“Birth” by Joyce Chng
Tired, the woman struggles up the cliff. Her arthritic knees ache, her heart is a hard stone of pain. Her lungs rattle and it is difficult to breathe. The wind is cold, this time early in the morning when the stars are out and the twin moons are two pearls in the lightening sky. She clutches at her shawl, inhales and continues her climb.
At the top of the cliff, she pauses. She can hear the City stirring beneath her, a soft susurration of sounds: men coughing, women singing their dawn songs, children crying, the lowing of cattle and the cry of the spice-seller. Ahhh kahhh. Ahhh kahhh. Come and get your spices.
Her heart is still the hard stone of pain, a trembling egg, almost about to crack.
She is old. This cliff is a reminder of that stark fact. The cliff has always been there, when she was a girl running up with her sisters and laughing, their young bodies so lively and light. The cliff had been a comfort, when she carried her son in her belly and was in need of a place away from home. The cliff was there when her son died in the war and the warships came back and bombarded the City. Now, at the very end of her life, the cliff is still there, solid and unmoving.
Her heart is about to crack and she sinks to her knees, hand on her chest.
Before she made this trip to the cliff, she sold her house, donated the earnings to the orphanage for the war children and simply left the City, with the clothes she wore on her wedding day. Her husband and wife were gone, died from the plague that had ravaged the City after the war. The shawl was heart-red, the color of her people, the sea-coast women who reared oysters and sang a different kind of dawn song, but as beautiful and lyrical as that rising from the City below.
Ahhh kahhh. Ahh kahh. Come and get your spices.
She stands at the edge of the cliff, her bare toes gripping the hard flint. She lifts her arms as if she is praising the moons and welcoming the rising sun.
With a push, she leaps into the air. She has done it before, when she dove into the rich water of her home village. This time, it is a different kind of sea.
Her heart cracks open and she burns. Fabric burns flame-red, sends forth wings of sun-fire, merging with the rising sun. She is free.
The spice-seller lifts her head up just in time to see a fire-bird, a sign of recent death and life, soar towards the reddening sky. The tail is the color of spring saffron, the wings the blood-red of nutmeg and yellow-gold of turmeric. And the song – the song is the song of dawn.
She smiles and walks on.
About the Author
Joyce Chng is Singaporean-Chinese and lives in Singapore. She writes science fiction, urban fantasy and YA. Her fiction can be found in The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier and The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic. She writes urban fantasy under J. Damask. She can be found at A Wolf’s Tale talking about writerly stuff and Life, and as @jolantru on Twitter.