An International Woman

Entry by: Briergate

8th March 2016
"Thy grace like prairie dews distilled, to all his needs apply…."

I catch myself as my head begins nodding forward, the gentle rhythm of the prophet's voice lulling me in to a stupor. Sitting more upright on the hard pew, I squeeze my eyes closed for a second before opening them again, very wide, to try and persuade my bored body to become more alert.

"O, hide him in Thy secret fold, When on his path they tread…Safe as Elijah who of old, Was by the ravens fed…."

As the prophet concludes the evening's prayer, I stifle the impulse to stretch, knowing that even the slightest movement of either arm will be magnified tenfold in my rustling silk prairie dress.

As my family stand and file out of the chapel, I give myself permission for one snatched glance sideways. I'm rewarded for the risk, finding Elijah glancing right back at me, his beautiful green eyes shining as he closes one sleepy lid in a barely perceptible wink. I feel heat raze both cheeks, and give him a quick lift on one side of my mouth; these are our conversations, and we're expert communicators. As Elijah passes in front of me, hands loosely guiding two of his mothers to the back of the chapel, I notice his shoulders lifting slightly. I read his back, delighting in the message he cannot help but send. I have made him happy, just by catching his eye.

Walking demurely, I fall in to step with my elder sisters and stare down at my feet. Running through the list of chores in my mind, I mentally ascribe each one a time for completion, and I calculate I may have at least two hours spare for travelling when they're done, if I work hard and don’t draw attention to myself. Rachael, my birth-mother, always says that the Devil makes work for idle hands, but I've never known idleness, and I've certainly known Rachael create enough work for me over the years. Just as with most of my siblings and friends around the compound, I've learned a thousand different ways to occupy myself, foraging around the valleys, forests and crevices in my mind, running, exploring and jumping through endless pathways, all without moving a single muscle of my face, or body.

But, I can't daydream now. I walk as quickly as I'm allowed without being considered unseemly, and furnish myself with the bucket, mop and broom to start my chores. With the Utah desert and its arid expanse of emptiness on all sides, my days seem to be an endless battle against dry red dust, which I seldom win. However, I make good time for once, finishing on schedule. I glance at the Grandfather clock and calculate again. Making my way to the kitchen, I'm careful not to alert any of the Sister-Wives to my presence, choosing the furthest chair at the table to chop and peel vegetables, shell the peas and set everything up for them to cook the evening meal.

Wiping my hands on my apron, I walk quickly out of the room, not even pausing when Rachael calls my name. Guilt gnaws at my stomach, but I push it away. I'm going to be late. I'll miss the flight, and then I'll be stuck here, for another night, another day. I navigate my way past brothers and sisters tugging at my full skirts, clamouring for my attention, feeling the beginnings of excitement swirling like newly-fledged butterflies as I hasten my steps towards my destination.

Unlike my siblings, my mother and her Sister-Wives, my classmates or even my father, I have a secret. They have never travelled beyond the confines of our God-decreed haven on Earth, nor felt the liberating, guilty euphoria of their gaze alighting on a different view. I am different. My eyes have taken in scenes which my friends and family could not even begin to imagine. I've felt the cool whispered caress of jungle rain. The heady humidity of tropical landscapes. I've closed my eyes, lulled into slumber by the gentle rocking song of the tide. All of this is mine, and mine alone, and not one person alive knows my secret.

Well, perhaps one. The one with the sea-green eyes, and the tilted shoulders. My confidante. Elijah was the one who opened my world to allow transport to slip in, unseen. However, I trust him as much as I trust my own sealed self.

Walking ever more briskly until I am out of sight of the houses crowding the desert's edge, I make my way to the hayloft, breaths ragged more from anticipation than exertion. I hitch my skirts, showing my ankles in a way which would have me cast out as an apostate if I were caught, but I need to get that flight. Running now, I clap one hand to my head to keep my bonnet in place, but feel the braids unfurl and stream behind me as I approach the hayloft. My hair, uncut since birth, begins to shake loose, and I laugh out loud as it tumbles from its pins and billows out in a cascading sheet behind me. I have time, I have time, I chant to myself, feeling these two stolen hours of freedom stretch ahead like a promise.

Reaching the hayloft at last, I slow my pace, and nimbly climb the ladder which stretches up and up to the highest row of bales. I giggle to myself as straw catches in my hair and snags at my pinafore, and the sweet warm scent of sun-dried grass tickles my nose. Finally, I get to the top, and let myself fall from the uppermost rung of the ladder, arms outstretched, prairie dress ballooning like a parachute to slow my descent. The straw rushes to meet me, and I kick into it delightedly. I am free, unobserved, unfettered, undignified, wild, abandoned. Alone.

Sitting up, I feel a moment of panic as I cast around in the straw to find my mode of transport. I move piles of the stuff before me, behind me, seeking with growing desperation until my hand clutches the familiar, beautiful angles and I whoop in relief. I've made my flight. I'm sitting, now, closing my eyes, dashing straw from my hair, selecting a plump wiry ear to chew.

I slow my breathing, and picture the air stewardess telling me the flight safety message, the sound of a faceless pilot instructing me to enjoy my journey. The inert bodies of fellow travellers at either side, my clothing compact and fashionable, my hair bobbed, and perhaps, perhaps, Elijah's warm hand clasping my own. Searching, my hands close around the white package in my lap, and eyes still closed, I explore it, fingers opening the little box, reaching in and riffling through postcard after postcard, trying to will my hands to choose wisely.

Finally, I have it. This is the one. I can almost sense the exotic warmth exuding from the little rectangle. This, I think, will be a good one. A new one. A very distant, different, intriguing one. My hands are shaking now with sheer exhilaration. I savour the moment blindly for one moment more, tracing the familiar lines and angles of my treasure, then slowly, slowly open my eyes.

"Welcome to Sri Lanka!" the postcard greets me. Smiling, I stroke the image on the front of the card, just one of hundreds in the pack which Elijah secretly handed me for my sixteenth birthday. Already, my neck is prickling with humidity and promise.

Somewhere on the horizon, if I squint and tilt my head, I can make out a herd of elephants wallowing in a deep tank, their trunks swaying in time with the palm trees' dance. Far away, beyond my continent, beyond the different constellations that I can reach if I hold up my hand, I hear a gentle chorus from the Sister-Wives, their voices soaring in a way their bodies will never achieve.

"Bless that we will travel home, in safety".
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