The unpaved street was dusty, the air hot and still as though even the insects were too parched to utter a sound. It hadn’t rained for months and the children were too listless to play. But inactivity was not the solution to the oppressive heat. With nothing to occupy the time, their agile minds could only dwell on the discomfort. So Socorro, the eldest at twelve, took her younger sister, Desidro, and brother, Elcartio, along with several of the neighboring children, down to the creek in search of respite. She already knew the creek was dry, but she was hopeful that the Cottonwoods would provide enough shade to make the little ones more comfortable.
It was not to be. The Cottonwood trees were no protection against the scorching sun now directly overhead. Their disappointment was palpable, but as she turned to lead them back toward the tiny village, she noticed an old woman reclining against a fence post.
The woman’s eyes were closed and, to all appearances, she appeared to be relaxed and comfortable although exposed to the sun’s merciless rays. Her head nodded from time to time and she seemed to be humming softly to herself.
Curious about the source of the woman’s apparent comfort, Socorro decided to approach her. She stood silently for a moment but the old woman took no notice. Finally, Socorro spoke in her softest, most deferential voice.
“Grandmother, I could not help but notice that you seem unaffected by the heat. In fact, you have not sought the shade as most, but prefer to sit in the open sun. The children are most uncomfortable, and I was wondering, for their sake, if you would share your secret?”
“Yes, my child?” The old woman’s eyes remained closed.
“Among your people, in each clan, there is one who is known as the story singer. She is the keeper of the history of your clan and your people. She is the repository of all that is good and worthy in your culture and she is revered. ”
“Child, I have been waiting for you. Although you see before you one who is apparently of your people, this is not so. I have taken the image of one of your kind so you and the young ones should not be frightened. I have been searching for one such as yourself. Your concern is for the young ones, although you are not much older yourself. This is a good and admirable trait and is what brought you to my notice. To serve one’s people is a noble and honorable calling and it is one to which I have dedicated my life.”
“I hold a similar position with my own people. I have forsaken marriage and a family of my own in this service, but I have no regrets for I have received much more than I have given. But now I am old and more and more my thoughts turn to who will take my place when I am gone. I have no daughter of my own to carry my tales forward to the next generation, so I have gone forth to seek one who would willingly become the receptacle of my knowledge. I believe I have found her, but, before I say more, I must know. Is my quest at an end? Are you the one I seek? Think long on this, daughter, for it is an obligation that will take you far from family and friends. You will see sights beyond imagination, you will tread paths that none before you have traveled. And you will tread these paths alone But you will not be lonely. For, no matter where you go, no one will turn you away. Your only payment will be the coin of friendship, but you will not want for food, drink, clothing or shelter. All will be joyfully provided. And at the end of your service, you will be well contented and fulfilled.”
Socorro thought long and hard. To leave one’s family and friends was a hard thing to contemplate, especially when you were only twelve. But the thought of sights beyond imagination, paths that no one else had followed…… She knew how much respect was given to their own clan’s story singer, how loved she was by all…. These, too, were things to consider. She could make a difference. Surely, one could not aspire to more than that. At last, she had made her decision.
The old woman finally opened her eyes, and Socorro’s thoughts fled. Those were not the eyes of an old woman come to the end of her life. They were young, filled with the fire of adventure. And they were… bottomless….. Socorro felt as though she looking into a tunnel through which she could see the ends of the universe, and the sight was wondrous.
You need not speak, daughter. (Had Socorro actually heard the words? She could not be sure.) I know your heart and I am filled with joy.
“Sit down child, for I must tell you the rest.” The old woman smiled at the curious children who had gathered about. “It will not matter if they hear, for this is one story they will not remember, as they will not remember you once we have gone from this place. As I have told you, I am the story singer of my people, as you will become. But my…our people are not the members of a single tribe, or even a single nation. We serve the brotherhood of life. Our people, those we serve, are scattered across a billion galaxies, each containing millions of worlds. We carry the history, hearts, hopes and dreams of life in all its’ miraculous and many forms. Within us lives the glory of the past and the prayers for the future. Because of what we do, nothing of value is ever really lost, no dream is in vain and everyone is immortal. “
Already the children had turned away. They busied themselves throwing pebbles, as children will, paying no mind to the two rapidly fading figures by the cracked and peeling fencepost. To Socorro, it was their surroundings that were fading, dissolving into a featureless gray expanse that seemed to stretch forever. The old/young woman smiled, her face aglow with the light of adventure. She gestured with a slender, long-fingered hand and the gray plane gave way to the awesome brilliance of deep space. A tapered fingernail indicated the breathtaking blue glow of a nearby nebula. “Now,” her soft whisper was a counterpoint to the music of the universe,