Come, children, and mothers of children; weavers of wonder, wards of warriors. Hear me now as I recite, a story made for you, young and old. Listen.
Once upon a land where shadows grew teeth, in a lifetime far far away, I had wings.
I think about that now, how flying felt- have you ever seen a sandstorm? How it looks so light and free nobody questions it? Maybe sandstorms are wanderers too, maybe they flee from the knowledge that this empty restlessness is not what they were born to. I saw a sandstorm once that beheld the dawn and fell prostrate. Don’t be scared my darlings. Listen.
This is what is done when you behold a holy thing. One time I saw a bud drooping in the heat and every howling voice inside me choked. I scraped this desert throat raw and fell to my knees I poured out every grain of fear carried across the distance at her feet I need you to understand that I showed her the tenderness of my hands and begged for her thorns.
She looked away. Clenched her petals into refusal and asked me to go back to my praying. I want it made clear for the record that I have never sung her anything but hymns. I unfurled my prayer mat and showed her that I love her and Allah from the same place. Listen.
There is something of a miracle about her. She exhales perfume the way a deity might exhale blessings. Her fingers wove new stories into all my tapestries and I wonder if Allah wove the destinies of men into the sky the same way. It was hard to be afraid when all I wanted was to see her at the height of her blooming. Some nights she trembles untouched and I swear I believe in prophecy; I saw the truth of her blazing like a comet ripping the darkness apart like maybe it takes a woman with clever hands to weave new destinies into the heavens and what I mean to say is that she made me want to be brave like nothing before or since. Listen.
You can only understand if I take you back. This waxen spine has always stooped against the garishness of light; the shadows are not so cold nor unfeeling, they are better suited to boyish dreams anyway. This was the start of the trembling years the roaming years the quiet years this was before her.
After her I learned to respect the light it takes to be a small town woman with big dreams. The sandstorm around me went silent, the wax of my spine stood to attention and my heart became a wick. I wanted nothing more than to give her every inch, to keep her burning as high as I could lift her and to hell with how much of me melted away in the process.
After her we looked at the stars and figured out the secret. There is a land called together, where everything is stronger. You find it by following the red string around her finger, tying your hands together, and then trusting that your heart remembers the ocean enough to obey the pull of the moon and that is the same pull that draws me to her. Ours is a love as old as the tide.
And how we loved. I wanted always to bury myself in the heart of her flame because she was always so bright, so warm. She filled everything, everything. I would have spent my days happily kneeling before her but this brilliant miracle of a woman insisted I was her equal. We built our dreams into an empire you know. It was the only thing worthy of such a queen among women.
When I left her, the sand returned. It choked me silent for fear that I would speak and find that my voice would frighten away the memories of her song. Because she sang for me, in time. Learned to understand that I had given her every shadowy inch of my shame, my sorrow, my silences because the flame of her shone prettiest in the dark. As is the way of such things, she helped me understand in return that my shadows were more than just background, that they might need her light to exist but that without them her light would lose its meaning.
This is the truth that gave me peace. This is what kept me walking against the calling of the tide the crashing voice insisting I could find a way to be with her despite the thing I became the night the shadows grew teeth and made me a monster. Listen.
That was the night of the unraveling. When the love letters I meant to write started becoming practice for the goodbye I never thought I would need, not when it comes to her never for her, how could I have known what he would do to me? I never asked to be made into this hungry thing. I was happy.
That was the night the blood in her veins called to me louder than the love in her heart and I was sick, I tell you, at the thought of hurting her. Because I wanted to, for a second. To hurt her. Even then, she did not fear me. Willingly took the burden of my sin and asked for a chance to share the load, impossible, wonderful woman. Said she remembered the gentle hands of the boy she married, the kindness of the man who would build her castles.
I showed her the fangs of the creature I had become and told her not to look for me. Not to follow me. She wanted to. She didn’t. My strong, beautiful desert rose. She understood, I think, that my leaving her was the biggest act of love I had left to offer. Listen.
I came back in the end. Did you really think I would stay away forever? I told her I was done with wings once. Urged her to fly ahead and promised to wait below if she needed a safe landing. When I finally returned to her, she was tired, I think, of flying. There was more gray in her hair, more lines on her brow, and still she was as beautiful as a rose at dawn.
Do you know, after all that time, she still had a voice like the loveliest azan? It was a voice for calling one to prayer. I came back just in time to help her pack for the goodbye I did not, could not grudge her. It was her turn to leave me. Listen.
Do not grieve. Did I not tell you that I love her and god from the same place? This story is a love story but it has always been a prayer underneath. She is gone where I cannot follow but that is why religion is also called faith. I believe in a God who is merciful. I believe in a love as old as the tide. I believe in a woman of flesh and fire who could rewrite the heavens and I have to believe we will meet again
Written by Gwendoline Esther Hay