“Rehmat had been a blackened one, as black as her jet colored hair and coal dark eyes which she could flash, fly sparks from, and sizzle at will. Disgraced, fallen from grace::a kari is what her people called her where she lived in a remote dusty community. It was ruled by a council of elders representing the various clans that made up her tribe. They governed over disputes and daily matters. She had dishonored her clan by not only falling in love with a man from another tribe but she had made it publicly known by marrying him without the approval or consent of her elders. Worse, she had already been betrothed to another at the age of 5. An old warty man of 68 years whose breath stank and who had spittle dribbling out the sides of his mouth when he spoke. He was wealthy however and owned land of his own, she would be his youngest wife as he already had 2. When she came of age at 13 he was in his seventies and his sideways glances, oily muttony lips, and shiny bald pate were thoroughly repulsive to her! She had stormed and fussed and eventually her family had renegotiated the marriage terms and delayed the ceremony till she was 16, an unusual event that had caused them difficulty but they had done it nonetheless for she was stubborn as a mule. And then she had shamed them all with her defiance!
Her ‘fiancé’ had declared her and her husband adulterers, not only both their families to be dishonorable but both tribes too, demanded his full share of dowry, and further insisted that the two be killed in the tradition of karo kari to set right the heinous wrong that had been hurled at him! Her outraged brothers, seven strong, had assaulted her husband’s clan and demanded that his brother do the right thing by avenging this dishonor to all of them. So it was that one day when she was in the fields harvesting mustard, her husband was dragged away from his work tending the cows and beheaded by his own brother with hers as witnesses. Then they came for her. As fate would have it, she got word of this from a sympathetic relation and gathering her meager belongings into a bundle, she fled.
Her own brothers and her murdered husband’s brother hunted her for months. From village to village she’d go with one thought on her mind, that of the hunters finding and killing her. Her attention was constantly fixed on being found, being discovered, and she’d seize up with terror, panic. Before long she’d be running again for they were hard on her trail and determined to avenge the clan’s honor and restore the tribal reputation. She kept moving from place to place, on donkey carts, buses, trains, camels, and on foot. By whatever means she’d eventually leave where she was for she was hunted, marked to be murdered. When she reached the city by the sea she looked for employment making flatbreads in the homes of the elite, who seemed incapable of cooking for themselves yet were dissatisfied with her thick wholesome toothsome efforts. She found that they were generally a dissatisfied lot, irrelevant and irreverant of bread. She’d tell them bluntly, for she was very direct in her speech, “Look I’m kari, wanted, predators will come looking for me, jackals, blood suckers, and hyenas, and I might not come to work then but this is my life, you should know this about it”. She got some jobs, before long she’d be off; mostly the doors shut in her face.
Then one day she knocked on the door of a young woman. A divorcee with two daughters, she was of the fighting sort. She gave Rehmat a floor to sleep on and a kitchen in which to cook, fresh clothes and shoes to replace her torn worn ones, and four square meals a day plus tea and biscuits. She couldn’t believe her luck. It was there that she had a thought: What if she stopped thinking about her menfolk? Dropped them from her spectrum of attention? Gave herself up entirely in surrender and submission to life, to what may come or not come? What if she lived as though she wasn’t hunted and didn’t run? She decided she’d give it a try after all death came to everyone and she wasn’t going to die without having lived first! What had even made her think she could outrun death in the first place? She’d loved and that love was with her even if her husband’s body was gone, she knew what it was to live and love and be loved. So what was she running from? Suddenly she didn’t know but her life changed after that.
The woman she worked for learned that she could stitch and embroider, and there was no end to the jobs she had coming her way! And she was paid for her work! She had no need for money as her day to day was taken care of, so she saved. She saved and saved and the years rolled by. Where her brothers went to she never knew nor did she find out, as they didn’t come for her, neither they nor anyone else, and for that she was grateful. When she had saved enough she bought a small place where she established a safe house for other runaways, girls being sold into prostitution or arranged marriages against their will, abused tortured women, hunted women, women whose husbands no longer wanted them and would kill them to be rid off them, women who wanted to live a different life than the one chosen for them, wanted different lives for their children, and so many women came. Most were from the rural areas but some were from within the city too.
