“And then, the foreigner took the tuprill up like this – he held it here like this – and then he opened his mouth and chomp!” Kerrana watched absent-mindedly as Jerra spat half-chewed rice across the platters of food in a laughing fit. “Jerra! Close your mouth! And Elal! How many times have I told you: no bazaar tales at meals!” their mother chided.
Elal put on his hurt-puppy-face. “But mother! He tried to eat a tuprill! And imagine the seller’s face! And the wife of Lord Gular! You know, the one who is so old her face looks like a prune! And she thinks she can fool everyone to think she still has black hair! But she does not fool me! And now-“
“Enough!” their mother said in her dangerous, quiet tone now. All sound vanished from the room except for the flop of a pita bread that slipped someone’s hand. After a long moment of held breaths and watching their mother fuss over the dishes that were laid out on a beautifully embroidered blanket on the floor their mother finally said, “That’s better.” Piling some more food on everyone’s plate she suddenly gave a sharp look to Kerrana. “And please, will you stop scratching your arm, Kerrana!” at the mention of her name the girl flinched and stopped mid-motion.
“What is it? Show me.” Her busybody cousin who had come in from the suburbs for the coming-of-age-ceremony grabbed her arm and looked at it. “Eww, gross!” Kerrana pulled back her arm and murmured, “It’s just dry. A little rash.” Both her lower arms had come out itching again and again in the last weeks and by the amount of scratching she’d done she was surprised she still had skin left to peel itself off. It must be the stress.
“Don’t mumble, speak clearly child. How many times must I tell you?” her mother said in a resigned tone.
“I thought they took a vow of silence at the temple?” her little sister asked curiously.
“I cannot believe you didn’t see the healer about those! Imagine going through the ceremony with these ugly things! But then, it’s not like you have to be pretty or anything,” her cousin barged in, obviously annoyed her words had been ignored. She had chosen to become a “pillar of society” – to marry and become a housewife. And since she had gotten the good family looks, there was no doubt she’d easily find a rich husband. For her, today was going to be the first day of her new, glorious life.
Kerrana felt sick and excused herself to fetch some more water from the well in their yard. They were amongst the few lucky enough to have their own. Here in the desert, even in the oasis, water was far more valuable than anything else. It gave their family a status and weight unproportional to their wealth. Kerrana was truly glad for it. Water always calmed her. She started humming. As she pulled out the bucket, she looked at her reflection on the smooth surface. It was strangely translucent, like a mirage. Beauty was ephemeral, unsubstantial. How strange something so unmanifest would hold so much power in a world made from the manifest, made from matter. “All returns to the dust of the desert.” she sang quietly.And yet - maybe, if she’d been at least pretty, she could have married? A trader? And travelled the world? But she was plain. She had faced the facts and decided to become a temple maiden years ago. She’d never been one to swoon over handsome lads anyways, so going unmarried did not strike her as the cruel fate her friends made it out to be. The only thing she feared to have a hard time with was the confinement to the temple compound. While as a housewife, her cousin would go out to the bazaar and the water hole, Kerrana would be trapped in these walls. Very few of the temple maidens had dealings with the outside world. It would divert their attention, it was said. As would singing. Another sore point, for while the vow of silence her sister had mentioned was nonsense, singing was really forbidden. There would be no more singing from today on. She heaved a heavy sigh.
A shadow moved across the court. A cloud? She looked up. No. It was a crimson cloud buffalo that flew over their house. Kerrana immediately drew her scarf over her hair. How indiscreet! Yet it was such a rare sight she couldn’t keep herself from peeking up. Suddenly there was a crack and their laundry line came tumbling down, all their linens falling into the dusty yard. She would have thrown profanities the rude buffalo rider’s way if only she’d had the adequate vocabulary and her head hadn’t been spinning from suddenly getting up. Then she remembered that passing under a cloud buffalo’s shadow was considered lucky, so she ought to make a wish. But her fate was settled and any good luck would be wasted on it. Better to send it to someone out there. She hooked together her two index fingers and whispered three times “Please, give this good luck to someone who needs it today! Let someone find their destined one today.” Then she paused and bent to pick up the fallen linens.