This is an adaptation of the Swahili story.
He was sick. She had known that. So why, today of all days, did she leave the village? The messenger said it had gotten worse too quickly, but how much worse did he mean? The feeling of the ground pounded on Huruma’s feet as she sprinted towards her father. Her heart was pounding with fear. What if she didn’t make it in time? She raced through her village, barely aware of the scenes passing her. Her feet barely slowed as she entered the door, flying to his side.
“Father!” She threw her arms around him, weeping with joy that he was still alive and sorrow at the sight of his hollow face. She grasped his hand. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t here sooner. I should have been with you. I should have known.”
“Shhhh. It’s ok, my beautiful Huruma.” He paused. “My children, come closer.” Huruma was surprised to see her brother, Kiburi, step out of the shadows. His face was stiff as stone and his arms crossed tightly across his chest. “We know that I do not have much time left. You, my children are what I leave behind. All I have to give you is my property and my blessing. You must choose one.”
“Your property should all be mine” interjected Kiburi.
“My son, will you leave nothing for you sister’s care?”
“Father, your blessing is more than enough for me. You have protected me well. I have my pots and my garden. I will be fine.”
He gave her his blessing. The words filled her soul and brought tears to her eyes. She spent the rest of the night by her father’s side. It was near sunrise when her father finally passed away. Huruma had held his hand all night, while Kiburi had been asleep in his hut. When the time came, he was buried with honor, and Huruma and Kiburi spent the next seven days in mourning. The sun had barely risen on the 8th day that Kiburi finished moving into his father’s hut. True to his words, he sent over his servants to collect all of their father’s items from Huruma’s hut. She was left with nothing but her father's blessing and the few meager items she owned: a few garden tools, and a couple of pots. But she did not fear.
She set to work tending her garden. It wasn’t long before her pumpkins were ready for harvesting. Word went out through the village. Knowing her pumpkins and spices were the best in the land, the people came quickly to trade with her. Her brother’s wife Wivu sent her servants to trade corn for a pumpkin. When the servants arrived, Huruma sent them back with her largest pumpkin, having turned down the corn they offered. “Tell Wivu that I would not charge her for this. I wish her good fortune and wealth.”
When the servants returned with the pumpkin and the corn still in hand, Wivu sent them back for another one. But by the time they arrived for the second time, Huruma had traded away all of her pumpkins. She offered them spices and bid them to come back when the next harvest was ready.
Enraged, Wivo stormed to her husband. “Huruma denied me a pumpkin when I offered corn. She lives on our land, our generosity. You must do something about this parasite sister of yours.” She refused him the rest of the day and that night, urging him to punish Huruma. When the sun began to rise, Kiburi stomped to Huruma’s hut. He made such a commotion that it woke Huruma. As she stumbled out her door, she saw her brother lift her finest pot above his head and smash it to the ground.
The shattered pot mirrored her shattered heart. “Kiburi! Stop. What are you doing?” She grabbed his arm to try to stop the damage, but he kept going.
“I let you live on this land. I let you stay in this hut. But you disrespect my wife. You disrespect me. A girl like you has no right.” He smashed another pot.
“No, Please. I beg you. Do not do this.”
“You have left me no choice.”
“What did I do to you?”
“You know what you did, to me and my wife. Wivu looked to you as a sister and this is how you treat her. The wealth you have gained from these pumpkins should not have gone to you. This is not your land. This is not yours. It should be mine. I should have gotten father's land and blessing. You have no right to anything. I should cut the vine to teach you a lesson.”
Kiburi drew his sword. Without a thought, Huruma threw herself in front of the pumpkins, doing anything to change his mind. The blade came down, slicing through the air. Huruma cried out as the cut vine fell to the ground, and her right hand with it.
“You are no longer welcomed here,” Kiburi spat. “I want you gone by sunrise. Let’s see how that blessing helps you now.”
Huruma sat there, cradling her arm. The sobs poured out of her like a waterfall. Everything was gone. Every hope. Every dream. All of her pots. Her safety and security. Confusion clouded her head. Slowly, her sobs became whimpers, and she found the strength to stand. Slowly, she searched through her few belongings to find a wrap for her arm. It took her a few tries, but she managed to secure it. She pulled together her few remaining items, look a deep breath, and stepped out of her cottage.
The first night was the worst. She felt scared and confused. She could barely get any sleep, although she didn’t know if it was the pain in her wrist or for fear of wild animals. As the sun rose, Huruma's tear stained face grew determined. She thanked the stars that her mother had taught her how to gather wild plants for food and medicine. While she found a few berries and nuts, she did not get nearly enough to regain her energy. The sun set, and Huruma fell into a deep sleep. In the morning, she set out again to find more to eat.
As the sun set on the second day, she leaned against a tree. She was too tired for tears. She sat there, numb. Suddenly, the branches above her started shaking. She looked up, and there was a black and yellow snake slithering through the branches. Many people would have jumped, but Huruma was not afraid. She was too tired for that.
“Hello, sir. You are a sight for tired eyes.” The snake’s tongue flickered out of its mouth. “Look at that beautiful coloring. I must have been lucky to end up at this tree with you.”
“It wasn’t luck that brought you here.”
Huruma jumped. She looked all around her but no one else was in sight. “Who said that? I just heard your voice.”
“It was me!”
In the blink of an eye, the snake suddenly turned into a man. He was a jolly man with a kind face. Huruma jumped to her feet. “How did you do that?”
“There is no need to be afraid. I am Mwongozo. I was sent here to help you.”
“Who, who sent you?”
“There is no need to concern yourself with that right now. .”
