Mamuke had risen early that morning, long before the cocks crowed, signalling the arrival of dawn. There was much to be done that day, and she knew she had to make an early start. Sisim, her beloved older sister, was pregnant and counted heavily on her help.
At three months into her pregnancy, Sisim woefully complained that she wanted some salted fish to ease the never ending metallic taste in her mouth brought upon by her condition. She also craved native chalk, the rarest form only to be found deep within the century-old caves at the bank of the Great River. This was more than half a day’s distant walk from home.
“I just feel like licking the ground!” She cried, “Or rubbing my tongue against the walls to get that dry taste!”
With smooth flawless skin the colour of honey, Mamuke had been playfully called a goddess of the Great River many times. Tall and slender, her pretty oval face was graced with large almond eyes, a small but perfectly shaped pert nose and full lips, which smiled wistfully. She was the embodiment of pure unadulterated beauty. She was the exact replica of her older sister, Sisim, and could easily pass off as her twin. It took a discerning eye on closer observation to tell that one was older. The heads of both young and old men turned whenever the sisters were out and about, while women’s tongues wagged with jealousy and envy.
Mamuke’s love for her sister was immeasurable. This stemmed from not having a mother and she knew deep within her soul, that she would always do whatever was humanly possible to help her. Their father had passed away before Mamuke was born and Sisim had brought her up as her very own child. Sisim rarely spoke about their mother. As a child, Mamuke once asked about her whereabouts but Sisim merely replied that she had gone away. From that point onwards, Mamuke, with childlike innocence, had assumed their mother had gone to meet their father. Later on, when Sisim got married to Otobo, Mamuke felt they had at last a complete family unit - one where Otobo looked out for and protected both sisters. He was both the father figure and older brother she never had.
Unfortunately, this was not to last. Ever since her husband Otobo’s strange disappearance three months ago, Sisim had not been herself. Otobo was the very essence of strength. He stood heads taller than the average man and, coupled with his powerful build, was a force to reckon with. Bulging muscles on his torso and forearms rippled with his every movement as though begging to be let loose; belied his lithe graceful movements, and had on several occasions taken his opponents by surprise. His face, although not overtly handsome, had strong defined features that left a lasting impression of solemn thoughtfulness. He was the ultimate catch and many a maiden had lain awake at night, fantasizing about him.
The young couple had been married for nearly three rainy seasons, and when Sisim announced her pregnancy to her husband’s delight, his joy knew no bounds. That evening while they lay together by the fireside, he teasingly told her that she would bear him a strong son, a warrior like him. To show his appreciation, he promised that on his way back from the farm, he would buy her some rare cowries and native beads. Although a deviation from his path home, the slight delay meant little to him.
But he never returned home. The entire village went in search of him with their hunting dogs, but to no avail. They retraced his footsteps or so they thought, found no clues, and definitely no signs of a struggle. Being a member of the elite warriors, coupled with the fact that he was one of the finest wrestlers who had won many wrestling matches, representing his village, his bizarre departure was indeed a mystery.
Mamuke unhappily recalled how, after one week’s futile search for Otobo, the village’s head decided to call off the search party. Sisim’s wails of sorrow rang out far and wide, reaching all corners of the village that night when the elders delivered the news to her. Her normally boisterous sister became a mere shadow of her former self. Withdrawn, painfully thin and gaunt, she had stopped eating, because life held no meaning for her anymore. Mamuke feared for the life of her only sister and that of her unborn child. It was therefore, an unbelievable sense of relief she felt when one morning; Sisim announced to her that she wanted some salted fish and native chalk. At least her appetite was slowly returning, and even though the request would prove to be an arduous task, it was nevertheless a welcome one.
Mamuke felt compelled to go in search of what her sister craved.
“Umamiki,” her sister had called her by her pet name, “But that journey is more than half a day’s walk from here! You've only been there once with me and that was many seasons ago! You’re not familiar with the route and you might get lost.”
“Uneni Sisim,” her Mamuke responded, using the term for fondness, “Please don’t worry, I’ll be fine and even if I do get lost, which shall not happen, I’ll ask for directions. I’m just so happy that you’re gradually finding your appetite and coming back to your old self.”
“But ... ”
“It’s what Uneni Otobo would have wanted,” she hastily interjected, interrupting her sister from trying to dissuade her. That was all she needed to convince her, and Sisim grudgingly conceded.
***************************************** (To Be Continued) *********************************