Woman of Glass
Story by Nod Ghosh
– Nod Ghosh’s work features in various New Zealand and international publications: http://www.nodgh
Illustration by Cathy Hookey
The old man tightens his robes. Firelight illuminates his features.
“Tell us your story,” I beg. This man has seen magic and sorcery.
“Other stories make better telling than mine,” he says.
I flatter him, address him as Jeddo to show respect.
“Very well,” he says, and begins.
…Partway through the mountain crossing, I found a figure. Raahat neighed. A tall man glistened in the low light. I approached to discover it was not a man, but a statue, a woman fashioned from glass. We camped beside it.
For months I’d travelled with only Raahat for company, gathering nuts and berries and trapping small animals. Occasional labouring and a little stealing had sustained me since I’d abandoned village life. I had cast my wife Aminah aside seeking fame and fortune.
That night I dreamed of a falcon. It ripped my flesh chiding me for abandoning my family. I knew that creature well. It haunted me often.
Moonlight woke me. I glanced at the woman and rose to my feet.
A voice broke the stillness; cool, like the kiss of ocean waves.
What do you seek?
Who’s there? I cried.
A chill voice cut the air. Ask what you will, and I shall reveal the truth.
Show yourself, I said. I’m armed. I fingered the hilt of my sword.
I mean no harm, the voice replied.
A weight fell on my shoulder. I turned to behold a monster.
The glass statue was alive! Its eyes locked on mine, its hand warm as blood.
My own blood ran cold…
A gasp shivers around the fire. The old man pulls his robes tighter and continues.
…What is this? I unsheathed my sword.
I possess the wisdom of all men. Though I feared the statue, I reasoned I could profit from its wisdom.
Very well. I dropped my sword. You speak the truth?
Only the truth. The woman bowed.
You know the ways of men? Our world?
I know everything. She raised her palms catching moonlight in her hands.
I seek riches, I said. Wealth beyond compare. Where should I search?
I dreamed of a castle, servants and gold. Oh to leave my hovel, to cast out my barren wife. To feast like a king!
Return to your dwelling. True wealth lies therein.
You speak the truth? I asked.
Only the truth.
I will dash your bones to pieces, if you lie. I fingered the hilt of my sword.
Life’s longings will be bestowed on you upon your return, the statue said.
Be warned, I said. If you deceive me, I will destroy you.
I slept once more. The falcon returned, cutting, tearing.
Upon waking, I mounted Raahat and ventured east.
The fusty autumn turned to winter. Shivering and shaking with hunger, I thought I might die. Every night the falcon beat its wings on my stone heart.
I approached my mouldering shack one winter’s morning. Raahat’s pace quickened. Though half dead, the horse knew he was home.
Aminah fell upon me.
You have returned! My wife’s eyes shone with tears. She held my hands to her lips. Rags draped over tallow folds of skin. The shack had fallen into disrepair.
Where was my castle? My servants, my riches? Where was my gold?
Gold. An anguished cry escaped me.
Gold? I feared you would never return, Aminah cried. Come see our gold!
Perhaps my gold lay concealed in the shack. I heard a cry. Whose spawn was this? A creature lay in a crib.
Your child, Aminah said, lifting it to my arms.
The child had my eyes. His lips were my own. His hair was spun gold. Yet all our kin had raven black upon their heads.
I named her Shohina, Aminah said, a mountain falcon.
Aminah had cursed and prayed for want of a child. My wife smiled at the bundle. Could this be my gold?
Life’s longings bestowed upon you, the glass demon had said.
I had been cheated.
That night I turned my back on Aminah. The dream falcon pecked my eyes. The child’s cries woke me. Another mouth to feed. I had returned to a worse fate than that I had escaped.
The next day I left, heading for the mountains with Raahat.
Illustration by Cathy Hookey
I found the glass woman.
You deceived me, I cried.
The statue said nothing.
I’ll break you.
I struck the creature’s neck expecting glass to shatter. Instead, the blow stunned me. I smote again, screaming in frustration.
Speak, shade of night, I cried and smashed its shoulders. My sword broke. I tore at my hair.
Raahat strained at his tether.
Let us leave this cursed place, I said. We rode westward and sheltered beneath a rocky ledge.
The dream came again. A falcon tore my face. The pain! I longed to awaken. I clawed at the earth and all light vanished.
I realised it was no dream.
My horse led me to a foreign land. There, starving and mad with fever, I begged for help. Some tossed me coins. Others gave food. But it was never enough.
In time, I was imprisoned for stealing bread.
I meditated on my foolishness. I had discarded the greatest gift. I had let gold slip away…
The man loosens his robes exposing a stump where his hand once was. Firelight deepens his features, lights his scarred cheek. Shadows darken his eyeless sockets.
“Did you return to your family?” I ask.
“Yes. Years later. All that remained of my shack was a shell. My wife and child were gone.”
“I discovered Aminah went to the river after I left.”
“The river?” Several voices speak together.
“She jumped with the child.”
A gasp rises from around the campfire.
“I’ll pray for you,” I say.
“I don’t deserve prayers.”
“And the falcon? Does the falcon still come?”
“I wish you peace, Jeddo.”
The old man was right.
Other stories make better telling than his.
But his tale will forever haunt me.