Moon Lily

Once upon a time, deep in the jungles of the Amazon, there lived a little girl named Neca-Neca who, night after night, listened to the stories her father told.

One night he began to speak about the great warrior god who lived on the moon, and as he spoke, the girl chanced to look up in the sky.

There he was, his face shining down upon her in the light of the big, fat full moon.

Neca-Neca was enchanted, and she could not take her eyes off the face of the warrior god.

Her father smiled. “It is good that you love our stories,” he told his daughter.

The next night, as her father began to tell another story, he noticed his daughter was paying little attention. She was staring again up to the sky.

“What is wrong, child?” he asked his daughter, but she did not speak. She simply stared at the face of the warrior god.

For a while, her father did not worry, though Neca-Neca could not seem to forget this particular story. Every day she stared up at the sky, and when her father asked her what she watched, she replied, “I am waiting to see the warrior god of the moon.”

All-day long Neca-Neca waited to see her beloved moon god, and at night, when the moon was only a crescent, or when it disappeared, she bore its absence patiently. As she grew older, her father brought young men to meet her, but Neca-Neca shook her head. “I am going to marry the moon god,” she insisted.

At first, her family only laughed. “She will outgrow her foolishness,” her father promised her mother, but as the years passed, their despair grew. Neca-Neca did not outgrow her attachment to the moon god. Instead, she insisted she must marry the warrior god of the moon.

“You cannot marry him,” her mother said. “He lives in the sky; you are here on Earth.”

But Neca-Neca only shook her head, and every month, when the full moon rose, her heart swelled. She clapped her hands. She wept with joy. There in the light of the full moon, she could once again see the face of the only man she would ever love.

“Please, daughter,” her father begged. “Have some good sense,” but Neca-Neca no longer listened to her father. She listened only to her heart, which sent her out into the jungle on the moonlit nights. There she ran after the rays of the moon that beamed down through the jacarandas. She darted through the tangle of trees, reaching out, trying to catch the moonbeams, hoping she could embrace her love. But the more she ran, the farther she reached, the faster the moonbeams disappeared.

Neca-Neca was not daunted. “I will marry no one,” she told her parents, “except the warrior god of the moon. One day I shall find him and marry him.”

“What a dreamer,” everyone said, and they shook their heads. Her parents wept and tried everything they could to keep their daughter at home. But every time the moon was full, she disappeared into the jungle, chasing her dream.

And then one night, when the full moon shone with not a single cloud in the sky, Neca-Neca walked into the jungle, following the path of the moonbeams. She walked and walked, dreaming only of her beloved, and soon she came to a winding river that was clear and smooth as glass. She had walked for many miles as if she was walking in her sleep, and when she reached the water, she looked down and her heart filled with hope. There in the reflection of the water, she saw her beloved smiling up at her.

“My darling,” she breathed, stepping closer, staring hard at the reflection, “I knew you would come down to Earth.” And with these words, she stepped into the water to join him.

But Neca-Neca had never learned to swim, and within a few moments of entering the river, she was out of her depth. But in the silence of the jungle, only the parrots heard the splash, and they could do nothing to help her.

Neca-Neca drowned that night.

The warrior in the moon saw this happen, and his heart broke for the sadness he had caused the beautiful girl. Now he too was in despair, for he had no power to bring her back to life, and he had never had the power to bring her to the heavens to join him.

“How I wish I could have made her a star,” he sighed, and then he knew what he could do. He transformed Neca-Neca into a star on Earth, the star that the people of the Amazon call the Vitoria Regia or Royal Water Platter. Like Neca-Neca, the water lily is beautiful, and it opens at night, especially on those nights when the moon is full and there is not a cloud in the sky.

And in the daytime, just as when Neca-Neca waited patiently, the water lily closes her petals and rests.