This story is by Atu-lia and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As the weary sun sank, my paternal grandmother, Yia, emerged from the hallway holding a small lamp. Gracefully, she transferred the flame, illuminating the room with a warm glow. Above us, the moon silently observed, casting shadows gradually as it claimed the final moments of the weary sun. It felt like a celestial battle, an ethereal clash between two legends vying for supremacy over our earthly realm.
Yia’s face glowed in the soft light, wrinkles telling tales of years gone by. Grateful for her beautiful hair, Yia often thanked her bald grandmother for her care.Fearful of the dark, I found no solace in the flickering lamp. I moved closer to Yia, resting on her lap, seeking comfort in her rosary chants. Peering from the veránta, I saw white apparitions dancing in the night sky. A shiver ran down my spine, nerves tingling, palms clammy, and feet icy.
Sensing my discomfort, Yia paused her prayers, touching my forehead. With well-worn fingers, she stroked my hair, occasionally detangling it from her ring adorned with sparkling diamonds and emeralds. Knowing the remedy for my unease—stories and fairy tales—she reassured me, “’It’s just my nightgown dancing in the breeze on the line, my child, no need to fret!”
She stopped stocking my hair and pointed her fingers towards the far, long infinity by the mountains that cast shadows in the waning moonlight. As I wrinkled my forehead, trying to see hard in the faint light to where she pointed, she began her story…
~~~The legendary Megáli~~~~
A long, long time ago,” Yia began, her voice taking on a melodic quality, “in the days of yore when our village was but a humble hamlet nestled in the arms of simplicity. On the valley sides, of these mountains lived a fairy legend in a cave, her white, strong horse always standing by. The villagers lovingly referred to her as ‘Megáli Kardiá.
Yia put her hands on my head. I closed my eyes and keenly listened as she continued…
Megáli, revered for her beauty and enchantment, remained a silent symbol of wisdom and unparalleled beauty in the village, evoking deep love among the villagers. As the myth unraveled, villagers embarked on a challenging day-long trek to reach Megáli’s sacred cave. At dawn, they were greeted by a tableau of sustenance – a feast of food and glistening water. The Legend’s white horse, a guardian of grace, stood nearby, silently inviting them to partake in camaraderie
In the warm embrace of twilight, villagers shared their needs and desires with the silent cave, relishing the provided food. Nightfall ushered in peaceful rest beneath the age-old Alstonia tree, majestically standing by the cave. The tree bestowed fragrant white and yellow paala flowers, small, tubular blooms arranged in clusters like a floral orchestra. Petals, cast off by the tree, carpeted the cave’s entrance, their sweet scent filling the air in anticipation of the legend. As the villagers slept in enchanting serenity, cradled in the encapsulating aroma, it felt as if they rested in Megáli’s lap. Awaking the next day, their wishes were mysteriously granted.
An unspoken rule mandated expressing gratitude with a promise to promptly return borrowed items within the agreed time. Villagers left borrowed commodities at Megáli’s cave after enjoying the feast and patting her horse, never waiting to see the legend. True to their word, they lived in harmony, finding richness in simplicity.
My Yia paused, readjusting the lamp’s wicker and reviving the flame. Shadows danced, bringing paala flowers and the legendary tree to life. She continued….
This village harbored a unique secret: animals had small knobs instead of tails, and women could detach and reattach their hair at will. In their charming daily routine, women gracefully removed their hair, enjoyed a dip in fermented water, washed it in fragrant water, and let it soak in the sun. With care, they combed and wove their tresses into neat braids adorned with silver and gold jewelry among the day’s blooms before securing the hair back in place
Enthralled by Megáli’s legend and her cave’s rumored treasures, Delia and Dolan devised a plan. Posing as a faux wedding, they borrowed exquisite hair jewelry, pledging its return in three days. Returning to the cave after a week, Delia feigned distress, claiming the jewelry entangled in her hair. Craftily, she affixed them to Megáli’s horse. Concealing themselves behind the Alstonia tree after the feast, they eagerly awaited Megali’s arrival and her struggle to retrieve the jewelry, envisioning an opportunity to ransack the cave. Beneath the starry night sky, the couple fell asleep attuned to winds whispering tales through Alstonia leaves.
