Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Wandering (Part 5)

Two hands passed. A full rotation, a week's time, 10 days, marked by the digets on our hands for easy remembrance. My age, 2 hands, as well. A special number, not more or less, but perfect and round and enough.

Two hands marked with the rise and fall of the alabaster sister. Her twin, came doubly slow, and only now made a soft decent towards Leaochis. The ever-moon was in her ocean phase, pale blue but still glowing softly, the highest and brightest light in the night sky.

Today was the beginning of our tidal celebrations. All week Ignose had prepared, while my stomach had grown tighter and tighter. How would Roan fair, without her for a night? How could she bare the pain, so soon after birthing her twins?

As night swelled round and full like her time was near, I made my decision. I would go instead. It was time, I was ready. And it was my place too. Ignose had Roan tucked under her arm, and a calm expression on her face, little expecting my purposed thoughts.

She looked serene now, all motherly affection, but I alone knew how she had tossed and turned all night, moaning with pains. She had woken to nurse Roan at least six times. Often I had heard the soft sounds of her feeding him as she sobbed quietly. Now she stood straight and tall, like a palm tree unruffled in sea wind, smoothing Roan's black hair and sniffling over his dark eyes. As I watched, she whispered his sisters name to him, crooning as the women did to their new babies. Ryia. Ryia, soft as wind. Ryia, who was not here in his mother's arms.

I could still smell the blood. Unlike the first hand her bleeding had ebbed somewhat. But now, as the second hand culminated, I still saw Ignose dumping sodden rags into our washing basket at least once every mealtime. Did it hurt? If it did, she did not say. Yet she tossed and turned...and moaned and cried.

Ryia, Ryia, she whispered, and it pained my chest so to hear it echo across the night from her lips.

There had been so much blood. Could she lose more?

My stomach was squeezing, and my palms were sweaty, but as she prepared to leave, I faced her. My mind had been all but made up when she had told me, many moons ago that she was with child.

“I will go,” I said, taking a step towards the women that waited at the edge of our small footpath, their eyes on Ignose.

“No,” She said, but her voice hesitated. Broke. “No.”

“Yes,” I said. “You must rest.”

“You don't know what you are asking,” She said.

Roan squirmed in her arms, his mouth searching for milk. She adjusted him, and made to hand him to me.

“I do know,” I said, and met her gaze. Her brows tightened, and she continued to hold out Roan like some moon-offering between us.

“I'm going,” I said, and turned. I looked back when I was halfway down the path to find her staring at me thunderstruck, as if the lightening from my birth day storm had finally shocked her to the ground.

It was Cinna, Beia, Mai and Ogna May.

“Is Ignose coming?” Cinna asked, tossing her head in the direction of our lean-to. “It is Tide, moon-daugher. Fetch her at once.”

I raised my head a fraction, to look at the neck under Cinna's chin, her black skin weathered but still smooth, wiry with a weaver's grace.

“We know,” I said. “I have come. I am also Blighted.”

Mai gasped. “She's too young,” she said.

I looked down again, curling my hands. Waiting.

“Ignose was younger, when she started. Six red moons, I think,” Ogna May's gravely voice made me relax. “How old are you, Solamae?” She asked.

My eyes roamed, found her cheeks. Wrinkled, wonderful cheeks, craggy with age and but pleasant to behold. Like a stone, the Ogna May was. A stone you picked up and held for luck, cupped in your hand until it wore your skin away, until you knew it's every crevice and dip. Until it became a part of you. That's who the Ogna was to our village.

“11 moons soon, moon-sister,” I said.

We left.

The first stop was the saunas, where I was meticulously bathed. No one spoke, and the steam rose and fell like ocean waves over my naked body.

After my bath, the weavers took me into their tent. I sat on a red mat while they brushed and plaited my hair into 18 different braids. 18, one for each month in our yearly rotation. They oiled my body, still naked. I shivered under their warm hands, sliding across my arms, now dipping between my legs, now reaching around my back. When they were done my black skin glistened like sea-spray on a moonlight night.

