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.


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