She rocked him there in the shallow waves, her fingers tethered to her heart tucked tight in the makeshift boat. The water tugged but her grip held tight, waiting for the surge within to surrender to the current without.
Selfish would be to keep him close, an embrace that would warm and pause the inevitable. Yet with the shadow of the dark scythe already casting long its threat, she knew this was to be his end.
And what mother wouldn't fight to be the one to hold, to comfort, to bear witness to those last breaths just as she had for his first?
But to protect him, an embrace would not do. No, to preserve him she would have to open wide her arms and release.
Selfless - yes, selfless - was to send him to probable death when absolute demise was assured.
This was the same shore from which her daughter had just earlier this week had skipped stones, sending ripples that winked in turn as the water disturbed reflected back to shore the sun above. Today it was her son who would disturb the natural waves and cut division through the crests that would draw him out.
His mother flinched as the gentle splash of the weight of him buoyant mingled together with the wet salt on cheeks provoked by the emptiness felt in her arms.
The sun now was in his eyes, her world revolving there. One last glimpse, one last touch. One last whisper, "I'll see you on the other side."
Heaven was real, of this she was certain. He was hers - with his golden smile and glimmering eyes, a promise for a generation who knew only hell.
They, her daughter and son, her husband and her, and the ones they called friends, brothers, sisters, were the accursed. They were the ones hated by those with whom they shared common land but where common ground was a parched desert starved by ancient animosity. Neighbors for centuries but divided along deep fissures by religion, allegiance, and opposing beliefs of the afterlife. There was no uniting them now.
There is no holding hands with those who've come for your son's head.
And there his lay with eyes once fixed on her beginning to grow heavy with the gentle lullaby of the water.
"I'll see you on the other side."
With faith, when no savior was visible, and with hope, when no rescue was promised, love cast her son untethered out onto the whims of the waves.
She, in her poverty, gave all that she had.
On the opposite shore, immaculate and manicured, another woman walked. The scent of her wafted on the breeze, the expensive oils mixing with imported perfumes in the heat of day. She drew near the water not for idle conversation or latent reflection but for cleansing.
Water was where she found regeneration.
The weight of her world and her place in it had left deeps wounds on her spirit. The crush, the press, gave birth to doubt in every arena of a life privileged by birthright.
Except for one.
There would be no birth, no life, no weight of another spirit being born again in her.
She carried the sorrow. But she was oppressed by the guilt.
She was a woman who had everything but no one to offer it to.
The others splashed nearby, attentive but not immersed. The waves were within her and the current found its way through colored cheeks adorned for vanity and left pale streams of pain in its wake.
Hers was a mother's heart, of this she was certain. She felt intrinsically the need to have it walking outside her body - with legs tanned and strong, a promise for one whose womb knew only emptiness.
They, her sisters and brother, father and mother, and the millions just like them, were the lucky ones. They were the wealthy, the powerful, the ones on the other side of the water. By no reason or act of their own (though some reasoned it must have been an act of God), they could do or not do as they pleased.
Every once a full moon or so, she wondered about the others, the ones on the opposite shore. About their lives, their reality, their fate.
But especially today when there was little room for imagination.
Their fate was the only other thing about which she had no doubt.
His cry was the first to make her notice. A distant warble, drowned by the chorus of other songs sung amid the rushes.
It made her pause. But soon enough she carried on.
Then there was the shadow; something creeping closer awakening in her a feeling of fear.
Was she safe? Should she sound an alarm? What dangers lurked just past this place of safety?
The cry came again - a whimper softly, a sign of surrender and accepting of his fate.
Something in her hesitated. But still he called her out deeper where her feet had never wandered.
She knew whose he was. And she ran to him.
He was one of them but one borne of a mother who had allowed her heart to be floated across the miles with the impossible dream that he might find love and life from the heart of another.
Suddenly, there in the water, she felt something awakening within her. This was to be her rebirth - her chance at a new life. No more living for herself, caught up in the vanities of luxury and ease. No, to preserve his life she would offer him a place in hers.
Looking into his eyes, weak with hunger and cold, she felt an invisible hand enclosing her own uniting them in motherhood. From across the distance and despite the division between, she sensed the desperate hope of a foreign mother's heart.
Extending her own hand, she drew him out of the water and called him....