Yammani and the Soji
It was the first day of the Festival of Purification. All the rites and ceremonies had been celebrated and the people purified, the stain of the sins of the old year washed away so that they might approach the coming year with pure hearts and clean minds. All the village had gathered at the Great Hall for feasting and dancing—and especially for the stories. This year the great storyteller Yammani had come to their village for the festival. Everyone had gathered—that is, everyone except the Soji clan, who were fit only for necessary but demeaning work such as burying the dead and disposing waste.
The people owned no slaves, for they believed that all must be free to live the lives that the gods had granted them. But there were still certain, distasteful tasks that had to be done, and few people would voluntarily do these things. And so, from time out of mind, the members of the Soji clan had been forced to do them. No one knew any longer why or how it had come about, but the Soji and no one else buried the dead and collected the garbage and spread manure on the fields and did the other unclean work. And because they did these things, no one in the village had anything to do with them—unless to give orders. Most people would not even touch a Soji, or if they did, by accident or through necessity, they would go to the river immediately and wash thoroughly.
That night the feast went on and on until all in the village were satisfied, even the few wanderers who happened to be there. Then the dancing began, with its music and beguilingly graceful movements. But even the most graceful body tires eventually, and in time the music stilled and the dancers sat to rest. Then all eyes turned to Yammani, who had been strangely silent all evening.
"So, Yammani," said the Chief of the Elders, rising and turning to her. "You have come into our village this year, and the time has come for us to hear your story."
"So it has," Yammani replied. "So it has. What story would you have me tell? Shall it be a story of the gods or a story of the people?"
"Tell us a story of how the people may approach the gods, for this is the Festival of Purification."
All evening Yammani had seemed to be brooding, as though she was trying to decide how to tell these people the story they most needed to hear. At this suggestion, her eyes brightened, for she knew what to do.
"There was once a family who lived on their farm in the mountains. Their life was one of hard work, but it was sweet enough. Once every year they came in from the farm to sell their crops and buy the tools and other goods that they needed for the coming year. This particular year, the crops were harvested and the family set out as usual for the town.
"On the way, they were attacked by bandits. All men were murdered and the women and children were taken to be sold as slaves or worse in some far country. The only one to escape was a small child, about six years old, who was hidden by its mother and overlooked in the confusion.
"As it happened, the attack was near a village much like this one. The child, driven by hunger, afraid and crying, made its way into the center where many people had gathered in the market that afternoon. The Chief of the Elders was there, but he was so deeply involved in village affairs that he did not notice one more crying child, even though he passed right by it. Many parents were there and they all heard the child, for what parent does not hear a child crying? Many thought that someone ought to help this poor, frightened child, but all were too busy, too hurried or harried, or had barely enough for their own.
"Toward the end of the day, a Soji came to clean out the stalls of the donkeys and the cattle. When this Soji heard the child crying, he stopped his work to look for it. He held the child and comforted it and dried its tears. And when he found out what had happened, he who had so little and was constantly worried about food for his own children, brought this child into his home and loved it and cared for it and raised it as his own."
In the silence, Yammani turned to the Chief of the Elders and asked, "In this village, who approached the gods?" The Elder cast his eyes to the floor, but Yammani demanded an answer with her burning eyes. Finally the Chief of the Elders whispered, "The Soji."
"Yes. It was the Soji," said Yammani, holding the stillness around her. "It was the Soji." And so saying, she swept out of the village to spend the rest of her life among the Soji.
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