Ligiri ran. She ran with all her might away from the Dama on the third and last day. She dropped to the ground and wept for what seemed hours. The last of the family that cared for her had passed away. Her grandfather had died when she was just a baby, and her grandmother, ten years ago. Now her mother, a Yasigne, which was why a Dama was even held for her death.
Ligiri was now left to her sister Koro, who bossed Ligiri around. Ligiri tried to love her, for she was a kind soul, but she just couldn’t love her cold-hearted sister, who was a favorite with her father and had a way of making him believe whatever she said.
The stars were barely beginning to fade, when Ligiri was up. As quickly as a mouse she arose from the hard bed she was given by her sister and put on the only clothes she managed to sew before Koro forbade her to make herself clothes, a torn wrap-around skirt and a slightly damaged top. Ligiri’s back was stiff and sore from sleeping in her bed, but that didn’t matter. “Chores must be done,” she’d say to herself, as she climbed up to the roof of the house where her father and sister were sleeping during the dry season, from the stuffy and irritating inside where Ligiri had to spend her nights whether she liked it or not. A cool breeze hit her in the face the moment she stepped outside and she felt good to be outside once more. Nevertheless, she was grateful. “I have food and I have a roof over my head, that’s all that matters,” she’d say to herself, though deep down inside she knew she longed to be treated like she was when her mother was alive.
Ligiri fed and milked the goats and collected the eggs and gave water and some seeds to the chickens, when she realized that Koro wasn’t working by her side like she was supposed to. She climbed back onto the rooftop. Careful not to wake her father, Ligiri whispered, “Koro, time to wake up.”
She got a reply, “Huh? Oh, it’s you! Ligiri, you stupid girl! How dare you wake me so early?”
“But, elder one, it’s work time.”
“Ha! I laugh in your face! I’ll make you a deal. I took your place on the roof, and you can take my chores! Ha, ha, ha!” And Koro’s roaring laughter could be heard far and wide at that moment.
Poor Ligiri made her way down from the rooftop where the family was sleeping during the dry season, picking up a clay pot, later filling it at the well and balancing it on her head.
And so, it continued. Ligiri did Koro’s and her own work every day, hoeing and weeding in the fields, cooking, and other jobs, though she was the age to be playing and making string figures, while their father, coming back from the Hogon with a usually good fortune, praised Koro, thinking she did all the work. Ligiri’s only comfort was a fifty-foot baobab tree, which reminded Ligiri of her kind grandfather as it loomed overhead.
The years passed until Koro was old enough to marry. “I don’t care for marriage. If I did, everyone would want to marry me,” she’d brag, though deep down inside she knew that nobody liked her.
One morning Ligiri awoke to the cry of a young boy. “The Griot has arrived! The Griot is here!” Ligiri looked forward to this time. Not because she could listen to exciting stories through poems and songs. No. Koro forbade her to do that. It was because she had free time. Of course she still did all the work, but Koro was not there to make up something else for her to do.
And so, when the day’s work was finally done, Ligiri quietly made her way down to the baobab tree. She took out a cleverly hidden piece of pretty beadwork. Call it a secret hobby of which nobody knew, but Ligiri was working on it for over a year.
Quickly and happily she finished it that day, and when she did, she burst into tears. “I know I should be happy for life, and glad that I at least have a roof over my head, but I just can’t stand it! I wish Mother were here. Or maybe Grandfather!”
“Oh, but wishes do come true sometimes. Now, don’t cry Ligiri!”
Ligiri looked up. “Who said that?”
“Why, I did. I’m your grandfather. My spirit is in this baobab. I know how Koro treats you, and I want to help you. Tomorrow is market day. Go there and expect somebody special. Now run along.”
“Oh, thank you!” and with that she ran back to the village.
The next day Ligiri awoke even earlier than usual. She did all she was supposed to and packed up her goods for trading and selling during market day. She had not forgotten her grandfather’s words. Ligiri had taken along a newly started piece of beadwork to work on when nobody was looking.
Ligiri joined a group of women and girls going to the marketplace, and when they got there, Ligiri looked around at the familiar market-day sights: men were sitting under a big silk-cotton tree, drinking millet beer and discussing the latest news, among them her own father, the children playing together making string figures. Ligiri hoped that the “special person” would arrive soon. She expected to see someone young and pretty, so you can imagine how surprised Ligiri was when an old, feeble, yet kind-looking woman appeared in front of her, with a look which told Ligiri that she wasn’t there to trade for goods. “I see you like beading,” said the woman with a smile.
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Then I have a little something for you.” And with that she took out the most beautiful beads Ligiri had ever seen.