Her employer invested in her venture and backed her with the protection she needed to run such a place in that city, which is where I met her for she was successful as you can imagine. She taught these women the skills she had and they in turn taught the ones they had and so they rehabilitated one another and earned their living through the talents they discovered they had, making everything from potholders to quilts to clothes to dolls to tea cozies to song and dance. Together they forged independent new lives and identities for themselves and the children they may have brought with them, enabling and empowering one another in the community they’d created. They were like phoenixes rising; though some did disappear, whether they ran away or were found, who’s to know. As for Rehmat, lined as her face was she was beautiful and it shone out of her easy smile and sparkling eyes. She had taken it upon herself to ‘educate’ the young men in the area in matters of the heart and the art of love so that they may be better men than the ones they had all fled from. Besides the service, as she called it, that she was doing to womankind, she herself was lusty and nubile so it suited her too, after all, she’d say while buttering flatbreads, what’s bread without a bit of honey and cream?”
Here Sugar Plum stopped and drank from her goblet, the ice had melted and rose petals floated on the water. She noticed Whispering Wind on the porch steps and smiled.
“Ah Whispering Wind! Have you been here long?”
Sally and Suzy jumped to their feet and hugged him with happy squeals. He hugged his friends back and gave Willow the blueberries.
“Sorry I’m late with these Mum, I got distracted by the beetles . . . did you know Rose, they’re in the blueberries too?”
Rose sighed, “We were just talking about that . . .”
“You were?” he asked.
“Hmm, yes, well I’ll be going now, so much to think over ”, she said getting up, “Thank you Sugar Plum”.
“Always a pleasure dear, do forgive an old woman her ramblings, something about those beetles had me remembering Rehmat”, said Sugar Plum as the two women shared a long hug.
“Are you joining me Wind?” his mother asked also standing, and Belinda motioned her daughters to join her as she too rose to leave.
Sugar Plum gave Whispering Wind’s hand a squeeze and said, “Stay a bit longer Wind, I have something for you.”
He shook his head at Willow, and watched his mother walk back home, with Rose and Belinda. Sally and Suzy skipped ahead of them, and he wondered what Sugar Plum had for him.
Straight as a ramrod was this Rehmat. Head held high, back straight, with and easy gait she walked. Walked as if she was walking the fields of her village, free, even in the city. Was it those years of going to the village Well to fill the clay pots with water, carrying it back home balanced on her head. The balance of head, neck and stride had to be all in sync. Not a drop spilled and a full pot delivered from each visit. As she grew deft, she carried two, one atop the other, and then finally, even three. These were round bellied big clay pots mind you. The girls vied with each other over their feats of being the most balanced and agile water bearers. They continued their chatter, turning their whole bodies, necks and pots even, while doing so. The experts ie. The novices broke many a clay pot before the expertise set in.
The Well was a meeting place for the girls. It was where girls stepping into womanhood got to go, for it was their initiation into womanhood that even got them to begin carrying the pots. It started around 11 or twelve and carried on for most of their lives. As long as necessary, as long as they did not have daughters or daughters in law to bring water home for them. But here at the Well, as young girls, giggling, full of whispers, secrets, awareness of their coming sensuality, woman-ness, they poured it out to each other, or sometimes, only to the well. For the Well was the best listener. It listened to everything, whether addressed or not. If only the girls knew that each time the bucket of water came up and filled their pots, it was carrying in its water all of their secrets. Each household therefore, drinking from the same well, ended up knowing everything that went on in each household. That’s how everyone always knew what everyone did! If only they had known, would they have stopped going to the Well? Ah well……..
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