Udiya sat cross-legged on the carpet, holding a match in her hand. It was time to pray. She gathered up her cat, Bast II, and sat her upon the elaborate faux gold cat stand she had commissioned as a throne for her. Lighting the incense, she begins to chant. Her friend and recent convert, Katie, kneeled beside her. Udiya chants for protection from strangers, for kittens for Bast, for children; and Katie follows suit. Then Udiya breaks from tradition: she silently prays for the death of Sarah by fire. Sarah from 3B who once kicked Bast as she was coming in from a late-night hunt and Sarah was drunkenly stumbling in from a late-night hump.
Udiya gazed first into the eyes of the solid gold statue of the cat goddess Bastet above Bast II’s head, then into Bast’s eyes. She could see her future in those eerily yellow orbs; she knew this to be true: that she would bring death to Sarah. Udiya was descended from an ancient female line of cat worshippers who kept the faith in secret, going so far as to give their children Hebrew names in a laughable attempt to “blend in” with a predominantly Christian town. Udiya was the ember, the flame. The only one who lit incense to pray; she had to have something burning. Tomorrow, it would be Sarah. Standing, Udiya walked over to the stove and glanced at the clock. It was past ten. She said her goodbyes to Katie. She knew she must sleep, for in the morning, she would bring fire into the world. Katie left, unaware of Udiya’s silent, secret prayer.
The next day came cloudy and wet, not good burning weather. Still, Udiya rose at 6:30AM, the time Sarah always went out to jog. She walked to the front door and stared out the peephole. Listening carefully she could hear the muted, doomed footsteps of her hall mate. It was now or never. Tension filled Udiya’s body as she listened to the approaching footsteps, now passing 2B, now! Udiya sharply inhaled, as Sarah….kept walking. Nothing happened. Not even a spark of electricity from the overhead hall lights to cause a freak electrical fire. Sarah was out the door and into the stairwell as Udiya slumped to the ground in front of hers. Strength to get up would not come to Udiya, not without great effort, and she was beyond that. She slumped onto her side wondering why her prayer went unanswered. What wrong she had committed to deserve this rejection. She could think of none.
Have I failed in my faith somehow? Udiya could not understand how her goddess had failed her. Why had her wishes been shunned? Had Bastet not heard her cries? Her constant lamentations at night often resulted in a flurry of shouts from the neighbors to “pipe down all that nonsense”. Clenching and unclenching her hands Udiya stared at the modest statue of Bastet that sat on the bookcase behind Bast’s throne. Crawling on hands and knees she pushed the throne aside and stared up through tearful eyes at her goddess’ likeness.
“Everything I have ever done, I have done in your name,” she whispered. Bast II meowed from the opposite side of the room, pawing once again at the safe that held Bast I’s mummified corpse. Slowly, as if in a trance, Udiya turned to look at Bast. Bast I had never failed her mother, why should Basts’ child fail her? “You are supposed to be the REINCARNATION!” Udiya yelled in fury, leaping to her feet. Bast yowled in alarm and stood facing Udiya, fur on end. But no, she could not do it; to do it would be punishable by death. Still Udiya stared. At the matches. At Bast II. At the matches. At Bast II.
Deflating like a balloon, Udiya calmed herself; her thoughts had taken a dangerous, fatal turn. Perhaps there was some reason why her prayer had not been answered. After all, Bastet was not a genie. Udiya snorted at the thought, what self-respecting almighty being had no will of its own? But this was no time to get philosophical. She would have to take matters into her own hands. Yes, that must have been the message. A message to find the strength within; Sarah had committed a grievous error in hurting Bast, blood alcohol content at the time be damned, and Udiya would make her pay.
Udiya decided to go about her day as if nothing was wrong. She showered then ate a bowl of cereal; she dressed, walked outside and waited for the number seven bus. The bus pulled up and had to lower the right side to accommodate a little old woman with two handfuls of plastic bags filled with who knew what. She had a plastic bonnet on and was wearing a peach housecoat. Udiya boarded after her and was forced to sit next to her on the full bus. Near the back a young boy was blasting rap music on his phone, a woman in a pinstripe suit was yelling at someone on the phone, her coffee cup poised at a dangerous angle in her left hand. A baby cried. It was another ordinary day on the route but Udiya felt her annoyance intensify into hatred. Every damn day these loud, annoying, non-believers walked around worshipping themselves, their phones, their salaries. Who do they think they are? Udiya thought. And yet, each of these people, probably even the boy with the phone, was better off than she was.
Udiya had come into her apartment from her mother, and her way of paying for it on an allowance of $3,000 a month vested upon her by her father, his way of making up for not playing a role in her life while he was busy flying high in the corporate world. The old woman turned to Udiya suddenly, “You’re much too young to wear such a devilish expression. Why are you angry girl?”
