I swung my arm to the left and involuntarily my right arm also swayed, I looked like I was performing a graceful dance, mostly interrupted by the trickling of water on my face. I gently wiped off the water and continued with my pot-on-the-head-dance, this was the last lap so the luxury to be a bit playful.
“Teni!! Teni”!! I turned and watched Lamisi trying to catch up with me, in her rush her water turned to tidal waves.
“Lamisi, what is the rush, slow down before you get to the house with an empty pan”, I told her.
“You should know I hate to walk alone plus you are a good company”, she said, “Lamisi, watch your step before you splash water on me if I wanted to be wet like a chicken and by chicken I mean you, I would have thrown myself in the lake,” I remarked
“Teni, you talk too much”, we both shared a hearty laugh and continue on with the pots of water. “You were remembering, weren’t you, I saw the way you kept swinging your arms and swaying your waist, you aren’t thirteen anymore, leave that to your girls to do.”Did you say girls’’, I laugh, ‘‘do we ever allow our girls to be girls”? We both became silent for a while and at that point, I noticed my folly. I quickly felt sorry and scolded myself. Lamisil was just in the process of getting her daughter to marry the Tindan, the overseer of our village. I must have stepped on her toes with my latter comment. It is the truth that needed to be told, it just came out wrong.
When we were given off to marriage we both vowed never to allow our girls to experience such a life. Now, twelve years from that one of us is already breaking that vow. It is evident that talk is always cheap; it takes a strong-willed person to stand by their word. We both carried on with our thoughts just like the heavy pots on our heads. We got to a junction and parted ways.
As I set my pot in my yard, I wondered why we kept making the same mistakes repeatedly. Thirteen years ago, it was me sitting on my mother’s mat whiles she shared with me, the ways of this world. Why I had to marry the man old enough to be my dad and how the cattle and cash would greatly help the family, especially to pay for my brother’s education since he was due for junior secondary education.
“Why do I have to be the one to quit school?” I remember asking her.
“It is for the best my daughter, besides your father has already started preparations, this isn’t the time to back out. You knew this day would come, didn’t you?
That night I cried my eyes off, my dreams to be like my primary teacher had been washed down the drain without my opinion on the issue. I loved her confidence, the way she engaged us in class and her constant plea for us to take our studies seriously so we could end up like her or land any job we wanted.
Since then I haven’t been able to shake off that feeling that my bride price was all that my parents needed. I knew we were poor but we were doing just fine until I turned 15. And the excuse that the bride price was meant for my brother’s education made things worse for me. Why should I be the sacrificial lamb? I kept wondering what had changed. Now that I think of it I remember my mother’s ‘nightly lecture’ on the ways of our people. Just last four months she had proposed that I could give my older daughter, Temaame off to marriage if I couldn’t go on shouldering all the responsibilities of my late husband. I had vehemently refused and refreshed her memory on how it was me years back and how all my pleads had gone unheard. How I had wanted a better life than I was having.
I quit my thoughts and gathered my maize to put them out in the sun.
As I started taking out the husk, Larbil, my childhood friend passed by, she was clothed in a dark cloth, her eyes downcast and her facial expressions spoke volumes of sad emotions.
“Hello Larbil”, I greeted her as she got to our yard.
“Hello”, she replied. “I hope the weevils aren’t getting a better part of your maize”, she said
“My sister, ours is a battle of the weevils and for the men, it is a battle of cows”, I chipped in a joke and her smile broadened.
“Hmmm…” she said. “It is well” she added.
“Where are you heading to, my dear”, I questioned her.
“I’m going to the medicine man to take my medicine to fortify my womb.
You know the ways of our people. I have to quickly get it before my in-laws start accusing me of eating up my baby”.
I sighed at her response,” but our people should understand that babies are a gift from our gods, I don’t understand why it should always be the woman’s fault should something go amiss. Take heart my sister; let’s pray our children don’t suffer the same fate.”
“Hmmm… How are you also coping since the demise of your late husband?” She asks.
“Life hasn’t been easy my sister,” I tell her. “I struggle to cater for the children since his family took over all he owned. According to them, I have no claim to his property and who am I to protest? I live each day wondering what my children will eat. With no skill or education, how do I survive in this world full of hardship”?She rose and complained about the sun scorching so much and that she needed to get going.
“Be safe”, I tell her.
“Be safe too”, she responds.
As I watched her, I wondered how she was able to cope with all that she was enduring. She has been in our part of the village for the past two years trying to pick up pieces of her life that had been shredded by first, a miscarriage and now a baby that was stillborn.
Most of the older women had arched their eyes when they heard of the second death of the child. I prayed in my heart hoping she wouldn’t be branded a witch and sent to the witch camp. I remembered she told me when she had lost her first child in confidence that the nurse had complained about her not being matured enough, hence the complication of her pregnancy. I believed her, but for our part of the society, the only reason why a mother would lose a child is that she is described as having a “bad spirit” or worse of a witch.
The wind whispered the sounding noise of the school bell, Temaame and Tembil would soon be rushing home for their lunch. I quickly dashed into the kitchen to reheat the soup, in their rush in the morning they had refused to eat their Tuo Zaafi. I was thrilled knowing that they had their school at heart.
As they rushed to the house I couldn’t help but swell with joy. I swelled with joy because I believed they had a fighting chance of having a better life. I remembered the promise I made myself when I had cried myself to sleep. Never was I going to allow my daughter to suffer such similar fate.
I am bending myself to make it possible for their school to materialize, and the death of my husband hasn’t made situations any better. I haven’t given up on myself yet. There is an on-going adult education class and I am planning to be a part of it,. They aren’t many but we have got to start from somewhere and of course, most of our village folks would be wondering why we are wasting our time. It is never too late to chase a dream.
But for my girls, I am here to offer them my best.