The day dawned bright and clear, unusual for a Revelation Morning. Instead of the cold fog she had been expecting, Adraka awakened to the light of both suns streaming in her window. She decided to take it as a good omen and burst out of bed, ready to face her life. For truly, that was what she was about to discover today. Full of high spirits, she paused to greet the little yellow gherka curled at the foot of her bed before heading off to the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later, her morning primpings completed, Adraka bounded down the stairs in the long white dress that tradition demanded, her gherka following behind her. She felt playful as a schoolgirl this morning, somewhat ironic as this was, after all, the day that marked her official status as a woman. Yes, after all these years of waiting, she was finally 18 and able to receive her first revelation.
Her mother was waiting for her at the breakfast table. A pleasantly plump woman of 45, she would be receiving her–Adraka paused as she did the mental arithmetic–her 27th revelation today. And what revelations her mother had asked for in years past! The location of the missing spoon, the identity of the contents of that strange package at the bottom of the freezer, and the best name for their new pet gherka were only a few of the things she had asked to know in years past.
While Adraka loved her mother very much, she knew that those were not the proper kinds of revelations to ask for. One should approach the oracle with reverence and not hesitate to ask the most important questions of life. To do less would be to insult the oracle’s powers. “More natkin cereal, Adraka?” her mother asked pleasantly now.
“No thanks, Mother. I’m really too excited to eat much right now. I just can’t wait for my hour to come.” Since Adraka was so young, it would be another three hours before she was allowed to go stand in line down at the shore. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself until then.”
“Well, you could always help me with some mending if you can’t think of anything else,” her mother teased.
“That’s fine, Mom. I’m sure I’ll find something to do outside,” the girl laughed as she headed toward the door. “And by the way, be sure to keep Benika in the house today where he’ll be safe.” The gherka started to whine as Adraka left the house without him.
The day was still glorious, the characteristic fog having not set in yet. The sky was a beautiful shade of violet, the trees were at their most blue-green, and the insects were chirping their happiest songs. Adraka ran merrily down the path, not noticing the wiry man ambling toward her until she had practically run into him.
“Gan Virkley,” she scolded, “you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Imagine, a government employee like you not watching where you were going. I ought to report you to the head courier. He’ll have your letter pouch in an instant.”
“Now Adraka,” the letter carrier responded good-naturedly, “it occurs to me that you weren’t paying much attention yourself. Of course, no one can blame you. After all, this is your first Revelation Day.”
Adraka couldn‘t imagine how he could possibly know this, so she assumed the worst. “Why, Gan Virkley, have you been reading my letters again?” she shrieked. “How else could you know that? I just want you to leave me alone. Do you understand?” The stricken postman tried to reply, but Adraka was already on her way down the path.
As she walked, she fumed about that revolting man she had just encountered. Gan Virkley was a friend of her cousin’s, and their paths had crossed many times over the years. He had always seemed to Adraka to be too methodical, too boring, and above all, too slow. Now only this month he had passed the government exams and become a courier assigned to her neighborhood. Adraka would have rather kept the old one. He may have been nearly blind and senile, but at least he had known enough to leave her alone. This Gan Virkley was always looking for an excuse to be near her instead of doing his job.
Despite the problems of the morning, Adraka could not stay upset for long, for the prospect of her first revelation kept coming back into her mind. She knew exactly the question she was going to ask. In her mind’s eye she could see it all. The waves lapping at her ankles as she approached the oracle. The magical gleam in the oracle’s eye as she asked of it the question she had been saving up forever. The all-knowing cackle the oracle would give before whispering the two magic words Adraka had been waiting her whole life to hear. It would be a miraculous day indeed.
Over two hours remained before Adraka’s appointed time and she was tiring of her walk, so she found a space under a bantan tree and settled herself down to meditate. The world vanished as she focused on the silent space within herself.
When she opened her eyes, she at first couldn’t remember where she was, or what she was doing there. The suns were shining bright and hot on her, and even the shade of the bantan tree gave her little comfort. Then she remembered the oracle, and started strolling down the path towards the beach. By the time she arrived, she would be able to get in line. As she traveled, she reflected on her meditation. She had found a new calmness that led her to believe her question was the right one to ask. Surely she would remember this day forever as the beginning of her new life.
When she arrived at the beach, the line was long, and the reddish sand burned against her bare feet as she snaked with the hundreds of other women towards the water. Those violet waves were so inviting, but she imagined it would be hours before she reached the water’s edge. Until then, she had nothing to do but reflect on her excitement, which was rapidly diminishing.
The woman ahead of her in line looked harmless enough, so Adraka decided to engage her in conversation. “Lovely weather, isn’t it?” she asked in her most cheerful voice.
“Not normal,” the woman said curtly. “Revelation Day should be foggy and dim. Heed my warning, girl, and be careful what you ask for today.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adraka gulped. So much for the fine art of conversation. She busied herself instead with thoughts of her beloved gherka, probably at home waiting for her right now. “I miss you, Benika. I wish I had brought you with me after all,” she whispered. She could almost feel those bright yellow scales under her hands.
“Don’t mutter to yourself, girl,” the woman ahead of her scolded. “It isn’t polite.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Adraka stammered again. That woman was making her more and more nervous. Couldn’t she see that this was Adraka’s big day?
