Short Stories, Tale Africa

The Maiden and The Bear

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By Ayanda Xaba, South Africa:

“My friend you should really consider going to the reed dance this year,” Makhosazane says, as she helps me put my water bucket on my head.

She is saying this for the tenth time this morning alone. We started off by fetching wood in the early hours of the morning, went home to make fire to cook and now we were fetching water. This is our normal routine and we end with chores like washing and cleaning at home, depending on the weather. Apparently, I am the only girl in the village who has never been to the reed dance at Nongoma. Rumours are starting to circulate that I am no longer a virgin. Makhosazane, my only female friend, shared this information with me and is now encouraging me to go not only to prove them wrong but also to experience the fun they have there every year. Like every other girl in the village, I want to go to the reed dance it’s just that my family cannot afford to pay for me.

I am the first born of five children; four girls and one boy. My mother is married but I’ll just say we are raised by a single parent because our father left when mom was pregnant with my last born sister, who is 7 years old now. He works in the mines in Johannesburg and we heard, by the mouths of other men who come home every December, that he now stays with another woman. We never speak of him at home because my siblings do not even have a memory of him. They are all just one year apart; I’m the exception because the second born came when I was three years old. As the eldest child, I have to understand the situation at home and not make unnecessary demands. The reed dance is one of them, so I’ve accepted I’ll never go there because if I do all my little sisters will want to go.

“Makhosi you know I can’t go there. Mama can’t afford that,” I say.

We were now walking away from the river towards the village.

“What if I give you money Ntombi?”

My mother doesn’t like me accepting money from people. Pride. She says we are not charity cases, even though we need it. I’ve always refused money from Makhosazane. Her father also works in the mines but he sends money home every month. Makhosi is an only child. She gets everything she wants and now she is dating a taxi driver – she is never without money. Most of the time she sneaks money into my clothes; that way I only realize later and do not give it back. The truth is I need every little cent I can get — as long as my mother doesn’t find out. I am now a fully developed teenager; I need to look good like my peers. My mother cannot afford all the ‘extras’ like lipstick, perfumes and so on. So Makhosazane gives me hers or even buys for me when she goes shopping. Come to think of it; I’ve never been outside our village. I am 18 years old and have never set my foot outside Mgabaye. Even my mother hardly goes to town. We have goats and cattle at home; from these, we get meat and sometimes sell for money. Father didn’t want us to sell the livestock but since he’s been gone we had to so we could get money especially for school fees. The drought season destroyed the maize field and our vegetable garden. We had to buy mealie meal and vegies – things we used to produce ourselves. There was a period where livestock was dying too so we had to quickly sell them. Makhosi’s father also took some of our livestock to another farm where it was safe. Thanks to him, we still have a few goats and cattle to our name.

“Makhosazane though! Mom would never accept that money. I really want to go but you know I can’t.”

We were now passing through the forest next to the stick fighting grounds. There was a crowd gathering. It looked like there would be a fight.

“Where do you want to go?” Mnqobi says appearing from the bushes.

I’m startled by his sudden appearance that I almost lose balance of the bucket on my head. He quickly takes it and walks us home holding it. He has his sticks tied to his back – surely he is fighting today.

“The reed dance,” Makhosazane quickly responds.

Mnqobi doesn’t want me to go to the reed dance; he’s been against it for as long as I can remember.

He frowns as he says; “No wife of mine will parade for that King. Why would she even go there? Only desperate girls do that.”

Sigh.

Makhosazane starts to argue “Ah Mnqobi…” .

“Ntombikayise is my woman and she knows she can't go around half naked for other men to drool over her.”

And they go on and on.

These two can fight the whole way home and they never even notice I’m quiet. But this is why I love them both. They are my only friends. My mother also doesn’t want me to have too many friends. She claims they keep one from doing chores and other stuff. Makhosi befriended me at school and there was no shaking her off – she always gets what she wants. Eventually my mother accepted her, and Mnqobi is not just my friend; he is my destiny.

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