CHARACTER SKETCH: OUR VILLAGE BELLE

Salma was our village belle. In our eyes, she was perfectly formed: smooth, light skin that one could almost make out in the dark, and a face that could only be compared with, well, nothing. We had never seen anyone like her. Even our parents, some of whom came from the land beyond the village boundary rocks knew nothing, no one like her. She had bright, brown eyes, and it was difficult to look elsewhere whenever she turned them on anyone; they seemed to have a hypnotic quality to them. Her nose was straight, and her lips were pink and full. Her wild, black hair could never be completely tamed, but that only added to its appeal. The loose, “curly” texture of the hair set it apart from our own thick, “coily” ones. When she let it down, the hair fell just past her shoulders and rested gracefully on her back.

No one knew why Salma’s hair and eyes were different, or why her name was Salma. It was a very unusual name for a Yoruba girl. No one knew where Salma came from; one day she wasn’t there and the next day, she was. Whenever we asked, she would smile and carry on as though the question was never asked, or simply say “from just beyond the boundary rocks.” We weren’t allowed to go beyond the rocks, so we could never find out where this place was. My mother told me there was nothing but water beyond the rocks. She said Salma may have come from there; what human looked like that anyway? Mothers tried to keep their daughters away and warned their sons sternly to steer clear of the stranger, but it was no use. We were like moths in the presence of bright light.

Salma was the village tease. She took care to wrap her ample bosom and backside in form fitting clothes. Her wrappers were tied just high enough to show a hint of her long, strong legs. Boys and men fell over themselves to get her attention. She would sometimes flirt with some of them, and on such occasions, one could almost see the men fighting the saliva threatening to drip down the sides of their mouths. One day, my brother told me how he thought Salma’s laughter was a song and how her warm smile and dimples could turn the most disappointing day into a burst of sunshine. Salma could inflict wounds on people while protecting her friends, but she never got a cut.

She became one of us. She had lived with us a while, and our mothers had started to trust her. She even chose a man to marry. On the morning of her joining, some of us sang and danced and waited in front of her house, ready to bring her to her husband, but Salma didn’t come out. We called and searched and looked everywhere, but she wasn’t there. Then we waited. She would come back, she just got cold feet. We waited for days, and then for months, but she never returned. She was gone, just the way she came, leaving behind a village full of broken hearts.

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