The Bene's Daughter: Chapter One
“I am not a thief. I am not a thief.” Omolewa repeated the words as she lurked in the dark alley between the compound walls, her eyes focused on the harbor across the walkway. A massive dhow rested among its smaller merchant brethren, a beauty of a vessel with clean white sails and a towering crow’s nest peering down on the humble harbor. Why it had come to their modest Kiswala mooring of Nacala rather than the much larger harbor of Baseemah was a mystery. Omolewa did not dwell on the possible reasons; she cursed the consequences. She waited for a stranger that carried the key to her family’s freedom, a scroll that once in the hands of those who held them hostage would end her family’s terror and bring her life back to normal. At least she hoped it would.
Pik-Pik clawed her shoulder as she chattered into her ear, the ferret as nervous as she.
"Calm down!" she whispered. "You'll give us away."
Omolewa sunk deeper into the shadows. Hiding reminded her of the games she played with her friends when she was younger, but this was far from a game. The men who held her family hostage made that clear. They came to her family because of the rumors, the whisperings that Omolewa was not a normal child. Her ebony skin stood out in contrast to the average Kiswali soft brown tones, identifying her as a child from the hinterlands. Then there was the strange pattern that filled her forehead, an oddity she explained as a birthmark but a symbol that was much more. Some said she was a child of Eda, others a servant of Daarila. Omolewa felt what she now faced was her fault. She had not been discreet with her gift as mama and baba warned her to be. Now she and her family were paying the price.
"Bring us the scroll or they all die," the leader of the ruffians threatened. His face stood out in her mind not only because of the missing eye, but because his skin was dark like hers. He was the first such person she'd come face to face with in her life, the first person she'd met that resembled her in any way. There was no doubt he'd arrived on the large clipper resting in the harbor, for it hailed from Zimbabwa, the land of the Blameless Ones, the home of people like her.
Omolewa wiped his foul visage from her mind as she focused on her task. She closed her eyes and slipped into her second sight. Pik-Pik went rigid and ceased chattering. She did not understand what affect her powers had on her pet, but she knew her skills were heightened by its presence. Her mark transformed, emitting a blue glow that complemented her hooded dress. She extended her special sight around the corners of her lair then above the people traversing the road. She sought a man like herself, dressed in fine leather carrying a gilded satchel over his shoulder. He possessed what the ruffians sought. He was the key to saving her family.
She found the man they described strolling among the throng, ignoring the admiring looks and whispers of Kiswala folks. Omolewa changed her view of him, seeing him as if she faced him. He was handsome; deep brown flawless skin with a broad nose and captivating amber eyes. A thin mustache graced his full lips, joining with the tuft of hair on his chin. The way he stared made her think he could see her; the slight smile that came to his lips startled her. Did he know he was being watched? She pulled away. Of course, he didn't. How could he?
She readied herself as he neared the alleyway. She extended her right hand as focused on his satchel then moved her fingers. The satchel unbuckled and the flap lifted as he passed the alleyway. The scroll rose from the satchel and sped to her left hand. She snatched it from the air then shoved it into her dress pocket.
"Okay Pik-Pik," she said. "It’s time to go home."
She hurried to the other end of the alley and melded into the market crowd. Not that she could meld. Omolewa was well aware of her story. Her father, a former Mikijen, discovered her abandoned as a baby on a campaign in Zimbabwa. Kiswala allied itself with the Blameless Ones against a threat from the Haiset, sending in their elite mercenaries to protect Kiswala interests. Baba found her in a village that had been overrun by Haisetti hordes and, captivated by her strength, hired a wet nurse for her with his meager earnings. After the war he brought her back to Kiswala. Mama readily accepted her; she was a Blameless One and nothing but good for-tune would come to them with her as part of their family. Up until this day, good fortune had been their lot.
Omolewa worked her way toward the Backwater, the tattered working district where she lived. The family survived off baba’s paltry pension and occasional carpenter’s work. Mama picked up work when she could, weaving cloth and mending clothes. They were not wealthy, yet they were happy. Her nerves frayed as she approached her home, her eyes darting about to see if she had been seen or followed. Pik-Pik chattered and dashed from shoulder to shoulder, her restlessness reflecting Omolewa's mood.
