WATER by Cynthia Smith


Cynthia’s response to the Trigger ‘Water

WATER by Cynthia Smith

 Mama was not well again so M’bila, being the eldest daughter, would have to fetch the water.  She had often been with Mama so knew which paths to follow on the long trek to the water hole, but she had never had to carry the heavy pot before and hoped she would be strong enough.  There was a small brackish stream near the cluster of huts which formed M’bila’s village, but the water was only good enough to wash clothes in, not to cook with or to drink.  So every day water had to be fetched from the nearest water hole.

M’bila was a clever child.  She decided it would be better to take a smaller pot than Mama used, rather than risk spilling any of the precious liquid.  Then she could go back for another potful.  After giving her four siblings a little bowl of maize and checking on her mother, who was sleeping, M’bila set out towards the distant water hole.  The sun had not long risen but slanting beams betrayed various small animals hunting for food.  M’bila hoped she would not encounter anything more ferocious and pushed the thought out of her head.

The child was mindful of not walking too fast, to save most of her energy for the return journey in the heat with the heavy pot on her head.  Her eyes darted left and right for signs of possible danger lurking in the shadows.  Seeing some blades of withered grass move, she froze.  A snake slithered across the path; but it was not interested in M’bila and disappeared under a rock.  She knew it to be deadly poisonous because an old man in the village who had not been able to move fast enough had been bitten by one.  No-one had moved to help him for they knew they could not.  Within a minute or two his legs had stopped writhing and the terror and agony were frozen among the lines on his aged face.

A little later, M’bila started to panic, fearing she had lost her way; but then a group of small verdant trees signalled the moisture that sustained them.  The animals which had been drinking fled at M’bila’s approach and she filled her pot to the brim.  She felt proud as she hoisted the heavy vessel up her skinny back and shoulders, onto her head.  With a little inward smile, she anticipated Mama’s praise for her vital task for the family. 

As she left the shelter of the trees, M’bila suppressed a startled scream and almost dropped the precious pot.  Her path was blocked by an enormous warthog with several hoglets in tow.  M’bila knew warthogs were not usually dangerous to humans, but when they were with their young they were unpredictable and could be vicious.  M’bila had to decide whether to drop the life-sustaining water and run, or to freeze and hope the angry animal would deem her not to be a threat and let her pass.  What would Mama do?  She did not know.  Nothing like this had happened when she had been with her.  Her father, looking down from heaven, would he want her to run and stay safe, or be brave and safeguard the water for her mother and siblings, who could not fetch it?

M’bila made up her mind.  She stood still as a statue, but her heart was thumping so loudly she feared it would burst through her chest.  Just when she feared she would faint, the ugly animal led its offspring into the bush.  M’bila wanted to fall to the ground in relief, but she must not spill the hard-won water now!  Instead she offered up prayers to God for saving her and the water, and to Father for watching over her.

The sun was high in the sky when M’bila reached the village and her little sisters had become anxious; but her brothers were kicking a rag ball in the dirt as though nothing were amiss.

When M’bila entered the hut and approached her mother’s bed, she opened her eyes and smiled lovingly at her first-born child.

“Is that you M’bila?”

“Yes Mama.  I have fetched the water.”

Cynthia water picture

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