Maria the Egyptian

1650
8
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by Vidmante Jasukaityte

O open, leaves of the book of life, untie yourselves,

papyri of eternity…

O open, guardians of time, unroll yourself, scroll of eternity that has no beginning nor end. Stretch yourself out above that time that sees my face and knows my gait, that remembers my boney silhouette by the caravan road, that separated the traces of my red footsteps in the sand and recognized my shrill voice. Let a miracle happen, let my suffering press into it for my suffering is heavy like the clay of the entire world, let my love impress itself in it, for my love is great and pure like the sky of the entire world, let my mercy impress itself in it, for it alone has become so light, that there is nothing with which to compare it.

Open, book of life, book of ages, reveal, o noble one who protects the memory of the world and whom newly born babes are most able to read—this is why they are able to understand the world so rapidly.

Take me to yourself, o great one, for I dry in the desert like a shadow. Soon I will melt with the night and the covering darkness, and it will grab me and take me away together so that the new day coming will not see me and nothing will be learned of me.

I perish here, leaving no sign, just as a drop in the Red Sea leaves no trace, but I know the vexed do not sleep; they look to heaven and open their heart to it.

And I experienced the rustling of the leaves of the book of life, the papyrus of night unfurled across the night sky and its symbols leapt into a heart filled with pain, and so the seeker found respite, for he knew the source of his pain. The stars then came down, close to the man and softly comforted he who considered the far reaches of time past and to come, in which thoughts at least can find what they thirst after.

***

Childhood is immortal. It is forever young, it never grows weary, its voice is always exultant and its colors do not fade from the hottest summer sun nor are they hidden by dust or consumed by sweat. It is always marked by the eternal stamp, the most significant stamp. This stamp is more important than those with the faces of leaders, it is more valuable than the most precious coin—this is the stamp of the mother’s face, and childhood is always marked by it.

The stamp of my childhood is sad because my mother never enjoyed herself, she never laughed, and her large violet eyelids like dark clusters of grapes half-covered her eyes. Her hands were thin, her fingers slender and trembling, always somehow cautious and fearful as if they were afraid to fondle or to hold. Her lips, plump and full of expression, looked like the lips of an abused child. My mother’s hair was black like the soil by the Nile, parted straight down the middle and easily given to waves. But she always kept her hair strangely braided and tied in a bun and never showed herself without a head covering, as if she were hiding how beautiful her hair was from everyone. She was thin and somewhat stooped, and when she used to go by the hut holding onto the wall, it looked as if she would fall down, hurt herself and begin to cry, and then the yard would take pity on her, as would the olives in the field by the wall, and the birds and the sky and the whole world would take pity—that’s how my mother looked as she used to go bent over by the hut holding onto the wall at looking down at her feet with her sad eyes, as if afraid to stumble on something and fall down. Her clothes always hung from her, for she was as slim as a young maiden, and only her breasts, hanging down under her clothes as if they had lost life and sense, showed she was a mother who had given birth and suckled. Her robe looked too wide for her, but somehow her hips always appeared somehow on both sides of the cavity of her stomach.

I don’t remember her walking quickly, I don’t remember her dancing or having fun, I don’t remember her homemaking enthusiastically. Mother’s mother did all the major work at home, old, wrinkled and almost brown-skinned. She walked the grounds barefoot with her bony feet whose soles were always much whiter than her skin, and she always brought back from somewhere a vegetable or handful of grain. Once she brought home a small kid which gave a small dish of milk when it grew up. The old woman taught me to find forage for the small she-goat or to run to the marketplace and collect and bring back what was left—usually shredded vegetable leaves. I remember mother almost always lying down or half lying. Rarely she would rise from her bed in the corner of the hut, sitting on the ground picking grains, placing them in a stone bowl and grinding them with a stone pestle. When she tired, she’d put the mortar aside, rest a while and then go back to grinding again. She did try to make something to eat, but if it hadn’t been for her mother, we would have gone hungry all the time—we always lacked food.

Translated by Geoffrey Vasiliauskas

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