She tensed as she reached plain wooden door to her family's home. She knocked twice as the one-eyed man instructed her to do. The door cracked opened, revealing his vile face. He snatched the door open, grabbed her wrist and dragged her inside. She ignored his brutality, her desperate eyes scanning the main room of the house. Mama and baba sat at the meal table, hands and legs bound and mouths gagged. Her siblings were crowded in a corner at the rear of the one room house, bound and gagged as well. Two men stood beside her parents, daggers in their hands.
The one-eyed man gripped her chin, turning her face to his.
"Where is it?" he asked.
Omolewa took the scroll from her pocket and handed it to him.
"Here. Now let them go," she said.
The man grinned as he placed the scroll in his shoulder pouch.
"A change of plans, darling. You're coming with us."
He looked at his henchmen. "Kill them all."
"No!" she screamed.
Pik-Pik leaped from her shoulders, landing on the one-eyed man's face. She sank her teeth into his nose.
The man let go of her wrist. He stumbled away, pulling at Pik-Pik. The others laughed, giving Omolewa the time she needed. She thrust her hands toward the daggers at her parents’ throats and they flew from the hooligans’ hands. She jerked her hands back and thrust again. The men guarding her siblings winched and doubled over holding their stomachs. Omolewa tried to run to her parents but was jerked back, grimacing in pain as she fell on her back. The one-eyed man gripped her by her braids, his cheeks and nose bloodied.
"Don't make me hurt you, girl!" he shouted. "You're worth more alive than dead."
He dragged her toward the door. Omolewa tried to struggle but she was exhausted from her efforts. Tears streamed from her eyes as the men picked up their knives and returned to her parents.
"Finish them so we can go," the one-eyed man ordered.
A booming sound filled Omolewa’s ears. She fell onto her back then watched incredulously as the one-eyed man sailed over her. A pair of boots appeared be-side her, stopping briefly then proceeding in the direction of the table. She struggled upright and stared into the back of the man from whom she'd stolen the scroll. With the flick of his hands the men beside her parents flew left and right, each smashing into the walls with a crunching finality. He extended his hands and the men threatening her siblings flew into the air then slammed into the ceiling. He dropped his arms and they fell to the floor.
The one-eyed man lay before him. The man knelt to his side and grasped his face. He jerked the man's head and snapped his neck. The interloper stood and went to her parents.
Omolewa reached out with the last of her strength. The interloper slowed; he turned to her with a smile on his face.
"Don't hurt them, please," she begged.
"I won't," he replied.
He untied her parents then removed their gags.
"Eda bless you!" baba exclaimed. Both baba and mama ran to the back of the cabin to free her siblings. The interloper approached Omolewa and knelt before her.
"You are a terrible thief," he commented. “I followed you after you took my scroll. I’m glad I did. ”
He touched her and she felt a surge of strength.
He stood and stepped away. She was suddenly engulfed by her family, submerged by hugs and tears. Eventually they relented, allowing the mysterious man through. He carried Pik-Pik on his shoulder. Her furry familiar jumped from her perch and into Omolewa's arms.
"Thank you for saving us," she said.
The man nodded. "You've grown into a beautiful woman."
His statement made Omolewa curious and nervous.
"Do you know me?" she asked.
The interloper smiled. "I do, in a way."
Omolewa was perplexed. "How? I was brought here as a baby. That's what baba told me."
"That's what my baba told me, too," he said.
Omolewa looked to baba. He nodded.
"It's okay. I knew this day would come."
Omolewa turned to the man once again.
"I ask you again, sir. Who are you?"
The man knelt before her. " My name is Kulal Chihota, son of Bene Chadamunda. I'm your brother."
Omolewa stared blankly at the interloper. “Brother? I have only one brother, and that’s Diwani. Baba told me my family was dead.”
She looked at baba. “Tell him the truth, baba.”
Baba looked away, his eyes downcast.
Omolewa’s hands trembled. “Baba, tell him!”
