Out of the window was a hill. There was nothing extraordinary about this hill. A healthy person could climb it in fifteen minutes. It was covered with tall grass and bushes scattered over it. A lone tree at the top, stands barren. It has given up growing taller, let alone offer greenery for shade. Birds often fly around, dancing in the air with their kind; creating a story in flight patterns. They never stay long, these birds. The hill doesn’t offer proper food or shelter. Though it stands strong and infertile, Satya couldn’t keep her eyes off of this small mountain. She would sit with the other students, gazing at it when she should have her eyes closed in meditation. It was as if the wind carried a message from the hill, especially for her. No one else seemed to even notice it, the hill. Satya wanted to answer this call. Every morning, sitting by the window, listening to the messages, she would promise to go climb the hill in her free time. Every day, duties called her away, putting off the promise to visit the hill.
“Satya, you should be focusing on the flame, not gazing about like an untrained child.” The voice of the Guide was soft but harsh. Satya whipped her head back quickly and closed her eyes to concentrate on the flame in her mind’s eye.
After the session, the students quietly shuffled out as the Guide held Satya back. She sat with her head bowed, preparing herself for the reprimand. This wasn’t the first time the Guide kept her back.
“Did you find the flame?” The old woman asked, sitting erect in front of the young girl. Her blank stare looked ahead, her expression stern.
“No, I could not reach it,” Satya humbly said, keeping her head down.
There was a moment of silence. Satya slowly looked up, waiting for the Guide. She knew there would be repercussions for her distracted spirit.
“It’s been months since you perceived your flame.” The Guide claimed, keeping her gaze ahead. “You haven’t been putting as much attention in your chores. I have been told that you missed lighting two candles in the hall of thousand lights.” She continued, letting the mistake linger over Satya’s head.
In the distance, a bell could be heard, calling the students to prayer. Satya could picture them slowly making their way to the forest, looking for a quiet place to be at one with the Divine.
“I feel that there is something you are holding on to Satya. A cleansing would be the best course of action.” The old woman decided.
“Yes Guide.” Satya whispered. She was not looking forward to spending the following month in isolation, living off of a herbal concoction and water. She would have to spend every morning in the steam room, every afternoon in walking meditation and every night stargazing. Satya will not be allowed to communicate with another soul for the whole month. This was the greatest challenge for her.
The Guide stood up, reaching for her cane. She offered Satya her arm. The young girl interlocked her own arm and guided the old woman out of the hall.
“You have great potential to be a Guide one day,” the older woman started. “What is it that you think you need for you to get back to what is important?”
Walking outside, Satya turned her face to the sun, enjoying the warmth and light. She smiled and answered:
“I am not sure that this is the life for me. Though I believe in the Divine and think that what my sisters are doing is noble, there are doubts in my heart that I am to live this life of servitude.”
The Guide patted Satya’s hand, shaking her head.
“My dear, these feelings will pass. You must be patient.” She insisted.
Satya did not reply. She even had doubts about what the Guide was saying. She took the cane from her elder and watched as the blind woman confidently walked into the forest.
The next morning, before the sun was even peeking beyond the horizon, Satya took one change of clothes and went to the hut outside the temple grounds. It was a modest shelter with a steam room attached, meant for girls that were cleansing. It was built deep in the forest, isolated from anyone.
The moment she arrived, Satya stripped off her robes and went into the steam room. She was eager to start cleansing herself of the urges to leave the temple. There were so many impulses and doubts in her heart that she couldn’t find herself anymore. As she sat on the warm tiles, Satya closed her eyes, looking inside for something steady. It was impossible to find. Her mind kept distracting her with messages. The floor was too hot, the sweat dripping down her spine bothered her, and she forgot if she closed the gate when leaving the temple grounds…the thoughts came in waves, causing more discomforts.
Finally, the sun came up to its highest point. Satya was relieved when she saw it through the glass ceiling. She slowly washed herself, wrapped her robes around her body and started the walking meditation. Keeping her head covered eyes on the ground, Satya concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. All that mattered was the next step; to be in that moment.
Near the end of her five hour meditation, Satya thought about the hill she never climbed. It took only that one moment of distraction. She stepped on a broken branch that cut her foot. She broke her vow of silence when she let out a cry of pain.
That night, watching the stars, Satya cried. She could not find the balance she once had in her soul. It felt like she was slowly slipping away from the only world she knew. Since she was a child, Satya had lived at the temple, studying, growing, and slowly becoming a Sister of the Divine. Now, at fourteen years old, she felt lost. She sensed something called her away from the temple. She fell asleep beneath the stars, thinking of the hill and the world beyond it.
The first two weeks slowly crawled by. Satya followed the motions of her routine with her body but her mind remained with the hill. She thought about the lone tree, standing barren and alone. The image followed her even in her dreams.
One night, sitting under the stars, Satya started humming softly. She did not realize what she was doing until she looked down from the stars and saw a man standing at a distance, watching her intently.
“I’m sorry to scare you. I heard you sing and was just curious.” He said, smiling.
Satya stood up, taking a few steps back as she covered her head with her robes. Her heartbeat quickened at the sight of another human being; except she wasn’t certain if it was out of fear or excitement.
“You’re one of the sisters of the Divine, aren’t you?” He then asked.
