"Motikatika! Act like a normal child play with your food!" squealed the goat herder's wife as she tied on her apron. She waved her hands in exasperation at her little son, who sat at the low table neatly and carefully eating his fish with a fork. She scowled as she watched the infant, who was no more than three and acting like thirty! Her little son sighed and half-heartedly poked at his fish in a sad attempt to play. Bah. Something had always been the matter with that child.
Faraja turned away and carefully wrapped a scarf about the thick mane of naps she was so proud of. She was a very dark woman, and as such, was considered a lovely among the men folk of the village. With her narrow waist and round behind, her slanted eyes and dark skin, she turned heads every morning that she walked out to the fields. Faraja had always prided herself on being a lovely, but since the birth of her son, it seemed her husband had stopped wanting her, as well as the younger men. She looked at her reflection in the river and often thought with terrible spite that Motikatika had ruined her figure.
"And make sure it is fresh water!" cried her husband from the bed. His black back and its tight muscles were turned to the room and he was holding himself. The baby.
Faraja rolled her eyes. Her husband had been playing sick all morning, sending her to and fro for this and that and complaining each time she returned. She fetched him honey but he said there were bees in it! She brought him goat milk but he threw it across the room and called it sour. Glancing between her husband and son, Faraja suddenly realized that it seemed the two had traded roles: Mwasham had been acting the sulky child since Motikatika's birth.
Silently seething, Faraja wrapped her long, nappy curls deftly in the scarf and tied the cloth atop her head. Then very carefully, she lifted an empty gourd and rested it on her crown. "Fresh water," she promised, "and don't let our son get eaten by a lion while you sit there sucking your thumb!" She laughed when her husband yelled an obscenity at her, then started down to the usual pool of fresh water.
Walking beneath the blaring sun, the walk suddenly seemed too far, and Faraja was relieved to spot a closer pool. Looking at it, her eyes grew round. The water in this new pool sparkled golden like honey. Surely this was special water, surely this would get her husband out of bed! She hurried to the pool, and with a coat of dust clinging to her sandaled toes, she squatted down with her gourd. The water looked so delicious that she paused to take a sip from her hand. Something tingled throughout her body and she felt abnormally well and strong. If this water didn't help her husband, no water would!
Faraja lifted her gourd and was preparing to scoop when a face poked from the water. She screamed and fell back on her butt as the face roared, "Who said you could have my water!"
Faraja blinked at the angry face: an ogre! The creature's yellow teeth and red eyes were horrifying, and the smell! Faraja resisted the urge to cover her nose, for when she lifted her hand to do so, the ogre glared at her in indignation. It rose slowly out of the water, the golden swirls dripping off its gray skin as it towered over the goat herder's wife, blocking out the sun.
"Please," whispered Faraja, shuffling back through the dirt. "P-Please, don't eat me my husband he's very sick --"
"Then I shall eat your husband. You have stolen my water, human!" the ogre bellowed. The empty gourd floated past it along the water's surface and it snatched it up and shook it angrily at the woman.
Faraja's gulped: the ogre's beefy fist alone was the size of her head. The flesh around her naked collar bone flexed as her breathing grew heavier. "No, not my Mwasham! Take anything but him, anything -- Please --"
"Then who? You can not take from this pool without giving," growled the ogre.
Faraja stopped trembling as a sudden thought passed through her mind. Her pretty eyes narrowed. And why not? He had been nothing but trouble to her since day one, nothing but trouble and pain! She looked at the ogre and said, "Take my son in exchange for the water. He is hardy and strong and will make a fine meal."
The ogre snorted to hear this and its chest heaved. Its floppy ears flattened on its head, and with narrowed eyes, it asked, "But how will I know your son? There is a whole village containing the small humans just beyond that hill. Your son will look like any other to me."
"That is easy: I will place a necklace of white beads around his throat. Then I will shave the sides of his head. Tomorrow, while my husband and I are in the fields, you have only to call 'Motikatika!' and he will come out so you can eat him. He is only a little child, not yet smart enough to fear an ogre."
