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The Decision (1st Prize Winner - Group III)

March, 2011
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With her hand tightly held in his, and a glance towards me that says nothing and everything all at once, they jump.

We live a peaceful life. In the morning the sun rises to greet the mothers and the girls on their way home, with the water buckets balanced precariously on their heads. Their full hips sway rhythmically with every step and their laughter echoes across the valley. The fathers wait on the stoep, the warm sun warming their faces. Inside the huts, small girls and boys sit by the fire; and, if you listen carefully, you can hear their small stomachs rumbling, eagerly anticipating the milk and porridge to come.

Mamma and Sani lead the line of women. Mamma, small and bowed with bracelets up to her elbows is chatting animatedly and every now and then, peals of laughter indicate she is telling one of her stories. Once, she told me a joke too when I was sick and the medicine-man shook his head. She said, “Basani, what do you call an insect that goes ‘click’ ninety-nine times and ‘clack’ one time?” I didn’t reply and her eyes were sad and she said: “A centipede with a bad leg.”

Sani is much taller than Mamma. She has thick hips and her breasts are full and wobble when she walks. Her hair is thick and shiny; all the girls whisper when she walks by and the boys stop and stare. I think Sani is the most beautiful girl of Wuba. Everyone else does too, so I am proud.

Papa is in his favourite chair on the stoep. His wrinkled eyes squint as he takes a puff from his pipe. He is small and walks like a tokolosh and all the little children laugh at him. I always yell at them to stop because Papa is kind and good and all the animals listen to him sing.

I think I am most like Mamma-small and fast with big brown eyes like a meerkat. My hair is thin and yellowing like Papa’s because I am always sick. Mamma likes to say “Poor, poor meme, why are you not strong and beautiful like Sani?” I never tell her that it is because of Papa’s mother like the lady at the market said, because if I do, Mama becomes angry.

Finally Mamma and Sani arrive. Mamma chides Papa for smoking his pipe when he cannot breathe properly, and Sani winks at me. She imitates Mamma with the fast hands rapidly gesticulating and I hide my giggles behind my blanket. This year the maize crop has been good, so I get a large portion of the sticky, yellow maize-meal porridge and a big dollop of milk. Then Sani puts her hand in the bowl and grinds the meal between her fingers so that it is soft, the way I like it. Even though I am eleven now, she still does this for me every morning. When she goes off to be married one day, I will have to eat the porridge like the grown-ups do.

Breakfast is over, and now the work must begin. School is closed for the winter so we can help in the fields. The maize stalks are dry, and we harvest them so that we can use them for firewood and animal-feed later on when winter really sets in. The stalks are dry and they cut my fingers so Mamma made me gloves out of an old blanket. Mamma and Papa’s hands are hard and rough so the stalks do not cut them. Sani does not work in the field because her skin will get too dark and her hands too rough. No rich man will marry Sani if she is like that, so she stays in the house and cleans and makes lunch. The sun begins to get too hot on our backs, and we take of the thick jackets we put on in the morning. When I stand up to stretch my sore back, the sky is a spotless pale blue and the sun shines strong and bright so that everything looks bright and beautiful. On all sides are the steep valleys that guard us from the hottest summers and coldest winters. They stand tall and proud, their coats of grass grey and brown for now. The other fields close to ours are also bustling; small, bundled figures crouched low and hacking at the yellow stalks with sharp sickles. They sing loud songs of poor maidens taken by the mountain lions and the brave men that follow them up into the mountain where they die together, mauled by the huge beasts but with their hands clasped tightly together.

Sani’s shrill call from the house tells us that it’s time for lunch, and backs creaking, we file down the field in a line; Mamma is first, with her crouched figure and Papa follows with his hands clasped behind his back and then me at the end with our dog Fefe barking behind.

When winter ends, Mamma will put on her best clothes and accompany Sani to the chief’s hut for marriage. She will oil Sani’s hair so that it shines and stands up straight and oil her skin so that it glows. Then she will put bangles on her wrists and ankles. Lastly, she will get the animal hides from the drawer that is never opened and wrap them around Sani’s waist, hiding her special area which only her husband is allowed to see. This is what Mamma thinks about all the time and Papa just puffs on his pipe and grunts at everything. Mamma doesn’t know about Jonase, and Sani said that he is the only man she will ever marry.

