Mijita is pronounced Mee-hee-ta, meaning "my little daughter".
Mater - Mah-tehr, "mother" incl. "mother-in-law", responsible overseeing female
Pater - Pah-tehr, "father" or "father-in-law" responsible overseeing male
Perla - Majita's beautiful sister-in-law
Achilioin - Orpah's deceased husband
Mahlon - Ru's deceased husband
1. Mijita Ru
I woke to the sound of snuffling, Mater was crying again. My own eyes felt heavy and resisted opening. I rubbed at them, so puffy it was a wonder they opened at all. The hollow emptiness in my stomach hurt worse. Even my arms felt drained of the energy to rise off my cot and go to Mater.
“She wants to be alone, Mijita.” My sister in law stumbled back into her cot, flopping onto her back. “She sent me away.”
“I’m sorry. This sorrow should be yours and we should be comforting you.”
The funeral for her husband had lasted all week. A widow of three years, myself, I felt her pain freshly. Our father, Pater, had sunk into the ground last year with something that slowly ate his health away. The passing of Achilion last week was my sister, Perla’s, heartbreak, certainly, but all three of us women grieved for our former lives. Women could not own land. We were effectively homeless.
These thoughts churned ‘round and ‘round in my head like a never-ending circle. It always came back to the same question, What do we do now?
I glanced over at her. Her hair was lighter than mine, almost pale, and set off her bronze skin and pale eyes. She was startlingly beautiful, the “catch” of our home town. Achilion had waited for her, wooing her for years as she flirted to her heart’s content before she was ready to settle down. Even in her grief, she shone like a star, gracefully posed with her wrist resting on her forehead.
“Mater said…” I began in a whisper the answer we had been promised when we married into this foreign family.
Perla interrupted me to finish the over-worn phrase, “’The Nameless cares for His own.’ I know.” She turned to me where I lay, curled on my cot watching her. “How, Mijita Ru? I need to know how He will care for us? He is punishing us.”
Automatically I shook my head “no”. My almost-black hair that had drawn Mahlon to a very young version of me ten years ago fell to cover my eyes. When I pushed it back, Perla was leaning towards me up on her elbow, clutching her cover with white knuckles. I turned away from her vehemence.
“You still cling to belief even now?” Her whisper was coarse on my ears, ripping out of her throat like the hiss of a snake. The anger in her voice contrasted strongly with the beauty in her face. Though only one year younger than me at twenty three, I glimpsed of the old woman she might become if she clung to her anger like she clung to her cover.
“Perla, the Nameless One lives. He is not like the statues of our people, carved with their own hands…”
She cut me off again, finishing my sentence in a mocking sing-tone, “and worshiped? You think we don’t know our gods are just wood? At least we can see them, Mijita.” She spat. “At least they don’t take the lives of husbands and leave women to fend for themselves.”
A sound came from the other side of the curtain covering the entry to their shared room. We stilled, watching the entry. A moment later, Mater pushed aside the worn cloth and shuffled into the room. She did not make eye contact with us, her daughters in law, but continued her slow shuffled across the smooth dirt floor to Perla’s cot where she took her time sitting down.
I could see the redness around Mater’s eyes. Her entire face looked tired, her years catching up with her all at once. The ready smile that had frequented her expression when I first married Mahlon was buried deeply within wrinkles that sagged on the her once beautiful face. Her skin was olive toned, different than Perla’s and mine. The strength she had once bore now curled in on itself, stooping her. She wrapped her arms around her blue overcoat, hugging herself, rocking on Perla’s bed slightly. She looks like she’s holding herself together.
Perla sat up to wrap her arms around Mater and Mater leaned into her. “Daughters, you know I love you.”
We nodded, exchanging a worried glance, “We love you, too, Mater.”
“Then you must listen to me.” Becoming suddenly fierce, Mater turned in Perla’s arms, grasping her tightly when she would draw back. “I release you to return to your families. You will always be daughters of my heart, but you must return to your own Pater’s houses for the sake of your future, your security.” Mater gazed deeply into Perla’s eyes, only inches from her face.
“But… Mater!” Perla squeaked.
The questions came unbidden from my dry throat, “What about you? What will you do?” I swallowed, “Where will you go?”
