Coming of Age Fiction Indigenous

Ora’s Wish

The Zemi began to take shape because of a prayer. This one had not taken any form or consciousness for more than two-millennia. The song which summoned it now was strong, and irresistible.  The spirit took a direct path, up from 8000 meters of pressure and depth and cold, moving through the ocean like smoke blown on the wind. As the music got louder, the Zemi took a vague shape and scattered a school of mackerel. It began to see rich sea-life and sense the temperature of the water warming around it.

The swell off Punta Las Tunas moved oddly, against the tide and with a barely shimmering glow. Along the rocky-face of Cueva Del Indio the rapidly-approaching shimmer brightened, and coalesced within seconds, moving onto shore like flowing mercury.  As the waves receded, and the tide continued to ebb, the seas briefly calmed and there stood the wavering and flickering outline of human-like figure, maybe that of a woman, featureless.

The four friends, all full-blooded Taino, gathered into their nightly circle, stopped singing and smiled at one-another, silently embracing, before making their way from the cave and into the night. They had gathered here each night, well-after dark, for a full week now, though this was forbidden. Government rules tried to keep them from their birthright, denying access as place of worship. They believed in what they were doing, focused to their goal, and that alone kept them returning. They were also close friends, and when Ora had asked them, and explained to them why, they came and sang with their hearts.

Ora lingered, and was the last to leave, as she always was. She said her good-nights, hugged them all fiercely, and stepped into the night. A shiver ran through her just then, though it was not cold, and Ora stood sadly, facing the sea, noticing the unusually tame surf. She thought, a bit wistfully, that their singing was responsible, and that in the heavens, veiled behind The Archer, the Gods were listening, maybe just a little. This was, after-all, why they gathered in this place. Ora closed her eyes and began again to pray.

The Zemi drifted into the cave, just as Ora had stepped out, still unnoticed and unseen, but certainly felt at the moment they passed within inches of each-other. The walls of the cave were covered in ancient petroglyphs, drawn onto the stone face by the first inhabitants of this land. The Zemi had been here then, who had guided the people to this place. The Taino first arrived from northernmost South America, their ancestral lands ravaged by drought, disease and pestilence, landed on these shores and made this island their own.

The Zemi’s form became more solid now, and memory began flowing into it, much as the way it had formed onto land. ‘Atabey’, it thought.

The ancient Taino chief called it Atabey. It gazed at the crude, squat figure of a nude woman, on the cave ceiling, high above. Centuries-ago, in the headwaters called Orinoco, it came then, in answer to a prayer from the cacique of the Taino people. Granted protection and guidance, the people loaded their canoes and traveled safely. The Zemi taught them to harvest the sea, bestowed fertility onto their lands, and nurtured the confidence they needed to govern their new lands wisely. It gave them two daughters to help their people flourish. The paintings in this cave recalled the memories of that time. The squatting, nude woman was her.

‘Atabey’, she spoke aloud. The first word she had spoken in two-thousand years. At that moment, she took fluid form, visible to human eyes.

Ora finished her prayers, opened her eyes and stared out at the ocean. Her friends had gone, the brief, weekly respite from her misery was over, and her eyes welled. Her elfin-face winced in pain, and her tiny shoulders slumped, as her chin fell against her chest. She let the tears flow freely. Her mind bent, and images of native people, singing in a cave, wheeled into her mind. She was taught her ancestors used a substance called cahoba to induce a trancelike state. Ora wondered absently if this is how they felt. She now caught a fleeting, though clear image of a lone man standing.., right where she was now standing.

As quickly as it had begun, it was over. Ora took a tentative breath. She was a descendant of a great Taino cacique, or chief. That’s what her grandmother Teofila told her. “The blood of Gueybana runs through your veins” She said. Her ancestors were form far-southern shores, almost two-thousand years-ago. They had made the perilous journey here, only centuries-later surviving the false promises of the Spanish, who brought only disease and enslavement. Her bloodline still ran true. Ora didn’t know but she was the last, and she didn’t feel at-all like a chief, or a king.

“I am only a girl, what can I do?” Ora said, her voice trembling as she spoke. “I have no family, no home, no power to change anything.., I have only my friends.” She added in a hoarse whisper, devoid of real hope.  Ora remembered a prayer her mother taught her, which she recited each night as she lay down to sleep.  ‘Dios del agua y la fertilidad, escucha mi oración.’

Most of Ora’s family had died during the hurricane named Maria. Only she and her grandmother had survived. Her home had been destroyed, but.., that wasn’t quite accurate, because after the storm, her home was completely gone. When the shredding winds died-away, and the stinging rain stopped slanting sideways, she crawled from under a tumbledown shed, and found her abuela, much later, clinging to an old door, barely alive.

The two of them survived, and gathered with others who needed help. There was no water, there was no food, only the destruction of the storm, and the bodies of the dead, both people and animals. Soon, the clouds left, and the sun returned. The bodies swelled with gasses, burst-open, and lay rotting. Many left-alive began to sicken, many more died.

“Nuestra soberano vendrá”, Ora told her Grandmother, “and they will help us”.

Abuela Teofila would bob her head up-and-down, cackling with a crooked, toothless smile, whenever Ora mentioned that help was coming. Ora knew that smile was for her feelings, and she loved her grandmother for that. Behind those wrinkled folds and rheumy eyes, Teofila knew another truth, just as her ancestors had known long-ago. Waiting often brought the wrong kind of help.

“Come grandmother, the journey is not far” Said Ora. “We’ll go to San Juan, they will have food, and clean water and medicine” She added. Both Ora and her abuela made their way north, and for many days took the meagre, daily rations at the relief camp there. 

