The Blessed River
By Yaprak Ünver
Once upon a time, somewhere deep in a lush, green valley, there flowed a river called The Blessed River. Squeezed between the river and the mountains was a village called River Blessed. This is what they called the river and the village, because the grateful and good people knew the value of their river. They washed their clothes in this river and used the river’s waters to water their crops and run their mills. They took their little boats on this river to travel to and from other villages; and enjoyed the well-fed fish that the river brought and that their fisherman caught.
The skillful fisherman of the village was a young man by the name of Pedro Nascilero. His wife was Maria Nascilero, and they had two lovely babies: Rano and Marte. A tall man with capable hands, Pedro was a kind and faithful husband. He had come from a neighbouring village some years ago to marry Maria, and loved his family deeply. Everything he did was for their happiness. A beautiful and loving fishing-net maker, Maria, was a kind and faithful wife. She was a native of River Blessed; born and raised in that house right by the river, and worked hard to keep their home running. In many ways, the Nascileros seemed blessed just like the river and the village were.
However, there was something about Maria that Pedro never really understood. Maria would often cry. She would weep when a song touched her heart, she would cry when she laughed a lot. Her tears would quietly stream down when she was reminded of her loved ones who were not nearby, and overflow when she thought of how much she loved her babies. Sometimes, when Pedro brought her flowers, she would respond in tears. And sometimes, she would cry simply because she felt sad.
Maria’s tears were not unusual to the villagers. Folks knew not to worry or mind when Maria cried; they would say things like; “Her tears turn the river saline!” or, “Better flow than flood!” and some would nod and some would laugh, leaving Pedro more confused than before they spoke.
Pedro always worried when he saw his beloved Maria’s eyes well up. He would ask her in alarm, “What’s the matter, my love?” and could by no means put his mind to rest when Maria said “Nothing!” in response, which she often did.
One warm summer night as she was mending a fishing net, Maria heard an old song about lost love on the radio. She opened the window facing the river and the stars, breathed in the cool night breeze, and cried a few peaceful tears. Pedro saw his wife in her melancholy and felt his chest tighten. He kneeled down by her side and pleaded to her; “My love, dearest one. Did you lose a lover?”
Maria said; “No, but I feel as if I have.” Her words fell into a void inside Pedro; a void where he suspected his comprehension should be.
He felt her so far away, and himself so inadequate, that he gave into frustration. He stood up and said; “If you don’t have a real reason to cry, you should stop crying!”
Maria Nascilero looked up at her dear husband. Maybe she thought it more important that he be happy. Maybe she was weary with all the crying and needed a break. Whatever the reason, her tears came to a halt so suddenly that it surprised them both. The refreshing breeze coming from the window turned colder. “What will happen of me?” her heart asked Maria. It’s not clear if Maria heard her heart or not. What I do know is that in that moment Maria got goosebumps, and shut the window. They put their babies to sleep and went to bed. That night, happy that his intervention had worked, Pedro Nascilero slept like a baby.
Autumn came to River Blessed early that year. July carried cold winds from the North, August already saw the last of the flowers and crops battered by heavy rains. This was much harsher than the climate of the region, but the villagers had stored food, and they could always get fısh from Pedro to sustain them until spring.
Winter rushed in thereafter. September saw the fields freeze and October, their beloved, Blessed River. This was quite extraordinary in that part of the earth; the river had never frozen in any of the villagers’ lifetimes before. Adaptable as they were, the villagers got used to not being able to wash their things, or operate their mills. However, their winter sustenance was fish. Not having any proved to be incredibly difficult. Cut off from other villages because they couldn’t take their boats out onto the water, they couldn’t go to buy food from elsewhere. Life was getting harder by the day, and nobody knew what to do.