Jonase is tall and muscular. His brown skin is scarred all over because of the lashings. His eyes are always sad but when he is with Sani they are happy and twinkle.  I once heard him say he loves Sani. I wonder what he’ll do when he sees Sani dancing for the chief. I hope they are married because then I could live with them when Mamma and Papa go to the far away place. The chief is not a nice man, with his eyes that always look angry and his fat belly, if he married Sani I could never live with them.

The Day of the Choosing begins. We walk down to the clearing, Mamma, Papa and I. We are a little late because Papa walks slowly. The girls have begun dancing; their ankle bracelets shake with the fast thump-thump of their powerful legs. I look for Sani, but she’s not among them. Then, a girl with ashy skin and drool from the side of her mouth catches my eye. She winks at me. Sani?

The chief’s men approach Papa and ask him: “Where is Sani?” He shrugs his thin shoulders, but Mamma points a shaky finger at the ugly girl. Sani sees this and before they can turn to look, she runs. The chief with his booming voice bellows: “Get her!” and the men give chase, so I scream for her to run faster. 

Dusk is approaching, and still no Sani. Papa will be cast out come daybreak if he does not hand over Sani. They ask me “Where is Sani?” and I shrug ‘I don’t know’. Later, when they are not looking, I sneak out to Sani and Jonase’s secret place through the shrubbery and past the tearing thorn trees that pull at me and stop me. Sani and Jonase do not hear me coming, and in the dim evening light, they hold each other tight. For the first time, I realize Sani looks like Ma-Mira when she was expecting the baby. Her breasts are full like a water-skin and Jonase’s hand on her stomach is curved. Without their noticing, I steal back away.

My feet lead me, which is well because my head cannot. In my head I’m screaming loud because I know I was wrong about Jonase. Sani will go away with him and When He comes to take Mamma and Papa far, far away, I will be all alone in the world.

The clearing is now empty because everyone has gone. There are no flowers on the chief’s hut. He didn’t choose a bride. Dogs bark to signal the arrival of a stranger, and the guards ask me do I have Sani. I tell them to take me to meet the chief and they are incredulous- a mean, sickly thing like me demanding an audience with Chief Elias himself is unheard of, but I repeat myself. Whack, the whip lashes through the air and wraps itself around my thigh. I open my mouth wide- not to cry, but to scream: “Sani is with Jonase’s child, and I can take you to her.”

The chief rushes out, his face contorted with fury. He demands his horse to be brought out, and when it is, he climbs on. The horse, black and shiny rears up high in front of me and I fall back. Before I know it, the whip cracks around my head and he booms “Run, show me.”

The tears stream down my face. My breath comes is short rasps. Below me, my legs slice through the bush- left foot down, right foot up, left foot down, right foot up. I’ve made my choice, Sani forgive me.

The chief and his men make too much noise; Sani and Jonase are already scrambling up the steep valley to escape. My heart falls. There is nowhere to run, only sharp rocks and the fast Mololi River on the other side. We reach the top, where Sani and Jonase wait for us with their backs to the cliff.

Before I can say I am sorry Sani, they step back, her hand tightly held in his, and a glance towards me that says nothing and everything all at once, they jump.

We live a peaceful life. Occasionally, an elder will tell the story of mad Basani and her sister Sani around the fireplace. And they will shake their finger and conclude: “That is why old Basani wears rags and mutters “I am sorry, Sani, forgive me.” The children will shudder and go to their warm beds where they will wake at the crack of dawn and sleep at nightfall only to wake and start all over again.



By Itumeleng Molefi,

Harrow International School Beijing

 

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  1. Eve Nambahu
    March 20th, 2011 at 18:34 | #1

    This was beautifully written and it brought tears to my eyes. This story deserved first prize. Well done.

  2. Wisegirl
    March 3rd, 2012 at 11:41 | #2

    This story is so beautiful. If the story got even second place I would have said the judges are unfair. Good job!
    –H.Girl Percy Jackson series fan

  3. April 17th, 2012 at 16:49 | #3

    I feel that this story deserves more than first prize. It was beautifully written. Keep up the good work!

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