious of her little breasts. He knew that she liked Lao Tzu, Jack London, and Saint Teresa of Avila, and some other writers he'd never heard of. He knew she had an ex-boyfriend who worked at Bennigan's.
He was interrupted by the orange glow of the sun and the arrival of the islanders. The albino boy placed a handful of shellfish on one of the stumps, then everybody shuffled back down the trail.
Over the next three months, The Professor followed a loose regimen, walking with locals down the switchbacks, and stopping by a cave or two before heading to the market. He happily compiled talk about Ana throughout the day, and, at night, he'd return to his cave and re-read the journal, hunting for unnoticed particulars, trying to glean the implicit within the ellipses. He'd never been so enamored by a dead person.
And, one night, he closed his eyes and there she was: standing at the mouth of the cave in a sarong and a bikini top, hair parted down the middle. There she was: in the darkness of a new moon, the stars dancing all around her. He'd never felt such a rush of blood.
She could've been his daughter.
Ana just smiled, then got on her knees and began to crawl towards him. She didn't take her eyes off him as she slowly approached. The Professor was breathing like a fool, anticipating the fleshy bliss of her touch. That, however, wasn't in the cards.
The girl never took off her clothes or gave him a scrap of sexual gratification. She simply crawled up to the panting linguist, unzipped his kakis, and took out his penis without observing any etiquette of foreplay. Then Ana proceeded to look over his genitals, without too much interest, and inserted the tip of her pinkie into his urethral opening, as deep as she could get it in.
She twisted her little fingernail, and The Professor kicked up dirt with his arms and legs. However, he awoke feeling elated. He now understood the parameters of their relationship.
She was the antithesis of The Unspeakable. She was Ana! And she'd given her name to everyone: he and the shellfish and the causative verbs had all been consecrated; even the bird shit was divine—if it appeared to have animate qualities, e.g., dropping from the sky.
The Tanat were right!
"Anal-amatz-ztamal-ana!" he shouted. He didn't know what the hell it meant. But what a beautiful thing to say!
The Professor proceeded to disrobe, spitting out free-verse palindromes that nobody had ever bothered to say. He knew that, with a name like Stanly, he'd never become a causative, or even a prefix, but he didn't care. Linguistic entropy had set in, and he'd never been happier or loved anybody as deeply.
"Anal-amatz-ztamal-ana!" he shouted from the edge of the cliff as he dropped to the foamy void.
He knew she was close. She must be swimming around there somewhere.
Richard D. Treat has lived in Argentina, the U.S., Mexico, Morocco and currently teaches at Information and Communications Univeristy in South Korea. He has another story online at Flashquake.
Photo "Colors," courtesy of Melissa Ricquier, Watervliet, Belgium.
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