It was on a late afternoon in summer that an old lady sat with her granddaughter sifting beads according to size, age and make. The old lady and her granddaughter sat there in silence, a happy sort of silence. Even though they were not saying anything to each other, every now and again they would simultaneously glance at each other with laughing eyes and peaceful smiles. The relationship of the old lady and her granddaughter, the daughter of her young son, had matured with every sitting of beads sifting. They had grown to be best friends even though they barely spoke.
Every morning, the father of the little girl would come and leave her with her grandmother. In the afternoons, he would come and take the girl to his house. The child’s parents worked in the fields a distance away from the village, which was situated at the hillcrest. From the hillcrest, you could see the southern land in its entirety. The dams where clearly drawn out, the huts and kraals of other villages situated in the lower parts looked like tiny circles in the ground. If you were to visit the village at the hillcrest, you’d swear you were close to the sun in the day and would be tempted to attempt a reach at the moon in the night. Yes, their village was close to the heavens indeed, as the old lady would say. Moreover, what made life pleasant to live in this village was the fact that everybody cared about each other – compassion. The whole village was like one big family that no one could ever divide. Children were raised by the whole village, wives respected husbands of other women and regarded them with brotherhood, men treated women like they would their mothers and blood sisters. The village at the hillcrest was not just a place to stay; it was a home to live. For a long time, this was so.
On this day, when the old lady and her granddaughter sat under the skies on a summer day, sifting beads according to size, age and make, they heard an outcry coming from the north of the village. A man was heard screaming from the north of the village. This was accompanied by another man shouting an announcement of how he would kill the crying man with his bare hands. It was during lunch time and a lot of people had left the fields to come and have their lunch meals at home. So, everyone was alerted by this outcry; people started out of their huts and from under their big trees where they were eating, looking to situate the exact direction from which the cry had emerged. Before anyone could say anything, a man came running towards the direction of the old lady’s yard. Running half naked! The other was chasing after him with a ploughing stick and a bag of sorghum seeds. “You lazy around all day doing nothing and expect to steal from me. I work hard for my possessions to know when they are missing. I know how many sorghum seeds bags were there this morning and now there’s three missing. You are the only one who knows where I store my seeds. Now, tell me where are the three bags”, the one man said.
‘Abuti, I would never steal from you!’ said the accused, drawing back some more from his older brother.
‘Hey! Don’t call me big brother when you’ve stolen from me’ the older brother snapped.
‘Mme, please calm him down. I did not steal his sorghum seeds. I TOOK them!’ splash of saliva sprout of his mouth as he said this, sounding as though he had now gathered some courage to stand up to his brother. ‘I took them and gave them to you mme, because I could not stand to see our mother go any more without food and begging every other day.’
All these years, the Older Brother had come to be known as a wealthy man, and no one thought that his mother could be sleeping on an empty stomach until now that his Younger Brother was telling it. It had been months now that the old woman had been receiving food from the Young son only because the Older son had abandoned her since ‘He married that sluggard’, as the old lady would refer to her elder son’s wife; a wife who despised the mother-in-law to an extent of forbidding the elder son to take food to his mother.
The old lady did not suspect for once that her Young son was bringing her stolen goods all this time because she thought he was doing well with his own harvest, and neither did she question this because it was only fair that he supports her since she looked after his daughter. Now, faced with this dilemma of one of her sons wanting to kill the other for a bag of seeds, the old lady did not know what to make of the situation. She agreed to that the Young brother had been bringing her food, and so she said to the Older son, ‘If you think it was wrong of your brother to bring me the food of your harvest, then you must also believe that it is wrong of you to cultivate the earth that was not created by you,’ the old lady had her arms akimbo. ‘You say you work hard, well, the earth works harder than you for, without the rain from the skies, your crops would not grow!’ At this point, the old lady was boiling with frustration. ‘Without the warmth of the sun, your plants would not blossom, and with or without you, these plants would still grow. You only claim them because you have been assigned a portion of the earth which is fertile. You will die and leave all of these to the wild birds of the earth, when you have denied them to your own blood?’
After having said this, the old lady called on to her granddaughter and they went to their sitting place where they continued sifting the beats. She then said, without talking directly to the granddaughter, ‘Our hearts are like beads, they are not the same in size, age or make, and however, we should never forget that they serve us all the same purpose. Therefore, think of others as you think of yourself’, she looked at the granddaughter and reached for thread and they started to put the beads on the thread. At the end of the day they had designed a beautiful bracelet from all sorts of beads.
Photo: Hazel Fasaha Tobo