AN: Read at your own risk! Might include bad language or disturbing images. The 4th story of the 1o small stories. You can find the rest at my blog. Enjoy and comment!
The Veiled Woman walked through the stinking roads of the port without taking notice of the filth. She looked as if she originated from another planet, with her silk slippers, her long red dress in the color of blood made by the finest silk, ornate with complex details of golden thread. But what caught the eye was the same thing that made men to keep their distance; it was her veil. She wore a long black veil made by the same lace as the dress. It covered her head completely; only by imagination you could tell where the eyes were. It was so long that it reached her elbows. That veil was the most expensive and exquisite thing that was ever worn in that miserable place of town. If it was another day of the year she would have been killed for it.
But not today. Today she was safe as it was the Ship Soul Day. That day was the holiest day of the year for the city, not because it linked to a religion or because the government said so. The Ship Soul Day stemmed from those days in the past when everything was dust and stone and low grass. When people lived in small huts and fished in the river to eat and not sell. That day was the last day of the one hundred days long trip of the gypsies. They used to cross the whole dessert to reach this place in a procession of veiled faces. When they reached the riverbed they would release to the water small wooden ships, and they would whisper to them the sweet words they wished their loved ones to hear. They believed that the ships, once on fire, could find their way to the palace of the dead and there the dead could hear about them.
As the years passed, the villagers would join the silent procession and would put fire to their own ships. If the burning ships could find the way to the palace of the dead gypsies, why not to the palace of their own? That day every year, for thousands of years, the Veiled Faces would be under the protection of the souls. And no one ever dared to enrage the souls of the dead. Once, the Bishop of the Cursed, tried to hunt down the Veiled Faces, he tried to kill them, or put them in prison, but he never succeeded. He was burned alive by his daughter who then turned into a ship herself and sailed into the dusk ablaze.
Nowadays the procession happened without the authorities or the clerks daring to interrupt them. No one wanted a second Bishop of the Cursed and moreover, many of those people joined the procession themselves. Like the Veiled Woman. She walked by a couple drunk men outside a very suspiciously looking tavern. They smelled like alcohol and they were barely standing. She would have never looked them twice if not for a stretched hand that tried to grab her by the elbow. She pulled away, but there was not real need for that. His companion with the warm hazelnut eyes and the tired face of a middle aged person had stopped him.
“Fool!” he said in a harsh tone “Can’t you see she is a Veiled Woman? Leave her be!”
“I… just…” the other man tried to explain his actions, but he stammered. He was not able to find the correct words to explain himself to her, the older man, or himself, she could not tell.
“Yes?” she asked the Veiled Woman a bit coldly. She wasn’t offended by him, once she was used to men like him.
“I… wanted to touch you. Only touch to see if you are real or my mom’s ghost had discented from heaven” his voice was barely a whisper and suddenly he looked like he was even younger.
Something moved into her heart and a tear found its way from her eye to the base of his neck. A tear that only see knew it existed and only she knew why. The offender was not even a man, a fresh boy of seventeen years old. His green eyes told the truth, there drunkness there but also honesty and pure pain. She could tell, she had learned to read the eyes since very young.
Without a word she caressed his cheek with two gloved fingers and kissed him on the forehead. She wanted to say something to him, something to comfort him. She was so good in comforted people when they arrived in her church, stranded by a sea of problems, but now she could not even find her voice. She continued her way.
Memories have a bad habit. Once they find a crack in the chest she had locked them away in the darkest corners of her soul, nothing could stop them from pouring out. And they then hit her as vivid and alive as when she actually lived them. Twenty years had passed and still she could remember every little detail. She could remember the voice of her stepfather telling her that she was beautiful, that men would lust over her. She could remember the feeling of his hard fingers running up and down her spine, the sour smell of his breath exhaled close to her face could still make her gang. If only he was the first and the last one. At her thirteen years she had been exposed to more men like him than any woman should ever be. Hot tears run down on her cheeks, as many as the coins her stepfather would receive after all those men were done using her on the rough bed.
