Two covered figures, one bent with age and the other a child, quietly made their way from the main house into the night. The older of the two pulled the smaller one along in the dark by the hand as they walked further and further into the shadows.
This was the night of the new moon. It was the perfect chance to see the deed done. If what her son, Samir, told her was true, this would be the last chance she would have. She could not let her son and his family fall to ruin. She would not allow it. They thought her an old and feeble woman. True, the years have taken their toll on her body – but not her mind. Her mind was as keen as it ever was.
She remembered many things. Many lost and forgotten things handed down to her by her own grandmother. For many years, she had forgotten them all. Her marriage, her duties as a wife, and then motherhood whisked those tales away as if a hawk swooped down and carried them off. Only as she lay in her birthing bed, laboring to bring her sons into the world, did pieces of the tales return. They gave her strength. She was a wife, mother, and now a grandmother – but once she was Luja who knew the family’s secrets.
Now, after so many years had passed, she turned once again to those memories of her grandmother. The new moon was when one did this sort of thing, she remembered. Her granddaughter, Hala, was her ever-present shadow and she meant to share this thing with her. She pulled the sleepy child along in the dark, headed for the farthest corner of the gardens.
“I’m tired, Grandmother.” Hala whispered.
“Hush, child. We have things to do, you and I.” She looked once more over her shoulder and pushed on, past the unkempt and dying gardens to the farthest corner beside the stone wall. “I think this will do.”
She handed Hala a small bundle wrapped in cloth before kneeling on the ground. She felt around until she found a stick big enough to suit her needs. With more force than she knew she still possessed, the old woman began to dig a hole beneath the olive tree. Her arthritic hands ached, but her spirit soared. She would see this thing done. It had to be done. No one else knew what she did. She would save her family.
Hala sat heavily on the ground, her head resting in her hands as she watched her grandmother dig. That was good. Let her see each step. Let her understand there are ways beyond those of the modern world to get what one needs. Tonight, she was herself again. She imagined herself the young and beautiful Luja who had a wild spirit and a quick temper. In the morning, she would be Grandmother again… but not yet.
Satisfied with the size of the hole, Luja reached for the bundle in Hala’s arms. She snatched it from her and anxiously unwrapped the contents. The girl’s curiosity roused her from her fatigue. She leaned forward to see the objects of the bundle laid out in the dirt. A precious bowl of honey and two figs sat beside another,longer item.
Luja carefully began unwrapping linen from around it. It was sacred to her family, her grandmother told her. It was only to be used in the direst of circumstances. How to use it was only taught to the daughters of the family, for men were not permitted to touch such things.
“What is that, Grandmother?” Hala whispered.
“Our salvation, sweet girl.” From the folds of aged linen, a statue emerged. It was carefully made. The age, Luja did not know. She knew it was delicate and priceless. It was made from clay but held together by a thin layer of gold. It was the image of a woman, naked but for carvings on the body. She did not know what they meant but she showed Hala the statue reverently. It was as shiny as the day Luja’s own grandmother showed it to her. She remembered her voice shook as she told Luja of the power in the statue and how it worked. Luja asked her grandmother if she would ever use it. “I would not dare,” she told her. Well, Luja dared.
“Who is it? Why is she naked?”
“She is the one who will help our family.” Luja told her.
“How? Papa says we have no money and soon we’ll be living on the streets. Are we going to sell this, Grandmother? Sell it to pay the money Papa owes?” Hala’s words drove a knife into her heart. No child should know of the woes of her parents. Samir was foolish and selfish to say such things where the children could hear. But his foolish and selfish ways were the reason they were in such dire straights. He gambled what they had and risked everything on dreams that never came true.
“No, my child. We will not sell her. She is priceless and too powerful to sell, but she can help us in other ways. Give me your hand,” Luja carefully placed the golden statue in the hole and reached for Hala. “It will only hurt for a moment.” Before the child could understand, Luja pulled a knife from the folds of her dress and made a small cut in the palm of her hand.
“Ouch, Grandmother!” Hala tried to pull her hand back but Luja kept it firmly grasped over the gold statue.
“She only requires a little blood, child. When you come of age, you will bleed every month. Blood is nothing to women. Men like to think they know of blood and pain but we are the ones who truly know. Now, you know the power of your blood. It is precious because you are a virgin, unspoiled by men. Mine would not do for this. There,” she released her grip on the girl’s hand and watched as the crimson droplets painted the gold surface. “That is enough.”
“Who is she?” Hala asked, holding her injured hand close to her chest.
“She is the servant of the blood. She is the giver of desires and the force of the Mother. I do not know her name. She is what she has always been to our family – our salvation and our curse.”
“What do we do now?”
“We bury her, Hala. Then leave the offerings. If they are pleasing, if we are pleasing, she will hear them and come to answer our prayers.”
“Is it right what we are doing, Grandmother? I’m not sure Papa will approve,” Hala said as she stood.
“Certainly, he wouldn’t. If he did, I should question my actions.”
“I don’t understand–”
“Never you mind, my dear. Come, help me cover her and set these offerings to right.”
“How will we know? How will we know if she will help us or not, Grandmother?” Hala asked as she scooped dirt back into the hole.
“I am not certain. We women must do what we can to save those we love. Here, hand me that bowl.” Luja placed the bowl of honey directly above the buried statue. “There, we have done what we can. It is out of our hands now.”
Luja and Hala covered their heads once again and silently made their way back through the garden toward the house. The girl still held her injured hand close to her chest and her grandmother pulled her along in the dark. It had been years since Luja felt so alive. She committed a great sin tonight. This sin was one she would not apologize for. She was a woman and women must do what they can in the shadows to see their families prosper in the light of day.
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