The ogre's beady eyes studied Faraja, and for a moment, she feared it might just say to hell with everything and eat her on the spot. But she was relieved when the ogre handed her the gourd instead. "Take the water and you may go," it said. It stood watching as she, fumbling and nervous, scooped the gourd full of as much water as she could. Then she rose and placed the gourd on her head again. It was all she could do to get home without dropping the gourd: the ogre watched to see which hut she would enter and did not disappear until she had gone inside.
That night over supper, Mwasham asked his wife how she had happened upon the golden miracle water which had cured him. "I feel as strong as ten men," he said cheerfully as he ate.
Sitting across from her husband, Faraja glanced furtively at Motikatika, who was unbeknownst to her only pretending to sleep in his cradle. Believing her son was asleep, she happily confessed, "Husband, you will never believe this! An ogre gave me the medicine in exchange for our son! He will come to eat Motikatika tomorrow while we are gone."
Faraja waited sheepishly, as if she thought her husband would reprimand her. Mwasham ate solemnly from his plate a moment, as if he was trying to reconcile himself to the idea of sacrificing his son. Eventually, he said quietly, "What is done, is done . . . and we will have other sons. You are a solid, strong wife. You will bear me many."
Faraja smiled mischievously at her husband, the light of the fire throwing dancing shadows across her eager face. "Then let us make more tonight!"
Mwasham slowly smiled. They kissed and touched, then the goat herder lifted his wife into his arms and kissed her as he passed down the hall and to their bedroom.
Left alone in his cradle, Motikatika opened his eyes and slowly sat up. So they were feeding him to an ogre. Well. He kinda saw it coming.
With the weariness of an old man wrinkling his brow, little Motikatika pulled a handful of tiny bones from his blankets, and sitting up in the cradle, he let the bones drop from his brown fingers, whispering as they fell, "Tell me what shall happen."
Two of the bones sprang upright and stood against each other like the poles of a hut. A tiny finger bone rolled inside this new miniature hut and took the shape of a small child. Meanwhile, a very large bone molded itself into the slouch of a hulking ogre and lurked on the outside. Eventually, the tiny ogre called, "Motikatika!" and when Motikatika emerged, shaven and wearing beads, the ogre ate him.
"So that's how he shall know me," Motikatika whispered. He held out his hand and the figurines leapt onto his palm, becoming bones once again as they did so. Motikatika tucked the bones away and settled back in his blankets, intent on what the morrow would bring.
The next morning, just as he knew she would, Faraja awoke Motikatika earlier than usual so that she might shave the sides of his head before she left for the fields. She also placed a necklace of white beads around his throat, saying sweetly that it was her wish that he should wear it the rest of his life. Motikatika's eyes narrowed at this joke, but he showed no other indication of anger, and his mother did not seem to realize that he was aware of her horrible contract.
Though the parents usually took their son with them to the fields, they left Motikatika that morning without so much as an explanation. They only gave him the instruction to stay in the house unless he was called. "Or something nasty might eat you!" sang his mother, laughing as she went out.
"Yes, mother," Motikatika muttered as he pretended to play with his toys. Once his parents were gone, however, he threw the toys aside, and for his own amusement, set to shaping birds out of clay and sending them away into the sky.
At twilight, when his parents should have been returning home, Motikatika heard an unfamiliar voice call his name. Motikatika went outside and smiled at the ogre's bewilderment. Several dozens of children gathered about the hut, all with the sides of their heads shaven, all wearing necklaces of white beads. They emerged from the hut with Motikatika, pouring forth from it like water from a broken dam. The ogre stood flabbergasted, backing away in a silent panic at the sight of so many small brown children: there was no way it could have simply eaten all the little humans, for it was bound by a magical contract to just eat one human in exchange for the water.
As the sun went down and the ogre sat in defeat, the children eventually dispersed, milling around to the back alleys between huts before finally collapsing into piles of dust. Motikatika was left standing alone where he had been among a crowd seconds before, and it was through the back window that he reentered his home. He could smell the ogre still waiting outside and had to smother his giggles at its rage and indignation when Faraja returned.
"You tricked me!" the ogre accused.
"B-But --" stammered Faraja, "no, I didn't!"
