Once again, you walk slowly at the back of the line with the children and old men and women. Your cedar cane knocks stones out of your way. There seem to be more this year than ever before. You are seventy-two years old and you have joined the pilgrimage north every year since you were seven. Each spring fasting for forty days in preparation to walk along a sandy road with the other village families to Eve Lat.
Along the side of the road you see a burning bush and you choose a memory. You are seven and your bare feet burn from the hot sand. You look for your father or your mother but they are far ahead at the front of the line. There are only children and a few old men and old women where you are. At the side of the road you see the bush burning, flames lick the sky. Leaving the road, you walk toward it. Something sharp pierces your foot. You cry until an old man takes your hand and leads you back to the road. He mutters, "You bleed. You are blessed." The men and women gather around you and sing prayers. The other children pull back, away from you. As the crowd pushes you forward, you see a girl standing at the edge of the road sucking her finger.
This year, your children ask you to stay behind, pleading that the walk is too far. Your daughter, Matty, promises, "If you stay, we will say prayers only for you." But you cannot. You must go as you always have. Reaching the Valley of Despair, you choose another memory. You are thirteen and you receive your name. A long pole stretches between you and another boy. Suspended from its center a large basket of food sways back and forth. The pole digs into your shoulder and leaves red welts turning into bruises. You want to stop and rest but the other boy shakes his head no and walks faster. You grab the pole with both hands trying to adjust the weight. The boy first looks at you and then at your hands. He shouts, "You bleed. You are blessed."
Ahead you see the domes of Eve Lat. Pale yellow breasts against the cloudless sky. Once again you have completed the journey. Making your way slowly through the crowd, your cane taps its way toward the wall. Others, seeing your bent figure and cane, whisper, "Make way." Ahead you see the Prayer Wall of Eve Lat and you try to choose a memory. There are too many. Moving forward, you touch your lips to the first prayer. Your lips burn and taste of salt. Falling to the earth, arms extended toward the wall, you cry out, "Water." You drink wondering why it is salty. Behind you, someone says, "You bleed. You are blessed."
101: One Zero One