Ancient tribes believed stars were the souls of their ancestors, watching over them. For others, stars were powerful mythical creatures, forming constellations across the sky. And some believed they were gods, crossing the heavens on fiery chariots. But those who knew stars best were the people of the desert. Stars had been their guides for thousands of years, on their journeys across endless expanses of sand and rock. A small nomadic tribe, living deep in the Arabian Desert, knew the stars more intimately than anyone. They held a closely guarded secret, whispered down from generations past. Their story tells of angels…
From the beginning of time, angels lit up the night sky. Their souls were so pure that they shone brightly, visible from millions of miles away. Dancing across the night skies, their sparkle came from their flowing robes, woven of the purest silk and diamond dust. Most stars followed a well-defined path through the cosmos. Some were free spirits, leaping again and again from the heavens towards Earth. They shed a long trail of diamond dust for the world to behold in wonder. These were the shooting stars.
The King of Stars, more commonly known as the Polar Star, ruled over the heavens. In this cosmic ballet, he was the master choreographer. Firm on his throne, the angels rotated slowly around him. He controlled the stars’ destinies, celestial guides for humankind. On Earth, features changed. Dunes shifted, rivers found new courses and islands came and went. But the stars were eternal, following the same paths across the ages. The stars took pride in their constancy. Humankind could depend on them.
Princess Hannah was the king’s only child. She was the most beautiful, and brightest of all the angels. “Father,” Hannah asked one day, “can I please visit Earth?” The king was surprised. “Your destiny is to guide from the heavens,” said the king. “That’s the destiny of all stars, even princesses.” “Yes, my destiny is to guide. But my soul tells me someone needs special guidance, and I wish to visit her,” Hannah replied. “I’ll be back for the new moon,” she promised. New moons were the most important days for angel stars. They were a symbol of rebirth and renewal, renewed hope for those lost on life’s winding paths. She wouldn’t miss that day for the world. “Then go”, said the king, “and follow your heart”. She didn’t think twice, and leapt towards Earth. It was the most spectacular shooting star the world had ever seen.
Hannah’s heart took her to an oasis, deep in the Arabian Desert. There was a little village on the edge of the oasis, where a few families tended a plantation of date palms. A small nomadic tribe had settled in the oasis for a few days. They had rested the camels and stocked-up on dates and water ahead of an arduous journey to the coast, where a shipment of spices was waiting for them. Close to the camp was a small pond, where the camels were drinking. Among the reeds, a young girl was washing cooking pots. Her eyes were shut, and she hummed softly. Her face appeared closed and sad. “It’s her,” knew Hannah instinctively. “Hello”, said Hannah, “why do you keep your eyes closed?” The girl was startled, wondering how the stranger had gotten so close without her noticing. She knew everyone in the tribe, and this voice was different. It was a soothing, delicate voice. “I’ve been blind since birth,” replied the girl, “so opening my eyes won’t make any difference. My world is darkness, only darkness.” “What’s your name?” asked Hannah. “Aisha,” replied the girl.
Aisha explained to Hannah that they were only passing through, and would leave the next day to the western coast. Hannah asked if she could accompany them, as she was also travelling. “Let’s go ask my father,” said Aisha. She secretly hoped her father would agree, as there was something pleasant about Hannah. It also has to be said that Aisha was often lonely. Because of her blindness, the other girls often left her out of their games. There was no one she could truly share her darkness with. Her parents loved her, and provided for all her needs. But they were busy. Affi, her black cat, was always there for a cuddle. But he couldn’t share her dreams and fears. So Hannah’s company was welcome change.
Aisha and Hannah discretely entered the large black tent where Aisha’s father was busy organizing the journey. Hannah briefly introduced herself, and stated her wish to travel with the tribe to the coast. Aisha’s father, a good man, quickly agreed. He found her curious, for her skin was much fairer than the people of the desert, with no signs of wear from the harsh sun and abrasive sand. “Maybe she’s not used to working,” he thought to himself. “You can join on one condition – that you lead Aisha’s camel and help with the chores of the caravan.” Hannah nodded in approval.
At dawn the next morning, the tents were packed and camels loaded. Aisha sat high on her camel, with Affi comfortably lying on her lap. It was difficult for her to walk because of her blindness, especially when the desert was rocky. The caravan slowly lumbered to its feet, and got on its way. Camels can be stubborn animals, but this one obeyed to Hannah’s slightest gestures. She had no need for a whip, and the camel regularly rubbed its furry head against her long blue robe. The rugged, seasoned caravan drivers looked on with surprise. As the caravan found its pace, Aisha and Hannah got to know each other a little better. It was mostly Hannah asking questions. The caravan pushed through the desert until noon, when it got too hot to continue.
They set up camp in a place with flowering cactus. “What beautiful flowers,” exclaimed Hannah. Aisha had a blank expression on her face. “What does beautiful mean?” she asked. Hannah took Aisha’s hand, so she could feel the flower’s delicate petals (and taking care to avoid the sharp spines). “Do you feel its beauty? Beauty is what makes your soul resonate. You don’t need sight for that,” said Hannah. “Your voice delights my soul, so you must be beautiful then,” replied Aisha. Hannah was glad Aisha didn’t see her blush. Aisha suddenly realized the world was full of beauty, if only she listened to her soul. “Running my hands though Affi’s fur and hearing his gentle purrs make me feel warm inside,” she thought. “It must mean Affi is beautiful. And when Mom comes to kiss me good night, I feel secure and peaceful. Mom must be so beautiful too.”
