Over tawny-colored earth outside the lone acacia's shade, a viper slithers hurry-scurry. Circling eagles spy its haste, their lethal talons clenched in raw anticipation of a kill that is foregone beyond the tree's protective canopy. Engeraloi sleeps. She does so upright, thin legs crossed, one arm supported by her staff, the other draped across an unclad knee, her skinny torso bent, her frame resembling one whose skin adheres to bone like shrunken parchment, cleaving tightly to the skeleton over which it has been stretched. Dried by the sun, her hide is paper-thin, mahogany-hued, translucent—in the patches that have shed their crust of ceremonial clay. Her veins are prominent; roots of the heart, they spread through gnarly hands and feet as if connected to the soil; thereby made conscious of the snake? It's urgent progress brings it closer to the oval's gouged perimeter. There it balks, diverts its path, observes the boundary as it creeps, propels its mesmerizing length along the moat yet dares not cross it. Engeraloi opens one unblinking eye but does not cringe.

A flick of the wrist; a blow from her stick; the serpent is stunned, snatched up, beheaded—its tail and reflexes writhing, shocked by the woman's meager teeth, her molars blunt yet strong enough to munch the unexpected meal.

Clouds pass slowly overhead. Their  dun-gray shadows dapple the Rift. Herds, in the distance, graze, their un-culled bounty numberless.


Wah! They drowned him... in herbs, and mud, and spring water mixed inside a cistern, a depression carved by Time's most steadfast chisels; even stone gives way to windblown grains of sand that cut and smooth and scour—this last phase crucial lest the rite be deemed unclean.

It was immoral!

How slay innocence and proclaim it anything but foul? I cursed their dictum. Laws too strict beget injustice no less vile than laws too lax. And yet, to disobey risked banishment. I could ill-afford dishonor. Though my cause, to a mother's mind, was nobler, lacking proof how sway? Desperate, I appealed to an august Soothsayer.

"Truth, like a gemstone, is seen through reflecting pools only by seekers who bypass conceit."

I must shun the self-serving (forgo my child's rescue?) to think of the greater good, act for the tribe (accept that a gift from the Gods must be scourged?). Yet the Soothsayer scowled when I fell on my knees to her. Blind to my wretchedness, deaf to my pleas, she sanctioned the death sentence; signs had prescribed it. A leopard, of late, had been choked by its prey. The incident, fresh in the thoughts of my people, foreshadowed catastrophe, strayed from the norm, and warned of an incident far more calamitous than entrails dispatching a predator. No, the judgment was sound; I was rash to reject it.

"However"and here is where hope raised its head"your son, forsooth, shall be reborn."

How? Where? When?

"It is true that your boy owes his life to the future. To it he hath gone and from it he shall wend, with a message engraved on his worldly-wise temples —like scars borne by one who would spare others blame. Await him, and mourn not his passing."

This augured, the Soothsayer held up a segment of reed, which she twisted a half-turn, then joined end-to-end, creating a surface akin to the path she predicted my offshoot would follow. I traced it, beginning at a marker I scored with my thumbnail to signify 'home.' Then I outlined the trail, intrigued when my finger, which never broke contact, returned to the same place it started, confirming how two sides indeed could be one.

"Take this talismanheed what I say, nowand place it so all may behold what ye do, on the pyre of your infant. Then be not aggrieved, for its burning ensures his soul's homecoming."


I carried this reed, like a delicate fledgling, to the hill where my little man's dead body lay, his perfect proportions encased in a layer of blood-colored earth, his expression sedate, its peacefulness easing the worst of my worries. Had death brought him pain? It seemed not. They did well. Immersing him gently while he slept, it appeared—arresting his life's-breath mid-slumber.

Relieved, I announced to his 'slaughterers' (far from forgiven) the Soothsayer's prophesy. All then concurred; our sending him forth to a world unimagined was a mission, not an exile. We bade him "return"though mine was the voice most in earnest.

Flames leaped!

Can anyone know what a mother must suffer while watching her only child's corpse turn to ash? Any woman? Yes; possibly. Once she has suckled. Mine, though, was grief that I would not wish shared.

For grieving is private; it disregards others. She weeps most bitterly who weeps for herself. Had my baby come back to me soon, in my youth, when my tears brimmed unceasingly...? No. Past my prime, then, when sobs still tapped sorrows unspent and unending...? No. Now, when my tear ducts are parched beyond seepage, as dry as this croaking that imitates speech, I have only my doubts left, mere dustis he coming (?)that suffocates faith like a winding sheet.


Tired again, stomach full (serpent past twitching), protected from harm by her wiles and her stick, the crone grows inanimate. Flies curb their zigzags. Distant hooves halt, while the wind holds its breath... the tableau of Lookout, sky, lone tree, and landscape retains landscape, lone tree, and sky.



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