I reached down into the small lake grabbing the large jug. Extra water sloshed out, I would not have to make two trips this time. I grimaced struggling to balance the heavy weight atop my head. Once the jug sat perfectly still I slowly began to walk back to the village. As I walked towards my hut, I passed grandmothers sewing seal skin to make clothes while watching small children weave themselves in and out of the clothes hanging up to dry. Some mothers squatted in the shade grounding wheat with stones talking amongst themselves while others worked in the garden. All the men of the village-young and old- gathered for the daily clan meeting in the meeting hut. There the young hunters decided where to hunt that day and today they would decide-
"Mali!" my daze broke as a mocha-hued girl ran towards me her curly brown hair flying in her wake. "Mali, come come!" Rusta grabbed my arm and dragged me towards my hut. "Empty your jug! Hurry! It's almost time! The men have gathered!" I bent to empty my jug into the large water skin and rushed away with her smiling.
"I know Rusta, today is the day. Who do you think they will pick? If it is Rasad he will surely pick you! And you my best friend shall be the new chief's wife!" We both squealed.
"Ah but what if Ecko is picked," she sighed, "then you my best friend will be the new chiefs wife for he will surely pick you." We both laughed at our silliness knowing our long time crushes had just been introduced into manhood and would not be picked. Rusta and I reached the meeting hut exchanging smiling glances as we noticed most of the women in the tribe were gathered around the outer walls of the hut. Although no woman could enter the clan meeting we had our own way of knowing what was transpiring for many of the young unmarried women stood with their ears pressed against the wall and they would announce to the rest of us what the men said.
"What are they saying?" Mama Kiqi inquired. She was the healer and baby deliverer of the tribe. Her brown eyes frowned towards the walls as her large frame squeezed through the women.
Teku turned her head and whispered, "Only where they are hunting. Nothing good yet." The elder women nodded, some clucked their tongues impatiently; Mama Kiqi merely shook her graying hair out of her eyes muttering "Men!" We stood waiting impatiently for the men to begin voting on a new chief. Soon the young women with their ears against the walls perked up,
"They are voting!" Teku whispered excitedly. The women leaned towards the hut in expectation. Whoever was picked would affect the women immediately. The new chief would have to pick a wife and the women would have to help cook for the wedding feast, sew the bridal garment, and make the walls for the new chief's hut as well as help the chief's mother cook for the chief's feast.
"My husband told me he would pick Evic." One woman whispered. A shiver ran down my spine. This woman always came outside her hut with bruises upon her body. I knew her husband would choose Evic as chief. Evic was mean and ruthless. He and my brother had gotten into many fights because Evic constantly bullied me. Most of the women hated Evic because he always tried to ruin the virgins and take other men's wives. I pitied the woman he would chose as his wife and silently prayed to the god of protection that the men would not choose him. Mama Kiqi clucked her tongue, "The men will not choose him. He's too angry and irrational."
"My husband confessed he'd vote for Mysou." I knew of Mysou. He was my brother's best friend. Rusta leaned over and whispered in my ear. "What do you know of Mysou?" I thought and replied, "Not much. He is very quiet and never talks to me or my mother when he comes to our hut. I think he ignores women. But my brother likes him and I'd choose anyone as chief before Evic." Rusta nodded her agreement.
Suddenly the doors opened. All the women turned in surprise as the men peered at us with amused expressions. "Well well," Chief Komo's wide face smiled at us, "What shall we do with these women of ours Nastor?" I looked all the men over, cheeks burning with shame. It did not seem like they were mad. In fact it seemed they found our embarrassment entertaining- all except for Evic who was rolling his eyes sand tapping his foot impatiently. Nastor- my papa- grinned and stated, "I guess we should announce the new chief. May the elders approach."