“He told you what he was instructed to say,” the man claiming to be her brother said. “Our homeland was not safe for you then. There were . . . forces that would have brought you harm if you were found, so you were sent here.”
Omolewa’s didn’t want to believe what she was hearing. This man, apparently a powerful sonchai, claimed to be her brother. Baba knew him and had lied to her about her origins. She was about to asked more questions when the room echoed with urgent knocking.
“Hello! Hello? Is everything alright in there?”
Baba went to the door and opened it. Three con-stables rushed in with short swords drawn. They looked at the bodies strewn on the floor then looked to baba.
“They attacked my family,” baba said. “They wanted something from this man — he pointed at the sonchai — and they forced my daughter to steal it.”
The constables bowed to Kulal before examining the thugs. One of the constables knelt beside the body of the ringleader. He looked at the interloper expecting an explanation.
“He is of my homeland, but I am not familiar with him,” Kulal said. “I will take care of his remains.”
“I know these two,” the constable said. “They’re always causing trouble on the wharf.”
The head constable joined the others. “Doesn’t look like they’ll do that anymore. Get them out of here.”
The constables dragged the dead Kiswali outside.
“Are you sure you’ll deal with this one?” the head constable asked. Kulal nodded his head.
“Then we will bid you farewell.”
The constables left with their grim cargo.
Baba let out a breath. “That was too easy. They’ll be back.”
“Yes, they will,” Kulal said. “But you will not be here when they return.”
His words sounded ominous to Omolewa. Baba pulled her close.
“What are you talking about?” he said.
“My sister . . . your daughter must come with me. She is the reason I am here. It would be unrealistic for her to come alone. Although I am her blood family, you are her family in every other way. So, you must come as well.”
Baba opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by another door knock. This time Kulal opened it.
The man and woman entering Omolewa’s home looked similar to Kulal; black skinned and handsome wearing robes that fell to the ankles of their studded leather boots. Kulal gestured with his head, and they went to the body of their nefarious brethren. A woman dug her fingers through the man’s hair as if searching for something hidden. Her search stopped abruptly, and she looked up with a concerned expression.
Kulal knelt beside her as the woman pushed the hair away. Omolewa felt a sudden urge to see and broke away from her baba’s grip. The man moved to block her way, but the interloper waved him off.
“She should see this. She needs to know her enemy.”
Kulal gestured with his head and the woman moved aside. He pushed the hair aside, revealing a small curled horn on the side of the man’s head. Omolewa’s eyes went wide.
“Is that real?” she asked timidly.
“Yes, it is.”
“Who . . . what is he?”
Kulal grimaced. “Joka Watu. From The Cleave.”
Omolewa gasped. She waited for Kulal to tell her more, but he didn’t. Instead, he stepped away from the body then pulled Omolewa aside. His brethren lifted the body then carried it away.
“You must come with us,” he said. “I know this is sudden, but your lives are in danger, as you can see. We will be here for three more days. I will station my men around your house during that time but once we leave, we cannot insure your safety.”
He placed his hand on Omolewa’s shoulder and she felt comfort from his touch.
“You know I speak the truth, Omolewa,” he said.
Omolewa grabbed his hand to remove it from her shoulder but held it instead. His touch made her feel safer than mama’s embrace, but she was no fool.
“You are a sonchai, bwa,” she replied. “I cannot be sure of anything around you.”
Kulal smiled. “Very good sister but think on this. Your family is not safe if you stay. This is not their choice. It is yours.”
Kulal smiled then exited. Omolewa and her family immediately converged, hugging and kissing and crying.
“You are safe!” mama exclaimed.
“We all are,” her baba added.
Omolewa picked up Diwani and rubbed Kazija’s head as she clung to her leg.
“You are a hero, Lewa!” her brother said.
Pik-Pik crawled from the corner then raised up on her hind legs next to Omolewa’s leg. She reached down then picked her up.
“You brave little thing,” she said.
Omolewa’s joy was brief. The revelations of the past few moments settled on her mind.
“Baba,” she said. “What is going on? Are Kulal’s words true? Why did you not tell me these things?”
