Zona worked in a jewelry store. In her long dresses and her long hair braided all the way to her feet, she had a soft way about her. Each customer she treated like they were the only person alive. When she was asked about this, how she managed to focus on that person, she said, “Meditation. I meditate for sixty minutes each day.”
Zona had worked in the shop for ten years. She was always the first there and the last to leave. The owner was amazed at her commitment. He had never seen another who had that kind of commitment to anything. It just wasn’t done.
After thirty years of marriage, the owner’s wife died. He loved her deeply but she left him no children. The two of them had wanted children, but, after ten years, they quit trying. It was the gods’ plan for them and they accepted it. Although begrudgingly.
After a year’s time after her death, Mr. Kelps, the owner, began to think about Zona. She too had lost her husband. She and Min had only been married a year. Then she had gone to work for Mr. Kelp to support herself. His wife had liked Zona.
One night, Mr. Kelp closed the shop early. He asked Zona into his office after the other three workers left. Looking across from his desk, he said, “Zona?” He smiled. He liked the sound of her name. “I have a request.”
Zona’s response was yes, she would be willing to work a sixth day.
“That’s not what I am going to ask. You work hard five days a week and that is enough.”
Zona listened, thinking maybe a raise. She was happy with her salary. It provided for all her needs. And she had enough left over to save for her old age.
Then he asked, “Zona, would you be my wife?”
Never in a thousand years had she suspected such a thing. Mr. Kelps could have any of a number of young women in the city he wanted. Their fathers would gladly agree. Why her? In all the ten years she had worked at the shop, she had not imagined marriage. Through the years, she had come to love the kind man she sat across from. But she thought it was the love of a sister she had for him.
He continued, “I have realized over the last year how much you mean to me. You are not just an employee. Of all those I know, you are the one I trust most. And how much affection I have for you. This past week, I realized that it is more than affection. It is love. I have fallen in love with you.”
Zona listened as she listened to each person who was speaking to her.
He continued, “Have no fear. If you say no, you will not have to worry about losing your work here. And I will never speak of this again. Only you and I will know. But if you say yes, I will be happier than the gods.”
“May I think about your request?” she asked. “I will give you an answer at the end of six days.”
“Of course,” Mr. Kelps said. “Take your time. I only want your happiness. And consult any one you need.” As he watched the woman leave, he knew his wife would have been pleased with his choice.
That night, Zona went home. She prepared and ate her dinner of rice and vegetables. Then she cleaned up and sat for her evening’s meditation. Sitting on the floor before her mandala, she meditated longer than usual. She turned to her husband’s ashes. “Min, what do you think? Is this what I should do?”
Anytime Zona had a question or just wanted to bear her soul to someone, she addressed her husband’s ashes as they sat in the urn by her mandala. Even if she did not have an answer, she always felt comforted that her Min was close by. This time she was very concerned. If she married Mr. Kelp, Min would no longer be the one she shared thoughts and concerns with. She was not sure she could live without Min in her life.
She crawled into her bed and pulled the large blanket over her body. And she cried. She had not cried this way since her husband’s funeral. After the funeral, she had wanted to end her days. But she held back. It was a great sin she would be doing. Her people believed that. No matter what happened. One did not take fate into one’s hands. One struggled and lived with their destiny. Was Mr. Kelp her destiny? Only Min and the gods could tell her.
For four nights, she sat before the mandala and Min’s ashes. She had spoken her mind and she waited on Min and the gods. Only they would present a way forward. If they were silent, that also was her answer. She would not marry her employer.
On the fifth night, Zona had a dream. She walked along a pathway. On each side of the path were lovely trees and the most beautiful flowers. The path was wide enough for three. On her right side walked Min. On her left was one of the gods. They held her hands and they walked for what must have been hours until they came to a gate. Min and the god let go of her hands. Min gently pushed her forward through the gate.
Zona did not hold back but she did not go forward willingly. That was her way. Min and the god knew that.
She went through the gate, then turned and saw that Min was giving her his blessing. He leaned through the gate and kissed her cheek. So did the god. Then they were gone.
Zona turned to see a garden filled with flowers. She had never smelled such fragrance from flowers before. Then a rooster outside crowed and she woke up. Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
She dressed the way she always did. She had her morning rice. Then she gathered up the urn and went to the temple.
A priest met the woman. She passed him the urn. Neither spoke a word. The priest knew what he was to do.
Zona left the temple. There wasn’t a smile or a frown on her face. There was only the peace she always wore.
The priest took the urn and scattered the ashes onto the fire lit for the gods. He said a prayer, then handed the urn to an assistant. Then he turned back to the fire and said, “Goodbye, Min. Your time on this earth is done.”
Min’s ashes gathered into what had once been Min and he flew away to join the gods.