All the elders approached and Papa Kiqi-Mama Kiqi's husband- began softly, "According to the majority vote, it is with great pleasure I announce Mysou as the new chief." Silence permeated the women. It was not that no one wanted Mysou as chief; it was just that none of the women knew him well. I looked at Mama Kiqi for guidance; it seemed she always knew what to do. She glanced from her husband to our new chief and smiled. She then turned and found his mother-Vami- and said the only words that could relieve the shocked silence, "Congratulations!" Soon all the women surrounded Vami, giving her hugs and offering their congratulations. The excited chatter of plans for the Chief's Feast buzzed through the air. I watched as all the young hunters, except Mysou, left for the day and noticed Evic's darkened expression. Our new chief left with Chief Komo and Papa to deliberate over who would suit as a wife for Mysou.
"Who do you think he will choose?" Rusta sighed as she sewed two seal skins together for the wall of the new chief's hut. "Rusta I doubt he'll pick one of us. Teku is probably the best choice. She is pretty, well-mannered, and the eldest of the unmarried girls." A shadow fell upon my own needle work.
"Thank you Mali, but I am not so sure." Teku sighed heavily handing us our noon meal. " He will choose who he likes and no one knows who he likes because he never talks to any of the women."
"Well, I hope he chooses you." I said, "You deserve it." I began eating my food. Teku stared at me teary-eyed ," Mali, you have such a sweet spirit." Abruptly she turned and walked away. I looked at Rusta for an explanation but she merely shrugged and continued eating.
That night Mama and I set the table quickly chatting about Vami's choices of food for the Chief's Feast. "According to Vami," Mama was saying, " Mysou's favorite dish is grilled whale and so although it will be difficult she wants the hunters to catch a whale and us to cook it." I thought about how difficult and dangerous it was to catch a whale. Our men rarely spotted one close enough to kill and catching the huge creature took at least twelve of our strongest hunters. I remembered that Teku's father had died trying to catch a whale. " But Mama, we only have one more day. It won't be possible!" I exclaimed.
"Well from what Vami said, Mysou told her the
same thing but she is determined. But the women are fixing up a
seal in case the hunters do not sight a whale in time." Mama fell
silent and I knew she heard the men outside. I longed to race to
Papa and have him give me a bear hug, but I was no longer a little
girl. I had my first bleeding two years ago although I still longed
to do what little girls could do. Matesh-my older brother- and Papa
entered our hut. Papa walked over to Mama and gave her a quick peck
on the cheek then he eyed me and gave a soft squeeze on my
shoulder. I smiled moving to put the large leaves on the table and
began putting the food on the leaves. For Papa it was a pleasure to
serve him. I loved Papa so much and I hoped my husband would be as
affectionate as Papa was to Mama. The men sat down and Mama and I
followed. "So Nastor," Mama began, "any clue as to who Mysou has
picked?" Papa looked up and grinned winking at me.
" If I tell you it'll ruin the Chief's Feast. The whole town will know by the end of the night." Matesh laughed and I smiled noticing Mama's pout, "I did not ask who. I asked for a clue." She prodded. Papa swallowed the food in his mouth, "Well we know her very well, and she is sweet, smart, and pretty. The only problem is her Papa has not given permission yet." Mama thought long and hard but soon gave up shouting exasperated, "That could be anyone!" Papa gave a knowing chuckle and said, "Exactly." The whole table erupted in laughter. "Oh you!" Mama teased. "Well Mama it seems we'll have to wait until tomorrow." I laughed.
The next day hummed with anticipation. The men had yet to mutter a word. Even Mama Kiqi did not know Mysou's choice. Rusta and I busied ourselves by adding decoration to the seal skin. It was going to be a lovely hut wall. We had added a wave pattern. Once we were done we hung the finished seal skin on the wood creating a wall for the hut. Our next assignment was to clean the inside of the hut. "Err" Rusta growled as we swept the mat that covered the huts dirt floor. "It is so hard to decorate and clean this place when you can't imagine who will be living in it. The waiting is killing me!" I laughed.
" I think it's killing every woman in the tribe. Even Mama Kiqi is clueless." Rusta shook her head.
" Only Mysou could keep such a secret, he never talked to anyone anyways! I bet only Chief Komo and your papa know. But you know what, Mysou isn't even chief yet and he's causing such an uproar. That's exactly it! He's causing an uproar without uttering a word!" She stopped sweeping and glanced at me, "Maybe he'll be a great chief after all." We both dissipated into laughter at the irony of it all.