Finally, the line reached the water’s edge. The wind had died down, and the violet waves that had looked so inviting from the beach were gone now. Looking down into the stagnant pool she was about to enter, Adraka saw masses of bright blue seaweed. Holding her breath, she took the plunge and jumped in with both feet. The seaweed felt slimy between her toes, but at least the water was cooler than the sand had been.
The line slithered through the water for more than an hour, but finally the woman ahead of Adraka was called. With not even a glance back at her young companion, she walked up to the tent, opened the flap, and strode purposefully in to face her destiny. Adraka tried to catch a glimpse of the oracle inside the tent, but it was useless. For the first time all day, she felt truly afraid. The water was waist-deep now, and she could feel the wet fabric of her beautiful new white dress against her legs. This was certainly not the romantic scene she had been imagining for her whole life.
The tent flap opened and the woman emerged, her face wearing an unreadable expression. From inside a voice said softly, “Next.” Adraka stumbled forward, her dress catching on the seaweed and threatening to trip her. She struggled for a minute with the tent flap before it would open for her. And then she was inside with the oracle, who turned out to be a young girl of about six, instead of the ancient woman Adraka had always imagined.
Adraka approached the pedestal of the oracle hesitantly. “Oh, oracle,” she intoned, bowing herself almost to water level.
The oracle giggled. “That’s funny,” she said. “You don’t have to treat me extra-special or anything. Just tell me what you want to know.”
“Oracle, I want to know the name of the man that I will marry.”
The oracle giggled again. “That’s an easy one. It’s Gan Virkley.” Adraka stood motionless for a few seconds, forcing the oracle to say, “That’s all. You can leave now.”
She stumbled through the dim water filling the tent and fought with the flap again before finally making her escape. Then she had to pass through the stagnant ocean water, trying to avoid the gazes of all the young girls still waiting in line. Somehow she made it across the beach and up the path to her house. There she found her mother humming as she prepared the family’s supper.
“Mother, what I learned today–I can’t even tell you, it’s so horrible. It changes everything in my whole life,” Adraka blurted out as soon as she walked in the door.
“Slow down, my little one. Tell me from the beginning. Your revelation was an unpleasant one?”
“Yes. I asked the oracle a question about my future, and she told me the answer. But I don’t know how I can face the future she described for me. I would rather die than do the thing that she said.” Adraka began to sob.
“My dear, that is an option that you simply don’t have.” The mother motioned for her daughter to sit down at the bantanwood table. As Adraka did so, the little gherka scrambled up onto her lap. She stroked him gently as her mother continued. “What the oracle has seen in the future cannot be changed. No matter how improbable or terrible it may seem, you must meet your future no matter what. Even if you try to run from it, the prediction will come to meet you.
“Let me tell you a story.” Her eyes took on a far-away look. “When I was your age, it was very important to me that I be beautiful, just as it is for you and your friends. So when I went to see the oracle, I asked her if I would ever be thin. (You know how chubby I was as a child.) When she told me that it would never come to pass, I couldn’t accept that knowledge. I went to the ocean and tried to drown myself, but a lifeguard saw me and rescued me. Then I went to fast in the desert, but the next day a search party looking for a missing traveler found me. I tried to check into a spa with healing waters, but my reservation was lost and they would not admit me. Everything I tried to do to evade the prophecy ended up fulfilling it instead.
“Finally I relented. I said, ‘If it is my future to be a fat ugly woman, that is my future.’ And this is how I’ve lived these past 27 years.”
Adraka looked into her mother’s eyes. “I never knew you felt that way,” she said tenderly. “I’ve always thought of you as the most beautiful woman around. But Mother, how do you ever get used to the revelations if they are this hard?”
The woman thought for a moment before answering. “After a while you get smart. You learn to stop asking important questions and ask ones for which no answer will be a disappointing one. I wanted to tell you that this morning, but felt you were not ready to hear it.”
Adraka half-rose from her chair, then settled back down again. “I have one other question, Mother. Why is the oracle a little girl?”
“My little one,” her mother murmured in a tone of profound resignation, “only someone as innocent as a child can bear to tell people truths that may harm them.”
“Thank you, Mother. I think I’m beginning to understand.” Adraka brushed Benika off her lap and went up the stairs to her room to change out of her bedraggled white dress. She lay on the bed for a while, staring at the ceiling, then suddenly rose and went back outside.
She walked purposefully, with a destination in mind, but along the way she stopped to think about her mother’s revelations that had seemed so silly. They had found the missing spoon under the stove, and after a bit of scrubbing it had been as good as new. The unidentified object in the freezer had turned out to be a package of frozen tingleberries from the year before. The whole family had dined on them that same night, savoring the memories they brought along with the sharp taste of the fruit. And Benika, meaning “faithful friend,” had turned out to be a fitting name for the pet gherka. Maybe her mother’s “silly” revelations hadn’t been so silly after all.
Up ahead of her, she saw her target, stooping to drop letters into a letter chute. She came up behind him, waiting for an appropriate moment to speak. Finally, he turned around and looked at her, surprise showing in his eyes. “Gan Virkley, I’m sorry I spoke harshly to you,” she said softly. “I hope that we can be friends.”