The Bestowing

The old woman sits, stooped and wizened on a small wooden stool at the front door of her cottage.  The skin at her throat sags and droops, as if two sizes too big for her.  Her gnarled fingers trace shapes in the air and her lips move in their silent dance, forming words that will never be spoken.  She beckons to me, chuckling knowingly, and my feet hasten to her command.

A memory flickers in my vision.  She’s younger, her hands straighter, her skin tighter.  Her eyes sparkle with life, and her silken voice draws me into its embrace.  She is the story teller, weaving magic with words, and I’m captivated, unable to move, barely able to blink, and gasping for breath, so entranced by the story I forget to exhale.

I shake away the memory, willing my attention to every detail that surrounds me.  This is a moment I’ve long imagined, at once exhilarating and heartbreaking.  This is the moment of the bestowing, when the mantle of story teller is lifted from the old woman’s shoulders, and placed weightily on mine.  My heart quivers in delight, then leadens at the thought of the responsibility of the role.  The story teller is not a frivolous fancy in our modest community.  It’s not the marker of wealth or privilege.  The story teller is the keeper of history, the moral guide, the oracle, the foreboding of things to come.

The stories are of our people.  They examine the minutiae of our lives, our thinking, our hopes, our dreams.  They are not only stories of heroes, villains, and fools, those characters are the embodiment of all that it means to be me, us, human.  Story tellers are the guardians of secrets and predictors of futures.

I slow my step, my ears tighten, trying to catch every sound, my eyes dart in all directions gathering images.  I snapshot the moment, imbuing it with light, colour, sound, smell, and feel.  Later I will unfold this moment, examine it from every angle, seek out the details my conscious mind misses, and revel in the tiny overlooked treasures.

I fix my eyes on the old woman.  I notice her age, how haggard she has become, how sagged and bent her body is.  I straighten my back, throw back my shoulders, exaggerate the differences between us, as I draw near.  She reaches out her hands, and I take them gently in my own.  Something passes between us, powerful, electrifying, warm.  I lose sight of the cottage, there is only the old woman and me.  I cannot break away.  I see her as she was when she was young.  I see her holding the hands of the previous story teller, weary with age.  Something passes between them.  She reels backwards, and the old story teller falls, spent and lifeless.

Realisation glimmers awake in me, I drop her hands.  Stories, new and old, jostle and nestle for space inside me, and she falls, spent and lifeless.

©Asha Rajan

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