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Don’t Run, My Love

By Easterine Kire

Click here to buy Don’t Run, My Love

They had been away for five days this harvest time. A musty smell lingered in the air, and though the house was dark, Atuonuo knew her way about well. She deftly felt for and found the matchbox, lit the kerosene lamp, and lighted up the kitchen. It was quite cold inside.

‘I’ll get a fire going,’ she said and began to pile up bamboo shavings and slivers of wood in the hearth. The matches were a little damp but she finally managed to spark a tiny flame. She carefully fed the flame with slices of dry bamboo and twigs. The fire grew until she felt confident about placing bigger pieces of wood over the flame.

‘Fill up the kettle and heat it,’ her mother instructed. ‘We will need to eat before we go to bed.’

They then made a quick meal for the night, tossing dried meat and dried mustard leaves into a pot in which a little rice was simmering. The broth boiled over, and the cooks soon declared it done. Visenuo ladled the food into their plates.

‘Tuonuo, you are so good at making a fire,’ her mother complimented her daughter. ‘Your grandfather used to say that a house needs a fire. The smoke from the fire strengthens the walls and helps it stay in place for a longer time. When a house is abandoned, it falls apart very soon. The house was missing its owner, that is what we say when that happens.’

‘You know so many things Azuo,’ Atuonuo said. ‘I wish I knew half the things you do.’

‘Well, I only know the things that the village has taught me from childhood, and I try to pass them on to you. Do you know that some people are called thehou nuo?’

‘What does that mean?’

‘Since the thehou is the communal house where men spend their nights, thehou nuo means child of the thehou. The boys who have been brought up in that tradition learn things about our culture. They use it to guide them through life, and when people see them behaving in a certain way, people refer to them as thehou nuo. A girl can also earn such a title when people see that she knows the ways of the village.’

‘Then I hope I will become one too. Will it stop me being scared of spirits and dark places?’ They both laughed.

‘The thehou cannot help you to stop fearing the unknown. But it can teach you to be brave. After every victory in battle we celebrate the courage of the warriors of our village. That doesn’t mean they fear nothing. They are humans too, and naturally they have their fears. But the thehou teaches them to set their fears aside when they go into battle. Their enemies are also equipped in the same way. That is why we call the victors the bravest of the brave. They are the ones who have learned to ignore their fears completely.’

‘Well if that is the case, I’ll never make a good warrior,’ Atuonuo stated. ‘I can’t help feeling scared of being out in the forest after dark like we were this evening. I don’t like it when we have to sleep in the field hut, but at least when we do, it helps that we always have a fire burning.’

‘I understand. Things are strange in the darkness. It is as though the dark becomes a world of its own. The animals of the forest come out on seeing that people are no longer around, and they can be quite menacing.’

They had finished eating by now and Atuonuo took her mother’s plate away. She washed the plates and pots with hot water, which made it easier to for her to scrape the food off. She filled up the kettle again and replaced it on the fire.

‘For your bath,’ she said to her mother as she went to fetch the bucket. The outhouse was not far from the main house. Like the other outhouses in the village, it had a sack covering the entrance.
After they had both bathed, they continued to sit by the fire sipping black tea. It was a routine they followed after dinner. The last thing they did before going to bed was to bury a firebrand in the warm ash so they would have no trouble starting the fire in the morning.

‘We had better get some sleep,’ Visenuo said, getting up from her chair and stretching. ‘We will have to make several trips to bring in the harvest.’

‘All right, Azuo. We can at least start early tomorrow and be back home before dark.’

They slept easily, the deep slumber of the farmer who exhausts her body all day in physical labour and is rewarded with heavy sleep at night.

~

They were walking along the track that was so familiar to both of them, a path they traversed more than a hundred times in a year. That fact had not made it easier as the years went by. Carrying the harvest home over the long distance was still, for them, the hardest part of field work. When they were at the hut, Atuonuo, who had reached first, called out, ‘Azuo, someone has left us meat!’
This was unexpected. Visenuo hurried to the hut and saw the leg of a deer that had been hung on their door with a length of twine.

‘Goodness! Someone has been lucky at hunting! Do we know who it could be?’ Visenuo wondered. The meat was fresh and bloody.

‘Azuo, this is so much meat! We have never had anyone give us a whole leg before!’

‘That’s true. We have to find out who our benefactor is and try to compensate him somehow.’

They cut down the meat and took it inside the hut. Visenuo made a fire and began to burn the skin. Atuonuo protested but Visenuo answered, ‘If I don’t do this now, the meat will go bad. Even if we feel the gift is too generous, that’s no reason for us to let good meat go waste.’ She continued to cut off the meat and burn the skin and clean it with a knife. Eventually Atuonuo joined her, muttering, ‘I wish we knew who the giver was.’

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