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MARTIN
 
collected and rewritten by Phillip Martin
 

As the old woman returned to her home, her mind was still on the wedding celebration in the neighboring village.  She didn't see the broken pot in the pathway until after she tripped over it, cutting her leg and spilling all her possessions in the process.  "Who is the fool who left their garbage in the path where decent folk walk?  A curse be upon that fool!  May his first born child be struck dumb this very hour until someone else breaks that spell by doing something even more foolish than leaving a broken pot in the pathway!"  Then, having sufficiently vented her anger, the old woman collected her scattered belongings and continued down the path to her home.     

A little ways over the hillside lived a young girl named Tembe and her parents.  At that moment, her mother frantically searched around the house.  "Husband," she cried, "have you seen the water pot?  Didn't you take it to the garden?"

"I did take it," replied the husband, "but I know I placed it on the back of the cart before returning home."

"Well, if you don't have it," thought the wife, "perhaps Tembe has seen it.  Tembe!  Tembe, have you seen the water jug?"

But, there was no answer from their young daughter.  She had suddenly and mysteriously been struck silent. 

All thoughts for the missing water pot were, of course, forgotten. "Someone must have cast a curse upon her!" cried the mother.  "But why would anyone do such a cursed thing to our Tembe?"

The parents took their daughter to many traditional healers but none of them were able to help the little girl.  And so, years passed by and Tembe remained silent.  Yes, she grew in beauty and grace, but that was little comfort to her parents.  "Who," they both wondered, "who would ever want to marry a beautiful young woman with a curse upon her?"

Tembe's parents had good reason for their concern.  Word spread quickly throughout the land about the beautiful maiden who had been cursed.  And, as her parents watched their daughter grow, they also saw the look in their neighbors' eyes.  Sometimes they also heard their cruel whispers.  But fortunately, there was one young man, Nthu, who could see past the curse.  He saw Tembe for the beautiful, kind, and thoughtful young woman that she was.  And, Nthu determined that he would do everything within his power to help Tembe.

"If I explain the problem to the tree spirit, perhaps he will be able to help Tembe," thought Nthu.  "Maybe, just maybe, he could cast off the spell that has tied her tongue for so long."

So, that is just what the young man did.  When it was dark, and nobody else could see what he was doing, Nthu slipped through his village until he came upon a large sacred tree.  Then, he fell down before the tree spirit, pouring out his heart and telling about the young girl with a curse.

Nthu had no idea that Hare had hidden his home at the base of the sacred tree.  As the young man pleaded to the tree spirit, it naturally disturbed Hare's sleep.  But, the hare didn't mind since the story he heard was so interesting.  In the darkness, he crept even closer to Nthu to clearly hear the whole story.  A grin passed over his face as the hare realized a way to help himself and have a little fun at the same time.

Hare coughed a time or two, cleared his throat, and then in his deepest voice declared, "Nthu, I have heard your request.  Now, what do you plan to give me as payment if I help this young woman?"

"Oh, great tree spirit," cried Nthu,"ask whatever you will.  I will do anything to help Tembe!"

Of course, that was exactly the reply Hare expected.  Taking his time, as if he had to consider the matter greatly, the trickster finally replied, "Well . . . you must find me fresh green vegetables and juicy berries from the bush.  Bring them to me each morning and place them at my feet.  If you do this, I will consider how I might be able to help this young woman."

"You can count on me!" exclaimed the young man.  True to his word, day after day, Nthu delivered a supply of vegetables and berries.  And, day after day, Hare enjoyed his free meal.  However, after a few days of feasting, even Hare began to feel a little guilty.  Finally, he decided that he needed to find this young woman.  After all, he was quite a clever old hare.  Maybe there was something he could do about the situation?

Hare didn't have any trouble finding Tembe's farm.  He knew exactly where it was since he had stolen vegetables from it so many times.  And, just as he expected, he found Tembe carefully working in her father's field. The young woman worked so hard that she didn't even notice Hare.  And, he didn't like that one bit.  When Hare asked if he could help her plant the seedlings, Tembe didn't answer.  She worked with so much concentration that she didn't hear his request.

"Well, she is going to notice me if it is the last thing I do!" thought Hare.  He grabbed some of the seedlings and followed after Tembe.  However, when Hare planted the seedlings, he put them in the ground upside down with their roots sticking out of the air.

Tembe still didn't notice Hare.  It wasn't till she reached the end of her row that she stood and stretched.  Then, Tembe saw what Hare had done.  She glared at him as she shook her fist.  "You foolish creature!" she cried.   "What do you think you are doing to my seedlings?"

Suddenly, a look of complete amazement crossed Tembe's face as she realized she had actually spoken.  She dropped her hoe and ran from the field. Laughing, shouting, and singing, she had to find her Nthu. 

"Isn't that just like a human?" thought Hare.  "Not even a thank you for my efforts.  Well, I better put these seedlings in the ground properly.  Chances are pretty good that I won't be getting any more free meals delivered to my home."

MARTIN
Copyright 2010 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.