Vignette 20: Write from the perspective of a blind citizen of Pompeii. They can be from any class or walk of life. They might experience the days leading up to the eruption differently than other citizens, and they will certainly experience the eruption itself differently than those around them.
Sitting at the markets was the best part of the day; it was here that Sarni made her living. Even blind, she was still the best hand at weaving, her nimble fingers working over the nets to repair rents and tears for the fisherman. Day after day, she would walk her way to her spot on the stones, waiting to receive her customers, to give back the nets that she had finished and to carry home the ones she was newly given.
The rich smells occupied her as her hands worked steadily and her unseeing eyes cast back and forth. She guessed at the pungent spices that wafted her way but they were hard to determine with her location being so close to the fish hall. Still, the fish mongers had small pots and braziers set up and sold hot seasoned samples of their wares to those shopping for their household. Business was brisk.
Today felt different, but Sarni could not exactly say how. The air felt heavier, if that were possible, and she could feel the press of it against her skin. It felt like a storm was coming but the sun shone warm and loving high above, proof that the gods watched over them. She could hear the chatter and murmur of vendors and customers alike, the market packed with slaves and owners, business of every sort being discussed between the walls of the Macellum. Her fingers worked over the tough cords that made up the net and enjoyed the caress of the warm morning sun. Her place by the wall was advantageous. By the time the heat of the afternoon arrived, she would be in the shade and still be comfortable.
Sarni allowed the familiar sounds of the hum the market made in the morning to flow in, and felt her fingers move quicker through the intricate twists of the net, when a rumble shook through her, something deep that was not a sound per say, but more of a vibration that caused Sarni's entire world to shake, the half finished net tumbled to her feet landing in a pile of soft fiber. She waited, expecting to hear shouts from those surrounding her, but no one made a sound, only the continued sounds of people selling and buying their wares.
"Maybe it was simply my own imagination" , she told herself, but something in her gut told her that it was so much more than that, something had felt sinister. ** The recent tremors reminded her of the tremors leading up to the Great Quake during the anniversary of Augustus about 13 years ago. ** The priests said there was no reason to be alarmed though, so she prayed to the gods that they were right.
She felt around for the fishing net she had been working on when she felt a pair of leather sandals.
She instantly recognized the voice. It was Cacallus, her longtime friend. When so many abandoned her after she lost her sight from being hit on the head during the Great Quake, he stuck with her. She had lost her shop, her livelihood, and was near broke. Cacallus would get her food from the nearby Thermopolium.
He still brought her treats from time-to-time, even though now she didn't need the financial help
"I brought you an extra special treat today, Opimian Vintage!" Cacallus exclaimed.
"You are too kind Cacallus, but how can I ever repay you?" Sarni asked.
"Don't worry about it amicus, it only cost an extra 15 denarri," Cacallus answered.
"15 DENARRI!!!" Sarni cried, "that's nearly a week's wages for you!"
"Don't worry about it, you deserve it."
"Why do you waste your money on me? You need to save up and leave the city. Go to Roma, or Syracuse or Alexandria even! Just leave this place like all the other smart people, Pompeii is well past its prime for trade after the Great Quake," she said.
Cacallus paused for a minute, and although Sarni could not see his face, she could imagine that he had on a small smile.
"Leave you behind in the city? I fear the both of us would become fearfully lonely."
Sarni replied with a humorless laugh, "You would never be lonely, Cacallus. You are far too friendly for all of that."
"No matter," Cacallus said, "Pompeii does after all have the best wine, I'd be lost without it."
His words caused Sarni to break into a fit of laughter, a rare occasion for her, after the accident, it sometimes felt as if the ability to laugh had left her in the same blow as her sight. If anyone could bring a laugh to her mouth, it was Cacallus though. Her heart was full when he was near.
The faint scent of melting wax reached Sarni's nose, signaling the beginning of the Vulcanalia Festivities. Sarni began to feel around her surroundings so she could stand up.
"Let me help you," Cacallus insisted.
"Thank you," Sarni replied.
"We'd best get to the temples, the sacrifice should be starting soon," said Cacallus as he helped Sarni up.
Sarni didn't know why, but she had always hated these festivals. There were so many in such a brief period of time. In fact they had just had one two days ago. But there was something else, the way they had been celebrated for the past several centuries seemed heretical. After all, they were supposed to sacrifice a human to repay the gods for their generosity in keeping all of our souls on Mother Earth, but now they just throw a few small animals and fish into a big bonfire and call it good. She felt that this would have been evident as not being a good practice after the Great Quake and the Great Fire of Rome, but there was no change.
"And who knows? Maybe we will go back to the old traditions like you always go on about. Watch out though, maybe you'll be the first sacrifice," Cacallus snickered.
Sarni couldn't help but smile, but she still had a feeling of dread hanging over her.
Since losing her sight, Sarni's other senses seemed to work better than others. Those senses, combined with her sense of intuition, which she had always trusted, made that dread thick today. She tried to keep that smile on for others. She didn't want her mood to affect them.
"Maybe I'm just imagining it," she thought to herself. But her sense of smell was picking up an unusual scent as well. "I think maybe I should tell someone," Sarni whispered softly.
