Literature

Manyahlishal’s Wedding, a short story.

By Ashenafi Kebede

It was a day in 1926, in the month of September, that the wedding took place. It was a bright Sunday which fell on the 22nd, an even number, a sign of good luck, to couple and children to-be-born.
The bride was Manyahlishal, the 13-year-old daughter of a guard in Queen Zewditu’s palace.
The groom was Tekle Haymanot, a 30-year-old nobleman who had decided to divorce his “old fruitless wife” to marry this child-promising child—’Manyahlis­hal. Tekle had also another reason of great importance which prompted him to divorce. His 32-year-old wife’s skin was very dark and her face ugly. She had nothing of the grace, nothing of that golden Ethiopian skin, nothing of those thin and attractive lips, and nothing of that slender nose and body, which he envisioned for the wife of a nobleman—himself.

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In short Manyahlishal was more than promising. She possessed all those Ethiopian noble looks and qualities which he and his forefathers had prided themselves on their choices of wives. Definitely, Tekle was highly worried about his bride’s age. However, he had to take action to please himself and the spirit of his dead father. He had to marry Manyahlishal and teach her the ways of life both like a husband and more, like a father.
So at the age of 13, Manyahlishal was to be penned into marriage with this man of 30. Her only knowledge of her husband-to-be was that he had some noble birth. She didn’t even know the extent, the kind, or the quality of his nobility. It was something good to have. That she had known.
The groom had arrived at noon on a mule whose face was highly decorated. Songs. Excitement. Dancing. The groom majestically entered the tent followed closely by his best men. His escorts were over 40 in number. All took their designated places. The bride appeared. Then silence prevailed. All clad in white, Manyahlishal was brought from her room to the tent by the groom’s best men. She was followed by her bridesmaids. Nobody could see her face for she was veiled. The groom and all the guests stood till she sat down. Then all clapped their hands and reassumed their seats. Festivity. Drinks —Tela, Tej. Food—Wot, Injera, raw meat with hoi pepper. Music. Dancing. Jokes. Oh! what happiness!
The time flew. The sun had almost reached its hori­zon. The elongated shadows of the tent and the dancers could be seen through the entrance of the tent. It was
time to go. The three best men stood and asked the father-in-law his gracious permission for their depar­ture. Although the old man had planned to extend his hospitality, he had to give way to their insistence. They had to leave.

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All stood up except the bride’s father and relatives. Once again silence prevailed. Manyahlishal took a few paces towards her father and knelt down before his knees. She prostrated herself and kissed his large dusty foot asking for his blessings of the marriage. She didn’t have an inkling of an idea as to what she was begging for. She was told beforehand to do it. Those were the rituals of marriage. She didn’t know where his blessings would actually end her that night. Poor Manyahlishal. She didn’t know!
Her fathers eyes were wet with tears. It was hard for him to give up his baby to a stranger. But it had to be done. These were the ways of life. He gave his blessings and kissed his daughter farewell. Manyahlishal stood up sobbing and found herself on the back of a stranger. She was riding him out of the tent, or rather, the stranger had voluntarily and actively let himself be ridden like a mule. Her legs and feet dangled hanging on each side of his waist. His hands supported her weight by the bottoms. She couldn’t clearly see his face through her veil. She had guessed that he was, what they called, “the best man.'” This was the kind of job best men performed. She also knew that he was taking her from the compound of her father’s house where she grew up and loved—to a real mule which would eventually take her to the groom’s house. Her home-to-be, a strange place.

