Maia and her family returned home from the service, defeated. They walked silently, though Mother and Father exchanged glances that communicated volumes. Even as a group of about 50 men, women, and children, the people could not afford to pay five hundred a week to the government and also cover the cost of renting the bank. Gathering without a license, however, was against the law and punishable by fines and imprisonment of the entire group. Prisons in this country had become much less hospitable since the war. Court judges were corrupted and prison guards were cruel. It seemed impossible to continue worshiping as a group. Perhaps they would have to stick to small gatherings in people's homes, though even this was risky.
"We do not need a building to worship Ayam," Father was saying quietly. "His temple is wherever his people are. But Ayam deserves his own house. Our ancestors took pride in building great temples for him. Even in ancient times, they had a magnificent tent that housed his Writings and priests."
At home, Father and Mother went into their room and spoke quietly. Rachelle was reading a novel, and Isaiah was on the computer downstairs. Maia had been invited to Jonas' home for dinner, but she had some time before she had to leave. She decided to take a walk and pray and meditate. She always felt nearer to Ayam when she was outdoors.
The sun was relentlessly hot as usual, but Maia barely noticed. The slick of perspiration on her forehead felt cool whenever a breeze came up. Her heart drummed with emotions: anger, fear, and frustration, but also happiness, love, and faith. She needed to sort them out. She found herself in the park where she and Jonas had been two days ago and sat in the grass, delighted by its life and the smells of earth and growth. Her eyes closed and her breathing slowed and her thoughts became clearer. Long ago, Ayam had promised that he would always love his people. Still, persecution was common throughout their history. He had always brought his people through in the end. In the stories, Ayam's people had been banished to deserts, enslaved by conquerors, and laughed at in battle, but Ayam had always sent a leader to bring them back home. She found peace when she finally found the strength to trust Ayam's plan, even if he would not reveal it to his people.
Suddenly footsteps sounded behind her. Maia jumped up, fearing a policeman. She berated herself for leaving the house alone, and looked for a place to hide. It was too late, he had seen her. She started to run towards home.
"Maia, stop. Don't be afraid. I have not come to hurt you."
Maia stopped in her tracks and turned to see who it was. It was not a man, but a woman, wearing a plain but beautiful white dress. Her face and hair were pale and fine, and her eyes sparkled in the sunshine. "Hello, Maia."
Maia realized she was speaking in the tongue of her homeland, not English. Her eyebrows furrowed. "Who are you? What do you want?"
The woman laughed. "I know who you are. You are a daughter of Ayam, and have proven faithful to him."
Maia's eyes widened. The legends of her people sang in her mind: a messenger of Ayam. She came forward and bowed low before the messenger.
"Maia, you have gained Ayam's favour and he desires to bless you further. You will become pregnant and bear a child. This child will be the Chosen One of Ayam, who will lead Ayam's people and bring peace to the world. But he will also be Ayam's Son, both god and man."
"But how can I become pregnant if I haven't-"
"Ayam's power has already come upon you." The messenger came close and placed her hand on Maia's stomach. Maia could feel the energy inside her. The woman's hand seemed to glow for a moment, then she lifted her hand and put it on Maia's shoulder. "The child's name is Joshua. This task will be a great burden, and a great joy. Ayam's people will always remember your story."
"Joshua - it means Ayam saves." Maia's eyes closed. She was overwhelmed with hope and gratitude and faith. "I will accept Ayam's mission. I will protect Joshua with my life."
"Ayam is with you, Maia. He will save his people."
Suddenly a thought struck Maia. "But what will I tell Jonas?" she opened her eyes to see that the messenger was gone, and the daylight was beginning to fade.
Maia realized she had been meditating much longer than she had intended, and was late for dinner with Jonas' family. She began walking quickly towards his house, her thoughts swarming around her like a cloud of confusion and hope and fear. I'll just have to tell him when the time is right, she thought. If he trusts me, he'll understand. She looked down at her flat stomach, wondering how much time she had before her secret began to reveal itself.
"Ayam, please help him understand. And please give me strength."
Jonas' family was kind when she apologized for her late arrival. The dinner was delicious, with roasted potatoes and stewed pork. His parents were warm and friendly, his younger brothers accepted her right away. Their conversation was easy, though nobody mentioned what had happened at church. It had occured only this morning, but to Maia it felt like years ago. How had something so simple become so complicated so very quickly?
After dinner, the sun was setting fast, and Jonas offered to walk her home. The evening air was cool.
"Is everything okay? You're even more quiet than usual."
Maia waited for the right words to come. Jonas, I'm pregnant, but I haven't been unfaithful. I am carrying Ayam's son. It sounded crazy, even to her. She wondered if the meeting with the messenger hadn't been a very real daydream or hallucination brought on by the midday heat. Magically pregnant? Good one, Maia. A 16-year-old virgin refugee carrying the Chosen One? It was ridiculous. Perhaps she shouldn't tell him. What if he thought she was lying? What if he exposed her to the religious leaders? They would have her locked in an insane asylum or worse. Unwed pregnancy was a serious crime. Ayam would not ask her to break his own laws.
"Maia, what's wrong?"
"I've just got a lot on my mind." Maia decided she couldn't tell him yet. If this was Ayam's mission, he would find a way to protect her.
Jonas put his arm around her. His warmth was comforting, but it did nothing to banish the sinking feeling in Maia's stomach. If this was Ayam's path, why did she feel like she was going to have to betray everyone she loved before it was over?