The first thought that entered her mind when they told her was not for her parents but for her. The second was guilt because she had thought the first thought. And the third was an emptiness so huge, she felt her knees buckle underneath her.
It had only been one year since that day. One year since the ground had been ripped out from under her. Since they told her that her parents were dead.
Life had not been perfect before they died. She was an only child and her parents were consumed with their desperate attempts to make ends meet event though they never did. They lived in an unkempt neighbourhood that was home to some unattractive elements but it was still home. Kids still played ball in the street and rode their bicycles home from school and she had friends there.
When her parents had died there were no relatives to take her and no friends from the neighbourhood who wanted her, so she was sent to a home. A clean, clinical-smelling home where she shared a dormitory-type room with fourteen other girls. She had a room full of people every day and still she had never felt so lonely.
But on one particular day her lonesome existence changed. Perhaps changed is too tame a word. She had thought the death of her parents had turned her world upside down but what she was about to discover would change her forever. Change her in a way she had never imagined.
Every week the girls would be taken on an outing and that week they were taken to the shore. The weather was not warm, in fact it held a chill that was unusual for that time of year, but the girls swam nonetheless. Naomi did not. Instead she went wandering up the shore, wanting to leave behind the shrill giggles of the girls and have some solitude for a while. Her feet seemed to direct themselves or perhaps she was too caught up in her own thoughts to pay attention to where she was going but soon she found herself at the entrance to a large cave. She could see that at high tide, the waves would crash right into the cave’s mouth, the sand was still soaked even though the waves did not reach it now. She looked back at the girls. The house mother’s were chatting incessantly without looking up. No one had even noticed that she was gone so she decided to take her adventuring a little further.
The cave’s entrance was huge – big enough to allow a bus to pass through it – and it was darker than pitch inside. Her eyes adjusted to the lack of light and she heard the sound of dripping water and a repetitive hum (which she assumed to be the echoes of the waves outside) further in the cave. She held her hands out and walked forward slowly. Each step she took she tested the ground to check that it was stable. She found it odd that she was not afraid, instead she began to feel the electric fingers of excitement making their way down her spine. She was anticipating something, something big. But not as big as what she found.
Her hands reached the end of the cave sooner than she had expected and the feel of them was unearthly. The texture was hard to describe – small sharp shapes that were silken to touch, kept repeating themselves over and over. It didn’t feel like rock at all. She ran her hand along it, trying to find out if the cave wall went all the way along. She only realised that something was entirely out of place when the wall shivered. She jerked her hand back.
“What on earth?” she whispered to herself, but the sound was entirely drowned out by a louder, more curious noise.
What sounded like an enormous yawn came from the same side of the cave where a large glowing light had suddenly appeared. At first Naomi thought the light was from outside, that she had found a hole in the cave, but it did not take her long to realise that it was in fact an eye. An enormous eye, bigger than her head.
She began to walk backwards as quickly as she could without drawing attention to herself but she found herself up against a barrier that hadn’t been there before.
“You’re not going to go before I can properly introduce myself are you Naomi?” a voice boomed from the direction of the eye.
Naomi stood for a moment and blinked. Hard. What in the world had she gotten herself into now, she wondered.
“Excuse me?” she said in a small voice that quivered slightly.
“I wanted to introduce myself.” The voice said, so deep that she felt as though it was a wave washing over her, “I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you.”
The eye moved with the head it was attached to and as it did sunlight poured into the cave from an opening the massive head had been hiding. The effect was brilliant. The sun danced on the enormous scaled belly of a dragon. Naomi gulped. A dragon? Was she dreaming? It sat up, its tail – which had blocked her way out only moments before – slid out from behind her and curled around the dragon’s hind legs.
The dragon smiled. Or at least Naomi supposed it did.
“You’re finally here.” The dragon sighed, “you’re much smaller than I thought you’d be.” He said, sizing her up with his huge eyes.
“I’m sorry, but are you a dragon?” Naomi asked when she finally found her voice.
The dragon laughed so that his belly jiggled, making the light it reflected dance frantically around the cave, “Yes, Naomi, I’m a dragon. At least, that is how I appear to you.”
Naomi stared at the dragon for some time. She found her initial fear fading away as she looked at the large beast. She supposed that if he were going to eat her, he would have done so already, which probably meant that he wasn’t going to. Perhaps he was a vegetarian – or just not hungry.
“And how is it that a dragon – who shouldn’t exist – knows my name?” She put her fists on her hips and arched her eyebrows. It was about time she got some answers.
“Yes, He said you would be feisty.” The dragon smiled.
“Who said?” Naomi asked, completely confused.
“You know.” He said and motioned his eyes upwards.
Naomi looked up at the ceiling of the cave. There was no one up there – who could the dragon mean?
“Feisty? yes. Bright? Not so much.” The dragon sighed, “I’m talking about God.”
“God?” Naomi frowned, “God told you my name?” Now she was sure she was dreaming. First she was seeing dragons and now the dragon had been talking to God! She must have slipped on a rock and hit her head – anything else was utterly preposterous.
“Oh he told me a lot of things about you.”
“Like what, exactly?” she asked.
“Like the fact that you haven’t spoken to him in a while. Since the day your parents died, to be exact.”
“Well, would I? He took my parents away – why on earth would I want to talk to him?” she folded her arms defiantly across her chest. For a dragon who claimed to know so much about her, he certainly was asking silly questions.
“Perhaps he has something He would like to say to you.”
“And he’s going to use a dragon?” she asked, snorting a laugh.
“Why not? You always used to like dragons.”
“But dragons don’t exist.”
“Well technically no, but I come from a realm where physical form isn’t very important. I’m only a messenger. God said that you would choose my form when the time was right.”
“I made you look like a dragon?” she asked, astounded now. Curious. Hopeful.
“So what do you really look like?”
“I don’t look like anything… not here anyway.” He shook his great head, his scales rattling as he did, “But I am not here to talk about my looks – although I do think I look marvellous – I’m here to deliver a message for you.”
“Oh really? From God?” she asked sarcastically.
“Yes. He said to tell you that even though your parents aren’t with you anymore, he has never left your side.”
The words were so simple but they struck her heart like a thousand arrows. Somewhere deep inside her, she knew it was the truth and it made her sob. Heavy, heart-wrenching sobs that although awful, seemed to make her feel so much lighter.
The dragon moved beside her, curling his tail comfortingly around her, and spoke in a soft voice,
“He loves you so, Naomi. He has walked beside you and watched you cry and had so desperately wanted to heal what’s been broken. But you held your hurt so deep inside and would not let him touch it. Let him heal you. Let him be the father you need.”
Naomi felt the waves of sadness turn into joy. She could feel the hurt being washed away by God and his awesome love. When finally she stopped crying and looked up, the dragon was gone. She thought she might miss him but was so thankful for the message he delivered. She knew everything in her had changed. God had loved her so much that even after all the times she had ignored him, he sent something that she had to pay attention to, just to tell her that he loved her.
She stepped into the sunlight again and felt the chilled sea breeze play in her hair. The house mothers still chatted, the girls still laughed amongst the waves – nothing had changed. Except her. She felt as though she were glowing and walking on air. God had spoken to her and she wanted to hear more.