The Tale of Cecilia / by Sam Abelow

There once was a young woman, aged seventeen, named Cecilia, who lived in a fishing village. Her grandfather had been her caretaker for her whole life, but he was now growing old and weak.

In the summer, when school was on break, she used to take walks out to the forest to sit with the meditators. There, quietly in the shade of the trees, a group of bone-thin monks, dressed in shabby clothes, would sit for hours. Occasionally they would break their silent practices to discuss spiritual matters.

Cecilia commented, “All of life is arranged, like an ornate tapestry. The events and people in our lives all exist in an extraordinary pattern, which urges us towards enlightenment. But, sometimes there are tears and we fall into darkness. Even still, the shadowy world leads back into light at its apex.”

One monk, his eyes glowing, replied, “Your soul is very old. If you took your vows, I would teach you the methods of meditation and you would be adept quickly.”

Cecilia was charmed and when she took the walk back to her Grandfather’s house that night, each step felt as though it never touched the ground, and the entire world vibrated with the pitch of the highest “C” on a piano.

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When she returned home for supper, Jack, her dog, ran out to greet her. He jumped up on her thigh and Cecilia scratched his ear. But, as they came to the front door, Jack whimpered and scampered off.

Grandfather was suffering from a cough and was laying in his bed. She cooked with what little they had. But, Grandfather ate very little.

At the end of the meal, having not taken even a small bite in quite some time, Grandfather said, “As you know, I am getting sick more and more often; I fear that I cannot take care of you any longer.”

“Don’t say that!” Tears welled up in Cecilia’s eyes.

“And I am running out of money for food," He said. "This is as good a time as any: I have spoken with your cousins in the city and we have arranged for you to have a husband who can support you.”

“But, I don’t want to marry someone I don’t know! Grandfather, please — no!” Cecilia said, tears running down her cheeks, her leg twitching beneath the table.

Grandfather let out a sigh, then said, “Please, Cecilia, I have persuaded them to pay for you to go meet them at the end of this month. Please give it a chance. Sometimes fate carries us in new directions, even suddenly, and we must not turn away from it presumptively.”

“Okay,” said Cecilia. But, in her heart and in her soul she knew that it was not right. But, she loved Grandfather, and wanted to do right by him, and did not want to burden him any longer.

✽ ✽ ✽

The entire month went by and Cecilia did not think of her trip to the city. She spent many hours speaking with her friend Isaiah, who was a magnificent white-feathered hawk.

Some mornings, at dawn, Isaiah would swoop down and meet Cecilia and Jack. The three of them would saunter off to the shore. There, they would watch the fishermen sail off. Isaiah was her source of wisdom, and he always had much to say, and she always had an ear to listen.

“Each person has their role,” said Isaiah. “These men work hard each day to feed the village. God loves them for their efforts. For, those whose work is accomplished without greed are rewarded by the balance of life.”

Cecilia was mesmerized by these words, and she watched the fishermen with great joy as if they were all actors on the stage of existence, as if they were all dancing in the great drama of life.

Jack always sat loyally, and when lunchtime came he would “woof” and gesture his head towards the banana trees. After replenishing herself, Cecilia would head into the forest to join the meditators for the afternoon. As the sun began to set, and the discourse came to a close, she would walk back home, Jack by her side, Isaiah flying off to his nest.

✽ ✽ ✽

However, Cecilia did have one other companion. His name was Thomas. He was a bird, like Isaiah, but larger and with dark brown feathers. Thomas had often encouraged Cecilia to do things she later felt embarrassed by and which filled her with apologetic regret. She often told herself she would no longer listen to him, but he had a way of intriguing her.

Thomas becomes very important to our story because just at the moment when he really shouldn’t have, on the night before Cecilia was to leave for her trip to the city, the dark bird appeared.

Perched on the windowsill, Thomas chirped in Cecilia’s ear. She had already been restless and sat-up, her head half-way between sleep, meandering in the long hours of the night.