“Are they for me?”
“Yes,” replied the woman.
Ligiri could hardly take her eyes off of her new treasure, but when she finally looked up from her gorgeous beads to thank the woman, she had disappeared into thin air.
The next time the Griot arrived and Ligiri had finished the work, she began to work on a necklace using her new beads. She was so determined that, soon after, she had finished her jewelry. Ligiri knew that if Koro saw it, she’d take it away, so she enjoyed it while she could. Ligiri was so absorbed in her new necklace that she didn’t notice how a young man had stepped behind her.
“That’s very pretty, I must say, did you make it yourself?”
Ligiri was the shy and quiet type, and never before found herself with such a handsome young man. There was a long uncomfortable silence, which was finally broken by the young man.
“My name is Danu. I’m the Hogon’s son in a nearby village. What’s your name?”
Ligiri didn’t know what to do, so she turned and ran. Unfortunately, Ligiri’s lovely necklace got caught on a low-hanging branch in her haste to get back to the village. She wanted to pick it up, but Danu was close behind her.
“Wait! Please! Won’t you just tell me your name? I never completely even saw your face!” Very soon he was breathless and stopped. Something glimmered on a branch nearby, and he soon recognized the necklace. A grin spread on his face. “Whoever shall make a necklace just like this one will be my bride!” he yelled, just loud enough for Ligiri to hear it in the distance.
That night Ligiri went to the baobab with her grandfather’s spirit and told him the sad news about the necklace. In reply he threw down a handful of beads just like the ones before.
The next day there was a lot of commotion among the girls. News spread fast that Danu was going to marry whoever made the same necklace as he had in his possession now, and the Hogon’s son was considered a very fine young man. Soon, all the girls in the village were working hard on necklaces, except Koro, who had another plan, as she watched hungrily over Ligiri’s work. Ligiri’s clever hands worked quickly and happily, and right then and there Ligiri realized that her heart wasn’t with her anymore, it was with the Hogon’s son, but even then it ached. A sigh of triumph escaped Ligiri’s lips as she proudly held out her finished necklace, right before Koro snatched it from her.
“Ha! Now he will have to marry me!” Koro yelled as she ran to a place by a baobab where Danu had announced for all the girls wishing to participate to meet. Instead of crying though, Ligiri quietly followed her hard-hearted sister.
Koro and Ligiri looked alike, but nobody saw it, for Koro had a look of jealousy, anger and sorrow mixed together, while Ligiri always carried a smile, and a kind look was given to everyone, which was why everyone liked her. Maybe that was why jealousy haunted Koro all those years.
A line stretching far and wide, reminding one of a snake, was crowding in front of Danu. Four hours passed with no luck, and Danu was beginning to lose hope, when Koro stepped in front of him. He studied the necklace she gave him. “Well, it looks like this one, exact in fact.” Then he looked at Koro and studied her face. “You do remind me of her, even though I never really saw the face,” he said with a little doubt in his voice, “but something’s different. I don’t know what.”
Koro started to panic. “No. It’s me. I’m the one.”
“Yes, you’re probably right. But before I marry you, will you please put your necklace on? I’m sure that’s why I’m having doubts. I remember you with it on.”
“Why, certainly!” Koro cried, and a sigh of relief escaped her. But the moment the stolen necklace touched Koro’s skin, it began piercing it and choking her. Koro grabbed her throat and began screaming for help. Instinctively, Ligiri ran up to her screaming sister and took off the necklace, not because it was a chance to get it back, but because she was kind. But she didn’t even get a simple “thank you.” Instead, Koro yelled at her, “You stupid girl! How dare you make such a necklace and even let me steal it?” (Danu was meanwhile listening to all this.)
Ligiri took no notice of her elder sister at that moment but simply put on the necklace. Ligiri looked up at Danu and their eyes met. Taking no notice of Koro, the Hogon’s son took Ligiri’s hand, and everyone knew who would be his bride.
Before the wedding ceremony, Ligiri went to the baobab and told her grandfather the good news. Her grandfather had some news to tell Ligiri himself though. “Ligiri, I was privileged to see you once more, and now that you’re starting a new and better life, I can rest. I won’t be able to speak to you out loud, but I’ll always speak in your heart.”
A tear ran down Ligiri’s cheek. “Thank you, Grandfather, for everything. I’ll never forget you!” And at that very moment the tree burst into bloom, though no rains poured. Ligiri turned and walked back to the village. She turned around and looked at the baobab one last time. A branch moved, almost as if a kind human hand was waving for her to go on.
* Rita set her story in the Dogon tribe of Mali, West Africa.