The dying woman lay limp. Nurses turned her emaciated body and cleaned her up.
Within the failing carcass, her soul floated serene. She had sloughed off embarrassment at her body’s decline, and death was no enemy. It would claim her as it had claimed her beloved husband. It was one more step in a life of adventure and experience.
The shaman’s prophecy, sixty years before, was vivid in her mind, words that had comforted her throughout the long, lonely years of widowhood.
In her inner core, she was herself. Still the carefree twenty year old, eager to be off and explore the world; still the competent, confident forty year old juggling work and family; still the wise, settled fifty year old; still the stricken seventy year old coming to terms with the emptiness of widowhood.
Within the landscape of memory, painful, jagged regrets about the past had flattened into gentle bumps. Life was a seamless whole, and it was time to forgive, to forgive herself as much as others.
One golden thread ran through her memories: her beloved husband. Even the ache of mourning had subsided into acceptance.
By the time she and her friend had arrived in Mongolia on their gap year trip, they considered themselves experienced travellers, too sensible to be taken in by tourist-trap flim-flam. Each girl told the other that a visit to the shaman was no more than a fun way to fill the time before they caught a train the next day.
Of course they would act respectful in his presence. They were guests in his country, and they took care not to offend against local customs on their travels. The guide had told them shamans revered all forms of life, so there was no danger involved.
The shaman’s lair was on the edge of town. Incense smoke filled the hut and made their eyes water. For a long time the cross-legged figure in a goatskin tunic neither looked at them nor spoke. He hummed. Long, straggly hair obscured his face as he swayed in time to a muted drumbeat. Then he lifted his head and pointed straight at one of his Western visitors. The Mongolian guide’s translation was halting. ‘When you die, someone wait for you. He wait with love that defies death.’
The shaman collapsed, exhausted, and refused to answer further questions. The young women paid and left – but his words hung in the air between them for the remainder of their trip. Could it be true?
The portal opened, bathing her in light, infusing blood and bones with new vigour.
A tidal wave of joy released her soul from the flaccid body. At last! She had waited so many years…
An unfamiliar face. Then the jolt of recognition. A guy she had slept with twice at university, because she felt sorry for him.
Wasted limbs thrashed as she fought to loosen his grip.
To no avail.
Strong arms dragged her, screaming, through the portal.
Her death rattle was a howl of rage.
[Written by Madeleine McDonald.]