Author of 'Tell me a Story" --original fables for adults and children.
Jacob was a Sweep because he was good at cleaning up other people's messes. Truman was a Boat Builder for he was good at calming the waters around him. Alva's job was to be a Tender of animals, for he was good at keeping everyone together and would always look out for those who strayed.
Then there was Maya. She was a Stone Carrier and this is her story.
When Maya was a girl she was the most sensitive child in the village. All who met her were sure she would grow up to be a Listener, for her perception was keen. The role of Listener was very highly regarded in the village for everyone needed the services one had to offer.
Maya had a gift for listening to what people said to each other and then helping them to understand each other. This was necessary because people did not always say what they really meant and so needed constant interpretation.
"My, what a lovely dress you have on my dear," as said by a woman to another whom she disliked really meant something entirely different. It meant, "I wish I looked that good" or "I hope you fall into a puddle of mud."
Also, a man could say to his mate, "I am listening," when he meant to say, "I am not interested enough in what you are saying to pay attention, but do not wish to hurt your feelings."
Sometimes, people would even say, "I hate you." When they really meant, "I love you."
Oh it was a very complicated calling that Maya had inherited and she knew it. She worked hard to do her best. As part of her training she was told that she would have to step away from her own emotions.
"You must forget, not get yourself all churned up inside. You are too sensitive for your own good. In order to help others," her professor had said. "You must not take offense too easily. Also you must not begin reading too much into what people tell you."
Try as she might, Maya could not stop feeling things. When people fought she felt angry. When they cried, she wept with them. When someone said things to be hurtful she felt the pain for those around her. She not only listened, she heard.
"Maya," her professor said. "I have a cure for your emotional attachment." He handed her a large, sturdy, canvas sack with a shoulder strap.
"Every time you are about to feel hurt by something someone says to you I want you to take a rock from the ground and put it in this sack," he advised. "At the end of the day I want you to take the sack and empty it into the sea."
This seemed a splendid solution to Maya and so she took the sack. For the first few days the plan worked well. She would talk to people and then go out and scour the village for rocks. She collected a rock for every slight and sharp word. Then she tossed them in a heap by the seaside.
After a week of collecting the rocks she was growing tired. She decided to wait a few days before making the long walk to the shore to dump the rocks. The bag became heavier by the day and she kept telling herself that it was time to unload them, but somehow she seemed unable to let them go.
Maya had taken to spending her evenings cataloging the stones. "I got this dark blue one after that man said my Listening needed work," she said to herself. "This orange one was found after that horrible woman said my hair was too long."
Instead of ridding herself of the baggage, Maya had learned to cherish it. The weeks turned into months and soon Maya stopped Listening for others and only worked for herself. She spent hours listening to other people's words and seeking meanings that were deeper and sometimes darker. Her back began to bend and she became gaunt and angry looking. Her professor, missing her at class, sought her out. He was deeply saddened by what he found.
"Child, child," he moaned. "What have you done to yourself? Did I not tell you to throw the stones into the sea?"
Maya bristled. Did he think her a fool? Did he think she would always listen to him and do whatever he advised? She was a wise woman and had found a true calling as a Stone Carrier. She knew her business better than anyone. She would not be told what to do.
"Go away," she snapped. "I am a fine Stone Carrier and I do not need your advice."
He shook his head. He never thought Maya could come to this. In a fit off guilt he tried to wrestle the bag from her, but to no avail. Then he tried reason.
"Look at them my dear," he said. "They are not worth keeping. You must go to the sea and pitch them before they weigh you down so far that you cannot function."
Maya considered his words. She had not forgotten how to listen, only had she put her gift aside. She knew he was speaking the truth. "I will go and do as you say."
Satisfied, her old professor went away.
Maya collected up all the stones and put them in her sack. She strapped it to her back and went to the sea. It was getting on to evening and the sun was setting over the water. Long golden rays stretched toward here and she walked ankle-deep in the briny shore-break. The tide was coming in and she had little time to do her task.
"Still," she thought, "It won't hurt to give them all one last look."
She sat on a large flat rock and took her treasures out of her pack and laid them all lovingly before her. With each one she held Maya remembered the pain, the anger, the hurt. She knew that she was too attached to let them all go. She replaced them in her pack and turned to step off the rock and return home. It was too late.
The tide had come in and as Maya took the step she slipped and plunged into the deepening water. Though the sack on her back pinned her to the bottom she would not shrug it off. Within moments, Maya ceased her struggle and drowned.
To this day the people of her village remember the lesson they learned from the one-time Listener. The rock on which she had her last thoughts was taken from the shore and brought to the center of the village. There it was carved by the professor, a shaper of beings, into a statue of Maya. The inscription on the base reads,
"Here stands the Listener, sad and alone. The result of a woman who turned her heart to stone."
Fables by Lisa Suhay