The Soles of Her Feet
When Lila thought of that morning, her mother’s voice was clearest in her mind. The way she raised it a little higher when speaking with someone she had just met, how it dipped down when she tucked her chin and smiled. Even at age eight, Lila noticed her charm. Her voice that sang like the birds crowding the trees outside their hut as the sun came up. The strange man spoke in Bemba. “Njikala ku Lusaka,” he had said. “I am from Lusaka.” “Ah, Lusaka,” her mother had said, impressed. The baby was tied to her front with a colorful chitenge cloth and Lila’s little brother played in the dirt at her feet. “The city is full of opportunity, yes?” He groaned in agreement. “The schools are like nothing that can be found up here in the bush.” “It would be so good for her to go to school.” “And all I would expect would be a little help as my maid.” “She is very good with the mthiko cooking stick. You shall see. Please, come and sit,” her mother said. She walked over to the hut where Lila stood beside her mat, where she had gone to get her only pair of shoes for the walk to the well. The mat was one of six shared between her parents and nine siblings. She always slept next to Bupe. They would curl their young bodies in a way that fit them both on one mat, their soles pressed together, in a way that they never felt alone. Her mother peeked her head into the doorway, the baby hidden in her chest beneath the cloth. “Lila, please come. There is someone I would like you to meet.” Lila came out shyly, the morning’s light falling first on her red shoes with holes exposing her little toes, then her chitenge, and then her hands and arms. At last she felt it on her face and squinting eyes, blinded by the morning. He was sitting on her father’s carved stump just outside the cooking hut. She had never seen anyone else sit on it. Her father had gone out to work the temperamental field after breakfast. The one that not long ago had yielded nothing, leaving the family to forage for fallen fruit beside the road and use their few kwacha to buy a bag of mealie meal. Once that ran out, they ate green mealie meal, eventually the seed, just to satiate their rumbling bellies.