Saving Maria’s eyes
September 20th, 2019 at 2:23 pm
Saving Maria’s eyes

By Maskwaith Ahsan;

A girl is born in Tiltapak, a village where children are born healthy but except for a chosen few all gradually go blind. Like others, her parents also pray for just one thing, for her not to lose her sight. They name her Maria.

A blind old man suggests, “In a village of the blind why would a girl need sight. If at all, we should pray for a boy to retain his eyesight.” A blind woman proudly adds, “Women are born to marry and produce children for the Zopotek tribe. What has eyesight got to do with that? I produced ten children without any trouble.”

In Tiltopak it is strongly believed that the sight of Lavjuella tree makes children go blind. So they are forbidden to look at it. The village leader organizes a stone-throwing event at the satanic Lavjuella tree. “Whoever hits the poisonous tree with stones will be blessed with getting their eyesight back,” he declares.

So villagers gather to stone the tree and dream of getting their eyesight back.

Ever since the Lavjuella tree was declared enemy of the village, its powers have grown with each fairytale. A few lucky children are spared from blindness and they grow up helping the rest.

Maria is one of those selfless children. But her blind relatives can’t see what Maria sees and keep pestering her mother into marrying her off. Every other day one blind female relative after the other comes up with a marriage proposal from some blind tribesman who is the proud owner of a huge hut and a horse cart.

The village is so blinded that owning a huge hut and a horse cart is the biggest dream. Young men are forced to achieve that dream and they slowly lose the ability to envision life beyond that. Thinking about the reasons of such collective blindness is a luxury they can’t afford. But a few sightful boys and girls refuse to accept that the Lavjuella has anything to do with mass blindness.

They are declared a threat to the security of the village. While the bored, blind men and women are provoked into condemning such heretics, their leaders craftily collect honey from Tiltapak forest and sell it to other villages.

Maria hears whispers that her village is not run by tribal leaders but by the lord of black flies. “It’s not the Lavjuella tree but the black flies that create mass blindness here”, insist the whispers. Maria tries to ignore such whispers. She believes that it’s their tribal leaders who keep the village blind; to them blindness is normal so they don’t hesitate from profiting by it.

They are instead scared of insightfulness. Maria has seen the lord of black flies jump to save the day whenever a villager got into trouble. She has witnessed how black flies try to fight the satanic Lavjuella and cover it with their wings so that children gone astray can’t see the tree and remain safe from blindness.

To the villagers, black flies are their saviors from bad omen. Then one fine day, a young leader promises a new dawn for the village, when the curse of blindness will be forever lifted and tragedy will come to an end. Promise of New Tiltapak spreads like wildfire. People cautiously start to dream dreams of sight. Joy creeps into the air until one afternoon Maria sees a black fly sitting arrogantly in her living room, “I may seem small but don’t forget that I decide whether you get sight or remain blind,” hisses the fly.

Ever the optimist, Maria nevertheless feels a shiver of despair. Promise of New Tiltapak sees many of her friends leave for a better life but she chooses to remain to help her village cope with light. This is not the time for fear, and so Maria pushes back the air of despondency and prays for dawn to remain.

(This story is inspired by the Mexican village of Tiltapak where most of the people are blind. All characters and incidents in this story are, however, fictional)

Bangladeshi writer
Maskwaith Ahsan is an expatriated journalist and writer