Mama took Diwani from her and pulled Kazija away as well. She looked at baba with the same questioning look. Omolewa realized that she was not the only person owed an explanation.
“I didn’t tell you the truth, for I didn’t know until the moment Kulal stepped through our door,” baba confessed. “There are still things that are hazy.”
The family sat around the table, looking at baba with a mix of expressions.
“How could you not know, Tayari?” mama asked.
“I promise you, Jamela, I did not know.” Baba finally sat with them. “When Kulal walked into our home it was as if the sun emerged from behind a dark cloud. Images came to me that I knew was my true life.”
“His . . . my family are people of ashé,” Omolewa said. “They must have done this to you.”
“Why would they do such a thing?” mama asked.
“To make sure Omolewa was safe,” baba answered. “I could not share what I could not recall.”
Baba closed his eyes for a moment then opened them. His expression was solemn as he looked at each of them, finally resting his eyes on Omolewa. The clarity in them confirmed the truth he was about to share.
“I was a Mikijen,” he began. “A civil war raged in Zimbabwa, a war that threatened Kiswala interests in the region. I was the senior induna of my unit at the time. We received orders to march into the interior to protect a group of villages that supplied our dhows with yams and sorghum and secure the road leading to the coast.”
“Did you fight for Kulal’s family?” her brother asked.
Baba smiled. “No. Kiswala does not take sides in local conflicts. The Mikijen only protect Kiswala interests. We were marching into the valley when we came across a Zimbabwa army retreating from the north. To say they were in dire straits would be an understatement. We gave them food and tended their wounds. Their commander sought me out and asked for our help. They planned to return to battle, but of course we could not assist them. The commander understood, but then asked me to come with them. That’s how I met you.”
Baba’s smile made Omolewa’s cheeks warm. She smiled back.
“They took me to a man and woman whose clothing told me they were people of great importance. The man stood before the woman and extended his hands to her. She looked at him with worry then looked at me with sympathy. Then she handed him the child. He came to me directly.”
“There is much turmoil in our land,” he said. “Too much for our daughter to remain.
Zimbabwa has always been a volatile mix,” I remember saying. “It will pass.”
“There is a deeper evil afoot,” he said. “One that comes from beyond our borders. We cannot take any chances.”
“He gave you to me and said, ‘Take my daughter with you. Her name is Omolewa. We will come for her when the time comes.,”
I took you in my arms dumbfounded.
“I can’t,” I said.
The man’s eyes took on a strange look, as if the storms of times resided in them.
“You can, and you will,” he said.
Baba leaned back in his chair. “From that moment I believed the story I told you and your mama. He must have cast some type of spell on me. If I did not know the truth, I could not tell it if the wrong people found me.”
Baba reached toward Omolewa and she fell into his comforting arms. She snuggled close to him, wishing she could stay this close to him forever.
“Today has been a trying day for us all, but for you especially,” he said. “A great burden has been revealed to you.”
“It’s not fair,” she said. “I did not ask for this.”
“No one asks for the life they are given,” baba re-plied. “We open our eyes, and it is there. All we can do is live it in the best way.”
“Enough of this,” mama interjected. “You can’t make any decisions on an empty stomach. I’ll make us stew and we will talk of this later. We have been through enough this day.”
Mama sent everyone into a whirlwind of chores, trying her best to get everything back to normal. Omolewa was grateful for the distraction, but she couldn’t for-get for one moment the decision looming in her immediate future. She didn’t want to go anywhere. Nacala was her home despite what this man claiming to be her brother claimed. A journey to Zimbabwa would be a journey to a foreign land. But the man said her decision would save many lives, and after what occurred she knew her life and that of her family were in danger.
They did not talk again of the incident and of her decision for there was nothing to discuss. As Omolewa prepared her siblings and then herself for bed she caught glimpses of baba and mama packing clothes and other items in a pair of wooden chests that served as tables. So they were going. That night as she lay in her bed, she stroked Pik-Pik’s soft fur and thought of this new adventure about to take place in her life.
I hope you enjoyed Chapter One of The Bene's Daughter. To continue enjoying her adventure, click the link for the paperback, which is now on sale.