Sand and soot and wreckage fills the rivers and streams under the desert, and the bricks are falling in, mud brick dating back almost to old Babylon and the canals. Her sisters, silent now in their collapsed cisterns and broken channels, would have remembered, the hammered gold, the temple pegs, the offerings. Father Enki and his daughter Inanna, lapis, and holocausts made in the name of propitiating the Fertile Crescent.
Cassai does not remember, for all there has been are the springs under her land, and she loves it. Loves the skinny, mud-streaked boys wrapped in linen and hemp, squirming down ladders into the darkness, making offerings of mud brick and food. Loves the men who bring tools into the moist darkness. Loves the old men who teach the boys, who follow the men. Who die, weak and exhausted, far below, alongside her trickling currents, who widen and deepen her flow. Each and every one is an offering, sweeter to her than any Babylonian coin or burnt offering.
The stories might bring comfort now, for Cassai huddles alone, mud streaking limbs once made of water. Her face, upturned, is clad in rags stripped from dead men, from the cloth of garments centuries old, from the torn robes of centuries of engineers who have shored up her architecture. Having been given human form, it hurts to wait under the lid and to hear the howl of the wind, to wait for them to come.
She does not count time as some men do, but counts in the slowing trickle, the mud, the blocking of stream and stream flowing down her qanat. Counts in the spine that shrivels and dries, becomes brittle. Waits for the lid to raise. Her boys and her men and the elders will come, as they have for generations. The lid will come back, and the stars or the clear, piercingly blue sky will filter down, eddying across her waters. Cassai will sparkle, a watery angel dancing once again through their cities, their cisterns, in their buckets, in their camps. Miles and miles will flow to them, and she rejoices. Her eyes, grey and colorless, watch.
As the lid comes back and she raises her arms to the sky, the first shovel of cement rains down from above, choking out the blue of day under a curtain of stone.