Uyai sat up and crawled quietly away from her sister who snored loudly beside her on the mat. The small, stuffy room was dimly lit by the dying lantern her maid had placed beside the door. She didn’t know the exact time, but she held on to all hope that she wasn’t late once again. She slowly opened the door that led to the front yard, scurried past her father’s sleeping chickens and the herd of goats. Then tiptoed past his two sleeping guards, trying her best to be as silent as she could. She had a feeling tonight was the night she would finally get to hear the tale of the water goddess.
Her parents had warned her several times not to visit the river once the sun had set, but Uyai in her confident stubbornness couldn’t escape the lure of the water and all it had to offer. She remembered the first time she had seen the goddess. She was absolute perfection. She was beautiful and ageless. She was one who held more wisdom in her eyes than the night that kept the darkest secrets of the elders. Particularly the men who had started looking at her in a funny manner since she turned 13 six months ago. She didn’t quite understand why, but she knew they were fond of whispering to the other girls by the stream when they were sent to fetch water by their mothers.
She ran through the footpath she had memorised, brushing through the low branches and leaves of the forest trees. The moon lit her path as her heart beamed with hope and excitement. It took her less than five minutes to reach the mango tree that stood just at the edge of the river. She sat by it and waited; observing the water carefully. The light from the moon seemed to illuminate once she had arrived; this had never happened before. Her hope that she had finally made it grew. Fear started creeping into her mind, but before she even had the chance to entertain it, she felt a gentle tap on her shoulder. She held her breath as her heart stopped. She turned to meet finally the one she had longed to see for the past seven years.
“You are… You are real. You are… everything I imagined.” Uyai knelt as she stared at the goddess. She was the most beautiful woman she had ever set her eyes on. Even more mesmerising than her mother, who men still admired when she travelled to other Kingslands with her father. Her skin though dark and smooth, glowed under the light of the moon. She had on, a long white flowing gown that hugged her body and covered her feet. A body she had seen make the men in her village lose their composure and the women scowl in envy. Her head was wrapped in a white silky cloth and she had a gold symbol embedded on her forehead. Uyai couldn’t make out what it was. It was something she had never seen before. She looked down to see the same symbol engraved in gold on the metal stuff she held.
“Stand child. What is it you look for besides the river? Do you not realise the night walks at this time?.” She spoke with the authority of the gods, yet she was gentle; not raising her voice, concern noting her words. Uyai found her shaking voice. “I wanted to meet you… I have searched for you since you came to visit me that night… You said I would one day know the secret of the goddess, but I would first have to find you.” Uyai was in awe and wished the goddess had allowed her to continue kneeling. She felt her legs could give way any moment.
“Goddess, teach me. Let me learn from you. You have left me in riddles for the past seven years. My mother would ask me to keep my tales from the other villagers in fear they would label me possessed or mad. I have held my silence, but I no longer want to suffer in it.”
“Child, I have visited you many times, for your heart is pure and can handle the wisdom of beyond. I have expected you. But you refer to me as the goddess. No little one; I am not her. I am her mediator, her priestess. Her royalty Ndem is who pulls your spirit. Take my hand and let us enter the water. I will teach you about her being today. You will become wiser than your years before the sun rises”.
Uyai’s mind raced, and without realising it, she found her hand in that of the priestesses as her feet entered the water. The priestess threw her metal staff into the water and began to speak. She was born with the earth and formed with the waters. She protects those who smile upon her offspring. Ndem you will remain until the time of the earth and beyond:
She is a woman that cannot be toyed with. Nor can she be taken for granted. For though her mercy is deeper than the light that penetrates the ocean: giving life to even those that cannot be seen. Her vengeance is the fire of the earth. A fire that can only burn in the presence of the purest waters.
She is passionate, and temperamental, and almost absolute.
She is like the ocean.
Able to give life when the necessity arises. When she pleases. And will bring destruction on those who obstruct her path and misuse her giving. She is calm and beautiful. A seductress. Like her offspring’s of the waters who sing to lure the unsuspecting to their Kingdom. No mortal can escape her. Even the gods fear her.
She is merciful.
Her warmth can go from the start of the earth to its very ends ensuring growth and sustenance; almost grace like. She is hot in the times of turbulence and cold during the most troubled nights.
Her presence is a dream.
A reality one makes as sweet as the nectar of the purple honey or unfolds, just as the nightmare of the abyss with a permanent downfall.
Her wizardry of the heavens and roots to the earth are unreadable, untraceable like the seven secrets of the seven realms. She is the one who shuffles between the heavens, the earth and its oceans.
Uyai felt like she was dreaming. The moonlight now covered the entire river and shone as bright as day. She felt her skin tingle as her heart thumped against her chest. Her mind raced but she knew she was not afraid. There was no room for fear to set in. She could not turn back now.
“She welcomes you Uyai. She has been expecting you” The priestess smiled and Uyai was once again enthralled by her beauty. Uyai’s thoughts were abruptly distracted by the sound of the roaring water. She turned back to the centre of the river as it hastily began to form a swirling pool. It grew faster and the faint sound of singing could be heard in the distance. It was the sound of the ocean in rhythm, it was breath-taking. The water began to rise, and the wind vigorously blew the sounds of welcome closer. Uyai wanted to rub her eyes, but she couldn’t find the courage. Maybe she was seeing things. Maybe she was possessed as her mother had once thought aloud. She stared amazed as a tall, slim figure rose from the water. She had the figure of the priestess and held the staff in her hand, a crown visible on her head. Uyai suddenly realised who it was. Was she finally coming face to face with the one who had called her from the waters for so many years? Her heart had held on to the possibility for so long. She was finally meeting Ndem; the one who shuffles between the heavens, the earth and its oceans.