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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Drama · #1291020
A simple wish for a young girl teaches her so much more.
First Place Winner in the July (2007) 'Short Shots' Contest


         Her mother's screeching cry pierced through the fog which had once clouded the daydreaming young girl's mind. Creeping out of her hiding place beneath the natural cove next to the muddy river, Fatima hitched the single colorful cloth around her flat breasts (oh how she wished they could be bigger) and waded thigh deep to pick up her floating clay pot. She ignored the sneers that came her way from the two older girls with their chocolate skin and tight braids. They were from the neighboring village, but had to walk the extra two miles just to get good drinking water. Fatima's hamlet was much closer, hence the call from her mother. If the long shadows of the leaning trees that danced across the water were any indication, Fatima was sure she had stayed hidden for a considerable amount of time.

         "Fatima!" came the cry again, much louder this time and accompanied by the wail of her baby brother, Musa.

         "Coming, Mama," she replied and dipped her clay pot in, wincing as a mixture of mud and tiny pebbles filtered into it. She would have to keep pouring it out and dipping continuously until the water was as clear as could be. It was something the mothers in the village had taught their children over the years.

         The river was the only source to quench their thirst – at least until the government heads decided to stretch their long arms of the law towards the inner villages. Fatima had heard of huge mechanical pipes that pumped clear, fresh water to those in the city, and not for the first time, she wished she could have a taste of that. Just once would be enough.

         Satisfied that she had collected a reasonable amount of water, Fatima gave a light grunt as she placed the now heavy clay jar upon her head. Being careful and watching her step as best she could, she began the treacherous climb up the muddy slope.

         "Let me help you," a familiar voice suddenly said, causing the young girl to turn her head around slowly.

         She stared at the young man in the white shirt and khaki pants, his hair well combed and not matted or dirty like his counterparts in the village. His dark eyes flashed with intelligence and his teeth seemed white as clouds against his skin. Fatima's heart skipped a beat, but she knew she wasn't supposed to show him her real feelings. It was a ritual for young maidens. She was fifteen and at marriageable age after all. Wooing was common and she'd have to play hard to get.

         "If it isn't the teacher," she scoffed and took another tentative step. The slope looked so much higher today for some reason. "What do you want here?"

         He shuffled from one foot to another, feeling hot at the amused glances that came his way from the others around the stream. He felt embarrassed coming out here, especially when he was content to see her later in the evenings in front of her hut. But his future mother-in-law had sent him down here to get Fatima – a girl he had loved since they were children, even though he was older by five years.

         "Please let me help," he asked again, reaching out for the pot, but she smacked his hand away and shrugged, now finding the strength to walk those final steps up.

         "Let me be, Usman. Shouldn't you be somewhere else?"

         "I came to see you," he insisted, catching up to her as they walked down the narrow path almost swamped with lush trees. "I want you to come with me to the city."

         The pot almost fell off her head, her beautiful brown eyes widening with shock. "What?"

         He grinned; glad he had finally gotten her attention. "I want to show you where I live, what I do...what kind of a life we'll live..."

         "I never said I was going to be your bride," she interrupted curtly, even though her cheeks felt hot at his attention. "What makes you think I'll say yes to..."

         "The ocean."

         She scoffed and walked away, even though she was listening, her heartbeat quickening again. Usman was unrelenting. He knew she was weakening. He had already told her about the ocean, the sea, and the beautiful beaches that lined their coast. It was something he had shown her with picture books until his father had reluctantly sent him away to the city to get a better education. It had been Usman's dream to become a teacher. The life of a farmer in a small village was simply not for him.

         "I live near the ocean now," he said, stooping to pick up a purple flower – an orchid - one of many that lined the path to her home. He held it to the sunlight and then made her stop, tucking it behind her ear. In a quieter voice, he continued. "It is not a big house, but it is enough for the two of us. I promise you, it will be the most beautiful thing you've ever seen."

         "...and drinking water?" she asked in barely a whisper.

         "Fresh and as clear as can be."

         She could see the outskirts of her village now, the chickens kicking up a cloud of dust as they ran around the compound being chased by half-naked children for entertainment. Goats tied to makeshift fences bleated lazily under the hot sun, staring at her as if questioning why she chose to remain there. She could see her mother bouncing little Musa on her hip, trying to make him stop the incessant cacophony of his cries. Her father was not back from the farm, but the smell of hot vegetable soup, roasted fish, and pounded yam reminded her of duties to this place – her home.

