She tested the light with her eyes and weighed it in the palm of her hand. When she had first opened her eyes, she had seen the light fade into greys on that first, terrible night. She had dug her fingers into the earth, warm and damp, testing her surroundings for solidity. When night had come, they had both been afraid; him more so than her. ‘I am so glad you are here’, he had said breathlessly, as he spun around in the darkness, orienting himself to the stars in the heavens. ‘It isn’t good for us Earthlings to be alone.’ She, however, had extended her hand into the blackness, wishing to absorb it through the pores of her soft, supple, one-day-old skin. She saw him fumble among the foliage, spying out the animals, calling them, seeking them out for fleeting companionship before they darted away. She, instead, had wondered how it was that those sharp, little dots had made light and what that silver disc was and whether that firy ball she had seen sink beneath the trees was somehow connected to it all. ‘Earthling’, she said to her mate. ‘Do you think it is possible to take some of that ball in the sky to bring light into the darkness?’ He didn’t reply as he nervously supped on succulent fruits of all kinds, juices running extravagantly down his face. Instead, his eyes turned inwards as he muttered to someone whose presence she could not fathom.
She rose from her haunches, lithe and strong, her baby-soft hair rolling down her back in a thick mass of ebony ringlets, only a shade darker than her skin. ‘Earthling’, she said matter-of-factly. ‘I am going to see.’
She picked her way among the silver-green of the moonlit garden, ducking boughs heavy with fruit. Her fingers traced rugged bark and waxy leaf, her nose feasted on the heady scent of perfect ripeness. She had eaten her fill; each fruit both dependently delicious as well as surprisingly bland, and had no interest in more. ‘Are you going to eat?’ her mate asked her. She shrugged as she turned her head and craned her neck towards a distant pair of trees; one silver-hued, the other gilded. ‘I want to see those trees, Earthling’, she said, her voice blending eagerness and resolution. ‘Earthling’, he replied, worry creeping into his timbre. ‘It has been told that we are not to eat from it.’
‘Who told you that?’
Her interest was peaked. ‘When?’
‘Before the Cleaving, when you and I were still one, before we were severed by our sides.’
‘Well, I mustn’t have heard because I was asleep. I woke up just before the Great Light sank beneath the trees.’ And with that, she matter-of-factly grabbed her mate’s hand and pulled him through the bushes, gathering speed as she ran, urging him to follow her.
They ran, light on their feet, unaware of gravity and weariness. Soon, they reached a clearing where both trees stood; a little taller, brimming with an inner light that seemed not to be a reflection of either Great Light in the sky. Their branches laden with glowing, round orbs of the sweetest-smelling fruit they had encountered thus far. She reached out her hand to touch the bark, surveying what lay before her with inquisitive precision. Would the trees feel warm or cool to the touch? Would the fruit appear soft or hard? She wanted to know.
‘Earthling… don’t’, he stammered. There was a quality to his voice that she had not heard before. Later in her life, when she was older and thicker about the waist, her wrinkled skin wrapped in hides and fur, she would have found the right word to describe that voice. Fear.
She glanced over at him and regarded him with childlike innocence, surveying every inch of him with her large, green eyes. His almond-shaped eyes were a warm brown, his hair burnished locks like the ball-of-fire sinking beneath the trees and his skin an even tan, dappled with what she would later called ‘freckles’. She did not know then that from them, all of humanity would be sired; between her dark skin and his light; between the brown and green of their eyes, the differing textures of hair, humanity would slip from between her legs, one child after another, all different in appearance, all equally beautiful and equally loved. She didn’t know then that she would desire him; a bold counterweight to his introspection. She would watch him push the plough in the field as she tended to her garden and the sheep in her flock, and she would hunger for his touch, and he for hers. It would be an insatiable and strange hunger, that led to love and ecstasy, to waves of cutting pain and to tears and gratitude and fear and bravery and a love she couldn’t fully understand.
It would be hard, of course, the litheness gone from their aching limbs, the newness replaced by calluses and scars. He would sometimes lord over her, bitterly and angrily, as if he felt betrayed by his own yearning for her. ‘If only you had not taken it!’ he would bite at her. ‘You, you… wo-man!’ Discord reigned their hut sometimes; especially on nights where exhaustion, cold or hunger overtook them. There never seemed enough of what was good and there always seemed too much of what was hard. She would corral her sons and daughters; admonish and comfort them in equal measure, looking for wisdom and love, finding it unexpectedly in the Voice that had accompanied them from the start.
But all that had not yet come to pass. She looked at him with affectionate mildness lacking in either curiosity or desire. Instead, she turned towards the trees, spotting a creature between the shadowy branches. It hissed at her and she leaned in to catch its words, drinking them in. Flashing amber eyes, the snake questioned her, and she spoke of her desire to eat the golden-hued fruit. The Earthling stood by her in silence, as the snake coiled around the bough, its hiss seductive. You will not die if you eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And you will not die touching it, either. The Voice has not spoken truthfully to your mate. Touch it, see?
She held out her hand, pressed it against the smooth bark, a deep, glowing bronze, and strangely, she felt the tree hum and pulsate beneath her hand, like it was alive more in the way that she was alive and less like a tree. She felt her heart beat in rhythm with the tree, singing the eternal song of the garden and of life and the eternal expanse overhead. Her hand had shook as she had reached out to it; whether out of fear or anticipation, she could not say. But the fruit looked enticing, glorious to her eyes, and drawing her in with the promise of knowledge. Questions brimmed at the edge of her consciousness. An endless fount of questions. If only she ate one of the globes, lighting up the night, like fragrant stars tumbled from the firmament. If only, she would find answers.
‘Please don’t’, she heard him whimper. But why stop now? Maybe he was wrong. Maybe the Voice was wrong. Or the Voice didn’t want to be usurped by them. A strange emotion took hold of her. Curiosity, will, rebelliousness perhaps. At least that was the word he would later brandish accusingly against her. But she just wanted to know. She wanted to test and try, to search out and discover. Her hand felt steady against the bark and she still felt very much alive.
If only she could see from one end of the universe to the next. The snake had said that the fruit would enlighten her eyes. In the still darkness of the night, she decided to test some more. Light, she thought. Light to bring back what had been. Light, to steady their souls, to answer their questions, to call them to choice, to illumine their path. How could this be a bad or a deadly thing?
She felt a rush of overpowering love; both from within and without. ‘Mother of all Life’, the Voice whispered with tender anticipation. ‘Choose, and eat.’