Mwongozo offered his friendship. He helped Huruma learn how to navigate the world with only one hand: how to climb trees, carry her food, and keep her wounds clean. They spent many days together, enjoying each other's company. At night, Mwongozo would take his snake form, and they would both sleep in the trees. It was not the life that she was used to, or the life that she expected, but Huruma found peace in her new way of living.
One morning, Huruma awoke to a strange sound. She looked around, but Mwongozo was nowhere in sight. She moved down a few branches, and saw a man at the bottom of her tree. She paused but her movement had shaken some branches, and the falling leaves caused him to look up. Their eyes met.
“Why are you under my tree?”
“I did not know it was your tree.”
“What are you doing?”
“I was traveling home and injured my foot. I needed to rest. Although I don’t know if I can make it home."
She climbed down from the tree. “If I can climb a tree with one hand, you can get home on one foot.”
Huruma accompanied the man, named Sawa, on his journey, offering support when his foot would hurt. It was a long and slow journey, but Huruma did not complain. She quite enjoyed his company.
As the city rose into sight, Huruma felt nervous. She had never been to a city, but Sawa assured her that she would find more comfort in the city than she had ever found before. Once they reached the gates, they were swarmed by a small crowd, all of whom were fawning over Sawa. He was whisked away, and Huruma was left to follow. When they arrived at the palace gates, Huruma stopped and watched the crowd fade into the grand doors. It was only when Sawa noticed her absence that he returned, took her hand, and lead her inside.
Sawa was a prince, and it was Huruma’s kindness and compassion that bonded the two. It wasn’t long before they were married. Huruma was favored by the people of Mbinguni. She spent many hours working with the people. The kingdom celebrated when Sawa and Huruma welcomed their first child- a boy they named Baraka. For that time, everything seemed perfect.
When Baraka was two, Sawa was invited on a great hunt with a neighboring country. He took many good men with him. It was in his absence that an unwanted visitor had ventured to the city. Kiburi had taken too much from the village, and what was once a strong people had withered away to a barren life. Hearing of the prince’s marriage to a one-handed girl, Kiburi went to Mbinguni and sought an audience with the king. He told the king that Huruma was a witch who had cursed their village. He said that her hand had been cut off as punishment for her evil and malicious deeds and advised the King to cast her away before she could do the same to the city.
The king followed this advice, and threw out Huruma and Baraka. While she feared for the safety of her child, Huruma set out on a journey to find an old friend. It did not take her long before finding Mwongozo lounging in a tree. He smiled upon the sight of her. The two friends fell quickly into their old banter. While it was not her home in the city, Huruma felt safe and fell into her old patterns.
“You must come with me for I have a special place for you.” He led them to the most beautiful pool of water surrounded by the most tranquil trees. The water was so clear that you could see every inch of the bottom. “Come, wash away your troubles.”
They splashed and played in the water, their stress and fears meling for a moment. Huruma turned to thank Mwongozo for his help and friendship. As she began to speak, she noticed the world was too quiet. She turned around and the clear water had suddenly turned murky, and Baraka was nowhere in sight. She panicked and started through the water to find him.
“Mwongozo, help me! Help me! I cannot lift him from the water alone!” she cried.
“Reach with both of your hands.”
“You know I only-”
“Reach with both of your hands.”
Knowing never to turn away the advice of her good friend, Huruma reached out her other arm, and as she stretched it out, her hands found her child. She pulled Baraka from the water, and held him tight, not with only one hand, but with two. She spun her child around, cherishing his face. When she made it back to land, she gave Mwongonzo a great hug of thanks.
“What would I be without you?” She smiled at him.
“What would the world be without you?” He replied. “But your journey does not end here. You know what you need to do.” Mwongonzo handed her a woven basket, and she got to work. Not too far from the city, Huruma built a small hut for her new family, herself, Baraka, and Mwongonzo. She spent her days hard at work, and her nights laughing and smiling with her loved ones. It didn’t take long for her garden to flourish, and for the people of Mbinguni to learn of her talents. Words spread of a beautiful young mother with the most delectable garden, and the King and Queen decided to visit, with Kiburi in their party.
As they walked into the garden, Kiburi felt a knot in his stomach. This garden looked too familiar. He tried to persuade the king and queen that the plants looked shriveled, but they were too captivated by the beauty to pay heed to his words. A little boy went running past them, jumping into his mother’s arms. The king and queen looked up and saw that mother was Huruma.
The queen gasped and ran to the girl and her child. “We thought you were dead.” Tears streamed down her face as she held Huruma’s face. “Husband, how can this be. This must be a miracle brought to us by the gods.”
Huruma offered up her tale of loss. From her father’s death, to the loss of her hand at her brother’s sword, to the king’s decision to cast her away. But among these events, she woven in a story of love, friendship, and family. The queen spun to face her husband, the fire apparent in her eyes. But as she went to scold him, she saw Kiburi cowering behind him.
“You.” She cried. Within two strides, she was inches from his face. “You have brought a curse upon our family since you have arrived. You have lied to us, abused our hospitality, and driven one of our most cherished family members from our home. You blame her for your misfortune, but look at the beauty she has created. The curse is not from her, but from you. Leave us. Pray that if we ever see your face again that we show you more mercy than you ever showed our Huruma.”
The queen embraced Huruma one last time, and invited her back to the city. As she was lead through the streets, more and more people joined the celebration. It was the noise that brought the Sawa to the door of his palace. When he saw the cause of the celebration, he ran to his wife and embraced her. The two wept with joy, kissing each other and their son. And so, the city celebrated for seven days the return of their princess. Huruma and Sawa worked hard to make the city a safe and prosperous place for all of their people. The city became a haven for all who needed a place to call home. And while there were challenges and obstacles, they lived happily married, together with their family for the end of their days.