It was very far, this small village. So far that one could not find the way back in a day. This is where Anniko found herself.
Anniko leaned her tired body against the tree. She knew her village was a great distance from where she was, yet she did not know where to find another village. In her loneliness, she looked up at the bird whose song she had followed. It was a lovely song, so lovely she had forgotten to look where she was going. Now, watching the sun leave, she shivered, knowing night would soon come. To keep herself safe from wild animals that roamed at night she climbed up into a tree. When she heard the roar of a lion circling the trunk of the tree she wished more than ever she had never left her village.
The return of the sun’s warmth woke her, welcoming her to the new day. When she looked around she knew she was lost. Afraid of walking in circles, she decided to follow the path of the sun. Just before dusk, she came to a strange and unknown village.
Anniko and the villagers stared at each other, amazed. She had never seen people with long necks. They had never seen a person with a short neck. They might have stared at each other until the sun went down but Anniko was hungry and thirsty and tired. “Please,” she asked, “might I have something to eat and drink?” Overcoming their astonishment, the villagers gave her food, water, and a mat on which to sleep.
The next morning, Anniko rose with the sun. As she had done every morning in her village, she sang a song to welcome the day. Once again the People of the Long Necks were filled with wonder. They had never heard such beautiful sounds. Anniko was happy they liked her music and offered to help with the day’s chores. As she worked, she sang, easing their effort.
Although the villagers and Anniko grew to be fond of each other, there was one man who did not like her. He especially did not like to hear Anniko sing and waited for an opportunity to get rid of her. One day, when Anniko was alone, sitting in the sun, combing her hair, he quietly crept up behind her. After looking around to make sure no one was nearby, he confronted her. “You are ruining our village. If you stay here we can no longer be known as the People of the Long Necks for you have a short neck and you will never have a long neck. You need to leave our village, now!”
Anniko was too upset to say anything. Perhaps the others think as he does but were too kind to tell me, she thought. With the man’s words ringing in her ear, Anniko quickly left the village.
That evening, the villagers gathered to hear the song Anniko sang to greet the evening but they heard no song. “Where is Anniko?” they asked. No one knew. The man said nothing, pleased with the quiet. When the villagers began to leave there was one who said, “I think I know the person we should ask. Follow me!” They went to the house of the man and asked, “Where is Anniko?”
At first he denied knowing what they meant, but the villagers kept asking. “All right,” he said, “I will tell you. Anniko does not belong in our village. We are the People of the Long Necks. She has a short neck. If she lives with us, we can no longer say we are the People of the Long Necks. Listen to me, I am right. Let her be wherever she is. We don’t need her to spoil our ways and we don’t need her songs. We did well enough before she came.”
But the villagers missed Anniko. They had grown fond of her singing and helpful ways. They decided to go into the forest to look for her even though they had no idea where she might have gone. After they had been looking for a long time, one of the villagers suggested, “Perhaps we could sing to her as she sang to us. Perhaps she will hear our singing and we will find each other.” Although everyone thought this was a good idea, they looked at each other, puzzled. No one knew how to sing. But they wanted to find Anniko so badly they decided to try.
Their first sounds were noises, more like screeches and squawks than song. They put their hands over their ears and kept trying. Finally, they decided it was too hard to learn to sing and to sing a song so they simply chanted, “Anniko. Anniko. We are here. Anniko.” There was no response but they kept chanting. “Anniko. Anniko. We are here. Anniko.” Although they heard nothing, they kept chanting, “Anniko. Anniko. We are here. Anniko.” Then, in the distance, they thought they heard a sweet sound. A song. Listening intently, they followed the sound, walking toward what they heard. The song got louder and louder until the villagers and Anniko were face to face.
They greeted her joyfully, but she remembered the words of the man and remained quiet. The villagers understood. “Never mind what that man said. We want you to stay in our village. We are the People of the Long Necks and we will always be so. Your presence does not change this. Your songs lift our spirits and fill our hearts with happiness. Please, come back with us. Please, stay with us.”
Anniko looked at the villagers and saw they spoke the truth. Holding her head high, she sang to them as they left the forest and made their way home.
Nancy King is a widely published author and a professor emerita at the University of Delaware, where she has taught theater, drama, playwriting, creative writing, and multidisciplinary studies with an emphasis on world literature. She has published seven previous works of nonfiction and five novels. Her new memoir, Breaking the Silence, explores the power of stories in healing from trauma and abuse. Her career has emphasized the use of her own experience in being silenced to encourage students to find their voices and to express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with authenticity, as a way to add meaning to their lives.