Last night, I was in a land before technology. A space without belongings. A time before friend requests and fire.
I meet a community of humans in a sweaty jungle. I’m ready to be speared, but they talk to me instead. At me, I should say. I don’t understand their language at all. Lots of vowels and grimacing. A man with long hair swings his fist to the ground and points his eyes upward: “Waaaap.” A woman with a baby on her hip pounds a prehistoric tree: “Dhuhh.”
Not the best instruction, but I’m not so easy to understand either. They’re bemused by my syllables and sarcasm. I must sound like a dolphin to them.
“Guys, I don’t understand any of this. Are you talking about the ground or the action of swinging at the ground? And, like, why? Are these berries edible?”
Then the leader of the village emerges from the thick jungle brush. Because of the feathers in his hair I assume he’s in charge. He’s scraped up and bleeding in spots. The villagers wail mournfully.
“Dudes, he’s going to be OK,” but I’m not so sure. In 1795 you could succumb to a well-placed hen peck. This is a million BC.
Because this is a dream, I am able to find a tube of Polysporin from my duffel bag. As I apply the salve, everyone is quiet. They sense a religious experience is taking place. I understand how David Blaine must feel every day.
For no reason whatsoever I make a show of putting the cap back on.
Days later the village leader demonstrates his scabs to every hut. There is curiosity about the magic gunk that saved the chief. Remembering the Prime Directive from Star Trek, I avoid using the brand name. I think this is important for some reason.
“Tube,” I explain, holding it up. The village people are ecstatic. “Chuba!” they repeat. This is my name from now on.
They award me a few hair feathers of my own and help me build a decent hut near the edge of the village. Lots of south-facing light.
I am trying to bring fire to our village, but it’s taken weeks to eke out even a wisp of smoke. The elder women check on my progress. Rose brings me edible berries. Blanche brings me the identical-looking berries that make me violently ill. Sophia delivers the past-due carcasses of jungle rodents. Hungry as I am, I can’t stomach the rotting rat flesh — but I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I wait until nightfall to hurl the carrion into a dark thicket. Even in the land before etiquette I can’t help myself.
Then one day there is smoke. And then fire.
I race around our village with a burning wad of kindling. No one cares. “Feel it, it’s warm!” Some men act like I’m carrying a fistful of my own leavings. I think I see someone shrug. (Did I teach them that?)
Like all great tech, the kids are the first to get into it. Some gather in front of my hut and feed the fire with small sticks. Alex P. Keaton (hilarious kid) throws a stone in and I admonish him. He nods respectfully.
Eventually our whole village is pro-fire, except our feathered leader whom I’ve dubbed Carl Winslow. He’s jealous of the attention I’m getting. Maybe he thinks I’m trying to steal Harriet. I swear I am not.
It’s a typical evening by the fire. Alex P. Keaton is dancing to entertain us and the old ladies are telling jokes that I desperately want to understand. Carl materializes with my duffel bag.
He raises the bag above the fire knowing what fire can do. “Carl…” I begin to say but he releases the bag from his grip.
Someone lets out the first gasp in history. Everyone looks to Chuba for his reaction. I do too. Chuba is neither alarmed nor angry. I watch the flames take the duffel bag. Everything that’s mine was in that bag. There was an iPhone in there. I look to the fire and then the villagers. Nothing I’ve made was in that bag.
Seeing Chuba relaxed, the villagers soften their shoulders and relax their gaze. Carl sits back down, intrigued by the sound of crackling canvas and pungent scents new to this universe. Together our village watches the future as it’s taken by flame.