By Magie Amirah Bey™
Stella was nervous as this was the first time she would be in charge of lighting the candles for the great ceremony. Her small hands were trembling as she grasped each candle with her tiny fingers.”One, two, three.” She slowly counted in her head until she became calm. She was shaking so badly she was afraid that she would knock the candles over. She felt anxious as she reminded herself that no one has ever knocked over the candles before. She held her breath as she continued to light each candle slowly and steadily one by one. She was determined to complete the task before the sun set itself westward, snuggly behind her small hut at the end of the valley.
“You’re doing it wrong Stella!” Stella turned around facing the doorway to the candle room. There stood a skinny figure, with twig like arms fastened to a body like a scarecrow. Stella was confused by the bluntness of that fool, Mazhar. Did he not know it was her special day? She made a face of disgust as he stood there with his arms folded. She opened her mouth to scream “go away” but not one word escaped. Her sound hid deep within her. She sighed as she wondered if she would ever hear it.”Are you deaf too?” He asked as if he didn’t know that she had no issues with her hearing. “Deaf and dumb!” He exclaimed. “You are going to set the temple on fire you stupid girl!”
Stella returned to the task at hand. “One, two, three, four, five.” She dropped the lantern. She realized something was wrong when the room began to slowly fill with darkness. She made her way towards the doorway. There stood Mazhar with his hands covering his mouth and nose. Stella opened her mouth once again and screamed as hard as she could. Her faint voice muttered no louder than a whisper as it escaped the confines of it’s sacred place. “Fire!” Stella was perplexed as she listened intently for her sound. “Fire!” Mazhar exclaimed repeatedly. Stella ran towards him, but he disappeared under a blanket of smoke. She could no longer see the doorway. Stella stood there as she begin to slip away into a deep sleep.
Stella reluctantly made her way off her mat. She stretched out her arms and eyeballed them proudly because her muscles were well defined and looked nothing like twigs. She could see the rays of the sun piercing through her window illuminating the small space. She watched as the tiny dust particles danced with the rays of light as they did every morning ritualistically. Stella grabbed a stool from a small worn-down table and pushed it against the wall underneath her only window. She hopped on the stool and perched her elbows onto the ledge as she looked out the window towards the east where a large stone temple sat on top of a hill.
This year was special because it was the year of the great ceremony. Candles were lit one by one in honor of all the ancestors that have transition on to be guardians of the next life. Stella hoped this year she would be chosen to light the candles. Lighting the ceremonial candles was a great honor giving to a special candidate who would be invited to trained in the way of the ancestors by the village sage. So many of the students were anxious to hear who would be worthy of such an honor.
All the students gather around a small woman whose hands were weathered as she reached for a small gourd. The frail woman shook the dried gourd fiercely to the East, West, North then South. She announced that a name has been selected. Stella’s heart pitter-pattered like a toy drum as she quietly waited in anticipation. She started to feel light headed then quickly realized that she was holding her breath. She gasped for air while she mentally counted until her anxiety dissipated. Stella told herself repeatedly that she was the only one qualified in the whole school. She knew that each candle that was lit represented the light of a star, an ancestor, a guardian. She looked up at the sky and gazed at the sun briefly. She giggled to herself because she always felt like the sun always shine a little brighter just for her.
Instantly, the warmth and serenity she felt was interrupted by clapping and dancing. Everyone was talking at the same time. She looked around desperately as she wondered why no one has come to congratulate her on such a prestigious accomplishment. No one noticed her at all. She was alone amongst many. She stood aside for a few minutes as everyone gathered in a tight huddle around the lucky elected, Mazhar. She was furious! She wanted to scream, but not one word escaped her lips. She wanted to cry, but dare not let one tear fall. She decided to depart from the celebration. She walked back to her little hut lazily, where she looked to the east and saw the temple. She sipped on some tea feeling disappointed. She finished up her day with a prayer and then laid on her mat. She sighed deeply as her eyelids became heavy. Alas, a tear escaped her eye freely. She wiped it away immediately as she slowly transitioned into the dreamworld.
“You’re doing it wrong Stella!” Stella quickly gathered the lantern and a match as she started to light each candle one by one counting “one, two, three, four, fi..” Stella dropped the lantern. She stood back and stared at the doorway of the candle room. Mazhar was standing there staring at her as if he could see right through her. Stella opened her mouth to scream at him and tell him to go away, but once again not one word escaped. Not a single sound. “Oh, so you are deaf too? Deaf and dumb?” Fighting back tears Stella open her mouth again and as the sound of her voice began to escape the confines of it’s sacred place, she was interrupted like many times before. Once more, she didn’t get to tell Mazhar how unqualified he was. Stella watched while Mazhar’s skinny frame was engulfed by a blanket of smoke.”Fire!” He yelled repeatedly. Stella’s scrawny legs rattled as she stammered around feeling the ground for the lantern. She quickly felt light headed as she frantically search for it. “This time I will do it right”, she thought.
Suddenly, she was on her mat. Grasping for air, she pinched herself several times. She stared at the wall that was illuminated by the moonlight as she took three deep breaths counting “one, two, three.” She looked over at the small wooden stool but felt too weak to get up. She did not want to go back to sleep even though she could barely keep her eyes opened. She felt herself giving into the intoxicating sleepiness, then she faintly heard the word ‘fire’. She began to slowly slip away, but again she heard someone yell “fire!” Frustrated she turned over on her belly and prayed for one night of sleep free of that nightmare.
Abruptly, she hopped off her mat and scurried towards the stool. Determined, she pushed the stool under the window and mounted it like a pedestal. She stucked her head out the window and in her amazement she saw billows of smoke coming from the top of the temple. Without time to think little Stella ran out of the hut like a starving lioness running after its prey. She ran with all her might and made her way up the hill towards the temple. She darted in through the entrance like a gazelle in flight. She paced herself as she moved closer to the voice that she was so familiar with. Reluctantly, she made her way to the corridor leading to the candle room.
Smoke started to consume the entire hallway and it became difficult for Stella to see. As she moved closer she saw the light from the lantern that was perched in front of the doorway. She covered her face while moving steadily towards the inferno. She heard a cough nearby. For a moment Stella was in a trance by the flames. It was almost as if the Sun was in that room inviting her closer.”Stella is that you?” Stella awakened from the trance dropping the lantern on the floor. She went down to her knees feeling her way around on the ground. She felt relieved when she felt Mazhar grabbed her wrist. She grasped him tightly and pulled him up and out of the burning room.
Smoke was everywhere. Stella knew her way out of that temple like the back of her hand. Stella guided Mazhar’s frail body outside as she watched a few elders run in the opposite direction with buckets of water. She dragged him near a tree where Mazhar finally plopped down gasping for fresh air. He gazed into her eyes as if beholding an angel. He cried softly while squeezing her hand. He managed to mustered up a smile as he whispered “I have dreamed of this moment many times, but never knew what it meant. You have saved my life.” Stella smiled back as she let a few tears escape her eyes. She looked up and noticed that the stars shined extra bright that night. Then she looked down at Mazhar as she parted her lips to let out her sound.