Refugees from a drought that destroyed their homeland, Lesedi and her family settled in a new land with a whole new climate. Lesedi struggled to find her place not only in this new society but also in her family’s weather magic. One rainy day brought Lesedi despair and hope that she never expected to find.
Bringing the Rains is a poignant fantasy short story about gender identity and finding one’s path when everything changes.
Bringing the Rains
By Meyari McFarland
Black speckled with red, gold, green and blue in vivid stripes that zigzagged down the length of the cloth; Lesedi bit her lip until blood bloomed in her mouth as she ran her fingers through the precious stash of drapey soft fabric from Before. Before the rain stopped. Before their fields dried up, consumed by the sands. Before they’d been forced to flee to a new home in a too-wet country by the sea.
None of the fabric would do. Too dark with a black background, too bold with the lightning stripes. The one swathe of pale yellow and cream had been Masego’s swaddling cloth and that was too small. Lesedi couldn’t use that even if it felt perfect. There had to be something that would work in their stash of fabric.
Their little house, round to catch the God’s power raining down, short not to offend the spirits of the land, was cold, so very cold. Rain battered against the roof as if it wanted to wash Lesedi’s fears away in a flood of cold, harsh droplets that purified through everything except for her flawed soul. Grandmother Sethunya hummed as she carefully cut into one of the other pieces of fabric, chopping the warp and weft as casually as a woodsman chopped a tree down here. Mother Refilwe grumbled under her breath at the sacrilege of actually cutting fabric as she worked to weave a new piece of fabric from the thick wool thread that Masego had bought from their closest neighbor.
Wool. It wasn’t the wool that Lesedi knew, spun fine and thin, delicate as a spider’s web. This was thick, rough scratchy thread that would trap heat next to the body instead of letting it slip away into the slowly rising air, carrying your sweat up to the sky to join the clouds overhead. Lesedi shivered, her hands clenching in the green and blue striped fabric. Warmth, keeping it close, hoarding it against your skin against the cold rain and frigid wind that blew off the ocean made more sense in this new land, this new place with the people that had taken them in and given them homes.
“Do you want that one?” Grandmother Sethunya asked. “It would look lovely on you.”
“No,” Lesedi said. “It’s not right. I need something lighter.”
Silence echoed through their little house. Women didn’t wear pale colors. Men did. Women wore bright red and gold, blue and green, to attract the spirits and entice them to give aid to the family’s spells. Men, magicless beings destined for fighting battles and hauling loads rather than bringing the rains, wore pale yellow, cream, light tan.
Lesedi winced from the looks she knew had to be focused on her bowed shoulders. She couldn’t be male. The village was gone, everyone scattered to the winds after the last well dried up and her family’s magic failed to bring the rains in. Without the ceremonies, the blessings of the village, Lesedi had to be a woman. No matter how hard Lesedi tried, though, she couldn’t live as a woman. Her soul’s disharmony, torn between female name and male heart, destabilized the family’s magic every time they tried anything. It didn’t even matter if Lesedi was there for the spells. Her hold on her family’s magic continued.
It was her fault they’d had to leave home. Her fault that the rains hadn’t come no matter how hard they prayed, danced, cast the spells. Lesedi knew it as surely as she knew that there was no way to find peace within her body without the old ceremonies from home. But they couldn’t have those ceremonies anymore because it was just the four of them cast adrift on this cold, rainy shore.
Grandmother Sethunya sighed, her scissors snipping away at the fabric, carefully trimming it to the shape of the garments people wore here. “We don’t have anything lighter, child.”
“I know,” Lesedi said. “These feel… wrong.”
“I could make you something,” Masego offered. She came and hesitantly wrapped her arms around Lesedi’s waist, leaning into her side until Lesedi had to turn and meet her little sister’s eyes. “I have lots of the white wool. It’s thick, but I could knit you something.”
“Thank you,” Lesedi murmured.
She hugged Masego, lifting her little sister off her feet just to hear her giggle and feel her squirm in Lesedi’s arms. Mother Refilwe hadn’t looked away from her loom but her hands moved more slowly over the warp and weft. Once Lesedi set Masego down, Mother Refilwe sighed and nodded towards the fireplace where their too small hearth struggled to heat the little house.
“Bring some firewood in, dear,” Mother Refilwe said. “I’m not sure we have enough.”
“Not sure we could have enough,” Grandmother Sethunya complained. “Weather here is so cold.”
“Could we work with the rain?” Masego asked, drifting over to Grandmother Sethunya’s side to watch her carefully pin the pieces of her new dress together. “Make it warmer? Or go away?”
“No, it’s the wrong season for warmth here,” Mother Refilwe said. “We’ll just have to deal with the rain for now.”
Lesedi could feel them pulling in, feel their magic coming together to feel the world outside. Distantly, she could feel the clouds pregnant with rain that was birthed into the world as the clouds climbed up into the mountains, driven by the winds that had carried their boat here. She staggered, head swimming and stomach lurching until Lesedi had to bolt outside to throw up on the mossy stretch of earth between the porch and the water-logged garden.
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