When the help finally came, Ora saw the looks of contempt and disgust on the faces of important men. She heard the words, calling her people ‘dirty and poor’. She saw the sadness etch her abuela’s face when rolls of paper towels were tossed out, like a game, to the people. The powerful men departed, and feelings they left-behind made Ora feel small, and powerless, and hopeless. She lamented at how far her people had fallen, and how few they were. Once settled across the entire island, now the Taino could barely help themselves, and not enough of them remained to fill a single barrio of San Juan.

Just a week later, her grandmother laid back, cradled in Ora’s arms, too weak to even sit-up. “Los dioses tienen un uso para ti mi nieta,” Teofila said.

Ora’s nut-brown eyes suddenly narrowed, as she knit her brow and cried, “If the spirits have a plan for me abuela, they keep their secrets well!”

Teofila looked at Ora then, with eyes full of compassion and patience, as one might look at a child who hasn’t yet properly learned to simply ask for what they want. “You have only to wish, and help will come,” Teofila whispered softly, and steps-away from food, and water, and medicine, she died.  Ora felt her spirit go, and her tiny body suffered for many days with the pain of her grief.

As she stood now outside the ancient cave, near the sliver of shore where a once-proud people gathered to ask for help from the spirits, Ora remembered exactly what brought her here.  She recited her childhood, bedtime-wish aloud, “Spirit of the water and god of fertility, please hear my prayer.” Soon after the death of her abuela, she vowed never again to feel helpless.  The humiliation in San Juan showed her what modern power was, and who wielded it. She knew where to begin, so she gathered her closest friends, all who had lost so much, and sung the prayers for guidance.

Atabey could now be seen by human eyes, and felt Ora’s presence, just outside the cave, heard her thoughts, and knew her memories. The blood-line of the caciques ran pure in Ora, and neither could be here if it were otherwise. ‘These people have suffered much, time has corrupted their blood, and the outside world and its modern politics have been unkind to their once-proud society.’ The Zemi thought.

The Zemi were born of the power that lay deep inside the galaxy, behind the constellation of Sagittarius.  On Ke’, the Taino name for earth, they dwelled in the minds and hearts of their worshippers, and manifested to most as thought, and feeling, and intuition. They existed 10-billion years before earth settled into its’ orbit around the small star the Taino call ‘Guey’.

When and where they are called.., and Ke’ is not the oldest, nor the only world they serve.., matters not to the Zemi. It is how, and by whom. And here, in this place, the prayers for help were sung in earnest, and Ora is exactly who she should be.

Ora was now ready, she could feel it, and knew someone-else was still out here with her. “Who is there?” She said loudly. The sound of her question died in the night. She stood straight, and proud, and scared.

Atabey floated to the entrance of the cave, her form outlined in gossamer threads. “Who asks?” Gurgled a liquid voice.

“Ora of Narajito” Ora answered. Not her family name, not her ancestral name. The name of her village. Why had she said that?!

The Zemi came near now, the liquid form a woman, glowing a little around the edges, and watched Ora with patience and understanding, the gaze a parent may give to a child who has not yet learned to simply ask for what she wants. “You are the last, but you will not be the last”, said Atabey. She reached into Ora’s mind and lit a dark place.

‘I’ve heard your prayers, and I have shown you a path’, not a voice now, but an understanding Ora could hear inside her. She instantly knew what she could do, and would do. Ancient ways were to be given-over to the modern ways of men. The paths to power were no longer reaping the crops of the land and harvesting the bounty of the seas. The way forward was to win the minds of men, and organize their actions, for the good of all, not just for the few.

Ora tried to focus her eyes on the Zemi, whose form shifted and flowed, and was never still. Atabey reached out her arms to Ora, and began to pour out her body onto the rocks before her. In a few seconds, there stood the figures of two young girls, maybe each two-years-old. They reached out to the now-amorphous shape that was the Zemi, who bowed their heads. They turned to Ora, as they fully transformed from a liquid to a solid.

They both looked up and said, “Somos tuyas nuestra madre”. Their small voices sounding like wind-chimes. “We are Kairi and Aloi”, they added.

The Zemi’s remaining mass began to dissolve, and in moments it moved back into the sea like flowing mercury. Ora stood alone in the night with these two children and knew what she was to-do.  She gazed up at the Pleiades, the stars that had signalled the seasons for her people. Her mind was clear. She would raise these children as her own, they had just told her as-much, and they would become the vessels to help the Taino flourish once-again. Her village would soon be active again, the storm clean-up almost complete. They would soon re-elect new members of the council. Her daughters would be there with her, and this would be a season of great change. 

March 06, 2021 02:09

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Akshara P
01:05 Apr 17, 2021

I really loved THE ending! You did a good job helping me picture everything that was going on emotionally and visually! Awesome work! 🙂


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C. Arch
19:02 Mar 11, 2021

Hello! It's my first time with this kind of critique as well. :) Thank you for this story! The imagery is stunning, the prose flows well, and the voice is very consistent throughout. The Spanish (?) was well done, also. I don't speak it, and it was included in a way that gave the story some depth and culture, without making a non-Spanish-speaking reader feel left out. With the Zemi being so ephemeral, it could have easily been a difficult concept to understand; but you conveyed it in such a way that I was consistently able to envision what w...


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Bethany Lemons
18:25 Mar 11, 2021

I love the ending, I feel like it does a great job of both providing a solid conclusion while also allowing the reader to mentally continue the story. This story felt both visually and emotionally descriptive, I had no problem at all both picturing and feeling what was going on. Great job!


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