The medicine man of Dumsorkrom was a powerful man. Needless to say he alone possessed the magic from the gods that could restore life into the dying breath. When the little flying ants, whom it was said came from the dirty trenches of the Wastelands attacked the people of Dumsorkrom and infected them with some strange fever, the medicine man always knew how to cure them. He was a man skilled in the art of mending broken bones and reviving thawed flesh. Indeed, his work was tedious, and its life and death matter meant that people called on him all the time. For the same reason, he was a very respected man.
Dumsorkrom was a very egalitarian society, and despite the importance of the Medicine man, he did not charge any fee from the people. If any man or woman whose life was saved wanted to show him kindness, he accepted, and this was often, otherwise he contended himself with the nobility of his work.
Now, a deadly famine hit Dumsorkrom, many starved and died. The medicine man had no magic to cure the hunger; even he starved. The people had an assembly and decided that if anybody should survive the famine, they would still need the medicine man, and so it was important that as the rest of the people toiled for their own food, some portion be given to the medicine man so he lasted as long as the last man. It was a sensible proposition, but a solution was still hard to come by. Even if they decided that everyone gave a share of their food to the medicine man, it would be hard to regulate such a system. There was no way of telling who would get food one day or the other. Besides, there was no guarantee that anyone would always defy the hunger of their own stomach and that of their family and give a portion to the medicine man. Who will enforce it, and who will determine even what portion to give the medicine man?
It was not clear who came up with the idea, but as the sun departed the gathering, someone came up with the idea to give every dead goat to the medicine man as his food. Goats were only kept as pets in Dumsorkrom, and as the famine came many of them died for obvious reasons. Though they were edible, no one really ate them, so it seemed a clever idea to give them as food to someone, since no one wanted to eat their pet just as they would not eat a member of their family. If anyone could eat that, it was the medicine man, since he was a man of magic, but also a stranger to the household of the goat. In any case, these were desperate times, and even the medicine man found this to be a sensible solution, and so it came it to be.
Time passed, and so did the famine, and Dumsorkrom was back to life again, having put behind the pain and losses of the famine. As if the gods had not done enough cruelty to Dumsorkrom, no longer had the famine passed than the little flying ants again attacked the land in droves, worse than when they had come on the land the first time. Many people caught the deadly fever, and who else but to their medicine man they turned for salvation. It appeared that their decision to keep their medicine man alive during the famine had proved to be prudent. Yet the changing times had changed their medicine man too.
It so happened that the dead goat portion that the people had in desperate times offered as food to the medicine man had become accustomed to his taste. So he demanded that in exchange for curing anyone who had caught the deadly fever, he wanted a dead goat. This was scandalous, and the people felt they were being blackmailed with the content of their own kindness. It appeared nothing short of wickedness, a heartless hostage in which their very lives were being held at ransom. There was a mass uproar against the medicine man, there was anger in the land, and as you would imagine, there were many who died, either as a refusal on their lives to bend to the medicine man’s extortions, or because they did not have any goats to offer in exchange to save their lives.
The noble medicine man, and he believed he was noble did not see that he was doing any wrong at all. If the land yielded food for the farmer who tended it, why should the people not provide food for the man who cures their diseases? Surely when the land failed to return to the farmer food for his labour, there was hunger, and people died. In the same way, if the cured man does not provide any returns for the labour of his curer, the curer would die, and soon then everyone will die. He was only asking that they keep him alive as they had done in desperate times. After all, the people had not kept him alive during the famine out of kindness; they had kept him alive to secure their own health in future. There is no evil, but only true nobility that a man demands to be given his food in return for his labour. So despite the misery around him, or the plea and malice visited on his person, the medicine man demanded his dead goat, and a dead goat he insisted on. He did not want a breathing goat, nor suggest that anyone killed his goat, as that would be akin to murdering a member of their family, he just demanded a dead goat, regardless.
Everyday if someone died from the fever, more curses were hurled the way of the medicine man. What kind of man allows another man to die because of a dead goat? But, what kind of people allows themselves to die because of a dead goat? Yet what kind of goat pushes a man to allow other people to die because the goat will not die? Was it the medicine man’s selfishness, the people’s unreasonableness or the goat’s existence? There seemed to be every reason to regret keeping the medicine man alive, and even more for providing him with what has now become his weapon of trade. Deep down, the people believed they had by their own hands and supposed kindness created a monster, and by what, a dead goat! How could a dead goat transform their noble and kindhearted medicine man into this heartless creature whose heart was set on their goats at the cost of their lives?
The medicine man was deeply heart broken. How is it that people seek return from their labour but he is refused his? He could not imagine that anyone would choose their property over their own life. What would be the use of the goat to you when you die? Should everyone die eventually from the deadly fever, their goats will also die and then what? Why should an animal, which he saw now more as food than anything else, be given such a place in society and kept alive while the people who gave it such a status in the first place should die? Perhaps people did not value their lives as much, or people had now become slaves of their own creations. Indeed, that must be it, what else can it be. Nothing masked all this more badly than the thought that not only were the people by their refusal committing a pointless suicide, they were also unwittingly starving him to death. This angered the medicine man so much he came up with a desperate ploy.
So when the people woke up daily to find that their goats were dying, they suspected with reason that the medicine man was the culprit. Now the dilemma was whether to give the goat to the medicine man as payment in return for cure for the sick, or bury the goat as they have buried those who had died from the fever. To think that the medicine man would have succeeded in actually forcing their hand by his evil actions into his demands riled the people, and so they decided instead to bury their goats, as they have their dead. For they reasoned that by asking for their goats in exchange for their lives, the medicine man had equated their lives to the worth of a dead goat. They would rather die than be as such dishonored.
The medicine man was perplexed by this madness, but he could not at this point do any more, if the people were so bent on refusing him his due. Neither was he willing to rescind his stance. For he had reasoned that if the people had deemed their lives less worthy than the dead goat, then neither did they value his life any more than the dead goat. He was starving; the people were dying. None could see the other’s point of view; none could inhabit the other’s place. The medicine man could not empathize with the ailing people; they had chosen their own death by fetishizing their goat! The people could not see the medicine man’s reason; how could anyone demand a mere dead goat as the prize of another man’s life.
It was shocking to say the least that the once agreeable land of Dumsorkrom now stood at its brink, on the dispute of a goat, and a dead goat as such. How is it that a dead goat whose place in the land, and which use as the medicine man’s food, which had been set by the people themselves, now become the subject that has turned affection of a medicine man and his people into a sour transaction. A transaction of impersonality, where the sick are seen not to die from their illness, but from selfish non-payment, and the medicine man starves, not from lack of food, but from his selfish demands. It was no longer a relation of dying mothers, brothers, wives and nephews and a starving medicine man, but a transaction of the man demanding to be paid and those refusing to pay. When all that remains of a people is not their relations, but of who owes whom what and who should pay whom what, there is nothing left of them but their own death, if not by violence of ailments, by the quieting hand of hunger.
When the travellers of the north reached Dumsorkrom, it was a wretched land scattered with many unburied dead men, women, children and goats.