The journey continued, and Aisha and Hannah shared all the simple moments of life. Hannah groomed Aisha’s hair, they searched for firewood and fed the baby camels. Often, they simply said nothing, enjoying each other’s presence. The people of the tribe noticed Aisha was happier, more confident. Hannah’s company made the journey easier, even if the road was no less harsh than usual.
One night, Aisha overheard the tribe’s elders arguing about which route to take. After three days of travel, they had reached a well. They were distraught to find it dry, and the animals were getting thirsty. It was still possible to go back to the oasis, but that would surely mean the weaker camels wouldn’t survive. Another option was to push forward to the next well. But if that one was also dry, the tribe would be in serious peril. Aisha, who sensed the tension, began to cry. Hannah consoled her, “let’s go see the stars.” Hannah’s eyes appeared to read the stars’ glimmer. After a few moments, she said softly “my heart tells me the next well is full. Go tell your father to push on to the north, towards the Canis Minor constellation.” Aisha did as she was requested and approached the circle of elders, still debating the decision. They were surprised to see her, as tradition forbade children from interrupting such discussions. “We should push on”, said Aisha. Her father didn’t object to her intrusion. But he was down-to-earth, and curious to understand Aisha’s recommendation. “We need to follow the Canis Minor constellation, heading north. If we walk all night, we’ll be there by dawn,” continued Aisha. The elders were stunned. Aisha had never seen the stars, and had never learned the ancient traditions of desert navigation. Yet, Canis Minor was pointing exactly towards the well they hoped to reach. They saw this as a sign, and followed Aisha’s advice. Walking through the night to benefit from the coolness, they arrived at the well just as the sun was rising. The well was full, and the tribe celebrated.
A few days later, Hannah became restless. Her pure soul was sensing danger, and even Affi had gone to hide. She woke Aisha in the middle of the night. “We have to lift camp immediately, and move to the mountain nearby. Otherwise we’ll be attacked at dawn.” The tribe was already on its guard, as they were crossing a stretch of desert roamed by thieves. What they didn’t know was that two groups of thieves had banded together, making a fearsome force. Hannah explained all this to Aisha. She immediately went to wake her father, who ordered the camp to be lifted at once. They left for nearby mountain, covering their tracks as they went along. They mountain provided excellent cover. From their perch, the tribe watched on as two dozen bandits reached the campsite, seemly confused to find no one there and the campfire still warm. From that day on, Aisha was invited to all of the tribal councils.
As weeks passed, Aisha noticed that Hannah was spending more time gazing at the skies, and particularly at the moon, which was getting thinner each day. “Do you miss home?” asked Aisha, still unaware Hannah was from the heavens. “I have to go home when the moon goes dark. I promised my father,” Hannah replied. Aisha’s heart sank, and she stayed silent for a long moment. All she could say was “I’ll miss you Hannah,” holding back her tears. Aisha wasn’t worried about losing her place at the council. She had realized that she didn’t always need Hannah’s advice to contribute. Her blindness helped her sense things differently, and the elders appreciated her point of view. But what she valued the most was Hannah’s company. She’d never had a closer friend, one that looked past her blindness.
On the evening of her departure, Hannah took Aisha to the top of the highest dune around. They lay there together in the sand, still warm from the day’s hot sun. “Aisha,” she said. “I want to leave you with a gift. Please open your eyes.” Aisha opened her eyes. As usual, it was complete darkness. Hannah then sprinkled all her remaining diamond dust over them. Mysteriously, the dust didn’t irritate Aisha’s eyes. In fact, one by one, stars began to appear. “This is my gift,” said Hannah “For the rest of your life, you’ll be able to see the stars. Only the stars. For everything else, your blindness will stay. That’s part of who you are.” For the first time, Hannah took off her veil, revealing flowing and brilliant white hair. Hannah explained that she was angel, guiding caravans from the beginning of time, and that she had felt a calling to help Aisha out of her darkness. Aisha couldn’t speak. It was too much emotion, seeing the stars, and knowing she had journeyed with an angel all this time. Hannah simply gave Aisha a kiss on the forehead, and flew off into the darkness. Aisha’s tears rolled down her cheeks, in happiness and sadness mixed all together.
Hannah arrived home just in time for the festivities. The new moon would appear soon, and all the stars were singing in unison. From the first rays on the new moon, a bright cloud of diamond dust appeared, draping all the stars with a new, glistening coat. With their renewed sparkle, the stars danced into the night. Hannah, in her beautiful new dress, watched the other stars dance. For the first time ever, he heart wasn’t completely in it.
The King noticed Hannah growing slightly dimmer every day. “Go,” he said. “There are a million stars in the sky, but you are my only daughter. And what I want most in the world is for you to be happy.” Hannah knew that Aisha didn’t need a guide anymore. Aisha could see the stars and talk their language. She was respected in her tribe. Her world wasn’t so dark anymore. “Maybe I just need Aisha more than she needs me,” she thought.
The moon was full that night, lighting up the endless desert. The tribe had already gone to sleep, but Aisha was wide awake, in the company of the stars. She felt an arm wrap itself around her shoulder. From the delicate touch, she didn’t need to ask who it was. They lay there quietly together, watching the stars.