Mrs. Cisse preferred to be called just that. She was old enough to be your great-grandmother, and reminded you of that fact as often as she could. She was old enough now to have forgotten more than you would ever hope to learn in your life, and if there was one thing that she loved more than anything, it was to tell stories.
She would sit way back in her rickety old rocking chair and slip the shoes from her dark African feet and hum a few bars of an old forgotten song before beginning her tale.
"Why do you do that, Mrs. Cisse?" you ask timidly one day, wiping your dusty hands on the thighs of your dusty blue jeans.
She opens her eyes only for a moment in a hawk-like glare and closes them again to resume rocking in the chair. Creeeeeak.... snap. Creeeeeeak..... snap.
As she leans forward in the chair once more, you see the youth in her eyes. She is smiling and almost seems transported to the banks of a river in Africa. You can almost smell the mud on her feet, in her hair. You catch a whiff of smoke, and hear the beat of distant drums.
When I but a young girl we fish from the banks of the Kafue River. Mostly we catch pike or yellow bream, but my father wish to catch the magic barbel. Now, barbel are not good for eating, mind. It cause much sickness of the tummy and cramps that make you feel like Nenaunir crawl up inside your belly and make a storm inside it. He want to catch this fish because he say he use it to find me a husband that love me for all time.
'Mubambi,' he would say, 'lie down in the tall grasses and wait by the edge of the water until you see a flash of red in the water. It happen when the sun reach the tips of the acacia tree. When you see it you call out to me in the language of our people. You say NYEJUGU! as loud as you can and you make that barbel turn it eyes to the sunset. When it look away, you point at it and I spear it, and we use it in a paste we put on your breasts for the good man to come to you.'
"Now you stop snickerin', you! 'Dere be nothing wrong with a fine pair of breasts, especially when they covered in mud and grasses. You might grow a pair of fine breasts yourself one day, and you might find you a man that take care of you. All you children think you know so much, but you just worryin' bout your cell phones and your dee-vi-dees. You just be still now and let me tell you this story so you might learn something." She settles herself back into her rocking chair, the sun slanting across her dark cheek.
I laid down in the tall grasses just like my father tell me and I don't see nothing in the water but little minnows, and hippos across the bank laying in the sun. The flies are getting bad in the wet grasses and they tickle the back of my naked legs. The sun is beginning to make a slow descent and I can hear the rustle of birds finding their roosts for the night. I cannot hear my father near me, but I know that he is there, waiting. I hear a hippo pass gas across the river and I have to hold back a giggle that tries to jump up outta me.
When the sun finally reaches the top of the acacia trees, I squint my eyes real tight and concentrate on the slow moving water.
"Did you see the magic barbel?" you ask in a small voice.
"Well, child, if you would just button up your lip I might get to that part of the story," she says, but with a gentle tone.
I laid there waiting, just waiting for something to happen. Night started to fall and the bats were beginning their dips and dives for night insects over the river.
'Well Mubambi, I don't think we are going to see the magic barbel tonight,' says he. He sounds a bit sad.
As we head back to our small home in our village, I can hear the talking drums from the village to the east. Because I don't speak the language of the talking drums, I look to my father to answer the questions in my eyes.
'It's nothing Mubambi,' he says, but I seen fear in those dark eyes. I never knew my father to be scared of nothing, but he sure looked scared then. I could feel my heart thumping hard in my chest to the beat of them drums.
My father instructed me to get back to our hut and tell my mother to put supper on. He handed me a small string of fish, which was enough for just the three of us, and he made his way toward the chief's hut. Women were not allowed in that part of the village so I had no choice but to head home.
My mother was grinding grains when I moved the grasses aside, readying them for a bread that she would make for our supper.
'Father wanted me to give you these,' I tell her. 'He want me to tell you that he want you to start making dinner.'
'Well, what it look like I am doing child?' she ask me, her breasts were full and her belly look ready to burst with the baby inside it.
I duck under the hand that swings at my head and she sigh. She too tired to scold me now, and I am happy for the change of pace. Later on my father comes into the hut and looks a little less scared than he did earlier, but still I can see something in his eyes. He sits down on the mat and lets my mother serve him his dinner, and looks at me as he sets the large leaf down on the mat.
'Mubambi, you have been chosen for a very important task,' he says.
'What task, father?' I ask him. 'Aren't we already on a task to find the magic barbel?'
'We must put that task aside. You are to travel to the next village with a basket of goods.'
'When am I to do this, father?'
'As soon as there is light in the sky,' he says.
That night I lie on my small bed and listen as my mother and father talk. I hear them argue about my travels for the next day. My mother want to know why I get chose to go to the next village and my father tell her that I not be as noticeable as a man traveling. That no one will bother with a young girl carrying a basket on a path. A man with a basket be stopped right away and then the gift never make it to the temple.
I have dreams that night of drums. I dream that I am running with my head basket and that men are chasing me down a path I don't recognize. I wake to my mother slapping my face and glaring at me.
'You can't sleep all day, girl! You must get up and do what your father tell you!' She says. She loves yelling at me and slapping my face. She mad that I am not yet married, as I should have been five moons ago. She shamed because no man want me. They say my eyes ain't right.
As I make my way outside the hut, my father waiting there with a small head basket filled with fruits.
'Why do I have to take this basket of fruit, father? Do they not have food in the next village?'
I didn't hear my mother come out of the hut behind me, and was not expecting the sting of a slap to the face to come from behind me.
'Mbuku! You do not question your father! You would be whipped if I had the time to do it!' she says, raising her hand to slap me again.
My father grabs her wrist and puts her hand to her side forcefully. With a glare at me, my mother retreats back into the hut, and I can hear her mumbling to herself.
My father puts a hand to my stinging cheek and wipes a tear from it. He places the basket on my head and touches his cheek to mine. Though I am too old for my father to be showing this affection, he does it anyway.
'Mubambi, I want you to take this basket to Baruti, in the next village. He is a wise man there. Talk to no one on your way there, not even to the Gods. No one must know your name on this journey my daughter,' he tells me.
(Will continue more later)