Very well written. It's hard to compress a whole society's view of a taboo subject and one girl (woman)'s deeply personal emotional journey into a single story, but you did a great job with it. The perfect blend of anxiety and hope.
I am a woman now
The latest prompt from Black Ship Books concerns taboos. The menarche (pronounced men-ar-KEE), or onset of periods, has been near to my heart since the day I became a woman and my mother failed to share my excitement. I've been reading 'I'm on my way running', which reflects on how different cultures deal with this important moment in a woman's life. This story is a bit of a mish-mash of those different traditions.
I leapt out of bed as usual as soon as I heard my mother moving around the hut. Now that my older sister was married and her husband had built her a hut of her own, it was my job to wake my brothers and send them to the herdsmen, to fetch the water for the day, to do all the little tasks that my mother had no time for. So, I leapt out of bed, as I always did, and reached for my skirt, as I always did, and that was when I noticed the coldness of the air on my thighs, as if they were wet. I blushed with shame at the thought that I might have wet my bed at thirteen! I was almost a woman, now!
And when I looked down, I realised that I was a woman now.
“Whatever are you dilly-dallying about, child?” came my mother's voice from the middle of the hut where she was repairing the fire, using the embers that she had saved from yesterday's ashes. My baby sister was protesting her hunger from her place on our mother's back but she would have to wait a little longer. My youngest brother was having a fine time playing with her ankle rings. The other four boys, two older than me, two younger, were all pretending to be asleep because I had not officially waked them, yet. Our father still snored.
I turned towards my mother, still holding my skirt. “Mother, I cannot wake my brothers, I cannot fetch the water, I cannot do any of the tasks that need me to do them.”
“Whatever are you talking about?” she snapped, glancing back over her shoulder towards me. Then, “Oh, I see. Off with you to the women's hut, then. Everything you need is there. We will see you in a week's time and we will celebrate you becoming a woman.”
“But... Who will fetch the water, and sweep the hut, and pound the millet, and...”
“It cannot be you. You may not even touch the boys while you are bleeding. You know this, Daughter.”
I hung my head and nodded, just like the time when she caught me stealing the half-fermented fruit that only men are permitted to eat. I was a child then. I am a woman now.
She turned back to the fire, which seemed more troublesome than usual, and my brothers snuggled deeper under their blankets, making the most of their lie in. And I wrapped my skirt around my hips, hips that had been growing broader for the last year to match the small breasts that had been swelling, too, marking me out as a nearly-woman.
But I am a full woman, a whole woman, now.
I left the hut, careful not to touch anything, and almost ran into my sister. “Where are you rushing off to, child, without the water jar?” she asked, holding up her own as evidence of what I should be doing at this time in the morning.
“I cannot fetch the water, today. I am going to the women's hut!” I explained.
She beamed at me. “Go, Sister. In a week's time, we will celebrate you becoming a woman!”
There was a new tone in her voice. She was no longer an adult speaking to a child; she was speaking to an equal. I grinned back at her and then hurried off to the Women's Hut.
The Women's Hut is never empty. Most married women spend very little time in there. Once a woman is married, she is usually either pregnant or nursing. But the maidens and the widows use it one week out of four. It lies just outside the village, set apart as the women who use it must be set apart. There are many tales amongst my people of the terrible things that happen when a bleeding woman touches a man, or a water jar, or even sets a fire. I grew a little nervous as I approached it but then I squared my shoulders and walked up to the door, which faces away from the village. I was a woman now. I belonged here.
There was a basket sitting outside the door, waiting for one of the village women to fill it with food for the day, and a water jar, waiting for water. I walked past them that day, but the next week I would take my turn to fill them. Only a woman could deliver food and water to the women's hut but unless she was bleeding she could not touch the basket or the jar. There was clearly a skill to managing the business but it was not my problem at the moment.
I walked up to the door and pushed it open. Two women were inside, just waking up. T'nishi is about my age and had been coming to the women's hut for a few months. When she saw me, she got to her feet and embraced me. I tried to pull away – the shame of being touched by a bleeding woman! – but then I hugged her back; I was a bleeding woman now.
The other woman was Neena, who is a widow, about the age of my mother. She has no children and never remarried, so her hut stands empty for a week every month. The other girls in the village will help my mother and T'nishi's with our chores but there are no chores necessary for Neena.
T'nishi and Neena made me welcome and told me everything that I needed to know. I was so ignorant when I first entered the hut! They showed me the little pot filled with moon leaves that we use to absorb the bleeding. They are long and slender, like a woman's fingers, and soft like a woman's skin, and coloured white and silver like the moon. The women staying in the Women's Hut gather them at night when everyone else is asleep, which was why I had never heard of them before.
Every night while I stayed in the hut, we sat awake and waiting, waiting for the village to settle into sleep. Then, we tiptoed out into the forest around the village, using a path that was never used during the day, to a little grove where the moon leaves grew. There we burned the ones we had used, threw away the unused ones, and gathered a fresh supply for the next day.
T'nishi left the hut a couple of days after I entered it. As she went out into the morning sun, she turned and smiled at me. “In a few days, we will celebrate you becoming a woman,” she said.
Neena also left before I did, but other women came. None of them were there for the first time, though. My friends were sad that they could not be at my celebration but they were happy that we would be dancing the Dance of Maidens together at the last full moon of the year. That night is the best night of the year. I had never attended before because every other year I was a child. But I am a woman now, a maiden, beautiful and strong and healthy. I knew that this year I would dance with the other maidens before the young hunters, and one would choose me to be his bride. I knew who I wanted that to be...
At last, the week was over. I left the hut in the early morning and went down to the river. I washed my body and my skirt and then walked back to the village. I was a woman still, but I was clean now.
I went to my father's hut and he stood from his place by the fire and embraced me. “Welcome home, Daughter,” he said.
That night, the whole village celebrated me becoming a woman. I was dressed in a fine white skirt, and beads were hung around my neck and I had the best place by the fire. The women brought me special foods and little treats – the kind we only have when there is a feast – and the men sang and danced.
A week ago, I was a child. I am a woman now.
I am a woman now
Personal look at taboo
Date: | By: Evan
Date: | By: Joyce Juzwik
So beautifully written. You've captured all the uncertainty and fear, joy and pride of her journey from child to young adult. What added depth to this was the inclusion of other women of different ages and marital status, and how others help their families while they are in the 'hut'. That is, except for the widow--sadly, no help needed for her. Hopefully, this 'brand new' young lady will be chosen by the young man she has her eye on. Lovely story.
Date: | By: Mike
Good description of the mixed emotions for a young girl turning into a young woman. For some cultures, a taboo subject, only hinted at. Such as the many TV commercials extolling products that excel at absorbing blue water! In other cultures, still a taboo, but also a loud celebration of a transition. Nice hint of her next steps, and that she has her eye on someone already.
Re: Next steps
Date: | By: Rose Green
Thanks for taking the time to read and review!