The empath

{This story is dedicated on Mother’s Day 2007 to those who adopt or raise special needs children.}

When Airemea was five years old, her mother Tschacta found her daughter sitting by the fire outside their hut listening to the problems of a villager. She shooed away the woman, whose husband was cheating on her, and knelt down and asked her daughter if she understood what had been said.

Airemea looked at her mother with huge blue eyes from behind the black bangs of her long hair and said “Yes, mother, but I cannot repeat what I’ve been told in confidence.”

Tschacta went inside and wept. Then she prayed to the gods that what she feared most was not true: that Airemea was an empath like her father Somotsi had been – a person who could not only heal others’ pain through intuition – but feel it. His gift, which Somotsi had used for the thirty years of his short life to heal villagers, resulted in his death when the wars began and the pain of others overwhelmed him. He died of a broken heart.

Aieremea continued to listen to the problems of others as she grew up. Word spread among the villagers that the girl had healing powers and, although Tschacta disapproved and feared for her child, she could not rightfully interfere with her daughter’s use of her gift. To do so would cause her to be banished from the village and then she wouldn’t even be able to watch out for her daughter.

Instead, she encouraged her daughter to see people outside their hut and managed to time her chores so that she would pass by and overhear some of what was being said. Many of the villagers would stop talking when they saw Tschacta come out with a laundry basket or corn to husk. But some prattled on unabashedly, their hearts so full that they didn’t mind. Afterwards Tschacta would ask her daughter if she needed to talk to her about what she heard, but Airemea always said no. Yet Tschacta was comforted by the fact that at least she knew what burdens her daughter was carrying from the hearts of others.

The years passed. Both of them knew that it was only a matter of time before thirteen year old Airemea had to leave the village and travel to fulfill her role as an empath. Empaths were rare and their services were needed beyond their own villages. Airemea faced a future where she would have to sacrifice her own family life to fill the needs of others, which was harder, Tschacta felt, for a female empath since very few men in the village wanted to marry a woman whose duties kept her way from their home. In this way, her daughter’s life could be much lonelier than that of her father’s.

So she was surprised when Ybalba, a young man of seventeen, approached her and asked if he could wed Airemea. Tschacta liked him. He was a hunter and enterprising. He had built fine huts for all of his family and had many skills. She had seen her daughter blushing in his presence at feasts. Tschacta knew that Airemea would be well taken care of so she told him yes .

“You do know that my daughter, as an empath, must use her gift? She’ll have to travel.”

Ybalba nodded. “I know. I love her.”

They were married outside the hut by the same fire where so many villagers had spilled their hearts. Tschacta watched as the pile of gifts for the young couple grew to the sky and the dancing, singing and drumming did not begin to wane until the light of dawn shone over the mountains to the east. It was then that she walked over to Ybalba’s hut, helped her daughter put on her wedding nightgown, kissed Aieremea on the forehead and told Ybalba to take care of her daughter. It was her final duty as a full time mother.

After she walked back to her own hut, she looked at the empty spot where her daughter’s pallet had been and wept. Some of her tears were for joy because she knew Ybalba was a good mate for her daughter. But it was still hard to let go.

Airemea began to travel to different villages around the base of the mountains. Messengers on horses with requests would come as her reputation grew. Sometimes these requests were urgent.

“There is a boy who fell from a tree. He can not walk,” a messenger said breathlessly one day, stopping in front of Tschacta’s hut.

Tschacta explained that Airemea now lived with Ybalba and showed him the way. She watched as her daughter scratched a note into the sand for her husband, got her cloak and jumped onto the back of the horse. Tschacter wondered what even an empath could do in this situation.

In their society, boys grew up to be hunters, fishers, farmers or builders. A boy who could not do any of this was seen as useless, in the eyes of the other villagers. No one would marry him or bear him children. He would be an outcast.

It was several days before an exhausted Airemea returned on foot. Behind her were four men carrying a litter and on the litter was a boy of about seven years. When Tschacta approached her daughter and asked who it was, Airemea smiled and replied “That is my new son, Klistum.”

Tschacta took her daughter’s hand and whispered “Why have you adopted this boy? No one will want him. Have you thought about what your husband will say?”

Airemea replied “You misunderstand, mother. This boy is a gift of love to my husband. He will grow to treasure him as I have.”

Ybalba emerged from their hut and, glancing at the litter, hugged his wife. They spoke a few sentences, then he motioned to the men to put the litter down, squatted and took the boy’s hand. Airemea knelt down and took the boy’s other hand.

The men carrying the litter disappeared back into the dense forest to their village as the villagers began to come out of their huts to see what was happening. Small groups of people formed to watch.

“We do not need such a one among us,” the village chief said, spitting in the sand. “He will be useless, a burden on the rest of us. Ybalba, will you permit this?”

No one else said anything. Ybalba stood and faced the chief. Quietly he responded “It is done. Airemea is an empath and was led to this boy. Klistum is our son.” Then he turned to the rest of the villagers and said “Come, greet him.”

A few people shuffled their feet in the dirt. Some went back to their huts. No one came forward.

Airemea stood and faced the villagers. “Over the years many of you have come to my hut for healing. Can you not now extend even a hand back to welcome my son?”

The remaining villagers, some of whom were starting to walk away, hesitated. It was true. Their village was blessed with an empath and they had been healed many times.

One of the village boys, Paotsi, who was about five years old, walked over to the litter and knelt down. “Hello, I am Paotsi. Welcome Klistum.”

“Thank you,” Klistum said.

Slowly a line formed. The villagers came forward to greet the boy as Airemea and Ybalba watched.

It was Tschacta’s turn. She knelt by the litter, kissed the boy’s forehead and said “Klistum, I am your grandmother now.”

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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