Udiya was stuck. Why was she so angry? Hadn’t she already decided to take manners into her own hands? “I want something, but I can’t get it,” Udiya replied.
“Nothing is out of reach for nothing girl,” the old woman replied, “In its own time, it will come to you. Then, and only then will you get any joy out of this gift you are waiting for.”
The old lady smiled and patted Udiya’s knee, then turned back to stare out the window. Then and only then will you get any joy out of this gift. What did that mean? Udiya felt she would have been perfectly happy to watch Sarah burst into flames this morning. And who was this old bag lady to tell her to wait any longer? It had already been a month since the drunken kick that had Bast mewling like a kitten and bedridden for a week. The bus pulled to a stop and the woman got off, forgetting one of her bags. Before Udiya could call out, the bus was veering back into traffic. She would just take it and give it to the old woman tomorrow, she resolved. The man sitting across from Udiya frowned at her as she slipped her hand through the plastic handle. Udiya glowered at him and he turned away.
Work slipped by in a haze of disgruntled department store customers searching for tacky outlet covers, toilet paper, and khaki pants. Udiya hated her job but it was the only way she could get money to take her yearly trip to Egypt to bask in the land of Bastet. She couldn’t quit. On the way home Udiya stopped to get a coffee from a neighborhood café. As she sat sipping her latte she pondered what the old lady from the bus had meant and realized the woman had hit the nail on the head. Udiya was too impatient. Always wanting things to happen on her schedule; when she had prayed to Bastet for her father to agree to pay for her Egypt trips, she grew downright hostile waiting three months for an answer, until finally she got fed up and followed up on a “We’re Hiring!” poster she’d seen on her last trip to the store. Udiya paused with the mug midway to her mouth. Had that been Bastet’s grace bestowed upon her or Udiya’s own doing?
Her phone rang: it was Katie. She wanted to know why the others said Udiya seemed down at work. She didn’t mean to, but the story tumbled out of Udiya’s mouth; the kick, the hateful prayer, the silence.
“Surely Bastet is not ignoring you,” Katie began, “maybe it just wasn’t the right time?”
Udiya assented but hastily changed the subject. She didn’t want to cause Katie to start doubting her connection with Bastet. Katie was new and Udiya could tell she was still a little skeptical. Katie had been a Lutheran before meeting Udiya. Feeling something lacking in her faith, Katie was mesmerized by the gilded idols that littered Udiya’s apartment. Udiya always seemed to get what she wanted, and that was exactly the kind of lifestyle Katie wanted.
Udiya began thinking back on other decisions and occurrences in her life. Had prayer made her horrible acne go away? Or was it the overpriced skincare regimented whose commercial seemed to play on a constant loop? Panicking, Udiya set the sup down. No, surely she was being foolish. These were gifts from Bastet, not the workings of a weak mortal like herself. She laughed nervously. A man turned from his newspaper and frowned at her, looking for the phone or the earpiece. Udiya stood as a rush of doubt crept into her mind. What if it was all you? No, no she couldn’t believe it, couldn’t go back on her family’s faith. Udiya left the coffee shop and began an aimless walk. She was 40 blocks from home but she didn’t care. She took a meandering route, not paying attention to where she was going until something would startle her and she’d have to backtrack three or six blocks to get back on the right path to home.
Endless doubt swirled around Udiya’s brain like so many storm clouds. Cold fingers gripped her heart and her hairs danced on the back of her neck. What if we are just crazy? She thought, remembering her mother and grandmothers’ teachings. No dogs, men only for reproduction, no friends outside the faith, no consumption of fish before the cat had its fill, nothing but Bastet. Was it all just nonsense? Udiya hoped to Bastet that it wasn’t but who could be sure? People said there were no gods, only man and the stars. She had always laughed at astrologists. Now she began to reconsider. Is that all there is to guide us; Orbs of gas and hunks of rock? Udiya shook her head.
Ten blocks away from home she was near a nervous breakdown. She was sweaty and cold and hot and crying. Then she heard the sirens. She picked up her pace and lightly jogged the last five blocks home. A large crowd was standing in the street; police officers were saying something about an electrical malfunction. A paramedic crew was rolling out a long black bag on a stretcher. The second floor of her building was on fire, smoke pouring and flames licking out of the third window from the front; 3B, Sarah’s apartment. Udiya spotted Katie in the crowd, turning Katie smiled at Udiya, a smile that spoke of triumph. Udiya didn’t know why, but that smile made her uneasy. She lost her grip on the old lady’s bag and it fell on the sidewalk with a sharp crack, like glass breaking. Frowning, Udiya opened the bag and finally learned what she’d been carrying all day. It was a glass Egyptian statue of Sekhmet, who had the head of a lion and was the goddess of war.
“In its own time, it will come to you. Then, and only then will you get any joy out of this gift you are waiting for.”
A shiver went down Udiya’s spine as a clear cat’s meow rang out from across the street.
“Grace,” she whispered.