“So, you’ve returned from your errand to fetch water, and now you’re complaining about the beans and rice I’m making, as if I should buy the water from you instead. You sit there with that sour expression, like a demon.”

All of Aunt Harira’s scolding did little to ease the exhaustion the girl felt from carrying the heavy water.

When she finally finished and set the container down, Aunt Harira continued, “Now, off to the teacher’s farm with you, and don’t show your face until you’re done. And be sure to greet your parents as if they were in the afterlife.”

Without delay, the girl hurried off to the nearby farm.

After her departure, Aunt Harira muttered to herself, “Go on, gather the remnants of your dowry, because you’re rolling your eyes at me with that ugly mug of yours. It’s just a terrible dream.”

When she returned with the food, the girl began to eat it.

Sitting on the stove’s edge, she blew her nose and tackled a spoonful of rice that felt as hard as a rock.

Once she had finished cooking the beans and rice, she removed the empty pot and informed her Aunt Harira that the meal was ready.

“Lantana, Lantana,” Aunt Harira called to her friend who had come over to chat with her since Asmau was free to help. 

Asmau was the one who went to call Lantana, and she led the way to where they usually gathered for their daily chat. Lantana wondered what the discussion was about, as it seemed to exclude Asmau.

After the afternoon prayer, they all returned to their meeting spot, where Aunt Harira and her husband were sitting on a mat.

Aunt Harira called out to Asmau and introduced her to her friend, saying, “Hajia, do you think she will? Since I’m not here, there’s nothing for me here. She always has to spend money on advertising. Now, if she gets married, she’ll have to buy her own clothes. She’s not like a young girl.”

Hajia, the woman Asmau had called, looked at Asmau and said, “Well, it’s not that she won’t do it, as I told you, but I usually hire children for such tasks. This one seems too much like a girl.”

Aunt Harira chimed in, “Exactly! She just acts like a bag of money once she starts working.”

Hajia then went to check on Asmau, who was sitting on the ground, puzzled by the direction of their conversation.

“I’m the one who brought it up,” she said, pointing to her mother, Aunt Harira. “Oh, you don’t need to worry about buying her clothes. It’s not like she’s helpless. If you tell her where to go, she can handle herself. She’s even selling beans and rice now. She said she’d quit because she’s in love. So, I’m looking for a way. If you’re planning to come for the wedding, I haven’t saved any money or given any deposits. Marriage doesn’t have to be extravagant, does it? Why spend so much?” Aunt Harira said, sounding somewhat somber.

Hajia replied, “Well, she’s here, and if you think she’s suitable, we should give it a try. Her petite frame is what makes people see her as a girl, but maybe they should test her first before making a decision.”

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