“I have a fun idea,” said Thomas. “Just follow me and I’ll show you. It’s a beautiful night — the moon is out!”

Cecilia hesitated, but found herself climbing out the window. Upon dropping her bare feet to the dusty ground, she was dazzled by the expansive night sky.

Noticing the rustling and footsteps, Jack awoke from his sleep and dragged himself up, nudging open the door, and catching up to Cecilia.

Thomas began to chirp a tune. “Oh-la-la, Oh-my-my, Isn’t it so nice tonight?”

And to this rhythm, Cecelia skipped and twirled, she danced and swayed. She followed Thomas, who began to lead her out, away from the bay and the village, out towards the mountains.

“Follow me to the mountains, there you can climb and join the stars, never to return to the sorrowful earth,” said Thomas.

Cecilia was entranced by the cadence of his words and the whooshing of his flapping wings.

“Come, come, follow me, up and away from the city,” said Thomas, as he flew faster.

Jack dragged behind as Cecilia began to run. She closed her eyes and a rising feeling came up through her feet as she moved faster and faster. With a surge she sprinted, her eyes closed. Then, with few final leaps, she opened her eyes. Thomas was gone.

✽ ✽ ✽

At a standstill, Cecilia turned back and saw that she was now half-way between the outskirts of the village and the base of the mountain. At this moment she began to feel drops of rain.

A storm came and it began to pour. In her exhaustion, and with no refuge in the open field, she began to feel hopeless and listless. Jack and Cecilia curled up together for warmth. Jack began to shiver, and Cecilia cried until she was taken by sleep.

In her reverie, she saw two powerful scenes which rattled her soul and sparked with the heat of a fire. A young man grabbed her upper arm and held her down, attempting to kiss her. With a gasp, Cecilia awoke, feeling the heavy rain on her face, before falling back into another dream.

This time she saw a different young man, who had collapsed to his knees. With awe and longing, he wished to connect with the strength of a strong and stationary horse.

Dawn approached and the clouds began to part. Cecilia sat up crossed-legged and looked back towards the town in a daze. She wished she had never followed Thomas. Shallow puddles had collected in winding patterns, which moved slowly all around her. She stared aimlessly at these waters, feeling cold and stupid.

She then turned towards Jack and came over to pet him. When he showed no reaction, she pushed at him, but he would not wake. Noticing that he was not breathing, she cried out in horror. With tears streaming down her face and muddy feet, Cecilia ran back to town.

✽ ✽ ✽

When Cecilia finally made it back to her hut, she could see that the storm had damaged some of the wooden posts of her hut. Upon entering, she found that Grandfather had passed. With immense despair, she had to admit that, on top of the destructive weather, the stress and anguish of her having gone missing must’ve been the cause of Grandfather’s death.

She spent nine days in a depression. The sun rising and falling, she remained in a heap, starving amongst the rubble of her house, alone. That is, until, one bright day she found herself staring deeply at the splintered wood. Within two of the pieces of wood, she saw figurines: the first a horse, the second an idol.

With tiredness and only for short periods of time, until she became fully absorbed, and lost within her work, she carved at the wood. She took a break in the evening, when a neighbor passed by and offered her a banana.

✽ ✽ ✽

In some time she regained strength and completed several wooden sculptures. The memory of her Grandfather stayed with her, and she sometimes knew that he was standing with her, in spirit, watching her carve.

When she had finished her art pieces, she brought them to the little market. Fellow townspeople bought her creations, and with the money, she rebuilt her house.

Over the coming months, she decorated the house with many works of art. One day, while selling new sculptures at the market, she met a young man who had traveled in from a neighboring village. He was also an artist, and the way he immediately understood and spoke of her sculptures gave her great joy. They went on long walks and talked about their many thoughts. A love began to blossom between this couple.

Soon, he helped build onto the house, with strong lumber from the forest. Cecilia and her companion contributed their unique creativity to their dwelling, and the love and devotion they shared grew more true and beautiful with every year they lived together.