He stroked his daughter’s hair and smiled at her, his eyes begging for her to hear how proud he was to have her in his life.
But that’s not why they hiked up the mountain at sunrise this day. This day was the day that his daughter had come of age, the day when she would finally learn of her fate.
The father beckoned her to a dark entrance carved out in the mountain wall. “My daughter, my precious daughter, you have been confused about what your role among our people will be. You do not know what to do with your life. And so, now that you are old enough to make the journey, you will discover your destiny.”
“Is that why we’re at the Sacred Shrine?” she asked.
“Yes. Just as fathers before me have brought their daughters before you, and mothers have brought their sons, so will we now take part in this grand tradition.”
With a nervous nod, the exotic teenage girl said, “I’m ready, father.”
“Once you enter,” her father said, stroking his short, brown beard, “there will be five oracles. Each one will inform you of your destiny, but only one will be speaking the truth.”
The girl gulped loudly.
“It is up to you to determine which one is truthful. You may enter when you are ready.”
He observed his daughter, her solid stature, her poise in even the most stressful of circumstances, then he looked to the entrance and then back to her.
As she eyed the obscure entrance, he looked to the sky, then back to her.
As she bit her lip, he looked to the ground, then back to her.
“You may enter any time now,” he said. “At this rate, the sun will set by the time you’re halfway there.”
“Yes, father,” she said with a spurted laugh.
Approaching the entrance, she took a deep breath, her hands carefully crawling along the jagged, rocky sides as she disappeared into the mouth of the Sacred Shrine.
The father sat, closed his eyes, and meditated in the warming sun as he waited for his daughter to return.
He listened as the wind spoke of its adventures flying free.
He drifted with the leaves fluttering down from their respective swaying branches.
He felt the immobile travels of each blade of grass surrounding him.
He hoped his daughter would get back quickly because he had to go and he didn’t want to relieve himself near the Sacred Shrine.
Plus, what if she caught him in the act of defiling the area around the shrine? How embarrassing would that be?
Opening his eyes, he stood and turned to see his daughter exiting the Sacred Shrine, her face awash in disappointment.
“What happened?” he asked.
Bowing her head, she said, “It was a waste of time.”
“What did the oracles say to you?”
“One of them said I would become a seamstress. Another told me I’d spend my life as a cook. The other two said I was destined to be a crafts maker and a barmaid.”
Her father stroked his beard. “You sound almost ill.”
“I am. I don’t want to be any of those things. Every time I was told what I was destined to do, I felt in my heart that I wanted to do something else.”
With interest, he asked, “And that would be?”
“I want to be a caretaker, like auntie. I want to care for the elderly, help them, listen to their stories, and learn from the wisdom they’ve acquired over their many years.”
She gazed up at her father, his proud eyes returning her bold stare as she added, “One day, I want to pass on what I’ve learned to whoever will listen to me.”
“So which of the five oracles were truthful with you?”
The daughter became frustrated. “That’s another thing! You said there were five oracles inside, but there were only four. Where was the fifth oracle? I even questioned the other four about the whereabouts of the fifth and they wouldn’t answer me!”
“My daughter,” the father said as he smiled, “I did not tell you there were five oracles inside the Sacred Shrine. I told you that once you entered the Sacred Shrine, there would be five oracles.”
He knelt down.
Eye to eye with his daughter, he pointed to her heart. “The fifth oracle is the one inside of you. And as you have discovered, it will always be truthful.”