Still no one spoke. I kept my eyes on the floor.

The Ogna met me at the door. She smiled at me. Her I could look at. Her I did not always fear. She took my hand and walked me around the village, from hut to hut, space to space, for all to see.

I saw the woven grass huts, with cream fibers newly pressed and mended, as was the custom on the even of our tidal celebration. The dark skin of my moon-sisters glistened in the moonlight, making the whites of their round, black eyes almost glow in the night. I met each gaze, many for the first time. Limbs and moccasins were my identifying marks to name my sisters, due to my cursed gaze—but now I on this most ancient and solemn of celebrations, saw faces. And how varied those faces were, how quiet and puzzling their glances, where I was used to anger and disgust. Studying the dark faces of my moon sisters left me feeling like a beached fish after a summer storm. My belly felt like it swam with minnows but I tried to keep as calm. This was important. This, I could do.

Then we went to the beach.

“Solamae, look at me.” The Onga said, and I looked. The sight of her eyes made my heart pound. She was crying. “Do you know what to do?”

I nodded. And so did she. “Make sure you aren't late,” she said. Her mouth opened like she would say more, but she didn't.

I tried to make my face stone, so she wouldn't see my fear. I don't know if it worked but suddenly the Ogna wouldn't meet my eyes anymore. Instead, she reached into her basket and pulled out the kai, the thin reeds to bind me.

“This we do for the wind,” She said, and bound my left hand.

“This we do for the wind,” I replied.

“This we do for the sea,” She said, and she tied my right hand to my left, behind me.

“This we do for the sea,” I said.

“This we do for the sky,” She said, as she looped my legs together.

“This we do for the sky,” I said.

“And this we do for Leaochis,” She said, and she wrapped a dark cloth around my eyes.

“This we do for Leaochis,” I said, but my voice cracked and I couldn't help adding, “Ogna May, are you still there?”

She didn't answer.

“Ogna May?” I whispered, turning my head left to right, even if I couldn't see. “Ignose? Where am I?”

The sound of an owl hooted in the distance. My heart was beating so fast it was hurting my chest. I tried to take slow, calm breaths but I kept having to gulp back the lump in my throat. The sand was hot. I was thirsty.


Friday, March 26, 2021

The Wandering (Part 4)

When I arrived back at our lean-to after my bath, I spread my damp, clean clothes from the sea upon the hut to dry. Ignose sat glassy-eyed by the fire, holding the sleeping man-child. She did not look up when I sat to add more twigs and sticks to the fire , rocking on my heals before our flame.

“I've named him Roan.” Her voice broke the silence and made me flinch. I looked up, and her face was towards me. Her cheeks were wet but her eyes looked beyond me, towards the trees.

I blinked again surprise and almost fell over.

“You cannot!” I said.

Ignose began to weep in ernest again. 

“They have taken my daughter from me. They have given her to another. All because she was ocean born, and I was not. Because I am cursed and she is not. Why did you fetch the Ogna. Why, why Solamae. Did I not tell you that I would give birth on land? Did I not instruct you, time and time again, to let me give birth as I wanted? A cursed life is the only life I had to offer a daughter. It was good enough for my mother to give to me, but now I am denied this for my own child.” She laughed hoarsely.

I gulped.

“I knew you would not want your daughter to suffer.” I said, slowly. “You said you were having a boy, so I thought it did not matter. The sounds you made scared me. I did not know what would happen. It might have been worse than the rocks.”

Ignose gently laid her son in a basket to her left. She stood, and her face was like thunder over me.

“It is not fair.” She said quietly, as I began to tremble. “My daughter is gone. You have greatly displeased me and the bad omens you have brought will never be forgiven. I will never--” here she picked up a thin branch from the ground-- “forgive you.” Before I knew it, the branch was over her head, coming down on my back. Switch. Again. Switch. Again. I covered my face and fell to the dirt. It stung. It would leave welts, but not bruises. Ignose is kind.