But what could she do? She was young with no mother to protect her. She was bad at school and had not friends to protect her. She never had time to study so she knew that she could never hope to go to college, so she didn’t even dream of it. With no friends, family and dreams she was left at his mercy and his clients’ pleasure. Her only sanctuary was the silent church. She was not religious, if God existed she would not suffer all these things in the first place. She went there because she was alone and peaceful, she could stay there feeling alone and safe, till the priest came along and then she run away, fearful of all men.
After a year, maybe more, she was not sure for how long she lived in that hell, she understood that she had no menstrual cycle. She looked for answers to her biology book and she understood she was pregnant. She panicked. What would she do? It was so unfair. Why did life had to be so mean to her? Why to her, only? Why couldn’t she be like the girls at school with long pink dresses and dolls to play with? She asked that to the God as well, but no answer came to her.
For the rest of the next month she cried often causing her stepfather to be more and more angry, beating her angrily. “If you cry, bitch, no one will want you, except the old perverts. Do you want them? Trust me, you wouldn’t like them any better”.
One day after school, she was sitting silently on the back rows of the church trying to think of how to get rid of the baby. She was thinking so hard that she never heard the nun sitting next to her. “Why are you crying child?”
“I am not crying” she lied.
“Surely, you shouldn’t be unhappy at the House of God.”
“Because God can help us, if he hears our problems”.
“You are lying!” she accused the old nun and left the place as fast as she could.
The next day the nun was there again, sitting two seats from her. The little girl didn’t try to approach her, but her words echoed in her mind God can help us, if he hears our problems. The next day she was there again, as every day of that week. And all the little girl could think was of her words, repeated in her head like a song.
After a week she decided to try to speak to the nun. After all, she was working for God, so she should have answers. “If God exists, how can he hear us?”
“Through his servants. He entrusts us to be his ears to listen and his hands to act.” The old nun said nothing else. The little girl left without another word.
The next day she sat next to her. “Good morning”.
“Good morning” answered the nun but she did not press her to talk. Nor she commented on her freshly split upper lip. She just sat there, peaceful like the trees.
“I want help, I need help. Can the servants of the God help me?” she whispered finally, her heart racing in her chest with fear.
“Speak and you will find out” the nun answered calmly.
The little girl started telling the story of her life slowly in the beginning, with a lot of pauses and half pronounced words. Slowly though her fear turned to anger, and she started hissing the details of her stepfather’s clients and their acts, wishing she could claw their eyes out and sacrifice them to the God. And then after a few minutes that seemed to her like eternity, she finished the tale of her miserable life crying and out of breath.
The old nun stood up and extended her hand. “Follow me, child.”
After a small hesitation she took her hand. She had told her all her secrets and now she was at her mercy. Would she help her? Maybe. Would she extort her the same way as her stepfather? Maybe. She could not tell but at least she had hope.
All those years that passed, she never regretted taking the hand. The nun led her out of the church and out of the town, into the desert where an old monastery lay there. The monastery became her home, the sworn nuns her family. She became one of them and she nursed to health, sanity and then groomed to be a Nun that Listens. She never saw her stepfather’s face but she heard years later that he had died in a weird accident. The Veiled Woman thanked the Sworn Nuns for that. She had come to learn that they could advice with gentle tongues but when their hands where forced were not gentle at all.
Her only sorrow had been that her baby boy had died three days after his birth. When she was safe and sane, she wished she could have kept him. He would have been seventeen today and they would have been eating ice-cream together. Instead, she was a Veiled Face and she was lighting a wooden boat in his memory. The Veiled Woman watched the boat burn to ashes as it disappeared in the sunset. Maybe her memories would burn with it as well.
On her way home she passed outside the same old tavern. The young boy was alone now, sleeping next to the door. The Veiled Woman woke him up as gently as she could.
“Come on. Let us go and eat some ice cream. Then we can talk about your mom.”