Two months later I returned to the village. As dusk fell and the last rays of sunlight cast an eerie glow upon the majestic river, I made my way as usual to the now familiar Shabeen. Rachel was not there – in her place was a much younger girl who seemed to be somewhat intoxicated and not very articulate.
Asking her where my friend had gone, I was met with a silent smile beaming out from a pair of pottery-glazed brown eyes. Puzzled and slightly disillusioned I reclined wearily in a rickety chair and swallowed down a few cool beers. I was disheartened – knowing that Rachel was dependent upon this income to realize her unpretentious ambition.
The next day I got news that she was seen in the village and straightway set out to locate her. I found chatting quietly with her friends – a pasttime which I am sure she abhorred – not because she didn’t relish the conversation but she could do that while working and earning some recompense.
Greeting her with a traditional Lotse hand clap, I immediately asked her why she was no longer working in the Shabeen.
‘John’, she said, looking a little incensed, ‘Working in that place from morning to night is bad enough without being threatened as well.’
She went on to explain to me that the son of the owner, a youngster not long left school, had arrived at the shabeen one afternoon drunk out of his mind. In the hours that followed he had come and gone on several occasions hurling verbal abuse – demanding she give him more beer. Not being an alcohol drinker herself and seeing how it had stolen his sanity – Rachel had kept refusing him. Finally, that evening he had become increasingly violent and held a knife to her throat before seizing all the money she had stored behind the bar. Since the time of the incident, some three weeks earlier, he had vanished, but was rumored to be skulking in a remote village on the eastern bank.
‘What will you do now?’ I enquired, feeling concerned for her welfare as there was no employment here in the village nor near at hand. Without any income it would be very hard for her to make ends meet, never mind setting up a small trading venture.
Then as if knowing what I was thinking, she calmly announced,
‘I will have to wait until the cattle are fully grown and sell them so that I have some money and I will try again.’
What determination! She was not going to give up that easy – someway, somehow, she would reach for her stars even if some dark clouds did stand in her way.
‘Where will you be tomorrow morning, Rachel?’ I continued.
‘Why, what’s happening?’ she responded in an enquiring manner.
‘I must get back to
‘I will be sitting with my friends in the street – there’s nothing else to do!’ she returned, in her usual soft tone but finishing with a sigh which spoke volumes.