Three

“When his time arrives for initiations, when he’ll graduate from boyhood, will you join him?” her mother asked, crossing the water body. This happened after they went to collect firewood in the forest. It was east of the village, on the other side of the drying stream.

“He’s a very honest boy. But, I’m afraid you can’t wait for him, since you’ll surely grow much faster than he,” her mother continued, pushing her way through the shallow waters. They were approaching her father’s fields, near to the stream.

“But mother, I am only a kid, how do I know about those things?” she asked, looking at her mother, carrying firewood four times heavier than her own. She then walked again in front of her mother like a young beautiful gazelle, touring the savannah grassland.

Nyakor, you’ll surely grow into a woman one day. You’ll be like any other women you know. You’ll be like your mother.” She tried to explain what she meant by all those words.

“But mother, where’s my elder brother, Gatluak[1]?’ she asked, looking up on her shining face, puzzled either by her own words, or by the fact that her elder brother was missing for a long time. She’d no idea what might have happened to him. “Now, you’re talking, my daughter. But that’s something more difficult for you to understand, even much more difficult than the marriage issue I was telling you about. Your father said we shouldn’t discuss this, because he never been a soldier in his life. Maybe you can ask your friend, your only age mate in this village. His father was a soldier in Khartoum.”

Her mother said, her voice changed as if she wanted to cry. “But, mother, you just said you’re afraid I may not wait for him, since I’ll surely grow much faster than he. How can I go to talk to him again?” she asked with curiosity.

“You mean my brother is now carrying sticks like the one I saw yesterday? He must be big enough to carry that thing!” she continued, thinking about her elder brother for a while.

Her mother stopped talking to her about such things, since they were about to arrive.

“I told you your father doesn’t want people to talk about such things. You have to be busy doing your work at home. Girls are supposed to learn how to take care of their parents’ homes as young as you, so that they’ll one day do the same for their own. That’s why you should think and act as a lady from now onwards. Stop asking about men and their affairs. You should rather ask me about how to cook our traditional foods of all kinds, how to take care of babies and how to do other things related to your feminine life.”

“But,” her mother continued. “Your friend may tell you more about the guns. His elder brother was a good friend to yours. When he decided to join the rebels with his maternal uncle and his cousin, named Changkuoth[2], your brother was also in a position to go with him, since they were good friends to date.” Her mother narrated.

“But, I want my brother back home. I want to see him. My father is now advancing in age, I am just a girl.” She spoke up.

“You told me not to discuss men and their affairs. But, I need my brother back. I need him now!” she shouted as if her mother was the goddess of the land. “Bring for me that stick over there, before you disappear to meet your boyfriend!” her mother said, pointing at the well prepared wooden stick, used for mingling the well known porridge-like food, Wal-wal, or just kuan.

“Oh, you want to help me do the work by yourself?” her mother asked as she began to stir the pot with the stick, longer and heavier than her little feeble hands could handle. Before long a droplet from the boiling water sparked, landing on her face!

“Hush!”

“I told you to give me the thing, not that you can do the work by yourself!” her mother yelled. She started jumping, screaming loudly. She began to run around in the compound, a fence made out of dry maize canes. Her face and cheek were paining because of the hot water.

“Stop crying! That’s how people learn through their own mistakes. You’re now in the college, learning the theory, practicing what you have learned from your mother. And when you graduate from here, you‘ll do well at your own home, many years away from now. I also used to get burned like this in those days, trying to help my mother, when I was about your age. You can now go and wash the clay plates instead. I’ll do the cooking. You’re a very good girl, a future wife to Maluth’s youngest son. Aren’t you, daughter?”

She then used the back of her right hand to clean her eyes and nose, sitting down on the floor, legs, stretched towards the west, the direction to her little friend’s home, his parents’ home. She began to do her daily duties.

“Sit well, my daughter, so that I’ll get more than enough dowries from your in-laws, even though their cows are chickens, running around disturbing everyone. Who knows, his son may keep cattle.”

She sat down quiet, busy as if she wasn’t listening to her mother. At that age, those things didn’t touch her emotions as they will in the future.

“Eat, your elder brother is well and sound!” said her mother to comfort her. “But, did someone come from where he is to tell us he’s well and sound?” she asked.

“No. But, I know very well deep inside my soul, inside my inner man that my son is alive and well.”

“Can I go to ask Panyim, since his elder brother was with my brother? Maybe he knows where they are. I want to learn more about his father’s long heavy stick, which was in their hut. Can I go, mama?” she quickly said all those things, trying to swallow.

She almost had an issue with food getting down through her windpipe. She coughed it off and then cleared her voice to recover from that little mistake.

“Just stop talking while eating! This isn’t good for girls,” her mother advised. “You’ll surely go to him, but after you washed the utensils for our evening use. Okay? Why do you want to play with boys, or at least this particular one? Why not play with his elder sister instead?” her mother asked.

“No, mama, his elder sister isn’t my age mate. Besides, Panyim is my only best friend. We can laugh and laugh as we play. I enjoy his funny stories and jokes. He protects me from others when they want to beat up me for nothing. Our elder brothers are friends, don’t you think we can, too?” she had no sense of a boyfriend as the word sounds to grownups. She later refused to accept it, when people called her someone’s girlfriend, because she began to think along those lines.

“Mama, I want to see that long stick again. It was very strange, different from that which my father carries. It has metal on its neck, and a small belly like mine. I think it has eaten something. Can it eat like me?” she asked, thinking about his father’s Abu Ashara again for a while, before she started off to see him. She expected him to be at their home at that time, just after lunch.

“Nyakor, Nyakor!” her father called from his nearby hut, for her to collect the plates. He always sits there with younger boys from the community, as the sun runs across the sky towards the west, where it naturally goes down. That was the direction to his daughter’s future home.

But the future was still unknown.

[1] This Gatluak was Nyakor’s elder brother.

[2] Changkuoth was Panyim’s cousin, the son to his maternal uncle, who then went to bush a few days after his birthday. His name meant, God’s day.