Short Stories, Tale Africa

The Maiden and The Bear (8)

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By Ayanda Xaba, South Africa:

The King’s delegation is coming this weekend. That’s only a few days away. Today is a Wednesday and Ntombi’s father arrived early this morning. We were all shocked. That man hadn’t been home in 8 years. I was accompanying Ntombi with water when we found him in the house. Some women from the village are helping out with ukusinda and ukucaka. I can see many of them are excited that a girl from our village is marrying the King. The blushing bride-to-be is more stressed than excited. The work keeps piling up; more wood, more water and more cow dung than usual.

We run away from everything and hide in my room. My mother is also busy assisting at Ntombi’s. I have to crack her open, this girl could even commit suicide.

“Ntombikayise, I know this whole thing is scary, neh, but I feel like you’re shutting me out. My friend we only have each other. At the end of the day, it’s just you and me.”

She cries.

“What’s wrong Ntombi?”

“Mnqobi broke my virginity, on that night, when we arrived from the reed dance. The humiliation, the shame. I can’t…” she cries louder.

I quickly give her a hug and try to comfort her. I was never ready! The shock, yoh! This means she can’t marry the King. I have to give it to Mnqobi, he is smart. That fool! But how will Ntombi tell her family without humiliating them and herself. We are supposed to wait until marriage, that’s why we are allowed ukusoma. There is no way she can hide this. In a few weeks, she is having umemulo and if umhlwehlwe breaks, she is exposed. Her whole family will be shamed. What do we do? Think Makhosi, think.

I am now pacing up and down my room, trying to figure this thing out. We need a solution and fast, I will not allow Mnqobi’s stupidity to destroy my friend’s reputation.

“I’m calling Mbongeni,” I say suddenly. I have a plan.

I run into the street to stop any taxi passing by. I give a message to the driver and go back to my room. In an hour or so Mbongeni will arrive with Mnqobi and we will sort this thing out.

“Knock, knock.”

Dad! Why is my father home? It’s Wednesday and it’s not even month end. I run outside to meet him. My father always shouts ‘knock, knock’ at the gate, I know, its crazy. Probably warning any unwanted guests to run for their lives.

Baba, what are you doing here?” I ask as I take his bags. “And where is your car?”

“Child, aren’t you happy to see your father? The car is with Ngcobo.”

Ah Ntombi’s father! Surely dad came to assist him with the lobola. We walk into the main house and he sits on the couch while I stand. We talk briefly and mom walks in. I wonder when she came back from the Ngcobos. I swear sometimes I think this woman has magical powers, like she can be in two places at the same time. She doesn’t look really pleased, so I excuse myself. I don’t really like hanging around my parents. I have friends.

“My wife, please try to understand. We have to do this, we have to go.”

Freeze. What did he just say? Where are they going? I’m not one to eavesdrop but I need hear this. I stand outside the door.

“I can’t believe you’re taking me back to that place. After everything.” Mom is crying.

Dad: “It is time for me to take my rightful place in the family. The village is without a Chief and I need to make sure my family’s legacy – our chieftaincy – doesn’t die.”

Mom: “So the chieftaincy is more important? What about me? They will never accept me. Hadebe, I raised your child as my own, I love that girl and as soon as we step into that place they will take her away from me. Is that what you want? You want to take Makhosazane away from me?”

Okay maybe I shouldn’t have listened, this conversation is making me dizzy. I slowly walk towards my hut, I can hear the shouting but I’m trying very hard not to hear what they are saying. I don’t think I can take anymore. I want to forget I ever heard that, what is that anyway?

“Makhosi, are you okay?” Ntombi asks the moment I step into the hut.

Before I can respond I hear a subtle hoot coming from outside. Mbongeni and Mnqobi are here. That’s a more pressing issue.

“Let’s go,” I say.

The guys look like they know why I called them. I don’t understand why they’ve ignored this for so long. Mnqobi is adamant he won’t discuss his affairs with us. It’s a pity because he has to…and now! Mbongeni suggests he calls a family meeting and discuss the way forward with his father. Ntombi was promised to him anyway, surely there is something the family can do to prevent the King from marrying her. We all welcome the suggestion and hope for the better.

Glossary:

Ukusinda: using cow dung to polish the floors

Ukucaka: Decoration of mud houses

Umemulo: traditional ceremony where a girl is welcomed into womanhood

Umhlwehlwe: cow fat worn by a maiden over her shoulders during umemulo

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