My mothers voice pulled me away from my study of the clouds. How I wished I could fly among them and see the world from their height. Travel to different parts of the world and see the wonders our elders talked of.
“Akerele, if you don’t stop daydreaming and work the sun will set before anything is done.” My mother came out of our small hut and put her hand on her hips. “What did I do to the gods to deserve such a lazy child? My oldest girl, lazy. Move before I withhold dinner tonight.”
“Sorry ma. I just wish I could see all the elders talk of.”
“Your place is at the fire and raising kids.” She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me behind her back into the hut. “If I have to I will tie you to a steak so that you can not move.” She picks up cloth and handed it to me. “You work on your wedding garment. Your groom expects you to appear at the next full moon.”
“Ma?” I asked as I took the cloth. “Have you ever thought of what might happen if I do not marry?”
My ma gives me a stern look. “Do not dishonor your family. You were promised before you were born and you will obey.”
“There will be no more discussion. Now sew.”
I quietly sigh and start to thread the needle through the cloth. I was to be married next week to the chief and by all accounts I should be happy but how was I suppose to find joy in being the ninth wife of a man as old as my father? How was I suppose to be happy in a home where I would be nothing but a servant? Unless the first wife allowed me I would not sleep with my husband and bear him children.
“Ma. The sun does not shine in her as it does outside. May I sit and do my work outside.”
My ma gave me a look that said she saw right through me but I smiled and tried to look innocent. I needed to be outside.
“Go but if your not finished by dinner there will be no dinner for you.”
“Yes ma.” I quickly climbed to my feet and walked into the warm sunshine. I loved summer above all other season because even when the sun was the hottest life burst all around. I found my favorite spot, half under a tree, where the sun could warm me without burning my skin. Sitting down cross-legged I folded the cloth in my lap and stared off into the distance and that’s when I saw him.
In my small village there was talk of the Ninki Nanka, dragon like demons, living in the swamp. It was told they would take on the appearance of males and lore girls to their doom. This man could have been a Ninki Nanka for he was beautiful beyond anything I have ever seen. From the distance I could make out his dark arms crossed over his thick chest. He wore a customary dashiki of vibrant colors and his thick strong legs were planted apart. His lips were pulled back in a come hither smile and my soul called out to him. I wanted him, no I needed him.
“Akerele, what did I tell you about daydreaming.”
“I’m not ma. I just saw - “ I turned to point him out but he was gone. “He was just there.”
“Come girl.” My ma once again pulled me the hut. “You know it’s not safe to be out and if you don’t listen the Ninki Nanka will come and drag you away.”
“Ma that is just a story, a story parents tell us when we are young.”
“I wish it was a story child. I had a friend who saw one and the next day she was gone.” She took the cloth out of my hand and placed it by the fire. “Your father will need to be on watch tonight. May the gods help us protect you.”
“I’m sorry Ma.”
“If you would only listen.” My ma smiled. “Your father comes.”
My Da was a big strong male who kept the village farms running smoothly. The villagers deferred to him on anything dealing with farming, even the chief listened when he spoke. My father was a great man and thought that by uniting our families our village would be stronger, I disagreed.
“Where are my ladies?” My Da’s voice thundered through the small hut.
My sisters were the first out the house but I was a close third and my mom was a step behind me. I loved nightfall when Da would come home and sit around the fire telling us stories of the world beyond our village.
“Da, what tales to you have for us today?” I asked.
“Girl let your Da get comfortable.”
We followed him into the hut and we all sat around the fire scooping out soup with chunks of bread. After we had all eaten our fill and Da had rolled his smoke I finally asked the question that had been bursting to come out.
“Da have you ever seen Ninki Nanka?”
“I have not personally but your grandpa did, right before my sister was taken. He said it was a fearsome creature with the body of a snake and the head of a man. It smiled as it carried my sister away and he could hear her screams for nights after that.” My younger sisters wimpered and huddled together. “You need not fear my children.” My father picks them up and places them on his knees. “If you are good the Ninki Nanka will leave you alone.”
“But what about Akerele.” My youngest sister asked. “She is always bad.”
“I am not.” I denied. “I just like to ask questions, there is a difference.”
“Your mother and I know that but remember your husband wives may not be as understanding.” My father gave me a patient smile.
“Da, I want to see beyond our village.”
“Its not our place to see beyond what the gods have given us.” My da stood and sat my sisters down. “Its time for bed.”
I sigh, stand up and start moving the blankets from their place into the middle of the floor. The days may be hot but the nights were ice cold. The family slept together to share body warmth and to protect against wild animals. Long after everyone had fallen asleep I lay awake thinking of the man I had seen earlier. It was close to dawn when I finally got up and walked quietly out the door. I was seventeen when my human life ended.