Words by: Xenia Sanut
When I opened my eyes for the first time, it was the small shadows dancing above that intrigued me. They filtered light into the meadow where I lay, playfully casting me in the warm sun before quickly forcing me into cold shadow. Then, I felt the breeze. I smiled as wisps of hair fell onto my face and blades of grass tickled my cheek, but that was when I heard a rustling to my right.
I scrambled to my feet, straining to stand on my new limbs when I saw a figure slinking back into the shade of the meadow’s encircling trees. They lifted their hands slightly as a gesture of peace.
Their body looked like mine, but it was hard and steady, as if made of earth. Man. The word emerged like a rippling of water in my mind, a new drop in my pool of knowledge.
He smiled reassuringly, gesturing towards the path that led through the trees. Beyond the path were mountain peaks that towered over the forest and soaring even higher were birds silhouetted by baby blue.
He took my hand and squeezed it, and like a shepherd helping a newborn lamb to stand, he guided me through paradise.
We were walking hand-in-hand through a field of wild grass when two small, winged creatures fluttered by. I watched as the creatures would suddenly drop and casually fly to the heavens again, and again, in an intricate dance. Once again the word was gently poured into my consciousness. Butterflies.
He let go of my hand and started charging after them, crushing the tall grass with his feet. He was grinning eagerly with his arms outstretched, but he kept glancing at me, trying to gauge my reaction.
And then I heard a loud clap.
With his head, he gestured for me to come to where he was standing, but my legs would not move. Instead, he started leaping towards me with his hands clasped together, ensuring that the waist-high grass could not ensnare him or his excitement.
He opened his hands slightly with glee and, peering between a gap in his fingers, there was one of the flying creatures. Its fragile wing was torn, hopelessly clinging to its body like a golden leaf on a fall branch, and desperate to escape his grasp.
He offered it to me as a gift, but I shook my head and started to weep. He insisted, but I continued to refuse, and like a spoiled child who had never heard the word ‘no’, he huffed and stormed off, dropping the creature in a fury, and leaving it flapping frantically on the ground.
When he had disappeared from the horizon, I gently picked up the creature in my palm and went to search for its friend — only to find them lying motionless at the place where it met man’s palm.
He continued to do this, trying to prove that paradise was the dominion of man. But if all life cannot live freely in paradise, can it be called paradise at all?
Under God’s decree, he said he had dominion over me. I insisted that as I was created from his rib, God permitted me to walk alongside him as his equal. But he believed it made me a part of him; an extension of his body to wield and control. Who knew paradise could be so cold?
Instead, I found warmth in a fruit-bearing tree, whose twisted branches looked like they could both embrace and strangle you, and there I crumpled into a heap by the tree’s trunk. I did so with such force that some fruit fell next to me, and I felt loneliness welling up inside me like a wave, crashing into my chest, and sobs spilling out of my mouth.
He feared God’s wrath, so I knew he would not find me here, making it a perfect place for my anguish to slither like a serpent into my heart.
I tried to articulate what I was feeling in my head, but the language God created could not express it. It could not express my agony for how paradise was forced to bend under man’s hand. Or my helpless longing to know what my role is on Earth. Was I man’s equal or man’s servant?
I reached for one of the fallen fruits and spun it in my hand. The serpent coiled itself in my chest, crushing my heart like a dam ready to burst. The serpent yearned for answers and, even though I was afraid, I knew together we were going to open our eyes and see who God intended for us to be.
I put the fruit’s soft skin to my lips. I heard him crying my name in the distance. His voice was carried by the wind. He wanted to apologise.
But it was too late.
The world lay bare to my eyes, like a leafless tree in winter.
The next time I opened my eyes, the blazing sun assaulted me. The oppressive heat above and the hardened ground below reminded me of my new reality. My face had hardened, my hands were dry and leathery, and in this cracked, lifeless desert, nothing resembled the garden I once knew.
A rumbling storm could be heard from the mountains, and eagles cawed and circled above us, waiting to claw into our skin and feast on our bodies. But the sound of him scratching away at the Earth and the quiet crunch of seeds being given new homes was now a familiar and comforting sound.
I stood up, hobbled towards him, and reached for his hand. He squeezed it tightly, as if it was all he had left in the world to hold onto, looked up and gave me a soft smile.
He passed me some seeds and together we worked silently, but skilfully, as if we were performing an intricate dance, so that maybe we could live in paradise again.