Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

Esperanza

When Esperanza lifted the window above her bed and felt the light breeze, she remembered the dream, the good dream. But something wasn’t right when she tried to set her kitten Zoe on the blanket. The buzzing started inside, first her legs, then her arms, and up into her head until she could no longer move.

She needed help. “Go quickly, Zoe,” she said. The kitten jumped off the bed and ran out the door. Esperanza could hear her running down the stairs.

Today was supposed to be a good day. The man with the long white beard in the dream told her so, and she wanted to believe him. Otherwise, why would she go to meet the sick goat with the headdress embedded with sparkling red beads? “Precious jewels,” the old man said, “ancient, almost from the beginning of time.” The old man looked at her. “The goat wants you to guard his red-beaded headdress.”

Esperanza didn’t understand. “I’ve never met anyone like you,” she said. “Can I trust you?”

The old man didn’t answer. Then he said, “I will not harm you. I will lead you to the red beads.” He pointed toward the woods. “The goat is waiting for you,” the old man said. “Come.”

Esperanza followed the old man. Had she walked these woods before? Had she dreamed them in another dream? Had the old man appeared in it too? She tried to remember the dense brush, the twigs, the shallow streams, the rocks, but she could not. This dream was not like any she remembered.

They arrived at the cave, but the darkness suffocated her, as if she could not breathe. She told the old man she wanted to leave the dream and go back to her room where Zoe was waiting for her.

“The goat is just ahead,” he said, “around the third bend. You will see the sick goat soon.” He told her to hold onto the hem of his cape and walk slowly.

Just as they reached the second bend, she saw a dim light ahead. “It won’t be long, now,” the old man said. “The third bend is just a few steps away.”

Following the dim light, they turned at the third bend and in a corner of the cave, she saw the sick goat lying on a pile of blankets, sipping from a small bowl of milk. As the goat turned his head toward her, the red beads glowed on his headdress and she covered her eyes, afraid they would blind her. It was a spectacular sight—the red-beaded headdress shining like a luminous presence from a faraway land.

The goat was very sick. “Is he dying?” she asked the old man.

“Yes,” he said. “This is why you are here. He wants to give you his red-beaded headdress. It is ancient and holds manifold secrets.” He pointed to the red beads. “These precious beads will guide you on your journey through life,” he said.

“What if I don’t want the red-beaded headdress?” Esperanza asked.

The old man squatted next to the sick goat, and the goat laid his head on the old man’s lap. “The goat will die even if you don’t take the headdress,” he said, “but he will pass peacefully knowing that you will guard his precious red beads.” The old man motioned to Esperanza to stroke the sick goat’s head. Then, the old man whispered four words into her ear: “Do not be afraid.”

The old man and Esperanza lifted the red-beaded headdress off the two-horned goat, and the bright light began to fade. The goat lay still, watching them. The old man said, “You will find a green knapsack in an old cupboard around the second bend. Place the red-beaded headdress in this knapsack and strap it to your back. You must not allow the knapsack to touch the walls or the floor of the cave. If you lose one red bead, the headdress will become dull and worthless.”

The old man saw the goat slowly nod his head. “The goat approves,” the old man said, “but we don’t have much time. You must listen carefully. Around the first bend near the entrance, a flock of crows will try to attack you and steal the knapsack. You must hurry toward the light and jump across the threshold. Then you will be safe.”

Esperanza heard the sick goat sigh. “Yes,” the old man said, “our goat has left us. You must leave immediately.”

Esperanza found the green knapsack where the old man told her it would be, and she carefully put the red-beaded headdress inside and strapped it on her back. As she rounded the first bend, a flock of crows waited for her, just as the old man had said, but before they could attack, she saw the light ahead and jumped across the threshold.

When she lifted the window above her bed and felt the light breeze and the scent of roses, she knew the day would be like no other. “A wonderful day,” Esperanza said to Zoe, who had climbed onto her lap. Zoe purred at the sound of Esperanza’s voice but was soon fast asleep curled into a little ball. She picked up the sleeping kitten and set her gently on the blanket.

She looked around her room. Then she remembered. The old man with the long beard. The cave in the woods. The sick goat. The red-beaded headdress. The light that nearly blinded her. The precious red beads with manifold secrets.

Esperanza hopped out of bed hearing the old man’s words. She would not forget, even when she was an old woman.

“Do not be afraid.”

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