         And yet, here was Usman promising her a better life away from here. Where she could get to wear pretty dresses and style her hair like the women in the books he usually brought for her to read. She could even go to a proper school if she wanted to. But most importantly, she could bring back something they all really needed back home. Drinking water.

         "Fatima?" he asked softly, a plea in his voice. "Will you come with me?"

         Yes, yes, I will, her mind screamed, although she must have said the words out loud for Usman's cry of pleasure was drowned only by her brother's wail for constant attention.


         Her feet sank into the sand and she wiggled her toes gently. Six months had passed since she said 'yes' to Usman. Six very long months.

         She was now a first-year student at the community college where Usman taught English and Mathematics. However, she was quick to realize that his life was not as wonderful as he had claimed whenever he visited the village. His home was nothing more than a small room in a large subsidiary building. It was hot and stuffy, and the neighbors noisy and rude, always banging on their doors at odd hours of the day to ask for something or another. They had to share a bathroom and toilet with the rest of the occupants on the floor, a frustrating experience especially when they had to get ready for school in the morning. Since Usman lived on the fifth floor, it was a long walk up the flight of stairs to their apartment, where she usually encountered drunks or lecherous men, willing to feel up her skirt as she passed.

         Usman never seemed to have enough money, the meager pay from his teaching job not helping with expenses. She was careful not to ask for too much, memories of the day he had raised his voice at her over a simple request for an extra blanket (for it was so cold at night), coming to mind. However, she studied hard and got a job helping the landlady who was a seamstress downstairs. She was paid just enough to get her through the month with a husband who now seemed to find his job more interesting than the wife he had brought home.

         Despite all this, however, the simple moments of pleasure came when she could walk along the beach barely a mile away. The first time she saw the ocean, those blue-green waters that seemed to lick the sandy shore, it had taken her breath away. She could remember standing there for hours, staring at the expanse of endless water, marveling at Nature's beauty. She was a young child again, giggling and laughing with delight as Usman had frolicked with her.

         However, that was then and this was now. How things had changed in so short a time.

         She finished the last of the distilled water, and stooped to rinse the bottle as the gentle waves danced around her. Once it was clean, she gave a rueful smile and plucked the fading purple orchid from her hair, slipped it into the bottle and held it up to capture the fading sunlight. It was the same flower Usman had given her the day she had agreed to come with him. She had kept it all this time, wearing it for him, watching him smile...until that too faded away.

         She had yet to visit her parents, and was almost afraid of bringing up the topic with Usman. In all likelihood, he would say that he no longer had the money for the trip. Her presence in his life had become a financial disaster. What kind of a wife had she become? How could she show her face to her family if she was unable to please her husband?

         Suddenly, a strong gust and large splash of waves knocked her to the ground. With a cry of dismay, the bottle slipped from her fingers, promptly disappearing beneath a mixture of sand, foam and sea.

         "Oh no," she gasped, already wading in the ocean. She had planned to keep the bottle in their room as a memento – a reminder that there was still hope for her marriage.


         She spun around quickly, wet, confused and unaware of the tears that coursed down her cheeks. Her husband stood on the shore with his hands in the pockets of his familiar khaki pants, although they were rolled up to his knees. There was a wistful smile on his face and that, for some reason, made her cry even harder.

         She barely felt his strong arms around her waist, but was content to bury her face against his chest, inhaling his scent and knowing that she would do all she could to make him happy. She was young, but she would learn. All couples had to go through trying times and they would be no different.

         "Guess what?" he muttered as they held hands and walked back home.


         "The bill will be passed to have fresh water sent to the villages after all. Construction for the underground pipes will begin next month."

         She gasped in delight, releasing him only to wrap her arms tightly around his neck. He blushed in embarrassment at her open display of affection, although he would have been a fool not to admit that it delighted him.



         "What were you crying for?" he finally asked hours later as they lay side by side in bed.

         She blushed and shook her head gently, not quite sure she would be able to express all that her heart held inside. "No reason," she finally whispered. "No reason at all."

         Usman didn't look like he believed her and would have plagued on, if it wasn't for her ability to distract him so well. As weariness finally overwhelmed her, she imagined the bottle floating on its aquamarine bed, seeking a new face to call its own. Perhaps, if she was lucky, it would float all the way back to her village – a sign to her family that everything had turned out all right in the end.

Word Count: 2000 words

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