Dragonflies droned amidst cattails and boats bumped into their ports by the Pale Lake’s gentle waves. The soft wind that had rocked the water ruffled through Ofi’s loose hair and tickled him into a slight shudder. He wrapped his cloak tighter around himself and carried on staring into the lake. His feet were submerged and beginning to grow numb yet Ofi didn’t take them out. His dark eyes didn’t break contact with that of his tight faced reflection. Another shudder came to him, riding a monsoon of grief from deep inside. Ofi clenched his jaw and flexed his whole body, his toes curling into rigidity in the Pale Lake. The storm inside raged, pushing against his throat and straining his heart. He could feel his heartbeat in his skull and in his ears. Throbbing. Begging. Ofi held on with his nails digging into his palms until the grief gave in. The storm retreated. But not without Ofi feeling run through. His heart felt as though it was being forced to beat past iron chains wrapped around it, digging rusted links into the red flesh with each pulse. The strain would lighten if Ofi let the storm through. But he would not. He needed the rage it gave him.
Aruna stepped onto the pier with a bare foot, sending a creak all the way to Ofi. He gave no notice. She continued anyway, leaving damp footprints on the rough wood. She dripped mourning water in thick, ashy clumps that hit the planks with weight. Her hair and skin had begun to dry, leaving behind black and gray residue. She would not be allowed to bathe for two days. On the dawn of the third day she would cleanse herself in the Pale Lake and her husband would shave her head and his own. The knots in their hair formed by the thick mourning water would drift away, carrying the last remains of their son Eshu. Aruna cast a dark, accusing glance at the placid waters. You dare take him? She gripped the long, black cloth wrapped around her, inadvertently squeezing out more of the ash water. What more could you want? He died protecting you.
“You should be resting, Ma.” Ofi looked at his mother’s reflection as she stood over his shoulder. Her tan skin was streaked with dark spots and her hair was free of beads. Strands of it stuck to her moist face and Aruna paid them no attention. Ofi looked away. Seeing her without her jewelry and hair beads called to the storm inside him. He clenched his cloak in his fists and disguised a sudden shiver as a cough.
“Yali told me you were wounded bringing Eshu back,” Aruna said. “An arrow-“
“The wound will heal, Ma,” Ofi said. “I had to get him. I couldn’t just leave him there…” Ofi shook his head. “I couldn’t.”
Aruna shivered from the breeze. A simple scouting mission. That’s all it was supposed to be. Solo to minimize noise and the chances of being caught. And now her son was gone. A spear through his neck. His rousing war chant would be heard no longer…. Aruna was pulled from her thoughts by Ofi wrapping his cloak around her and sitting back down. He took care to not put pressure on his left arm as he did. Light brown bandages were wrapped around his upper arm near where it met his shoulder. A dark red circle in the middle. Leaves and branches were still in his hair and Aruna could see small cuts all over him from his mad dash back through the forest. While carrying his brother Eshu. Ofi was strong. But to do it alone? He could have gotten himself killed and then Eshu would have rotted into the tree roots.
Aruna stared at the stone faced expression Ofi was giving the Pale Lake. “You have not cried. Yali said you didn’t say a word or let out even a single tear. And you haven’t said a thing now. You’re just sitting there. Staring!”
“I won’t cry, Ma,” Ofi said stiffly like he was in pain. “I need this anger to stay.”
“They killed your boy, Ma!” Ofi cried out then stifled himself. “They killed your son.” He began punching his thigh periodically to use pain to fight the storm. “I’ll avenge him, Ma. I’ll avenge Eshu.” He looked her reflection in the eye. “I swear it.”
Ofi looked away to stare at his feet in the water again. Aruna felt her throat close. You’re my son too, Ofi. She reached a hand out and bent her knees slightly to crouch and comfort her adopted son. To amend his words. But her ashen fingers froze in place, shivering. They hovered mere inches from Ofi. Aruna took her hand back and she stood up straight.
And saw him looking at her reflection.