Heat from the sun was scorching; so much so, that even the weathered skin of the native people had become blistered and gnarled. Day after day, there was no relief. Mothers suckled their babies at dry breasts. Fathers turned over every rock and pebble seeking evidence of some taste of moisture. Children and elderly lay in lethargic unresponsiveness under tented coats and scarves. They had come this far. How could they be so forgotten and dismissed by nature and whatever god they chose to worship?
Survival, hour by hour, day by night, had become the demanding routine. Water, when found, would be their reward for living. Periodically, a raspy muted wail marked the passing of another soul. No one reacted anymore. No one could. Some simply had no moisture to gather for tears to acknowledge death. A few prayed for their same fate to come quickly.
Marni, a boy of twelve, looked directly into his motherís eyes. No words were spoken between the two. She, carefully, removed the template of the family crest from around her neck and struggled to slip it over Marniís head. She held the round ladle like object in her right hand and gestured to two pieces of old bread hidden in her wrap tucked under her head. She nodded toward Marni, as if giving permission for him to leave her. Mother took his hand in hers and kissed the palm. He clenched his fist as if to save the kiss from escaping, turned and left. Marni looked back just one time before stepping on to the open sand, one time to see his mother raise her hand in farewell to him.
The stars told it would take about three days to reach the mountains. Stories told in family folklore indicated that there was water on the mountainside. Marni was sure of it and planned to reach the area and return with life saving drink. It all sounded possible in his brain. Marni refused to think of any other alternatives except the accomplishment of this one goal.
Each day was searing with heat. Each day became more of a chore to simply live. Each day Marni placed the palm of his hand to his cheek to feel his motherís kiss, a reminder of her love. Marni chewed around thorns on a dry cactus leaf and sucked any wetness. There was not much rendered, but he felt encouraged. That was all he needed.
By the beginning of the fourth day, Marni reached the lower side of the mountain. His feet stung with sores from the hot sand, and yet, felt relief from the difference in terrain. He trudged forward in the climb, determined in his mission. He found a bit more vegetation, albeit baked and crackly. Marni crunched a few handfuls and sensed sustenance.
After a slow and agonizing climb up the side of the mountain, Marni felt moisture underfoot. A few steps further, he began to dig with his hands and found the smallest amount of water. Marni removed the family relic from his neck and held the ladle in his hand. He gently pressed the spoon like object down into the moist earth allowing a few drops of water to fill the cup. Marni, recalling his motherís faithfulness, closed his eyes and raised the ladle toward the heavens. He drank.
He took a moment to look down the mountain and across the hot plains. So much distance separated him from his mother and his people. He sensed encouragement from the ladle entrusted to him.
A tear ran down his cheek. He choked back a sob.
Marni prayed he would be capable to make the return trip. Three days seemed like another lifetime.
What would he find when he got there? Would there be life?
An overpowering feeling of loneliness brought him to his knees.