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Smell of Running Water

I have always had so many questions, it wasn’t long before I realized Mama wasn’t ready to answer most of them or the important ones at that and Papa has never been in the picture, it wasn’t long before I noticed I was different from the other children as I stayed in the compound listening to their animated laughter , jesting and loud footsteps while they ran around the dusty road playing whatever game they could come up with, many times I wished I could join them but after Mama’s several “no” replies she usually gave I stopped asking.

Today like every other day I wished to be outside with them, running with my barefoot on the red earth till my feet was dusty with sand, my armpit wet with perspiration while feeling the cool breeze on my skin, giving me cold Goosebumps all over, I wanted to run till I was out of breath, laugh with the children of my town while playing catch or fetching water from the stream. I could just imagine the look of horror on Mama’s face if she heard my thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother, I have to, most times we would sit outside in the cold night me cradled in her arms against the chilly night’s air, listening to the sound of crickets and the howling of coyotes and hooting of owls near by and she would tell me animated animal stories in attempt to avoid my numerous questions, after a while I just stopped asking them, as she would stare into space for a while, her expression having a far away look before reminding me it was past my bedtime.

I watched the clouds form into different shapes as I pictured a man on the horse, I saw a mother cradling her baby, a dancing buffalo, I smiled to myself as I made up images with the cloud, the sky bright orange with hints of red like the soil on the ground, as I watched the sun set, and waited for darkness to envelop me, the chatter of children laughing and the sound of their collective foot steps getting louder as they drew nearer to where I sat , on my favorite spot, under the large fruitless tree in my compound, hidden from the rest of the world as I watched them head home in troops and gradually the sound of them passing began to fade till it was a distant echo and I couldn’t hear them anymore.

He would soon be here, so I got up from my position not wanting him to see me knowing I was spying on him and his friends, every night he would come over with the bundles of wood Mama paid him to bring for us, and early in the morning the sound of his footsteps woke me up as he went to and fro from my house to the stream till the large blue drum outside my house was filled with water for the day, I would stay by my window and watch him unnoticed, he was never in a good mood in the morning as I heard his constant loud cursing each time he stubbed his toe or lost his bearing and I would put my hand across my mouth to stifle my laughter.

But in the evenings, he would come in, feet dusty up to his calf, his shirt clinging to his body as sweat dripped from his body, the smell of wood, sweat and earth clung to him, different from his morning mood he would whistle a happy tone as he set to work. Mama wasn’t  home yet which was unusual but knowing her she would be back in time for dinner and like every night she would have a different story for me, I looked forward to every one of her stories as I tried to picture the market place she talked about with so many people passing by, different merchandise on display, traders calling you to buy, the loud voices of customers as they tried to bargain for a better price, the cursing of angry people, the ones who never stopped by your stall, the regular people who stopped every day for a chat but never bought anything, the people who came from outside town standing out from the regular town folks you knew, and each time Mama narrated a story I pictured it all and imagined myself being there.

The sound of muffled voices and loud demanding footsteps, followed by silent hesitant ones brought me back to earth, and I knew he was here, but today he wasn’t alone, I noticed as I watched his friend take in my large compound with his eyes, and I knew he wasn’t from around here, different from the local children, like me he wore sandals on his feet, I stared at them in awe as I have always wondered why I was the only one who didn’t walk around barefooted, Mama wouldn’t hear of it. his shirt didn’t cling to him like a second skin, instead he looked clean and the log of wood in his hands although smaller than the large chunk carried by the other boy looked misplaced on him, he had clean hands I noticed as he tried to adjust the wood careful not to stain his shirt, I laughed not taking time to muffle my sounds and drew attention to myself, he seemed surprised to find me there, and I felt shy under his gaze as he took in my appearance not hiding his open scrutiny, I surprised myself by standing there and not running away as I have always avoided drawing attention to myself, he smiled at me as he went back to carry another log of wood. Leaving me standing there listening to the loud thumping of my heart as I put my hands on my chest hoping to stop the wave of heat that passed through me.

The first thing I noticed as he came closer to talk to me was his smell, he smelt of clean running water and not the usual herbal smell of the local soap everyone I have met used, I couldn’t place the spicy scent but was sure of the smell of freshly chopped wood that clung to him. I was different from every local girl he has seen, reserved and neat were the words he used. Yes, he was not from around here he was from the big city, I didn’t say much but it was more than I have ever spoken to anyone besides Mama, I listened to him answer my questions and the stories my mom told me was nothing compared to the sound of his voice a low vibrating sound, as he spoke about the city, I was so overwhelmed by the bright lights he described, the fast-moving life of people as they drove around in cars, I had seen cars only a few times and it was never more than one at a time, his life seemed unimaginable as he talked about the school he attended , the large houses made of bricks and had two layers, stairs he called them, I have never felt comfortable  in the presence of any one as I did around him, I watched his face taking in every inch of it into my memory as I knew I might never see him again after he said his final goodbye.

That night as always I was in my own world again, I didn’t Imagine myself in the market, I couldn’t picture myself splashing in the stream with the other children, running around in dirt while playing catch,  going to the village square didn’t seem appealing to me anymore, I found myself picturing a new life in the city to the sound of cars blasting their horns, people cursing here and there , always in a hurry to get to a place, I was still with the village children I have always imagined playing with, but this time they didn’t smell of dirt, wood and earth, they smelt clean, like soap and clean running water.

I realized I would never be comfortable with the sheltered life Mama has always wanted for me, I wasn’t satisfied as the small town girl whose knowledge of the outside world was what she has been told, I was tired of my imaginations I needed to feel all that I saw in my head. That was the day I made my decision to run away from home without second thoughts.

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