The Story of Death

This story is from a collection of The Storyteller’s Goddess: Tales of the Goddess and Her Wisdom from Around the World by Carolyn McVickar Edwards.

THERE IS NOT enough room!” the people were crying. “There is not enough room!”
It was true. Plants were so thick on the forest floors that the strongest knives could not cut paths through them. Corn and rice grew so high in the fields that they towered like trees over the people. People had not enough to eat in those times, because no one died. Babies came a grew bigger and bigger, but people did not get old and they never left Earth.
That was when the Goddess Kali turned over in Her sleep. The people’s cry, “There’s not enough room!” became part of Her dream. But She must have been ready to awake because the next cry, “There’s not enough room!” woke Her and She sat up. “You disturb My sleep!” She bellowed, rubbing Her eyes with Her fists.
“There’s not enough room!” the people cried.
Kali drew on Her robes. She walked to Her window and threw it open to look out on the world. She put Her dark hands on the sill and leaned out. Her black hair ruffled in the wind. What She saw made Her draw back into Her room.
She saw crowds of people piled on each other to get at vats of food in buildings crammed together so tightly it was hard to see the sky. Animals swarmed through the throngs. The air was hot with sweat and perfume and soil.
Kali, inside, licked Her lips. Her hands went to Her hips. “Time!” She yelled.
Her servant, Time, came running. “Bring Me My red sari,” She ordered. Time brought the garment, dark as the colour of blood.
Kali threw off the gray robes of sleep and fastened the red about Her. “Clothe yourself,” She said to Her servant. “We are going out. And bring Me My jewels.”
Time did as bidden. He took up Her gray robes for himself and put on shoes the shape of fish. Then he brought Kali Her necklace, glinting with skulls.
“Take these,” Kali said, and She thrust gifts wrapped in golden paper into Time’s hands. “Now call My chariot!”
The chariot came, pulled by eight white stallions and eight black mares. Fire leapt from its wheels when Kali and Time climbed to its platform. With a loud cry, Kali raised Her hand and let loose the rein.
The horses smoked across the distance to Earth. Before each village, Kali drew in the rein. Her servant Time stepped from the chariot and handed the gold-wrapped gifts to people who crowded at each stop.
In each package the people found Kali’s gifts. Spider webs. Dust. Decay. Mold. Worms. Rust. Mushrooms. Crumbling. Rot. Mildew. The smell of rich earth. Aging.
It was on that day that crops knew more than just blooming and growing. They knew also the withering that returned them to the soil. It was on that day that the plants of the forest floor began to add to the blackness of the soil so the trees could grow. Animals had babies, but now the babies grew old. Humans too began to age. They also began to die, so there would be room for their children.
Kali and Her servant Time returned to Her palace. Exhausted She fell, still crimson-clothed, across Her bed. Time undressed Her gently and tucked Her under the covers.
Kali is the Goddess who dances at funerals and sometimes stops babies from being born. Kali still rides with Her servant, Time. Since that first trip, though, Time has carried his own presents. Time gives people the gifts of white hairs, and he wraps them carefully in the gold paper of wisdom and acceptance.

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