This is a tale of tears that besemears the heart like a balladeer’s song of fears.
Leila walked down the sandy village lane past the mathenge thorn bushes to shallow wells. Her head was covered in a yellow hijab. But deep inside it was covered with a longing to see Feila her passion. She hadn’t seen him for two days-which was an eternity for her. Leila came to the giant tree under which they used to meet. Eagerly, she scanned the horizon looking for her Feila.Her heart sank as she sat down on the mat she had carried for their rendezvous.
Feila appeared from the other direction, his steps light like the evening zephyr. He carried with him a can of fragrant perfume in his hands for Leila and a token of vagrant emotions in his heart. His hair was like silvery wool, his gait was like that of the antelope.
He greeted her, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking. She looked at him and saw something no one else did, even if she did not know what it was. She greeted him, trying not to look at him, as if he were the moon, yet she saw him, like the moon, even without looking.
Leila was beautiful like a water nymph. People said that there were two stars in her eyes where pupils should have been. Her teeth were even and whiter than camel milk. Feila was tall and lithe, camels stopped to watch him walk when passed by.
You kept me waiting. Leila started. Women will always start the best things with a nag.
I kept you hoping. Feila answered.
She smiled demurely, twirling her fingers around his, like she was binding herself to him. Feila shot her with his soft fiery eyes. He was a warrior. When the clan needed someone to follow the Oromo cattle rustlers, Feila was the boy to do so. At the age of 22, he had overseen more cattle raids than most retired herders in the village. He had this Neanderthal charm not even the sheikhs daughter could resist.
Feila was powerful and lethal. Dangerous even. When he set his sight on anything, he never let go. When his clan’s camels were taken past the Ethiopian highlands by the marauding Oromos, he led a pack of 30 boys to recover them. He never trembled at the sound of the AK47, the dreaded gun that pastoralists guarded their flocks with.
But here he was trembling before a young slim girl who pierced his heart with a gaze of a thousand passions.
They talked deep into the night. When emotions overwhelmed them and words failed, they chatted in oommphs and aaahs which only them understood. They murmured impossible promises and uttered difficult words. Like I will never leave you. Feila rested his head on Leila’s bosom. She pretended not to like it, but her actions said she liked it.
He kissed her. But kissing was forbidden.Haram.They knew they would go to hell for that, but with this realization the kisses got cloying and run over their mouths like honey outpouring from a beehive that badly need emptying.
One kiss is like the other, but I will never tire of kissing you. Feila whispered hauntingly.
What did my lips do before they met you? Leila asked.
I will never leave your arms. Feila made another impossible promise.
Leila was the desire, and Feila was his prisoner, chained by her touch. She was an ocean; he was a sinking man lost in her waves. Deeper and deeper he sank, each wave getting warmer and sweeter than the previous, all headed to inevitable explosive spasms. A hissing of primordial soups welled up in his hips like uncorked geysers. A maternal beckoning rose up in hers like a mighty wave.
Then, when the two ontological forces were just about to rapture forth, they heard Leila’s mothers voice calling for her incessantly.
I have to….I have to go…She said, dusting sand from her billowy dress.
Promise to see me tomorrow…
Before she could finish, their mother’s sceptre appeared in the soft moonlight, shouting Leila’s name again. She made haste and left Feila, not sure she would see him again, not sure she would again lay her head on his hairy chest, her home. It seemed like they had only met for a few minutes. When two people adore one another deeply, two hours seem like two minutes. When they loathe each other, the same two hours seem like two days.Einsten called it relativity. I call it the absurdity of the human passion.
Feila, I am home. Please remember me in your salah.
Leila whispered to the evening wind hoping it will pick the words and send them to Feila. Nature at times rescues two hearts longing for each other. After she was done with milking the goats, she lay on a mat and watched the stars autograph the skies with Feila’s name. Just about the stars grouped together to write her name next to his, her mother started scolding her. Something she did all night, like she had practiced it all day.
Earlier, when Leila had gone to serve the evening meal to his father in his dash, she had noted that they were three strange men who talked in hushed tones, and stopped when she came around. A camel bedecked with rich felt and gems that glistened in the moonlight was parked by their hut. After taking supper, the strangers stealthily rode their grunting camel into the night, just like they came. Feila knew all was not well. She was low, in the way women feel things will go wrong by their hearts. Her heart was troubled;it cried all night like a siren for Feila.
The wedding was held two days later. It was sombre and sad, with Leila’s tears going down to her heart and all the capital centers of her soul. She cried all her tear wells dry, leaving no tears for future sorrows.
As she left her mother’s hut to her new forced home, she sent a hundred messages to Feila through the wind, hoping he will pick them. When things decide to go wrong, they go wrong completely. That night the wind was flowing in different direction, and thus Leila’s messages went to remote villages up-stream. Love-struck lads picked them up, the way bulls pick pheromones of randy cows in the air, but they didn’t decipher what the messages meant.
After few days, Feila came to the tree they used to meet under. He waited for her but she never came along. He did this for several days, until his heart sighed with a thousand stinging emotions. Forest gnomes and fairies watched him as he wrote these words on the bark of the tree:
Leila,I need you more than I need air to breathe.
The writing was in a language only the two of them could decipher. After a few days, Feila was going to the shallow wells to draw water. She read the message and answered back:
Feila, rescue me-like you rescued our thousand camels from the Oromo.
The following day, Feila knew there was a message for him written in the trees bark. He put on his best kanzu and fez. With a spring in his step and foreboding in his heart, he rushed to the tree, hoping to whet the longing in his heart with her letters scribble by Leila.When he went to tree of their secret rendezvous, it had been cut down. A gaping hole sat like heartache where the tree used to be. Where do messages intended for a treasured one go to when they don’t reach him or her? The fighter in Feila didn’t give up. With a forlorn heart and firm stick, he wrote on the sand nearby:
A hundred times I long for you, A hundred times I cry for you.
An evil wind blew that night and erased everything from the sand. When Leila came to the place and found the tree cut,she blew some messages to Feila, but the same evil wind blew them to a herd of cows that were grazing around, making some bulls fan their ears and stomp their feet. Such is the energy of raw passion.
Then, Feila got sick. Each day he woke up with new pain, each stronger than the previous one. He developed into thin pencil of man; he couldn’t walk in an open field without a light wind attempting to sweep him away like a dry leaf.
Leila was no better. She refused to eat, getting thin like an orphan fed grudgingly by its stepmother. Her rich husband sourced for the best doctors in the village, but with each treatment, she got worse.
Then one day, Feila’s eyes closed eternally. They buried him near the tree where they used to meet. After a short while, Leila eyes closed too, never to re-open again. Hearts go on working even when they are broken: souls go to sleep when they get broken. The imam decreed that she be buried next to Feila.
Two evergreen trees sprung up where the two were buried. When they reached the height of a teen and their barks got pimpled, their roots and tendrils and branches edged towards each other, finally embracing in a bond neither ax nor man could break. To date, the two evergreen trees stand, watered by some cosmic force, held in some eternal embrace, with birds forever singing madrigals to Leila and Feila.
This was an experiment to retell an old love story without using the word ‘love’.
That said, do you have any forgotten folk tale that you would like to tell? Let’s talk about it.Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.