And while it was true she had asked me not to fetch the Ogna... in the deep in the night, she had begged me to never let her daughter turn out like her, out like me. I had done what I had to do.

Three switches later and Ignose was cradling me in her arms and sobbing into my hair while I clung to her.

“Why do you never fight back,” She croaked, squeezing me. “Why don't you yell at me, for a change.”

I smiled and hugged her tighter. For some reason, the switching had left me feeling lighter, somehow. Forgiven. Absolved.

“I need to go fetch some mushrooms for dinner, moon-sister,” I said “Or we will have nothing to eat tonight.”

Ignose released me, and she, too, seemed lighter, more relaxed. She tweaked my shoulder and grinned at me.

“The Ogna brought me a basket of spring vegetables for nursing,” She said. “There are turnips and broccoli, an onion, some peppers...and sweet potatoes.” Now I stared. Sweet potatoes? For us? My mouth started to water.

While Ignose held Roan, I fetched our clay cooking tray and strung it over the fire with kai reeds. Soon the smell of roasting veggies filled the air while Roan slept.

“Tell me the story of my birth.” I begged, to break the silence and to further cheer Ignose. Ignose smiled. She loved this story almost as much as I.

“There was a storm,” Ignose began, reminiscing. I relaxed, turning veggies. This is a story I had heard a hundred times over.

“I have never seen the sky so black. Everyone said the Creator was angry and I also was black and blue from being beaten for my ill luck. I remember crying in my lean-to, wet and miserable and hungry.”

“That night, I decided that enough was enough. Since I had not been born in the sea, to the sea I would go. The sea would be my forever home. I would trouble my sisters no more. My death would bring good omens, not bad, to my moon-sisters. And perhaps, in death, I would finally be forgiven.”

“I left my tent. The downpour was intense. I couldn't see beyond my two hands. The rain was pounding my body and the noise drowned out all else. I made my way down the path, slipping in the mud, not caring where I fell.

About halfway there I passed some of the women. They were huddled around another. She was screaming. I could hear her cries between the peels of thunder.

I ignored them, wrapped in my own thoughts. It wasn't until I reached the rocks that I realized what she was saying. My baby, my baby. And there you were. Tucked against the side of a rock, wet and miserable. When my eyes met yours, you started to cry again, mewing for me. I knew. I just knew. I picked you up and popped you in my shirt. The act of me walking must have soothed you to sleep, because your bald little head was nestled close under my chin in slumber by the time I made it to the village.”

I gasped. She had never said the part about going to the village after she found me. Ignose paused, as if searching for words.

“You were beautiful. And we both saved someone that night.”

I lean back, thoughts swirling. I'd never thought about it before, but who had nursed me back to life? Certainly not Ignose. Yet she always swore by the Creator she didn't know who my mother was, when I asked. Yet someone had nursed me. Hadn't they? Someone must have suckled me and held me close, and cuddled me in the night.

Someone else in the village cared for me. But who was it?


Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Wandering (Part 3)

“Oh!” I said, flinching back. The woman glared at me. It was weaver Cinna.

“Watch where you are going, blighted daughter.” She spat. I immediately sank to the ground, my face buried in her moccasins.

Silent, I trembled, waiting for her to move. As I breathed slowly, Ryia began to cry, not happy with being suffocated against my chest.

Cinna sighed.

“Solame. You bring bad luck here,” She said, in an impatient tone I had grown to be wary of.

From my place on the ground, I tried to speak.

“I am searching for Paqia to nurse Ignose's baby,” I said to the dust.

“Oh, get up here,” Cinna said. Deftly she knelt, hauling at my arm, pulling me upwards in quick irritated yanks. “I can't hear you if you're groveling. There is no harm done, I didn't see the baby.”

Ryia began to wail louder as I stood and dusted myself off as best I could with two arm full of a baby and a load of clothes.

Cinna tisked. “Paqia has headed off for the quarterly hunt. She will not be back until the blue sister falls to kiss her alabaster twin.”

