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Echoes of Fulladu: Forgive me mother, for I have erred… part 36

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Fatou gazed at the man standing before her. At 6 feet 1 inch, she was accustomed to towering over most people in her village, just like her mother, Sunkaru, who stood an inch taller. But Ariosvaldo was different. At an impressive 6 feet 5 inches, he not only surpassed her in height, he towered over her. His muscular build, a result of years of subsistence farming, marked him as a figure of power. This was crucial to Fatou, who had always resented her father for his weakness. Her father, a small and frail man, had always depended on the hard work and determination of her own mother. In contrast, Ariosvaldo, the eldest son of a Manjak chief, embodied the physical strength and fortitude she admired. Fatou loved a strong man, and Ariosvaldo was her ideal.

Their relationship was improbable and fraught with obstacles. Neither of their families would approve if they found out, but the two tall lovebirds cared for each other deeply. Ariosvaldo Di Silva was not only from a different tribe but also a Christian—a pork-eating Christian! In their village, such a union would be scandalous. The prying eyes of the villagers would find much to gossip about. But despite the societal pressures and the disapproval that loomed over them, Fatou and Ariosvaldo’s bond remained unshaken. They found solace in each other, forging a connection and love that transcended the cultural and religious divides that sought to keep them apart.

For months, they had met anywhere and everywhere away from the piercing eyes of judgmental villagers. It started off rather jovially, with Ariosvaldo, whom Fatou affectionately called Ari, teasing her about her height one day after a hard day’s work in the fields with her mother, Sunkaru, and her siblings. Sunkaru had gone ahead to prepare the evening meal, while she stayed back to plow the remainder of the land for next day’s work. After completing her tasks, she was heading home all by herself when she encountered a tall cheeky fellow on his solitary walk home.

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“How I would die to have a wife of your stature and strength,” Ariosvaldo teased lightheartedly. “There is such beauty in the sparkle of your eyes, the radiance of your face, and the quickness of your step. But your height, my dear—such majestic height!”

Fatou did not find his words amusing. She interpreted them as ridicule, something she was far too familiar with in their village. She and her siblings, all tall, had been the subject of mockery and unwelcome attention their entire lives. Their height often made them appear older than they were…

“You don’t know me, giant of a man,” she began, dusting her calloused right hand against the hoe she held with her left. “What gives you the right to speak to me like this?” she retorted, glaring at him.

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Ariosvaldo gulped at her response. “I did not mean to offend you,” he stammered, taken aback by her harsh retort. “I didn’t mean to talk to you in any way that you might find offensive. If my words hurt you, then please know I am sincerely sorry,” he said, his voice earnest.

Fatou remained silent, surprised by his politeness. She had been prepared for a rebuff or even an insult to her and her family, something she was quite used to. But an apology?

“My name is Ariosvaldo Di Silva, and I live in the next village. Nice to meet you,” he said softly, before turning to walk away.

Fatou hesitated, her curiosity piqued. “Wait,” she called after him. “I’m Fatou. Nice to meet you too.”

Ariosvaldo turned back, a hopeful smile spreading across his face. “Fatou, I truly didn’t mean any harm. I was just trying to make conversation. You seem strong and independent, and I admire that.”

Fatou studied him for a moment, searching his face for any sign of insincerity. Finding none, she softened slightly. “It’s just that I’m used to men around here thinking they can belittle me and my family. Your joke felt like more of the same.”

“I understand,” Ariosvaldo nodded. “But I promise, I’m not like them. I respect you, and I didn’t mean to make you feel otherwise.”

She nodded, accepting his apology. “Alright. Just be careful with your words next time.”

“Absolutely,” he agreed, relief evident in his eyes. “So, can we start over? I’d really like to get to know you better.”

Fatou smiled, a small but genuine smile. “I think I’d like that too.”

That day, Fatou watched him go, a mix of confusion and curiosity swirling in her mind. This encounter was different from any she had experienced before. His genuine apology and respectful introduction lingered in her thoughts long after he disappeared from view.

Over the following weeks, their paths crossed more frequently. What began as casual encounters turned into longer conversations, and eventually, secret meetings. Fatou found herself drawn to Ariosvaldo’s kindness, his humor, and the way he made her feel seen and respected. He, in turn, admired her strength, both physical and emotional, and the determination that shone through her every action.

