In the span of a breath, everything changed. Breath is powerful; it can transport and transform you. Sethunya had learned this lesson at an early age. But on this day, it would transform her beyond anything she had experienced. It would carry with it new life.
Early that morning, she had ventured out into the quiet scrubland surrounding the settlement, ignoring the protests from the other women. “You must rest,” they had implored her, “your time is near.”
Sethunya waved her hand to dismiss their concerns and assured them she would be fine. “It’s a lovely morning for a walk,” she said before she turned and disappeared into the sun-gilded mist that had settled across the valley.
Sethunya was young, almost a child herself, though she already possessed great wisdom. Because of this, and her kind and gentle ways, even the older women listened to her. In those days, it was common enough for one so young to be wed and on the verge of motherhood. But her situation was different, for she was not wed and the father’s identity was unknown. Stranger still, she radiated with an inner glow that inadvertent mothers usually did not possess. As her belly had grown, so too had the bewitching twinkle in her eye. And none of the menfolk gave any sign – haughty or otherwise – of having played a part in the conception. So it remained an enigma.
Usually, shaman women did not wed or bear children. Usually, they were older — often elders. And it was certainly unheard of for a shaman to practice while with child. No one could recall one before Sethunya who had been so young, or so unusual.
She was indeed as rare as the orchid for which she had been named, an orchid that blossomed only once a year and, when it did, remained scentless but for one magnificent hour. To the people of the settlement, this orchid was a wonder. And for this reason alone, they might have chosen to name her after its blossoms. But it just so happened that the orchids began to release their scent at the moment she appeared. The perfume, believed to be the most beautiful in all the world, continued to grace each step she took that day, illuminating her with its miracle until nightfall. No one could explain it, just as they could not explain the girl’s mysterious appearance. The settlement’s shaman, the oldest woman among them, proclaimedthat her coming was meant to be and invited Sethunya to live with her. It was she who named her after the orchids.
After the shaman passed on to the stars several years later, Sethunya stayed on in the hut and, despite being only 12, took over the role of shaman, applying all the lessons her mentor had taught her.
Now, at 15, Sethunya had earned the love and respect of her community, and she loved them in return. These lands were the only home she knew, these people the only family she remembered.
On this particular morning, she was following the red, earthen paths worn into the countryside by centuries of nomads, the ancestors of her adopted people. She passed the towering rocks and gnarled branches that left shadowy, mythic shapes in the mist. She breathed deeply, feeling at peace, enjoying the beauty surrounding her. Every now and then, the mist cleared and she glimpsed the sparkling blue of the distant sea.
As she paused beside a small lake to admire the stillness of the water, her child began to stir. Instinctively, she knew she had gone too far to make it home before the birth. Looking around, she saw an outcropping of rocks which shielded a patch of long grasses. It would be a soft place to lie, she thought, and would protect her from the sun when it rose higher. Small white orchids – her special flowers — poked up here and there through the grasses, their delicate starburst blooms dainty among the other plants.
People have been giving birth on this land forever, she reasoned.
She knelt down and prepared herself. Nature welcomed and enveloped her and a calm settled upon her.
Her labour did not last long. At the final moment, Sethunya took one deep breath. In the span of that breath, she smelled the scent of the orchids and was transported. She was free of pain, she was one with the Earth. As she exhaled, the next shaman was born.