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( First posted in Portuguese,  in March 2011,  when J. was 5  years old) For my niece, Jessica Long ago when animals used to sp...

Friday, 10 September 2010

Mali’s Quest

           The darkness and dampness of the attic invaded the young girl’s body as she opened the old chest. Rummaging through the old clothes and timeworn photo shots, and not really looking for anything in particular, just something, anything that could bring some colour into her orphaned life, the young girl’s eyes sparkled with excitement as they caught sight of a rag doll.  Filled with emotion and burning eyes  whose tears had long run out - she clutched the doll in her hands. 
           ‘I’m never going to be alone again. I’ll be your friend and look after you; you’ll be my friend and protect me from the shadows of this house,’ she whispered in the doll’s ear.
           That very moment, the rusty door creaked open and she had no time to fully enjoy her fortunate discovery. There, looking down at her, stood the tall, angry figure of aunt Imogen.
Without uttering a word, the embittered woman grabbed the girl by the hand and dragged her first downstairs, then through the front door, heading fast towards the rugged cliff, leaving behind them the lonely dark mansion.
           The young girl was shell-shocked and dared not complain about the tight grip the elder woman had on her.
           On the cliff, the woman, with a mixture of lunacy and a hint of sadness in her eyes, bent over, picked the girl up as if she were a rag doll and hurled her off the cliff, into the cold sea water. 
           Holding on tightly to the doll, the little girl - let’s call her Mali - plunged painfully into the water, sinking deeper and deeper into the deep blue.
           How all the bones in her little body hurt! But soon everything went numb and her mind drifted backwards in time. A time when she had been happy… were they real memories? Or memories of an invented past, she couldn’t tell: she was now running in a huge lily field, with her arms wide open as if ready to take off at any moment and join the gentle waltz of the butterflies fluttering beside her. That place felt like the safety of home she had once upon a time lived in.

           Standing on the red coral reefs, the warrior-like Indian jumped in to save Mali. He’d been expecting the moment when he’d have to swim to the bottom of the sea to rescue a girl, that girl.
           Back on safe ground, the girl struggled to free herself from the man’s arms. ‘No, my doll, my friend, she’s still down there. I’m going back for her. Let me go! Let me go!’
           That’s when the warrior king grabbed her by the shoulders and looked deep into her eyes…Mali knew instantly that she had to stay put, and watched the Indian disappear into the sea. A couple of minutes later, he jumped up from the deepest of depths, gasping for air and holding the
rag doll in his right hand.

           There was no time to waste. The man got on his brown stallion and motioned for the girl to follow him. They were on their way, him on horseback, she trotting along behind him, her arms tightly wrapped around the doll.

           Once they reached the camp, Mali heard him tell the others that the girl – she – should not be harmed in any way. And so it was. From the moment she arrived she became his unpaid apprentice, his student.

           She learnt all about the power of the Sun, the Moon and fire…about the sacred herbs and how to dry them out and mix them in such a way that they would close an open wound, cool down a body burning with fever, and even make one’s sadness go away.
Hours turned into days, days flowed into weeks, weeks soon became months, and months cascaded into years.

           One day, breaking the long-lasting silence, the now aged Indian spoke to her for the first time. She must take her years of knowledge and help a dying woman…Come, they must hurry. There’s no time to spare.
           Once again they set off, him on horseback, while she followed on foot. They travelled a long way until they reached the edge of a cliff. There, the Indian pointed to a lonely dark house, just a few yards away.
           With glittering eyes, Mali, now a young woman, looked deep into her mentor’s eyes and without the slightest hesitation, headed towards her childhood mansion, carrying only a bag of herbs and her old tattered rag doll around her waist.  

           It was the same house, the same damp smell in the air, the same woman who had once thrown her off the cliff… but Mali didn’t mind. She had grown and had learnt her purpose in life: she was here to heal.
           Scrutinizing the signs of illness, Mali could see that there was nothing she could do for her aunt: no herbs or chants could save the thin, fading, elderly lady. Her heart felt squashed with squalor and for the first time in years - practically a whole lifetime - Mali felt water gushing into her eyes. She untied the doll from her waist and gently placed it in the woman’s hands.
           In a feverish tone the feeble woman began to chant:

Imogen and Lilibeth
Two girls in spring
were born.
Two sisters, in character and face alike.
There were two of them but to them
they were but one.

Together they would
face the troubled times.
Together they would celebrate
the joyous times.

On their 13th birthday
two twin dolls did they get…
Now, the four of them would,
forever,
carry on.

Then one day, Lilibeth,
the quiet one,
fell in love and a
baby - very much adored by everyone -
was born to consecrate that love.

But, oh, should
Unforgiving Fate dictate
the tragic death
of the beloved and the quiet one…

And in the care of
broken Imogen
did the poor infant end.

How could she go on without
Her Lilibeth?

Her spirit withered
and her mind, in grief,
forever lost.
Her other half was gone!

Forgive me, oh little one,
for I have failed you
…and the rag doll, too.

Forgive mad old Imogen
For once upon a time
you were indeed much
loved.


           And with a muffled “Thank you” the woman gave her last sigh and peacefully passed away.

           For Mali it was like a heavy burden had been lifted from her shoulders. She ran outside and waltzed towards the cliff, and with her arms stretched out in a cosmic embrace, she dived into the water below.
           There was no pain this time, and like a dolphin, she splashed and jumped merrily in that warm blue sea.
           Looking up, she saw the once-again-young Indian warrior standing on the red reefs. She waved at him, inviting him to come and join her. He smiled kindly but shook his head - she no longer needed him. So, she started swimming and then waded her way towards him.

           This time, both on horseback, they rode back to the camp. Upon arriving, her face was painted in preparation for her initiation ritual. Then, blindfolded, the Indian warrior led her to a trail of hot burning coal. ‘Trust me. Trust yourself. Keep walking straight on,’ he said softly. And so she did.

           Not at all surprised by the girl’s trust and courage, the Indian decided to meet her halfway. He removed her blindfold, and hand in hand, they made it to the end of the coal trail. But her quest was not over yet. After hugging her warmly, he gave her a sharp hunting knife.  Again no words were needed: she knew what she had to do. She cut open her chest, removed her heart  and handed it over to him…

           Mali had passed the test of pure love. She had learnt the greatest lesson of all, that of the humility of giving and the generosity of receiving.

           She was no longer a frightened little girl but a strong, powerful young woman who knew the might of humility and love.
           She had learnt that it was all right to be scared, for you can only be brave if you feel the fear. You can only survive if you allow yourself to be saved. You can only learn by making mistakes and by listening to others. You can only receive when you’re willing to trust and embrace what other people have to give you, and when you learn to accept gracefully. You can only give with your heart when you’re ready to make sacrifices, overcome hostility and the fear of the unknown.
           You, yes, you who are reading this now, don’t think about what was but what you have now. Don’t worry about what you can’t do but get on with what you can do.
           Young girls - yes, I mean you too - go and become great Malis. Learn the love behind the power of giving and receiving… Go and share your love and knowledge with rest of the world.
Go - and together - you can make this a better world for everyone.

-COPYRIGHT/Registado no IGAC


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2 comments:

  1. Wonderful story; poetic, imaginitive, and a lovely message for young girls.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello +Victoria Addis. Thank you for your kind response and encouragement. Paula

    ReplyDelete