"You could not count the number of children that were here when I came for him! And all wearing white beads, all with their heads shaven! All of them answered to Motikatika!"
"But how can that be? He is the only Motikatika in the village! And I left him here for you to eat, just as I said I would! There, he should be inside!" And so saying, she hurried to the hut and ripped aside the curtain to reveal Motikatika, who was indeed sitting beside the fire and playing, as before, with his toys.
The ogre almost flew into a rage, but Faraja coaxed it aside and told it to come back the next day. "This time I will take him with me to pick beans in the fields," she whispered, darting her son a glare. "And you can eat him then."
"Oh, I will eat him. Make no mistake," the ogre growled. "It can not be stopped. Magic is an exchange, human. It can not be given away: your son or your husband! One or the other shall be mine!" and with that, the ogre stomped off.
That night, left another time on his own in the front room, Motikatika sat up in his cradle and pulled out the bones. "Tell me what shall happen," he whispered.
Almost immediately, the bones stood on their ends and tiny beans took shape on them. Another bone took on Motikatika's shape and walked among the beans, picking them. Through the bean stalks charged another bone in the shape of the ogre, and snarling with drool, it snatched Motikatika up and ate him.
"So that's how it shall be," Motikatika whispered. He offered his hand, and as before, the bones returned to their natural shape and leapt into his palm. He tucked them away, and with his brown eyes dancing with thought as they reflected the firelight, he laid down in his cradle.
The next morning, just as he had foreseen, Motikatika's mother took him to the bean fields and left him there with the instruction to gather as many as possible, taking as long as he needed. She left him with a basket and went on her way. As soon as she had gone, Motikatika turned into a bird, and when the ogre came, he was shooed away as the creature threw a wild fit of frustration. When the ogre had stomped away with shattering steps, Motikatika again took his natural form, finished gathering beans, and went home. He was in his cradle that evening when the ogre made a second call, roaring and raving outside the hut that it would not be tricked and toyed with by a scrawny human.
Sitting up in his cradle and looking calmly out the window, Motikatika saw his mother drop to her knees before the panting ogre, which looked ready to bite off her head.
"Please!" Faraja wailed, offering her small hands. "Mwasham is my life! I could not live without him! Otherwise, I would not have dared your anger by taking that water --"
"I must have that child! Tomorrow is the third and last day, and if I don't have someone in exchange for that water, then the pool dries up, and I die!"
Faraja knelt trembling before the ogre's rage as its roaring and snarling rained green drool on her. "P-Please! I will wrap him in a white blanket and you will know him then. He can not trick you while he is sleeping. It will be the easiest thing in the world to just walk in and take him: I will take the charms off the doorway, and you will be able to enter!"
The ogre looked ready to protest, but thinking of the child's young, soft body crunching in its teeth, it agreed.
"Around midnight," said the desperate mother, "you may creep inside and take him. The white blanket. You will know him by it!"
"Yes, yes," snapped the ogre. "Just because I'm an ogre, it doesn't mean I'm stupid, you know!"
But Faraja knew different: to ogres, all humans looked alike. She wanted to nag the ogre again, but feeling as if she was pushing it, returned to the house instead. She entered the front room to find Motikatika sleeping in his cradle, and after covering him in his white blanket, she took the red one and went to bed.
Motikatika waited a beat after his mother had gone. Then placing his small hand on the white blanket, he closed his eyes until the blanket was red. Meanwhile, the blanket his parents slept under turned white. Satisfied with his work, Motikatika sank down in his cradle and waited. The ogre soon entered, its great black shadow looming high against the wall. It paused to look at Motikatika as he pretended to sleep in his cradle, but seeing that the child slept under a red blanket and not a white one, the ogre moved on to the parent's bedroom. Motikatika smiled at the sudden scream that split the night. The ogre tore from the hut and into the jungle. In its arms had been Mwasham.
Faraja staggered into the front room, her wild wreath of hair mussed, her clothes rumpled, her face stained with tears. She narrowed angry eyes on her son. "You! You did this!"
Sitting in the cradle, the infant smiled.
Faraja clutched her head either side and roared at the ceiling, "MOTIKATIKA!!!!!"