“Now, the letter beta.”
Sophia smoothed out the sand once again. “Sit,” she told her granddaughter.
The child sat down.
“When you sat down, where did you sit?”
“On the ground?”
“That is right. You sat on the ground. On Ge, the earth. But what part of your body sat on the ground?”
“That is right. Your butt!”
The child giggled.
“You sat on the ground with your butt. This what a butt looks like.” Sophia drew the letter beta in the sand. “Now, draw a butt,” she told the child.
The child drew the letter beta.
“And when you take a step, what is that called? What is a step?”
“Yes, a basis. A basis is a step.”
“Everybody knows that, Maia.”
“That is right! Everybody knows it. And what is the base of a statue called?”
“Right. And ‘basagei,’ what does it mean?”
“Yes. The ‘base of Ge.’ Now, if I wanted to measure how deep the water is, the deepest point is called the ‘bathos.’ Do you know what ‘buthos’ means?”
“Very good. You are learning. Beta means the basis. That is why these words begin with the letter beta.
“On the night you were born, your father and I came here, right here, to this very beach. And we watched the sun set and we waited to see the stars, we wanted to know your basis, the sign rising at the time of your birth. Of course, we already knew that your sign was Leo, the Lion, but it is right and good on the night the child is born to watch for her sign on the horizon. We watched, we saw, we talked about your fate, your ‘bankon.’ Your ‘bankon’ is your destiny.”
“What is my destiny, Maia?”
Sophia grasped Eirene by her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Your destiny is to be strong. Fierce. Stronger than anything. Stronger than a bull.”
“Am I strong, Maia?”
“Yes, you are strong. The Lion draws the carriage for the Divine Mother, that is why the sign of the Lion appears first, then the sign of the Mother. She rides in a chariot drawn by lions. Let me hear you growl.”
“Growl,” the child said in a mock fierce voice.
“I am a bull,” Sophia put her index fingers above her head like horns. “I am going to attack the Divine Mother. I am charging toward her. My bull horns are lowered toward her, what do you do---“
“GROWL!” the child shouted, her hands hooked like claws.
Sophia laughed. “Yes. That is good.” She laughed and put her arm around the child. “That is very good.”
“What is your basis, Maia?”
A shadow came over Sophia’s animated expression. “On the night of my birth, my father did not come to see my sign on the horizon.”
“My mother did not survive my birth. It happens. It is the way of things. Sometimes with birth, comes death. With death, comes birth. The sun rises. It sets. It rises again.”
“So you don’t have a sign?”
“Of course I have a sign. Everyone has a basis. My eldest brother went to the beach with my Maia.”
“Great Uncle Tim?”
“Yes, Great Uncle Tim.”
“Did Great Uncle Max and ___ and ___ and ___ and___ and ___ go with him?”
“No, Great Uncle ___ and ___ were just little, they were bare-bottomed-babies! They were too little to go. Uncle Tim went to the shore with my Maia. They watched for the signs. My sign is Platigks, the Scales of Justice. Your mother was born under Capricorn, the horned pig.”
“Your sister’s basis is Karkinos.”
“Is that a good sign?”
“The crab? The crab?” Sophia crab-walked a few steps. “Let me see you walk like a crab. Can you? Look at Maia, I walk like a crab.” Sophia crab-walked with a bit more dexterity than one would expect from an old woman. “Can you walk like a crab?”
The child crab-walked. Sophia sat on the sand, laughing and clapping. An aged fisherman walked up.
“I will catch that crab and use it for bait,” he teased, pretending to approach Eirene.
“Oh, no! Eirene! Come to Maia! Maia will protect you!”
The child ran into her grandmother’s arms and hugged her, not sure if she should be afraid or not. Sophia and the fisherman laughed.
“Kalimera,” Sophia said to the man.
“Kalimera, Theia,” he said. He continued down the beach toward the docks.
“And now, I have something for you,” said Sophia. She searched in the folds of her gown.
“A present? Yes. A gift. A gift from Ge, the Divine Mother. She gives us all gifts. All gifts.”
Sophia held a small item wrapped in cloth and tied with flax. Her gnarled fingers struggled to untie the string.
“Here, Maia, I will do it,” said Eirene.
The child untied the string to reveal a very small ceramic bottle filled with dirt. Her face fell. Not a toy.
“The pot, it is filled with Ge, with dirt, a small bit of earth. Inside the dirt I have placed a seed. When the mother plant gives up her seed, the seed must go to the earth, to the Divine Mother, to be nourished so that the seed can grow. The roots go down into the earth, the sprout goes up, toward the sun and the rain, toward Helios and Zeus. When your seed sprouts, it will look like this.”
Sophia smoothed the sand near her with a sense of urgency. She drew the letter gamma. “What letter is that?” she asked.
“Yes. That is the letter gamma. That is what a sprout looks like when it comes out of Ge.” She drew the letter E to form the word “GE.”
“And now I will tell you one more story. This you must learn, and then we will go to the baker for treats.
“These are the words of Hesiod, from 1000 years ago. Say, ‘Hesiod.’”
“Now, listen and repeat:
“’Verily at the first Chaos came to be . . . “
The child repeats the words.
“’But next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundation . . .’”
“Now, again.” They repeat the exercise.
Sophia gets up from the sand, takes the little girl’s hand, and they walk back toward the town, continuing the repetition as they walk.