Amara woke to a terrible thirst. Her mother writhed with fever on the other side of their hut. As the only remaining daughter, Amara needed to carry water from the river. She would seek water that had not yet been stained with blood from those who’d been killed during the night. “Let me come,” Ngoni asked. Amara’s brother was not quite eight summers old, but strong and full of mischief. “No. You must stay so that our mother will not wake alone,” Amara replied. She concealed a thin steel knife with a carved bone handle in the belt of her dress. “Water is heavy. I am strong enough,” he insisted. “I will protect you.” “You are strong, you must guard our home. To carry water is a woman’s work. Do not let the monkeys steal into our home.” Ngoni chased a hen from the basket of grain that would be the family’s ration for the next month. He made monkey noises. “Okay, sister. I will sing the Monday song.” Ngoni laughed. “Yes, the Monday song.” “And you will sing it while you walk to the river, so the panther will be frightened.” “Yes, brother. I will sing it too. We will both sing. I will return before the sun reaches the top of the sky.” Amara stretched, to point her graceful fingers skyward. “On Monday, one flower bloomed, its perfume touched the sky. On Monday, two flowers bloomed, the river heard my song.” Ngoni sang along and made up the next verse. “On Monday, three flowers bloomed. The porcupine ate all three.” He held up three fingers. “On Monday, four flowers bloomed, they fed some nesting birds.” “On Monday, five flowers bloomed, a boy climbed the tallest tree.” “On Monday, six flowers bloomed, a boy kept watch at home.” When the rhythm of their chant gained strength, Amara lifted two scratched, plastic, 20-litre water jugs. Ngoni’s voice faded away when he returned inside the hut to look after their mother. Amara left the perimeter of the village, where two goats chewed twigs of acacia tree. Her bare feet knew the way on the path of polished red earth where every woman of the village journeyed to seek water. “On Monday, one flower bloomed, a father tied it in his daughter’s hair.” Amara’s steps were light, she danced eastward, downhill, toward the river. She created new verses to push aside her fears, while dreaming of her first moist sip of morning’s cool water. She imagined perfume from sweet pink flowers that grew at the river’s edge, where crocodiles hid. She would make a strong tea from the roots, to cure her mother’s fever. In the far distant dust, beyond the river, thunder clashed. Not sky thunder, not rain-bringing, blessed, god-given thunder, but fighting between rebel and government forces. “On Monday, five flowers bloomed, she gave them to her love. On Monday, six flowers bloomed, the river carried them along. . .” ❧
Lisa Orcelli "Frame of Mind"
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