Their meetings became the highlight of her days, a reprieve from the relentless judgment she faced in the village. Soon they began to plot to see each other more. They would meet in secluded spots, away from prying eyes, sharing stories, dreams, and stolen moments of tenderness. Despite the differences that should have kept them apart, their bond grew stronger.

But now, as they stood facing each other, the weight of reality pressed down on them. Fatou had come to tell him that their illicit affair was about to be exposed. Their clandestine meetings had resulted in Fatou being four weeks pregnant.

“You must convert if you want to marry me,” Fatou said firmly when he suggested that marriage was the only way out of their situation.

Ariosvaldo’s face paled as the news sank in. “I am the first son of the Manjak chief, Constantino Di Silva III. I cannot convert to Islam. It is impossible, my love.”

Fatou looked away, pained by the reality of his words. How foolish she had been to carry on with this affair, knowing it would lead nowhere. The dream of a future together seemed to crumble before her eyes.

“There is no doubt the baby is mine. But I cannot do what you want me to do. I cannot convert to marry you. My family will disown me. I will be banished from the community, forced to live the life of a vagabond.”

“Then what do we do?” cried Fatou in dismay, her voice trembling. “I can’t raise this child alone. I can’t face the shame on my own.”

“And my mother. Oh, my mother. She has done everything for us. Look how I pay her in return.” Fatou cried.

Ariosvaldo took a deep breath, his mind racing. “We have to find a way. There must be a solution. Maybe we can talk to someone, find a middle ground. I cannot abandon you, Fatou. You mean too much to me.”

Fatou shook her head, tears streaming down her face. “Who would understand? My family, your family, the entire village—they will all condemn us. They will condemn our child.”

“I know,” Ariosvaldo said softly, reaching out to touch her shoulder. “But running away isn’t the answer. We have to stand together, face this together. Perhaps we can find a place where we can be accepted, where our child can grow up without shame.”

“And where would that be?” Fatou asked, desperation in her voice. “Where can we go where no one will judge us?”

Ariosvaldo hesitated, struggling to find an answer. “I don’t know yet. But I promise you, I will find a way. We will find a way. I love you, Fatou, and I love our child. We will not be alone in this.”

Fatou took a deep breath, trying to steady her emotions. “You truly mean that? You won’t leave me?”

“Never,” he vowed, his eyes locking onto hers with unwavering determination. “We will face whatever comes our way, together. I will not abandon you or our child.”

Fatou nodded, the weight of his words offering a glimmer of hope. “Then we need to start planning. We need to figure out how to make this work.”

“Yes,” Ariosvaldo agreed. “We need to be smart, to think ahead. But we will find a way. I believe that. And I believe in us.”

Fatou managed a small, hopeful smile. “Alright. Together, then. We’ll find a way together.”

As they stood there, the enormity of their situation still looming large, a newfound determination began to take root in their hearts. They knew the road ahead would be difficult, fraught with challenges and uncertainty. But with each other’s support, they were resolved to face whatever obstacles came their way, united in their love and commitment to their unborn child.

*****

The 1960s in Casamance was a time of rigid social norms and deeply ingrained cultural traditions. The village was a tight-knit community where everyone knew each other’s business, and societal expectations were strict, especially regarding relationships and marriage. Fatou and Ariosvaldo’s relationship was fraught with difficulties, not least because of their different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Fatou, a Fula, was expected to marry within her own tribe, while Ariosvaldo, a Manjak Christian, was an outsider in many ways.

Sunkaru, Fatou’s mother, had always been a formidable presence in the village. Her height and strength, both physical and emotional, had earned her respect and fear in equal measure. She had defied the traditional roles assigned to women, carving out a space where she could protect and provide for her children, even when her husband, the village’s drunkard, could not.

However, this defiance came with its costs. The village women whispered about her behind her back, calling her names and speculating about her past. Men, intimidated by her stature and independence, kept their distance, reinforcing her isolation.

Fatou, the eldest, often felt the weight of her mother’s burdens and tried to emulate her strength. She dreamt of a future where she could rise above the constraints of their small village, fueled by the fierce determination she inherited from Sunkaru. The younger ones found solace in each other’s company, creating a united front against the world’s harsh judgments.

As Fatou and Ariosvaldo continued their secret conversations and began to plan for their uncertain future, they knew they would face significant resistance. The village’s rigid norms would not easily bend to accommodate their love. They needed to find allies, or at the very least, a place where their differences would not be a source of conflict.

To be contd.

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