I bit back a grin. That was two weeks! Ignose could have her baby! By the time Paqia returned, her milk would be dried up. She could not nurse Ryia.

“Another wet nurse will have to be found,” Cinna said, clicking her tongue. “Since a cursed maiden cannot raise a moon-daugher...Hmmm. Oai and Paoe both have sucklings at the breast, and six more in the hut are due in 2 hands...”

I studied my toes. My feet longed to be back on that path to tell Ignose the good news.

“I know,” Cinna said, her grip on me softening, “I could nurse her. My son nurses still at the breast, and more milk for a mewling would flow after a few nights.”

I stopped breathing. Paqia was one thing, but Cinna was another.

“I was wondering, sister...” I said slowly, hoping my face did not look flushed, “If there was any bad luck on nursing a cursed one's child?”

Cinna sucked in her breath. I held mine.

“I do not know,” She said carefully. I studied her moccasins again, with their soft hide flaps and blue and white beads. Finally she continued.

“The baby is better being suckled by those who are not blighted. I will nurse her.”

I did not move. Ignose hated Cinna. She would never forgive me if I left her daughter with her. I knew also that Cinna did not care about little Ryia. She would mistreat Ryia. A picture of Ryia, dead, laying on the rocks beside the sea flashed though my heads. She would leave the baby out on the rocks where the cursed ones were left to die. She held no love for Ignose, so why would she want her baby?

“Ogna May told me to leave the baby with Paqia, moon-sister. I must obey the Ogna,” I said, bowing so low while trying to rock Ryia and quiet her. Is I swayed and bent, I felt something fall from my bundle. I watched in horror as my washing-stone tumbled out and split in two against the stony ground. A lump formed in my throat. Ignose had traded many things for that stone. We used to take turns scrubbing backs in the sauna, and I had many fond memories of our time there. And now I had broken it.

I reached out to grab one of the pieces, but Cinna swiped it out of the way with her moccasin, and it clattered to the side, hidden among the short grass underneath the working-huts.

“You are clumsy, cursed daughter.” She said. I remained bent over, while Ryia screamed, and tears pricked the edges of my vision.

“I told you to stand up.” This time Cinna yanked me so hard I almost dropped Ryia. She tightened her grip on my arm and hauled me to my feet, then slung back her hand to slap me across the face.

I blinked as it stung, sucking in my breath and swaying on my toes. The light spun.

“What is the meaning of this, moon daugher.” It was the Ogna's voice. In one motion, she plucked the angry Ryia from my arms, and turned to face Cinna, sweeping me behind her. I flattened myself against the earth.

“The cursed daughter brings her bad omens here. You should not have sent her.” Cinna said. With my eyes to the dirt, I spied the other half of my washing stone, and flicked out my hand to tuck it back in among my clothes.

“Solamae was bringing the baby in to nurse. Ignose has been blessed with twins,” Ogna May said. “I instructed her to do this. You forget yourself.”

“Paqia has gone on the hunt,” Cinna said “I will nurse the baby. Yet Solame refused. She should not speak so to her moon-sister. She should not speak back to an elder. She is cursed.”

I felt Ogna shift above me.

“I just heard of Paqia's departure. That is why I came after Solame. I have sent Yegj to run after Paqia. You are still nursing your boy, he has not left your breast yet. You know we do not suckle men and women on the same teet, it is an abhorrence. He must be suckled for the full 2 red moon cycles.”

Cinna mumbled something, but I couldn't catch it with my face in the dirt and my ears ringing from being slapped. I lifted my head a little, but only saw the back of the Ogna's bare feet, calloused and brown against the rocks.

Time passed. I'm not sure how much. My stomach rumbled. Eventually the Ogna knelt down and I felt her gentle hands on my back.

“There, there, little Solamae.” She said. I realized then she had somehow made Ryia quiet. “Ryia will be fine with Paqia. Do not worry youself. Ignose will be okay too. It is for the best. Go and bathe.”

I turned and fled. I had failed.