"You know what Rusta. You are right!" I agreed. If a man could grab our attention without uttering a single word I wondered what it would be like when he said something. When we were done sweeping, Rusta's Mama told Rusta she needed to do laundry and Mama Kiqi assigned me to stuff the grass mattress and place the bear skin cover over the bed. "There" I breathed a sigh of relief. " Mama Kiqi" I called, "The bed is done!" Mama Kiqi appeared into the small area that was separated by hanging string. "Very good Mali, but I must disagree. It is not done." She disappeared for a moment and I blushed as she returned with a handful of flowers. She spread the flowers across the bed and recited the ancient chants that made a couple fruitful. " No blushing Mali. A bed is nothing to be ashamed of." She laughed and looked triumphant. " Alright now it is done." I giggled and applauded her wonderful work. " Ok Mali time to freshen up for the feast. Thank you for the help, now run along." I gave her a hug and left for my own hut.
As soon as I reached my hut I headed for my sleeping place. Matesh and I shared a bed but he was still out hunting and I treasured the moments I had the bed to myself. I spread my limbs across the huge mattress and fell asleep.
"Tsk Tsk Mali! None of that young lady! We must go!" Rusta shook me awake. "Come! Hurry! Wash up, put on clothes and lets go. I will not be late." She rattled as I sleepily arose blinking. " I have been waiting since Chief Komo announced retirement for this and you will not make me miss it." She nagged handing me a skirt." Here put this on. Your shirt will have to do and wash! Hurry Mali!"
"Alright Rusta" I snapped, "By the gods, I swear you are so much like Mama." I walked over to the water skin and washed my face. Then I put my long hair into a bun. " See? I'm ready." Rusta yanked me by the arm out of my hut and to the meeting hut gushing.
" I can't wait! I can't wait! Oh! We are five steps away…act mature Mali act mature!" I rolled my eyes heavenward, " I'm not the one who needs to calm down." The meeting hut was alive with chatter and all the men and women of the tribe were dressed in their best. I looked around noticing the different outfits:
Teku was adorned in our islands famous bird feathers. Mama Kiqi wore a nice shell skirt and Rusta's older sister Natia was cloaked in a seal pattern dress. Even Rusta wore a beautiful whale skirt that had clay beads hanging from string. I looked down at myself, grateful Rusta had chosen my best and favorite skirt. It was made of white rabbit fur and Mama had painted black birds and rabbits across it. It was my most treasured possession for I had received it when I became a woman. I blushed as I pictured my plain seal skin shirt and my rushed high bun forcing the tears away. Rusta patted me on the back, "None of that Mali, you look beautiful. Simple works in your favor. It brings out your beautiful eyes." I smiled, "Rusta you must not lie, but thank you. You are such a good friend."
"Well, good friend or not I must go sit with my family. Ah Mali, I cannot wait! See you after!" She gave me a quick hug and walked to sit beside her Mama. I searched for my own family checking the different clusters spread about the long and narrow hut. "Excuse us." A father said from behind me. I whirled around and noticed I was blocking the entrance."Sorry!" I quickly moved as they nodded their thanks. I resumed my search now frantically eyeing every family. Where was mine? I thought " I believe they are over there." A deep voice stated. I jumped to find Mysou standing next to me. His brown eyes flicking across my face and then towards the direction of my family.
"Oh Mysou! I mean Chief Mysou…I…oh thank you." I muttered looking down. Chief Komo liked people to look at him but some chiefs felt it a dishonor and preferred you look down while in their presence. "You may look at me." Mysou smiled. I could hear the amusement in his voice, "and I believe it is still Mysou." I smiled at his teasing, peering up. " I think they want you over there." He nodded towards my beckoning mother. I laughed, "Yes." I began walking away and turned to say, "Congratulations." Then I made my way through the clusters of families taking my seat beside Mama. Then a thought made me pause. Mysou, the man who never talked to women had just talked to me. My eyes widened and I caught his smiling gaze. My eyes met Papa's and he nodded. Mama noticed this transaction, leaned into my ear and whispered, " I think I know who Mysou has chosen." I nodded dumb-founded. I think I did too and I hoped it not to be true.