"What did you say"? Cacallus asked gruffly.
"Nothing. Nothing", replied Sarni quickly.
She didn't want him to worry and mostly she didn't want to worry herself.
"Oh well, come on then," he said.
They both walked in silence to the temple each preoccupied in their own thoughts. Cacallus couldn't help but wonder what was worrying Sarni. He has known her long enough to know when she was hiding her thoughts. He knew better than to press her about it.
With passing minutes, Sarni felt the danger more and more. Just as she was about to confide in Cacallus, she realized that they had reached the temple.
She never liked the new sacrifices because she preferred the original one where humans were sacrificed. It made more sense that way. That was the way the elders did it. It was the only way to truly satisfy the gods. Today, she didn't even notice the sheep that was sacrificed nor did she complain to Cacallus about it the way she normally did. She was just lost in the lingering sense of danger. She didn't even realize when the ritual was over. By then, Cacallus was really worried. As they left the temple, he took her aside and asked her what was bothering her. Sarni was initially hesitant, but she finally gave in.
"It's just that I can feel that something is wrong. I don't know how to explain this to you. I can just feel it," Sarni said.
"What do you mean?", asked Cacallus.
"I just feel it -- the smell, the air, everything. Do you feel it?"
"No sorry. I don't feel anything different. Maybe you are just imagining it. Come let me walk you home, we'll walk by the Sarno River. I know it always calms you".
Sarni reluctantly agreed but she knew that her senses were not deceiving her.
They went back for her nets and started for her place. She lived near the Sarno River. Sarni was a young, vibrant girl and being the youngest in the family she was always loved and pampered. She had beautiful brown eyes which captured everyone's attention.
Cacallus was her childhood friend. He lived next door. They use to play and eat together. They wandered in the streets of Pompeii, and beside the river from morning to evening. They use to swim and fish.
Sarni grew up to be very beautiful woman and with her brown eyes she could spellbind any man in Pompeii. Her flawless black hair resembled the clouds over the mountain on a rainy day. She had dimples in her cheeks when she smiled. Sarni was nothing short of the most beautiful woman for miles around, but Sarni had always been in love with Cacullus. She never told him about her feeling as she was waiting for the right moment.
She never got her chance. The earthquake took everything from her; her family, her friends, her house and her eyes. Now she lived just in a small house close to the river for fresh water and also far from civilizations for peace and freedom.
Cacallus has also loved Sarni. He loved the way she smiled when they were together. He loved her for the innocent soul that she was. He was also waiting for the right moment but the earthquake messed up everything. In the aftermath of the earthquake what Sarni needed was not a relationship but a friend. He kept his emotions in check and was waiting for the perfect moment again. Cacaullus was always worried about her. Given her condition, it was easy for her to be injured and there was no one close by to help. He has often expressed her fear to her. She would just reply: "I place my trust in the Gods."
"I will stay with you always, Sarni. I will keep you safe."
That's what Cacallus always felt like telling her but the time never seemed right. Maybe today was the right. His mind made up, Cacallus was going to tell her today. Suddenly, the ground shook. It was just like Sarni had felt earlier. She felt to the ground. Cacallus quickly helped her up.
"Are you fine?", he inquired worriedly.
"Yes, I am fine, this is what I was talking about".
"But this often happens, don't be worried. Let me take you home".
They were quite accustomed to minor earth tremors in the region. Cacallus could not understand Sarni's concern.
Sarni had a hard time sleeping, she would again and again relieved the earthquake that took everything fromm her. Every now and then, she felt an earth tremor. Indeed she was quite accustomed to the tremors but this time it felt different and dangerous. She silently prayed to the gods to keep her safe.
The next morning she made her way as usual to the market. However, she couldn't concentrate. She could not complete some of the nets. They were due from last night. Some of the customers were angry with her. Around mid-day Cacallus came to seeh her. He knew she must still be worried. Even during the nights there had been many tremors. He could not sleep as he was worried about her. He reached her spot only to find an unpleased customer leaving angrily.
"Sarni, are you okay"?. He asked her softly taking both of her hands in his.
"No, I'm not. I feel like I am going crazy. I so want to get out of here."
Cacallus was silent for a while the he said: " So lets go".
"Are you serious? I am not joking!"
Cacullus took her face in his hands and told her: " I am always serious about you. Tell me when you want to leave."
"As soon as possible".
"Fine. Just give me two days. I wrapped up everthing here. I have a friend in Velia. We can go there".
These two days were so long. Also there have been many minor earth tremors. However, the only one that was worried about it seemed to be Sarni. Sarni prepared her things and impatiently waited for Cacullus. He should be here any moment.
Cacullus was finishing some business and was making his way to get Sarni. Suddenly, the ground shook violently. He felt to the ground and hit himself on the head. Black clouds began appearing in the sky. He suddenly realized as he heard a loud noise that these were not clouds but smokes. The Mount Vesuvius was in eruption. That is why they had been feeling those tremors for the fast four days. He quicky made his way to Sarni's. He hoped that she was fine.