By Nileena Sunil
The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom, She consults a tablet of lapis lazuli She gives advice to all lands... She measures off the heavens, She places the measuring-cords on the earth.
Naina read those lines which she had written on the first page of her journal. They were lines from a hymn written by the ancient Sumerian priestess, En Hedu’anna, written in two-thousand three hundred BCE. Every time she read those lines, she felt a sense of awe, as well as of sadness. How grand, how inspiring those lines were, those lines written millennia ago, during the dawn of civilisation? She sighed. Once, she too had wanted to be like En Hedu’anna, an astronomer, or at least a poet. But that was not her destiny. She was stuck in her corporate job, one that seduced her with the prospects of a financially stable existence, and refused to let her escape from its web. She idly turned the pages of the journal with the intention of starting a new entry. Perhaps that would help her fall asleep.
She was not sure why she kept waking up in the middle of the night. It was not the first time, in fact she had been facing such interruptions for a while. She would go to bed at eleven, only to wake at around two, and she would then be unable to fall asleep again till around four. She had tried to force herself to sleep a few times, but she was unable to do so. I might as well embrace it and turn this into my new routine. She thought of the article she had read the other day about how medieval Europeans slept in two phases. They would go to bed in the evening, wake up s a little after midnight and wait for around an hour for their second sleep. In the interlude, they would pray or do chores or work or study. The article actually suggested the practice might not even be unique to medieval Europeans, rather it could be something found all over the world, for centuries, millenia even. If it was so common, then how harmful could it be? Only, she had nothing to do in the interlude. The idea of doing office work at that hour nauseated her, nor did she think she wanted to read or watch anything at that time. She thought she could write in her journal, but as she held the pen, she found out that no words flowed from it at that time.
Sighing, she decided to go to the terrace, to get some fresh air.
Naina looked at the stars. She had always thought there was something magical about them. She used her fingers to trace the tiny pinpricks of light, wishing she could identify constellations. There was a time when she knew how to, but she had forgotten. Orion was the only one whose location she could remember. The Hunter. There was a time she wanted to be an astronomer, but she eventually realised it wasn’t very realistic a dream for her. En Hedu’anna’s verse came back to her mind.
She measures off the heavens
Her mind turned to another female astronomer, from the pages of history. Maria Cunitz, from seventeenth Silesia, who authored a book that refined the works of Johannes Kepler. She imagined being an astronomer in those times, getting to look at a night sky sans light pollution, trying to calculate and make deductions without a calculator or the internet. Wasn’t it strange that it was that way for most of human history, yet such a life was unimaginable for those in the present? Naina’s mind went back to the Silesian astronomer and the life she had led. It must not have been easy to be a woman of science in those times.
Naina then thought again, of sleeping habits in the past. Biphasic sleep must have been the norm in Maria Cunitz’s time. Did she look at the stars between her sleep cycles as well? She hoped she did. It would be nice to have something like this in common with her, Naina thought as she descended the stairs.
Nileena Sunil is a student and a writer from India. She has previously written short stories for The Collapsar Directive and Flash Fiction Addiction, anthologies by Zombie Pirate Publishing.
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