Mama Latifa POV
“Hii nywele ni kama chuma”. Mama Latifah’s thick hands were entangled in the dark forested knots of the slave girl’s crown. The slave girl tried not to wince every time a finger pulled through a tangled curl. She bit her cheeks, ignoring the salty warmth that dripped onto her tongue each time she bit harder.
Mama Latifah had a wrap around her scalp, as most other women on the Island did, but peeking beneath the edges of the scarf, wisps of hair blew across the side of her face. Some stubborn strands stuck against her skin, glued by the sweat sliding down her cheeks. Mama Latifah did not know what to do with the wild matted dark hair of the slave girl.
On mornings when she would let her own hair down, it would fall almost to her bottom. The soft waves, darker than night, shimmering in the reflection of the morning sun. It was the most beautiful part of her. She knew she had aged poorly, with nothing to necessarily refine her as beautiful.
Over the years through the losses, and the heartbreaks, her cooking had become her solace. The sweet and the salty foods dipped in hot oils, burning in sufurias on outside jikos would lift up a fragrance that wafted into the noses of even those who had forgotten how to smell. The Islanders came from all over for her Kaimati, and her Bhajias could make Sultans fall to the ground in gratitude to the Great One. It was no wonder her waist had expanded, with each piece she gave, two she had consumed in preparation. Yet as the rest of her grew old, her hair seemed to grow even more graceful. It was now laced with streaks of grey which only seemed to capture additional attention to it’s soft beauty.
In some other time and some other place when Baba Latifa had fallen in love with her, raking his fingers through her tresses he would whisper into her ear “Your spirit’s stillness lies in the unchanging black waters of your hair”… Mama Latifa clicked and sighed. It was a shame the Big Book had determined women would not show off their crowns in public. Her husband had taught her to believe that a person’s spirit could be discovered through the movement of their hair. Hers was calm, constant, unchanging.
The slave girl’s hair was as far from that as one shore of the sea is from the other. If she could she would cover the hair of the skinny child in front of her but she knew the Sultan would want to examine every inch of her. The child’s hair spoke of struggle. Her hair spoke of a fighting spirit, in it’s inability to bend to gravity’s will. The girl’s mouth may speak slave but her hair, with its every fiber spoke free. Mama Latifah was scared for the girl. A fighting spirit could be as much a weakness as it was a strength in one as little as this.
She knew she was hurting the girl but she couldn’t help it. She had to tame the hair as much as she possibly could. She rubbed a mixture of oils and spices into the thick mane and slowly it began to soften up. The coils were still thickly evident, and the softer texture was only temporary but it would be sufficient for the Sultan’s scrutiny.
Mama Latifah tied up the shrunken coils with a strip of cloth, flattening the edges, then she told the child to undress. She slowly pulled the rags of her shoulders. Mama Latifah saw her wince as the material rubbed against her wrists where the skin was raw and she resisted the urge to grab her, hold her in her arms, and carry her away to some part of the island where hearing ears didn’t hear and seeing eyes didn’t see.
When the sorry excuse for a covering fell away from the child’s body, Mama Latifah softly gasped. She had told the child she was virgin beauty but the statement barely scratched the surface. Roses were rare on the island but Mama Latifah remembered hearing on the mainland they lay in plenty. She wondered if where this girl came from their beauty struck her or if even in their presence the rose’s red would pale in comparison to her beautiful brown complexion. Her ebony skin lay flawless with the exception of the few bruises left by her captors. The dark chocolate tones etched beautifully into her skin. Her small hilled breasts looked like two brown avocadoes, perfectly molded. Her frame was skinny but already a curve had formed outwards from her waist to hint at her growing hips. If fed well this one would stop men, and even women cold in their tracks. She would remind them of home. The mountains and valleys on her body resonating the unstable black beauty of Africa.
“Is…is… something wrong?” the little voice took up space, lingering in the air bringing her back to the now. There were so many things she could say to the child. But she didn’t know what the right thing was. She clicked and gave a soft chuckle,
“Can’t an old ugly woman just admire the beauty of youth? Now get into the basin quickly, we need to scrub you up. The Sultan has waited long enough.”
The girl did as she was told and Mama Latifah scrubbed the dirt away, hoping to scrub away some of her beauty as well. In this place one could not be too beautiful, just as one could not be too ugly. To be either was a curse. Beauty may be the easier curse to bear, but it was a curse nonetheless.
To be too ugly is comparable to dirt, worthless unless you have other skills. To be too beautiful is comparable to possession. You are no longer your own; the irony of the world in that your beauty belongs to everyone else but you.
The child was young. Eventually she would become a Suria, there was no doubt. Her eyes said she had seen things, in their depths swam almost as much resilience as lived in her hair but even then there was still the naivety of a child about her. Surely the sultan would see that?
Mama Latifah heard footsteps and her name grumbled. It was Ahmed. Everyone else had a hard time understanding the gruff man, but she had been drawn in my his soul. He had course hair all over his body, he was almost like wool. Mama Latifah believed it spoke of the warmth of his spirit. Since they met she had loved him as if he were her son.
At this moment though, all of that was forgotten as he spoke, “Kijana ya mzee amekuja. Anataka kuona msichana”.
Mama Latifah’s heart stopped. The Sultan’s son was like a storm on the island. Uneasiness followed him, leeching onto his every move. He took women, tormented children, and broke men. Mercy and Kindness were words never learned in his vocabulary, if ever learned, they were quickly discarded.
Mama Latifah looked at the child in front of her who was now dressing into the plain dress she had layed out for her. The child wouldn’t be the first new slave to be called by the Sultan’s son. But she could only hope she would be the first to come out unharmed and unscarred physically or mentally.
Mama Latifah touched the girl’s hair, confronted with its thick bristles, she remembered. This child’s hair spoke of struggle: of a fighting spirit, in it’s inability to bend to gravity’s will. The Sultan’s son may see slave but her hair, with every fiber spoke free. She could only hope that here the girl’s fighting spirit would be stregth over weakness…
- George R. R Martin has made his fans wait since 2011 for the sixth installment of the Game of Thrones book series. That’s six years fam!
- I made you wait a few weeks for the third installment of a short story so I’m not doing too badly I think compared to him.
- I’m not famous enough yet that I can make the precious few consistent readers I have wait for updates so disregard statement 1 and 2 😂😂
- Thus I am profusely sorry for my writer’s block and feelings of inadequacy that would not allow the words to flow from my mind to the screen. And I am incredibly and enduringly grateful to those still following this short story series. ❤ and I shall make it up to you by posting part four which should be the last installment either tomorrow or some time this weekend. (and if I don’t, the first person to call me out on it gets a chocolate 😅)
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- Photo Cred for the beautiful Red Rose: the cool weirdo @Steven_Anyera