Among the destitute people of the village, Pedro felt the worst. He spent his days trying to pierce through the ice, hoping to catch some fish to feed his family. Most evenings he came home with empty hands, and only rarely, with some unpleasant looking critter he caught and his family was desperate enough to eat. Maria never cried, or complained, for that matter; she was busy learning new ways of cooking with things she would normally feed to the animals, like stalks and peels. Their babies Rano and Marte were oblivious to their parents’ struggles. They had their mother’s milk, and played and napped their days away by the fire as always.
Long winter months came and went, but the weather didn’t abate. The ground as well as the river was frozen late into May. The villagers were in a horrible state of body and mind. Nobody had had a good bite to eat in months; nobody had any energy or will to sing a song or even smile to each other. Survival had become the question.
While nobody blamed him, Pedro somehow felt guilty for not knowing what to do with the frozen river. He was the village fisherman after all; he was supposed to get the bounty of Blessed River for his family and people. One afternoon, full of resentment and ready to defy his Gods, Pedro made a large bonfire next to the river and screamed at the Sun at the top of his lungs; “When did you become so weak, Gods! Don’t you see our state? Maybe you are not worthy! You can’t even make the Sun shine and thaw this cursed ice!”
For a long moment, nothing happened. Pedro was ready to scoff at his Sun and his Gods. Abandoned and desperate, he let out another groan. Then he heard the sound of a breeze coming from the distance. Cut short in his indulgence, Pedro didn’t have a moment to think before a big gush of wind blew over from the river towards his village. The wind pushed against him and swept the blazing fire back towards his home. Eyes wide with panic, Pedro kicked sand over it and put the fire out as fast as he could. The storm wind calmed down immediately. Mortified that he put his family in danger, he admitted to himself that he didn’t know how to light a fire big enough to thaw the river and yet careful enough to leave his loved ones alone. Humbled, he went home and prayed all evening with an aching heart.
Pedro felt truly lost; an unfamiliar feeling at an unprecedented intensity for him. Months of piercing through the ice had only yielded him some tasteless seaweed. His fiery anger, well, that seemed to do more harm than good. Something seemed missing to him. Pedro looked at his beloved wife, Maria, tending to the hearth with a steady hand. “I miss my wife” he thought, “She is right there, beautiful and kind as ever, yet I miss my wife”. It wasn’t long before they would run out of even the smallest weed to eat, and then what would he do? That night when Maria slept next to him, Pedro lay awake.
Soon after midnight, well before the Sun shone its first rays, Pedro Nascilero wrapped himself up in a thick blanket and walked out the door. He walked through the village square and out River Blessed. Only a few skinny cats saw him leave. He walked across the frozen fields and over frozen little creeks that once fed the Blessed River. He walked through the woods that surrounded the village and up the hill facing East. He climbed the hill into a mountain. He climbed up the mountain leaving his confusion behind.
Hours later, his feet wet up to his thighs with morning dew, Pedro reached the top.
There, he stood and waited for the morning to come. The Sun rose from the ground below in the distance in all its glory and indifference and shone on him. Pedro Nascilero for once in his life had surrendered his worried mind. The Sun, in turn, enveloped him in a curtain of morning mist that rose from the mountain like a blessing. The mist lifted him above the ground, into the sky where it joined a cloud, high above the trees and the hills.
Up in the cloud, Pedro Nascilero soaked up the steady warmth of the Sun. The cloud grew fuller and heavier, and a gentle breeze carried the cloud to over his village. Pedro’s heart in its centre, longing for home; the cloud rained a balmy spring rain on River Blessed. Warm as fresh tears, raindrops fell on earth and thawed all that was frozen and rejuvenated all that was dry.
When Pedro came back home, Maria was just about waking up. He sat by her side on the bed and caressed her face. He said to her; “I have good news, so good you might cry!” When Maria heard what had happened, she did cry tears of relief in his embrace. Pedro kissed his wife on her waters.
Pedro Nascilero never asked a blessed river to stop flowing, ever again.
Born and raised in Istanbul, Yaprak currently lives in New York City where she enjoys acting and writing.