Amala always rose with the sun, crawling out of bed when the first lights of the day slipped through the window of her room. Because she slept on the third floor of the temple, and her room faced the dawning sun, she was usually the first one to awaken. Thus she had morning duties for the temple. She donned her simple brown robes, tying them right over left with a black sash, and clipped her hair to the back of her head, readying herself for garden work.
Atop her bedside drawer, her almanac was open to the center page, folded out into a calendar that was nearly completed. Red ink circled the day’s date, the 27th of Darkmoon. Amala closed the almanac. On her way out, she dropped it into the bags outside her room. She had spent the night preparing those bags. With her almanac, they were at last full and ready for the trip.
She made her way down the brown brick stairs to the temple’s ground floor, and exited the structure through an open-air hallway lined with sculpted columns. Amala departed the pilgrim’s way, out the front of the temple. Already she took in the air of the sacred grounds with nostalgic feeling, peering into the forest as if an eternity had passed. She had yet to leave, but she already felt gone, a far-away visitor to her own home. Halfway to the hill when she noticed her mistake. She was not headed for the gardens – she was leaving the grounds. Silently she chided herself for exiting the wrong way.
Around the side of the pilgrim’s exit a little stone path led her to the morning exit, distinguished by its fountain and the watering pump, and the stone path to the gardens. Amala took one of the watering cans hung outside for use by the Oblates, and filled it with water from the hand pump. The orange dawn crept upward. She ambled to the garden, water sloshing in her can as she traversed the stones down the hillside, taking in the sounds of the cicada in the trees.
Amala wondered if Sargasso’s mornings would be this peaceful and pleasant.
The temple garden, arrayed within a fenced-out clearing in the nearby wood, was starting to wilt. Only the hardy strawberries along the ground, oblivious to the events above, seemed impervious to the stalking winter. The tomato plants were turning dark, and the herbs were shriveling. The final buds of the citrus plants, tiny and vulnerable fruits, rotted prematurely. They would never be squeezed into Rasa over cups. The squash vines were coiling into little dark springs. All of the garden was shrinking into the earth. Precious little green remained to bid Amala farewell.
Nonetheless Amala watered them as she had since she first became an Oblate.
She knew the winter had taken her plants, not anything resembling sorrow at her departure. Nonetheless, they were dour to be watered by her for perhaps the final time. Would the next Oblate give them the care that she had? Water trickled out, and it felt like the last remaining seconds of her presence in the temple were trickling out as well. She watered the citrus, the strawberries, the squash. Her can half-empty, Amala turned to the hill, when a familiar voice gave her pause.
“Not going to water me? And I’m the only thing still alive save for your foolish strawberries.”
Amala, turned swiftly back. She pressed her hands together before her chest and bowed her head at the finely-clad spirit emerging from behind the citrus tree. Dressed in bright red and gold robes, with many layers of fine silk, and bead necklaces composed of hundreds of different seeds and fruit bulbs, this spirit was their guardian. The large hibiscus growing from her long pale hair suggested a connection to plants, fertility and aromas. Her grinning face suggested her nature.
Her sweet scent was so muted this morning that Amala had overlooked her.
Amala tipped her watering can, pouring a gentle stream over the spirit. “Sorry, Chattah.” She said.
The spirit’s bright, colorful eyes closed with satisfaction, and her lips spread into a gentle smile. Both her eyes and her lips were fancifully colored with natural dyes. These were unmoved by the water, as it trickled down her smooth, bark-brown skin. Amala felt herself grow relaxed, and her skin felt tender in the familiar presence of the Spirit.
“You leave tomorrow, don’t you? Where will your pilgrimage take you?” Chattah asked.
“To the Keralian falls,” Amala replied, “From whence Rashine has been said to spring, if a wish is made.”
“Don’t hold your breath for him.” Chattah replied, chuckling. “He is not one to take requests.”
Amala soon dribbled the last of her water over the spirit’s head. The can was empty, and Amala’s time was certainly spent. But Chattah would not let her go yet. The spirit lay back against the citrus in an almost meditative state, relaxed as a recently fed babe. Amala sat beside her. This was their routine, their relationship, begun over the rivulets from a brass can and strengthened by years of mutual dedication. Chattah was the garden – Chattah was what Amala worked so lovingly for.
The sun was well on its way up, its rays intermittently lighting the garden. Soon the automatic wagon would arrive to take her. Amala breathed in Chattah’s magical aroma, as though it would be the last time in all of her life.
“Why were you hiding your aroma before?” Amala asked.
“I’ve been practicing how to keep it in check.” Chattah said. “It’s not easy. For a Spirit, our whole body and existence is the magic we impart to the mortals. Taking that back from the world requires practice.”
“To what purpose?” Amala asked. Chattah’s perfumes made the garden so much more homely.
“They’re only for you.” Chattah said. Her hand wandered unto Amala’s, and her fingers twined with the Oblate’s own. “You are the only one to whom I owe this scent. This garden is our dedication, Amala.”
“I see.” Amala said, smiling. She lay further back, brushing against the Spirit’s silks. “I feel so blessed, Chattah. But I am leaving on a journey, and I know not when I will return. Must the garden lose your touch? “
“I know you will return.” Chattah calmly said. “I will save my strength, and the garden will be exquisite upon that day, as it never has been before. All who near it will say that you and I have worked a miracle.”
The spirit’s hand squeezed on Amala’s own. Her fear and worry vanished then. She did not look upon her journey with trepidation. It was already settled that she would return, just by those words. She looked forward to embracing Chattah as something more than the little gardening girl that she loved. They would surely work miracles together then.