Delia was jolted into consciousness by a thunderclap that seemed to pierce through her very core. The sky had released its tears, and the wind whirled violently as if in anger. The thunder’s screeching echoes reverberated through the mountains, reaching every peak of the majestic range that surrounded them. To Delia’s surprise, an unexplainable ray of light emerged from the cave!
Delia’s gaze shifted towards the cave, and to her amazement, an extraordinary sight unfolded. There, right in front of the cave, a woman stood. Her feet seemed to defy gravity, hovering above the ground as if dancing to an invisible rhythm carried by the wind. Amidst the uproar of the storm and leaves swirling around, Delia caught a fleeting glimpse of the legend’s full form. Megáli Kardiá’s flowing curly hair gracefully framed her slender form. She was draped in a luminous white silk dress that shimmered under the moonlight. The fabric swirled and twirled like a myriad of dancing angels caught in the whims of the wind. An ethereal aura enveloped the legend’s head, as she emitted an energy so potent that it pierced through Delia’s eyes, leaving her captivated by the enchanting spectacle.
The legend fixed her gaze on Delia’s eyes, its intensity akin to a spotlight piercing through the veil of ordinary existence and exposing the raw vulnerabilities of Delia’s soul. It felt like a mirror reflecting the fractures that make her human. Overwhelmed by the spectacle, Delia averted her eyes, scanning the surroundings for her husband. Dolan lay in deep slumber at the base of the tree. Summoning her courage, she cried out loud, reciting a script she had practiced during the plotting of the scam, almost out of habit, “Megáli, you’re exposed! I know the cave hides a treasure trove of jewelry.”
The moment the last few words escaped her lips, regret enveloped Delia. She grasped the irreversibility of the situation, feeling it slip away like an arrow released from a bow. Immediate remorse washed over her, a chilling sensation down her spine, and her tongue seemed to retreat deep into her throat, almost choking her as she apologetically looked at the legend.
With a skilled hand, the Legend then extracted the jewelry from the woman’s hair, attached it to the majestic horse, and as she flung it in Delia’s direction, Megáli, offering a subtle, kind smile, softly uttered, “Take this beacon, my child. I pass my tradition on to you!”
Delia picked up the jewelry by her feet as Megáli vanished between the rumbling leaves, leaving only the horse. The horse swayed gracefully, its new tail flowing like a silken cascade in the dim moonlight—once Delia’s beloved hair. Dolan awoke to a stronger downpour. In the thunder’s light, he noticed his wife’s bald head glistening. Realizing her head felt exposed, Delia tried in vain to retrieve her hair from the horse. The agitated horse kicked Delia’s face as it fled toward the mountains.
Following the aftermath of the revelation, the couple decided to confess the truth to the villagers. To their astonishment, the villagers brushed off Delia’s accounts as mere fantasies, appearing unaware of the cave, the legend, or even her horse. Tears streamed down their faces, lamenting the unintended consequences. Megáli’s words echoed in Delia’s mind. They realized the responsibility to carry forth Megáli’s legacy that had inadvertently slipped away in the village.
Guided by Megáli’s jewelry, they introduced a barter system, restoring the village’s harmony. The jingle of jewelry and a renewed spirit of sharing brought newfound happiness, rippling through the village. Revitalized by Delia’s ingenuity, the tradition became a beacon of unity. The couple, motivated by a deep sense of responsibility and guided by the wisdom of Megáli, steered their village towards a sunlit era of prosperity and communal harmony.
In the fading memories of the villagers, the couple, bound by an unspoken pact, became guardians of Megáli’s legacy, ensuring the tradition thrived as a timeless enchantment in the villager’s heart.
As Yia gently shook me awake, the dim lamplight cast a warm glow on her smiling face. “It’s time for dinner; let’s head inside,” she suggested. We walked back indoors from our veránta, and as I glanced at the distant mountains through our courtyard, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a hidden cave waiting to unveil its secrets under the faint moonlight.