Perla shook her head, no, tugging her arms out of Mater’s grasp. She seemed to draw Mater’s last bit of strength with her when she pulled away. “No, Mater. You are family to us, now. We will stay with you.” Tears were overflowing her eyes, spilling down her cheeks.
I had to lean forward to hear Mater’s words. “What do you think, daughters? That I will find another husband? That I will bear sons, old woman that I am? And you? Will you help me raise them to bear children by them? I cannot give you the honor of Next of Kin, daughters, though you deserve it. The Nameless One has left me only empty bitterness. He will have compassion on you, however, and you will find homes and families again.”
Perla glanced at me, eyes wide. Her voice was tiny, but her back was straighter as she spoke. “Come with me, Mater. You can stay with me.”
I held my breath, waiting for Mater’s answer. The world held its breath too, it seemed, silent and heavy. Mater had come to this land from far away. She and Pater had brought their culture and their god with them. We both knew that Mater might find shelter in Perla’s household, but her god would not be welcome. She would have to leave the remnants of her past life. She would effectively become an enemy of her own people.
“No.” The answer was quiet, but purposeful.
I released my breath in a gush of air. The world stirred again with the little noises of life. I felt a surge of joy, oddly out of place in this tear-filled meeting. Flinging my blanket from me, I fell at Mater’s knees, having an idea of what she would do. “Take me with you.”
Mater started, pulling away from me, but I clung to her, gripping her coat in my fists. “Mijita Ru,” she finally said sadly. One wrinkled hand trembled as she smoothed a stray lock of hair from my face. Her fingers were light, icy cold. “Stay with your sister in your own land. This is your home.”
Turning to Perla, she reached out and patted her arm. With one hand on each of us she smiled, looking from one to the other, her eyes darkening with sorrow. “I must return to my homeland, daughters. They will see how bitter my life has been. I will be the mockery of my town, but they are required by law and custom to offer me some livelihood. You see?” Her smile belied the tears that spilled over in her grief-stricken eyes. “I will have a home, too. You don’t need to worry about me anymore.”
“Oh, Mater!” Perla hugged her and the two rocked a moment before parting. Their decisions were clear on their faces as they clung to each other. Perla would stay. Mater would go.
I felt torn. I would be saying ‘goodbye’ to one of the women who had made these the best years of my life. My heart swelled with that strange joy as I turned to hug Perla. “I will miss you, sister.”
Perla stiffened. “Miss me?” She made a funny noise in the back of her throat. “Mijita… Ru! We will miss our Mater, you mean.”
I gazed up into Mater’s eyes from where I knelt on the smooth dirt floor at her feet. She was watching me steadily. “I go with Mater.” I told Perla, but I did not look away from Mater, daring her object.
“Why, Ru?” Perla asked the question, but I could see the calculation in Mater’s eyes and the tilt of her head. My answer would determine my fate. I meant to choose my words carefully, but they spilled out as if they had always been in my heart waiting to be spoken.
“Don’t ask me to leave you or stop following you, Mater. Wherever you go, I will go. Your home will be my home and your people will be my people.” I heard Perla’s gasp and watched as Mater took a deep breath. I was not finished. “Your god is my god. Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.” Before either could interrupt me I stood, finishing my speech with an oath. “The Nameless One curse me if anything but death takes me away from you.”
Mater leapt to her feet, shaking her head to stop me, but it was too late. The words were said. She could not deny me now, but I could not tell how she felt about it. Perla stood slowly as Mater shrugged and broke eye contact with me.
Perla’s voice broke. “Mater? Do you want me to come with you, too?”
“No. No, daughter. You are wise to stay.” She smiled up at Perla, who was the tallest of the three of us. Mater sighed, glancing over at me sidelong. “I don’t know what will become of Mijita in my homeland.”
A chill crept up my spine as I realized I did not know what would become of me, either.
I knew that before Mahlon had come, I had been searching for purpose to my life. Even though he was gone, I still felt hope that the Nameless One had plans that were bigger than my hometown and the endless cycle of life here. If I let Mater leave without me, that hope would leave with her. I knew I had made the right decision, but I had no idea what that would mean.