By the time I was stolen, the pain of the cutting of my woman-to-be parts was only a memory. The ritual had prepared my body for the husband I would someday honor with children. I had become a proud young woman, tall, almost as tall as my father. Some girls didn’t like the scars the elders had made on their cheeks, but I liked the way mine felt whenever I smiled. My mother’s scars were similar, and the tightness in my face reminded me of how much I looked like her. I thought my mother was the prettiest woman in the village.
She knew how to make my hair beautiful. On the first morning after every full moon, I used to sit on the ground between my mother’s knees while she braided my hair. As the dusty plains to the east of our village awakened to the embracing morning light, my mother poured a gourd of water over my bowed head and then began the parting and braiding. She didn’t finish my braids until the lone tree at the top of the hill to the west had become a black and gold warrior that preened against the evening sky and saluted the ocean as it submerged the sun.
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