by Fiona Davis
They walked with her to the shore, keeping their pace even and slow, their eyes on the ground in somber reverence for this most special of ceremonies. They kept her in the center of the circle, she the only one dressed in white, a bright center in the midst of these black-robed figures.
At the appointed place on the beach, they stopped. Her eyes still lowered, the girl turned to face the sea but otherwise did not move from her place. Her entourage moved as one, slowly fanning out behind her. The master stepped forward, placing himself between the girl and the sea. He did not speak, but placed a finger under her chin and gently raised her eyes until they met his.
He did not blink as he recited the words that had been said countless times over the history of their people. “Child,” he intoned softly, “today you choose. Will you choose to remain as a child, or to begin your journey as an adult?
“As a child, you will forever be provided for; however, your choice today will be the last you will ever make. You must obey the adults in all things, and will never be allowed to marry or to have children of your own.
“As an adult, you will have freedom to live as you please, to make decisions for yourself as well as the children, young and old.
“However, in order to begin your life as an adult, you must end your life as a child. If you choose this path, you must take the test, and you cannot shy away from it. The test may kill you, but once it is begun, you cannot break from it.
“The choice is simple, but not easy. I ask you now: are you ready to make this decision?”
Her heart pounded with fear and exhilaration, but she had pondered this question carefully over the last two years and was prepared with her answer. “Yes,” she said softly.
He opened his hand to reveal a small piece of coarse, black rock. “Choose,” he said simply.
She took a deep breath and forced herself to move before she could change her mind. With a trembling hand, she reached out and took the stone.
He stepped back from her and, raising his voice slightly, he began to recite from memory: “You have accepted the test, and cannot turn back. You must remain as you stand now, not moving from this place until the test is completed. Though the test itself may end your life, you must not waver from it. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” she whispered, and following tradition cast her eyes to the ground again.
The black-robed figures turned and moved gracefully back up beach, until they reached the top of the cliffs. There they turned and arranged themselves in their places to observe.
The girl, now alone on the shore, looked out over the water and considered her decision. This was as much as she knew about the test. Adults were sworn to secrecy when they completed it, and those who did not complete it never returned. She did not know what was coming, and as she thought about it she felt panic rise in her chest.
Perhaps she had made the wrong decision. There was nothing wrong with being taken care of, was there? She shook her head violently, as if to clear the thoughts from her mind. She wanted freedom. She pressed her lips together and clenched the stone more tightly in her hand. “Here I stand,” she said resolutely.
She watched the water as wave after wave rolled toward her and then receded. After several minutes she noticed that the waves came farther up the shore each time, the water slowly approaching her with each lap against the sand.
She stood her ground as the water began to lick at her toes, then washed over her feet and ankles. Before long it began to creep up her legs, each wave surging in with more speed and strength than the last.
She lifted her eyes and gazed upon the seemingly infinite sea. The sky was beginning to change from clear and sunny to overcast and stormy. The clouds came together as if pulled by some magic, and they darkened to a sinister black.
The rising storm upset the water, and the waves now tossed violently as they sped toward land and crashed over her, pulling at her waist. As the water rose to her chest, she fought each wave as it threatened to pull her off of her feet and suck her back to a liquid death.
She clutched the stone more tightly and fought the fear that was rising as quickly as the water. Please let this end, she prayed, but the waves continued to crash over her, reaching ever higher until they washed completely over her head, forcing her to gasp for breath between every peak.
She felt her strength waning and despaired. She fought the urge to leave this place, to swim back to dry ground, but she knew that would mean just as certain a death. She reaffirmed her resolve to remain in her place and accepted her death. At that moment, the storm began to calm. The water settled into more gentle waves, which slowly began to slide back into the sea.
As the sun peeked out from between grey clouds, she was again left standing alone on the shore. Her eyes were closed and she felt exhausted.
She did not notice the return of the black-robed figures, but when she opened her eyes they once again surrounded her. The master gently instructed her to open her hand. “Look,” he said.
As her gaze fell, she saw that she no longer held the black stone. In its place was a clear gem, sparkling brilliantly in the warm sunlight. He smiled. “It’s a reflection of the strength and purity of your heart,” he said. “Welcome.”
Copyright © 2008 by Fiona Davis