The evening of The Awakening was a clear night, and the moon was especially large and bright in the sky, though you would need to climb to the tree tops to see it clearly, unless you were standing in the Great Center. My day had flown by in a flurry of preparations. Ria and I stayed close together, clasping hands when we could, whispering to each other excitedly when we could not. Aunt Reya, Simi, and Asai bathed us all in a sweet smelling water, and put flower scented oil in our hair. We were each given a white dress of the finest doe skin, each one different and made by our mothers. When I received mine with tiny white shells and delicate embroidery all the girls gasped at its beauty. I was confused.
“Did my mother make this?”
“No, my little Marlia, your aunts and I made this for you.”
Aunt Reya spoke this words gruffly as she put the dress over my head. Aunt Asai and Simi smiled sheepishly at me, and I felt hot tears sting my eyes. Truly a girl could not have been more loved. When we were prepared, the elderly women and mothers gave us last looks, hugging their daughters one last time before they became women. Aunt Asai was with me, and she took my hand, turning it over to trace the lines in my palm softly.
“You will have strong children Marlia, many of them. And a good, long, life. You will change the lives of many people. As you should. You will be our next shaman, Marlia.”
She paused for a moment, her slender fingers so like mine, hovering. She frowned as if troubled. I peered down at my hand, wishing I could see what she saw in all of the lines.
“What is wrong Aunt Asai?”
“....Nothing. Come, it is time for the ceremony.” Aunt Asai hugged me tightly, her arms strong and warm. “Your mother is here tonight in spirit, Marlia. I have felt her all day. She is very proud of you. We all are.”
I had to wipe my eyes many times before my tears would stop leaking. When I was presented in the Great Circle the moon shone brightly on my hair and I felt sure that I too could feel my mother's presence. In the front of the crowd stood my father, Trigri, and Daegan, looking proudly upon me. Aunt Reya's voice was strong as she said the ancient words that turned girls into women. I could feel a strange tingling in my body as she spoke in the strange language. As if I were shaking my skin from my body to make way for a new one.
Then Aunt Reya's weathered hand was on my forehead as her thumb traced down red ink from my hairline to between my eyes. The mark of a woman. When I married, a small red circle on either side of the line would be put on me. My gaze slid to Daegan, and I felt my blood warm when I saw the look in his eyes. To him I was beautiful. To him, I was a woman. I felt powerful with that thought, like the woman he had carved for me. I would be his wife, I would have his children, and spend my days with him and my family. I could not wait for my future to start. I did not have long to look at him, for I was ushered aside as the last of the girls were made into women. I wondered if they felt the same strange tingling that I had.
After the last girl had gone, the crowd did not cheer as they normally would. They knew that now came The Picking. There would be no celebrating until after. One by one we lined up, even Daegan. The newly made women were at the back of the line. Aunt Reya stood by a large iron pot in which sticks were placed. Whoever pulled the white stick was the chosen sacrifice to the God Tsitsi. It was something we all feared. As I drew nearer and nearer to the pot I watched as men, women, and children reached into it with shaking hands and pulled out a brown stick.
When Trigri's turn arrived my heart was in my throat as I gripped Ria's hand tightly. Slowly he rose a brown stick out, and I let go of the breath I was holding. Neither my father nor Daegan pulled the white stick, and there was both relief and worry. For now it was only us—the newly made women. I could already hear people crying, for one of us must be the sacrifice now. I felt strangely calm as I walked up to the pot, my hand did not not even tremble as the girl in front of me had done.
I thrust my hand in while Aunt Reya watched anxiously. All the sticks felt the same. Smooth, cold. I grabbed one and pulled it out. I did not realize what I had until I heard screaming. I looked down and saw that in my steady, dark hand was a white stick. My Aunt Reya had nearly fallen to the floor in a faint, but my father had caught her even as tears streamed down his face. Trigri had wrenched the stick from my hand, throwing it to the floor, as if hoping that it had not been seen. But it was too late. I scooped the stick up and Ria threw herself at me, sobbing into my shoulder. I wrapped my free arm around her for a moment of comfort, but I did not feel anything. Even the village's cries seemed as if they were coming from far away.
I let go of my dearest friend and then moved into the crowd, holding the white stick high. They parted in my wake, and I walked to the middle of the Great Center. My hands did not shake, nor my voice. My body knew what to do even before my thoughts did.
“I am the sacrifice. Through me, many will live and our village will be safe. I am grateful to give such a gift.”
The words were always spoken by the sacrifice, memorized by all since birth. But now the words were sacred. Now they meant something to me. I saw Daegan push his way through the crowd until he was in front of me, his pale skin glowing against the dark skin of my villagers. In his eyes I saw true fear. I smiled. What else could I do? He grabbed me close to him, and at his touch sound and feeling came back to me in a loud crash. Wailing, screaming, shouting, the sour smell of fear. With Daegan's arm around my shoulders and my brother's hand grasped tightly in mine, I headed to my home. Behind me I could hear music start, to try and celebrate the other girls who had become women.