She guides her eight-year old in until the water comes up to his chest. It is cold, not yet warmed by the sun. She likes to come between dawn and sunrise, when the place is empty. She needs the water’s healing powers concentrated. Also, the odor is not as powerful. The later it gets in the day, the more the water smells like sulfur and rotten bananas. She attributes this to the lake working overtime to accommodate the hordes of people who come during the day.
The half-naked child does not resist, not since their first visit, when he swallowed water and almost drowned. He is silent, uninterested. The mother mistakes this as obedience and thanks her god for giving her such a docile offspring. The child does not care for the miracle cure. The hole in his heart is just that—a hole inside, hidden. And is nothing special.
“Take a deep breath,” the mother whispers. “Pinch your nose and keep your mouth and eyes closed.” Holding the trembling child by the head, the mother dips him. She tries to make her movements graceful and slow, the only proper way, like how Saint John the Baptist must have done. This is the mother and child’s fourth time here. And she believes her son is getting better. Isn’t he eating more and keeping most of his food down? Isn’t the yellow of his skin deepening, becoming brown? His hair too, isn’t it getting darker? Sure, it is still wiry and easily pulled off the scalp, but it is no longer pale red, a common feature among the malnourished. And his limbs… they remain weak. A bit weaker since their daily pilgrimages. His fingers can hardly hold a pencil. He can hardly write his name. And he has not been talking much. But maybe the curative energies are focusing on his heart, borrowing life from other body parts and bodily functions. Maybe the sixth or seventh or the eighth visit will correct these.
Save for the small disturbances made by a human holding down another, the water is still and glistens like a giant polished jade stone. No one knows how this lake came to be. No one remembers who first proclaimed its supernatural quality. And no one dares to investigate. To be a mystery, isn’t that the essence of miracles? It is enough that the lake is in a perfect circular shape and that it sits in a tiny flat land protected by high mountains on all sides.
After the tenth visit, the child is listless, can hardly stand. The lake’s healing power is depleted, the mother thinks. She needs to find the source. The jade water must have come from somewhere. Imagine the power at its origin.
She straps the boy on her back. He is lighter than the small pack of nourishment tied around her waist. She sets out after midnight. The terrain, loose rocks and foot-wide paths along bluffs, even with only a pinch of moonlight, is not treacherous, not for her native legs. She is prepared to trek for one, two, three days. Sheer will is what makes her a mother. But, no more than five hours into her quest, breaking only a single drop of sweat, she steps around the first mountain and sees what could only be the jade water’s source. On this side the mountain is bare and gutted. Yellow backhoe excavators, loaders, trenchers, machines for digging and moving earth line the bottom of the spherical path. Yes, of course, others are also searching for the potent source. The mother starts to make her way down. Before the first turn, she notices a trailer set back far away from the path. She approaches this. In the faint pre-dawn light, she slowly reads, mouthing each syllable, Amalgamated Mining Corporation.