Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses.
– African-American lullaby
The woman walked slowly to the well. It was a hot, dry day, and the smell of burning flesh hung in the air. She was terribly thirsty; she wanted to run to the well and jump in just to feel the relief of the cool water on her skin, but she knew better. She kept a slow, steady pace to avoid expending too much energy.
As she walked, she looked down at her bare feet, cut and bruised. Dried blood, caked in rivulets, formed a mesmerizing pattern up and down her legs. Most of that blood was not hers, but she still felt her bile rise as she recalled that morning’s activities.
It was necessary, the shaman had told her. If she wanted a baby, there were rituals she had to undergo. Her body was not naturally fertile; the gods required a sacrifice to change her nature. She assumed he meant a monetary donation. She never expected she would have to give up a piece of her soul.
A gust of wind blew across the plain, kicking up dust in swirls. She closed her eyes to protect them from the grit. She wanted to cry, but there was no moisture left in her face.
When the wind died down, she opened her eyes. The well was much closer now, and she quickened her steps. When she arrived, she wasted no time lowering the bucket and retrieving the water. She drank fully, pausing only to wipe her mouth or splash her face. She didn’t want to waste time washing. She could do that later, at night, when she knew nobody was watching.
Once her immediate thirst was slaked, she peered into the darkness of the well.
“Hello?” she called. Her voice echoed down the vertical passage of stone that reached deeply into the earth.
She wanted so desperately for there to be an answer, but there was only silence. The blackness in the hole seemed to stretch on forever. It was mesmerizing; how easy it would be to fall in and never return.
She wrenched her eyes away from the well and looked up at the sky. The abrupt change of light made her squint. There was not a cloud in sight, and the endless blue above her was just as dizzying as the blackness below. She closed her eyes and thought of the reason she was here: her baby.
“They said you would not come to me unless you were satisfied that I was ready for you,” she started. The hot breeze returned and dried her tongue again, snatching the words from her mouth.
She took another drink from the bucket and tried again. “I have given up so much–” A stronger wind gusted and knocked the pail over, spilling water into the parched ground.
The shaman had warned her that the gods could be cantankerous. He had only given her one piece of advice: follow their instructions. If they don’t want you to speak, then don’t speak.
Kneeling by the well, she bowed her head and collected herself. If they don’t want me to speak, I won’t. But I will communicate with my baby. She gazed back down into the well and sent her thoughts into the inky blackness.
Dearest heart of my heart,
Before time was time, I was waiting for you. They tell me that I cannot have children, but I know they are wrong. I know you are my child, and that you are just waiting for me to call you into my heart. But I have been calling for years now. Have you forgotten about me?
Come out of the well of souls and join me in the world of men. I can give you blue skies and palomino ponies, sparkling oceans and jumping dolphins. You will experience love and loss and everything in between, and I promise you it will be worth it. For both of us.
I will continue to wait, my love, until you are ready for the world. I will always be here, my arms outstretched, until you find me. I love you.
She opened her arms and lifted her face to the sky. The wind picked up again, and she closed her eyes. Tears trickled through her eyelashes and down her cheeks, but she did not wipe them away. She kept her arms wide open as the wind swirled around her, threatening to knock her over.
She didn’t know how long she had been kneeling there, arms outstretched and eyes closed, but when she finally opened her eyes, the sun was low in the sky. She rose to her feet slowly; her arms and legs were shaking from having stayed in the same position for so long.
She knew it was time to return to the village. The gods had not answered her. The shaman had warned her this might happen, but she still felt a lump of disappointment building up in her throat.
And then she heard something behind her move. She turned around slowly, cautiously, and came face to face with a beautiful palomino pony.
She held her breath. She had never seen this pony before, not in her village or anywhere else.
The pony regarded her solemnly, then nodded its head several times before turning and galloping off towards the hills.
After several moments, the woman made her way back to the village. Her heart was lighter, and her steps were quicker as they carried her home.
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Lance challenged me with “blue skies and palomino ponies” and I challenged Webtrovert with “Cleaning up after a big party.”