By Muhwezi Simpson, Uganda:
I have been thinking about the story about a girl, which my grandpa told me.
Once upon a time in Grandpa’s village, he had said, there was a young and beautiful girl called Rose. Her beauty attracted men in their hundreds, married and unmarried. They yearned to have her as one of their wives. But she was not ready for marriage. In spite of the fierce competition that emerged among them to win her, she was headstrong and this made it difficult for them. Some men gave up, while others insisted. Most of them, although rich and able to pay any dowry her parents asked, were quite old.
“I will only get married when I feel I’m ready, and to a man who will be capable of loving me properly,” Rose said.
One day, she woke up early. It was the day long-awaited, on which she was to prove her worth on the pitch. It was the first time she had qualified for the national championship. As she opened the door, the cold hit her, almost making her turn back. She washed her face, walked to the store to check if the milk was still full. It was as she had left it the previous night.
She picked a broom and began scratching the dusty ground. Water was also missing in the empty pot. Thoughts like, “Let me finish all work so that I catch the running competition,” rang in her mind.
She preferred a big calabash to the smaller heavy pot and the shortest route to the river was a small trail which traversed the valley. After a few meters she heard an odd sound, coming from behind, of stepping feet. She turned but didn’t see anyone; so she didn’t mind, after all, the path was not hers alone.
She heard whispers. Feeling nervous, she turned. A tall man stood just behind, and others stood behind him. Black mud was smeared all over their bodies, which made Rose tremble with fear. “Run!” her heart prompted. She took a deep breath and took off. The three followed and the chase was on, she threw the calabash on the ground to gather speed.
The race took them to the river in the steep V-shaped valley, where it moved downhill in a fast moving torrent. She dived into it. The sound of water filled her ears, the rolling waves scared her. The pursuers followed, headfirst. Rose began to spin, pulling the water towards her.
A wave swept her. She was now a few meters away. She prayed for another to come and at least convey her farther. The dark looking men were also playing their cards wisely. One of them dragged a thick log into the water, on which all the others fell and began to sail. They were now travelling at an improved speed. But Rose remained ahead. “Even if you swim like a fish, we must take you!” the tall one shouted.
A wind driven water wave from the north made it for her. It overturned the nautical log and the three men were toppled. They were all thrown deep into the water. Underneath, a clayish mud waited for their stubborn feet, which staunched them. It became impossible for them to escape this unplanned trap. Helpless, they remained without making progress. By now, Rose had almost reached land.
While on his way to the farm, Grandpa heard a crying voice. “Is anyone there? Come and help me!” she cried out.
He stopped. “Where are you?” The cry was coming from the other side of the river. Quickly, he navigated the thick swamp which stood in front of him. From a distance, he saw her green dress floating. She was holding onto one of the branches that was attached to a frail looking bamboo tree. In split seconds, something horrible happened.
A fat crocodile jumped from the long grass on the right. The prey was well placed. The crocodile seemed excited. Rose had not noticed. “Crazzzzz!” crocodile roared. She was focused on keeping her grip, fumes puffing up her nose.
“Rose!” Grandpa shouted at the top of his voice, but her body except her head was buried in water. She was going to drop soon. “Don’t give up. I’m coming to help!” Grandpa shouted.
The crocodile drew nearer, opening its mouth, a mouth seemingly containing all of eternity. Rose was indisputably in trouble. Grandpa attempted to reach towards her. Falling into the river, his poor swimming skills almost made him drown. At this point, the already frantic Rose turned but her eyes had not been prepared for what they saw. She was face-to-face with the crocodile. She became bewildered, not knowing which direction to take. The choice was either to drown or be killed by the crocodile.
She made no choice.
Grandpa witnessed that choice-less moment. Rose was inches away from the crocodile. He threw a stick to deter the crocodile from its mission but instead it opened its mouth wider. Rose entered it for eternity. He witnessed this with his eyes, screaming at the top of his voice, with all the breath he had. But all that was useless.
He met three men on his way back. Their clothes were soaking wet, and they were blaming each other. In a snap of a twig, news spread all over the village—that their move had been intended for a forceful marriage between the deceased and Jamalu, a drunkard, who often said: “You either get married or die!” What had made him famous was his unbroken record of killing his four wives.
As Grandpa ended his story my eyes were fixed on his elderly eyes, which were filled with sadness. I have never forgotten the look of grief and horror in his eyes.
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