“Yes. I am doing a cleanse.” Satya automatically answered. When she realized her mistake, she brought her hand to her mouth, gasping. This made him laugh.
“Aren’t you supposed to keep a vow of silence?” He asked, still chuckling.
The sound of his laughter calmed her. Satya managed a smile as she looked away.
“Yes. I have not been doing well these last two weeks. My mind is always wandering.” She revealed, sitting down again. It felt good to communicate with another person and share her troubles.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. Tomorrow is another day.” He said, sitting down as well; keeping a proper distance from Satya.
“How do you know about the Divine Sisters?” She asked.
“My mother was one,” he said, offering her some water.
“How can that be? Once you become a Sister, it is for life. Having a family is against the Laws of the Divine.” Satya gasped, accepting the water.
Her surprise made the man laugh again. He took a sip of his water before he explained:
“She was on a pilgrimage when she met my father; love at first sight she claimed. One night was all it took.”
“One night for what?” Satya innocently asked.
The man now looked at her with a different expression. It had a hint of amusement and sadness along with compassion.
“One night for me to be conceived. I was born in this hut.” He explained, pointing to Satya’s temporary home.
Her gaze followed his hand, looking at the hut. She was a bit confused since it was forbidden for any Sister to live as a wife, mother or lover. A Sister of the Divine lives as a maiden and then crone. This has been repeated many times during Satya’s education.
“How can it be?” She asked.
“My mother was a Sister of the Divine but she was also human. Every human being has desires and feels curious about the world around them. Her heart wanted to become a mother and the first man she met, my father, was willing to fulfill her desire.” The man said, playing with the grass by his feet.
Satya quietly listened, taking in what he was telling her. She thought of the hill that called out to her. She wondered if it wasn’t the other way around. Maybe her heart was yearning to go out to the hill and experience a world beyond the temple.
“Did she ever regret her decision?” She asked.
The man shook his head, looking up at Satya.
“No. She never had a moment of doubt. The love she experienced as a mother was the greatest experience of her life.” He smiled as he said this. He then got up, gave Satya a small round object wrapped up and said:
“Good luck on your journey Satya.” She watched him walk away, wondering how he knew her name. Looking down, she saw that he gave her a loaf of bread.
The next day, Satya skipped the session in the steam room. She took the loaf of bread and started the trek to the hill. She was determined to fulfill this desire, regardless of where it will lead her. She was tired of holding herself back and wanted to know what would happen if she simply acted.
By mid-day, she reached the hill. The temple grounds were busy with the Sisters going about their business. Satya watched for a moment, wondering if any of them harbored any desire that would lead them away from the Divine path. Her musings were short lived as she was eager to reach the top of the hill.
When Satya found herself before the lone tree, she felt a light feeling in her heart. She was very tired and felt dizzy after fasting for over two weeks. Very slowly, she sat down, leaning on the tree and started to eat the bread she received the previous night. The grains on her tongue sent waves of pleasure to her mind. Chewing never felt so satisfying. Satya closed her eyes, unable to stop herself from sighing loudly with pleasure. When she opened her eyes, she saw a flock of birds dancing in the sky, gracefully weaving their way around. There was a sense of contentment that washed over her heart.
As the sun started to lower over the horizon, Satya decided it was time to go but she didn’t know where to go. If she returned to the temple, she would return to the rigid rules and regulations of the Sisters’ order. On the other hand, it was the only home she knew; where her family was. There was the hut she could stay in but this was a temporary solution. Eventually, the Sisters would find her and bring her back. Satya then thought of the man. Maybe if she found him, he could help her.
“Just take the first step,” she whispered to herself. And so she took one step then another and another. Those steps took her to the entrance of the temple. Her Sisters greeted her with disapproval as she did not complete her month of cleansing. They took her to her room and put her to bed.
Satya floated through many dreams, most of them were about the man and the hill. They all started with a voice saying: “Once upon a time, not too long ago. In a far away land much like yours and mine.” She finally woke up at dawn with pain in her stomach. It felt like something alive was moving and trying to come out. At the sound of distress, her roommate rushed to get help.
When the Healer came, Satya was on the ground, clutching her abdomen and crying.
“Satya, what is the matter?” Asked the Healer, kneeling down by the young girl.
The pain became unbearable. She started gagging, feeling something coming up her airway. Her muscles contracted violently, trying to expel the foreign object. Slowly, Satya felt it come out of her mouth. She heard the Healer gasp and another Sister scream. Finally, Satya could breathe again. Gasping for air, she opened her eyes. Before her was a small snake, coiling itself around her arm. Confusion blurred her vision. How could a snake come out of her mouth? She brought it closer to her face. It responded by slowly coiling itself around her neck and resting its head on her shoulder.
At that moment, the Guide walked in, lead by an elder Sister.
“What is going on? I sense something strange. What is wrong with Satya?” She asked.
“Guide, it is a snake. Satya birthed a snake.” The Healer’s voice was shaky. She was scared of getting any closer to the young girl.
The Guide walked in, kneeling by Satya, listening to the subtle sounds of the room.
“This snake; it came from you out of nowhere?” She asked.
“Yes Guide.” Satya answered, looking lovingly at the reptile resting on her.
“Then, that would make you a mother. Congratulations,” the Guide declared.
Satya looked up, smiling. She felt at peace with such a thought. Even though her child was a snake, her heart already felt connected and a strong sense of protection took over her mind.