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  • Writer's pictureMilton Davis

Black Rose: Part Four

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

The stone houses of Pemba glowed on the horizon, the brilliant sun reflecting from their bleach white walls. Roseate terns drifted in the clear blue dry season sky while below laborers unloaded cargo onto the landing beaches. No matter how many times she saw it, Kesi was always awed. They were home once again, their dhow filled with precious goods promising much wealth. Danuja stood beside her, eyes wide in fascination.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It is,” Kesi replied.

Danuja turned to look at her. “How long must I stay before it is safe for me to return home?”

Kesi place her hand on the girl’s shoulder.

“I don’t know. We will be in port for six months before the monsoons will allow us to return. Maybe by then things will have settled.”

“I doubt it.”

Kesi and Danuja turned to see Baba striding toward them. He was dressed in his best, a white robe with a red silk turban and matching sash. His jambiya was wrapped in the sash, its emerald green sheath a pleasant complement to his wardrobe. Kesi grinned.

“Trying to impress mama I see,” she said.

“This is not for your mama,” Baba said. “I’m a successful merchant. I should look the part, especially when returning from a successful safari. You should change, too.”

“I have no one to impress,” Kesi said.

“You are my daughter,” Baba replied. “That is reason enough. Not that you ever listen to me. If you did, she wouldn’t be here.”

Baba spoke to her in Kiswahili, so Danuja did not understand his words.

“It’s too late for that now,” Kesi said.

“I feel like you are talking about me, and it’s not pleasant,” Danuja said.

“Everything will be fine,” Kesi said. “My baba is not happy you’re here, but that’s not his concern. You will live with me.”

Danuja hugged her tight.

“Thank you, Kuroi Barra!” she said.

“You must call me Kesi here,” Kesi said. “I will teach you Kiswahili.”

“Will you teach me how to fight like you?” Danuja asked.

“No one fights like me,” Kesi said. “As for teaching you, we will see.”

“You must tell everyone she is your servant,” Baba interrupted. “No one must know who she is. It could be dangerous for you and our family.”

“I will,” Kesi said.

“Tell her now,” Baba replied. “The sooner the better.”

“I will tell her in my own time,” Kesi said. “Now let’s go and meet Mama.”

Kesi, Baba and Danuja boarded the boat carrying the most expensive cargo. Her mama’s laborers greeted them in the shallow waters with wide smiles and curious looks when they saw Danuja. They grabbed the sides of the boat and pulled it ashore so the three would not have to step into the murky surf. Kesi greeted each laborer, giving them small gifts she brought from the east. She knew the likes of each, and made sure they received what they desired.

The laborers parted and mama walked up to them, followed Kesi’s brothers and sisters. Mama, like Baba, was clothed in her best dress and hat, her arms heavy with golden bracelets. She waited as Kesi exchanged welcomes with her siblings, then approached her daughter with a smile that only a proud mother could share.

“My sunbird,” Mama said. She hugged Kesi tight, and for a moment she felt like a little girl.”

“Jambo, Mama,” she said. “It is good to be home again.”

Mama released her then looked at Danuja.

“I see you have acquired a servant. That is good. You need more help at your house.”

“She is not a servant,” Kesi said. “She is my guest.”

Mama’s eyes went wide. “Your guest?”

“It’s a long story that Baba will probably tell you before I do,” Kesi said.

Mama looked at Baba and smiled.

“He looks so handsome,” she said. “He does that for me, you know.”

“That’s not what he says,” Kesi replied.

“Of course, he didn’t. He’s embarrassed by how much he loves me.”

Kesi and Mama laughed. It felt so good be with her, free of the pressures of the merchant safari. They’d done well, even without the gold Shogun Tanaka had given them to take Danuja to safety. The thought of her dead friend dampened her mood.

“I must see to the unloading of the dhow, Mama,” she said.

“Let your siblings do that,” Mama said. “It’s time for them to start earning their keep. You and your Baba will come with me to the house for some good food and better company.”

“Thank you, Mama, but I must to my own home first,” Kesi said. “I need to make sure Avana did a good job taking care of it.”

Mama didn’t answer. Kesi’s eyes narrowed.

“Has she even been to the house?”

“Yesterday,” Mama said.

Kesi grabbed Danuja’s hand.

“Let’s go,” she said.

Kesi’s anger abated as they entered the city. She knew better than to leave her home under Avana’s supervision, but her sister begged for the responsibility. Kesi imagined her house ransacked, her precious collection of porcelain plates shattered and her ivory sold to the highest bidder. She was so upset she almost forgot Danuja was with her.

“Danuja,” she said. “There are some things I must discuss with you.”

“I am listening,” Danuja replied.

“As far as anyone else is concerned, you are my servant.”

Danuja’s eyes went wide. “What? I am no one’s servant!”

“Of course, you’re not,” Kesi replied. “But it will be safer for you for everyone to think so. You will only have to perform duties when others are about.”

“I’m beginning to hate Pemba,” Danuja said.

“You are alive,” Kesi said. “Be thankful for that.”

Danuja dropped her head. “I am.”

Kesi realized she’d hurt Danuja’s feeling. She decided to change the subject.

“Once we are settled, I will send for a tailor and we’ll have dresses made for you.”

Danuja raised her head, a slight smile on her face.

“Dresses like yours?”

Kesi smiled. “Yes, like mind. I’ll also hire a tutor to teach you Kiswahili.”

“Can’t you teach me?” Danuja asked.

“I will when I can, but I have much to do. Our imam is always looking for ways to make extra money. Besides, you are a smart girl. You’ll learn quickly. I’m sure of it.”

Kesi and Danuja worked their way through the crowded street to the merchant houses. Kesi was relieved when she saw her home. The grounds were immaculate, the fruit trees filled with fruit. A lone man stood at her gate; as they came closer Kesi’s heart fell. The person waiting for her was an envoy to the Sultan. He turned toward them and a smile came to his face.

“Kesi Masanja, I have a message for you from the Sultan!”

The man was momentarily distracted by Danuja.

“What is it?” Kesi asked, although she already knew what the message contained.

“The Sultan requests your presence at his palace three days from today,” the envoy said. “He wishes to hear of your recent safari and what wonders you have returned with.”

“Tell the Sultan I will be honored to visit him,” Kesi said.

The envoy bowed. “The Sultan will be pleased.”

The envoy bowed again then trotted away. As soon as he was out of sight Kesi threw her hand into the air.

“Aaaah!” she yelled. “How did he find out so soon?”

“What is the matter?” Danuja said.

Kesi sighed. “This was not an invitation from the Sultan. It’s from his son, Rafiki.”

“Why does his son wish to see you?” Danuja asked.

“Because he wants to marry me,” Kesi answered.

“That is a good thing, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not. If I marry the Sultan’s son, I can no longer be a merchant.”

Kesi shook her head clear. She opened her gate then led Danuja into her courtyard.

“Enough of that. Welcome to my home, Danuja. Welcome to Pemba.”

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