The guests of Tekle’s mother received the couple at the gate. Servants ran and took hold of the bridles of the mules while the best men helped the bride descend. Ragged and idle passers-by stood and watched the ac­tivity quite cheerfully. Some clapped their hands while others laughed loudly. The neighbourhood boys, wearing only shirts, gathered to witness the occasion. Even the dogs ran back and forth confusedly barking both at the mules and at one another. Then everyone got into the tent. Manyahlishal was guided to her mother-in-law and found herself prostrated once more, her lips planted against a. stranger’s dusty foot, begging for blessings and acceptance. The mother-in-law raised Manyahlishal up from the ground and unveiled her. For a second, she was mesmerized in admiration by the girl’s beauty and the delicacy of her skin. But soon hate and jealousy were visible in her eyes. “I was not as beautiful when I got married,” she thought. Her hand on Manyahlis-hal’s shoulder slightly trembled. Manyahlishal felt it and looked up to meet the eyes of her mother-in-law. Those eyes seemed to say “Even if you are a beauty, you may fail to be up to my son. Beauty isn’t all. There are other qualities which men like. I hope you fail. 1 hope you suffer tonight. I will bless you only for my son’s pleasure at the price of your affliction.” Her mother-in-law had then smiled and blessed her.

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Starting from the eve of that wedding day, everyone was very happy except Manyahlishal, the bride. Joyous sounds were emanating from the imbiltas. Hands were regularly slapping each other; bodies were happily and almost neurotically convulsing to the rhythm of the drums. Yes, that was the eve of Manyahlishal’s wedding day. But everyone, including her father, had forgotten to give her—the bride—something to eat. She couldn’t ask for food. That was not becoming of a bride. It would have been downright shameful, if she did. There was enough food in the house for one thousand stomachs, but she—the bride—wept alone from hunger and hurled herself to sleep through nightmares evoked by the gnawing empty stomach, unlike a bride.
The next morning, at noon, and in the evening she was given very little to eat. Even then she wasn’t allowed to use her hands. She was helped to a few mouthfuls by her bridesmaids. Every minute dragged. She was tired. How much she wished the day would pass. How much she longed and prayed for the opportunity of isolating herself from that happy crowd! Just to be alone. Just to sleep.

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At last midnight was approaching. The crucial hour, almost the culmination, the end, the climax of the cere­mony. The beat of the drums accelerated. The hands clapped faster and faster. The voices of the singers got louder, higher, till at last they were all shrilling and trilling. People were drinking and eating with a renewed appetite. They were also dancing with bewildering en­thusiasm. Some were just talking with excitement at the top of their voices. Others were laughing insistently and very loudly. Beads of perspiration were trickling down the forehead of the groom. He was very nervous. He drank more than she had seen him drink all day.
His glass was refilled with Katikala repeatedly. He was encouraged by his best man to gulp each refill of the strong liquor with a comment that it would do him good; that it would soon come to his aid.
The first cock crowed. Midnight. The climax. The bride and the groom retired to the bedroom. The best-men helped the groom to take off part of his clothes Similarly, the bride was helped by her bridesmaids. Then the couple were left alone to face each other (in every sense of the word). The groom had uttered a few nervously entreating kind words. Then he had demon­strated a love-making entreaty with action. It was, how­ever, unreciprocated by the bride. Poor Manyahlishal had got naturally part of the message; she understood what he was asking. He wanted her to help him keep his potency—the dignity of his masculinity—the respect of his manhood—by being peaceful and letting him do what he had to do. Quickly! ” Had he forgotten that I am a virgin?” she thought. “That it would be very pain­ful?” She had then absolutely refused him.
” No help shall come from my best man,” the groom had decided. Suddenly, he turned sullen with rage at the stubborn girl lying on his bed. He tore off her clothes and held her by the hair. She struggled to free herself from his strong grasp and dipped her long nails into his flesh. Violence broke. A sight of blood! A shriek of pain from, the man! But soon Manyahlishal was con­fronted to the outbursts of his savage passion. The rain of blows from his strong hands completely paralysed the muscles of her arms and thighs. Sweat! Gasps! More sweat! More gasps! She had felt a surge of pain going through her. A faint sharp shriek! He emitted a sigh of relief. The job was done! Tekle, the groom, rose up proudly and dressed. He was satisfied with his bride and himself.

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The best man announced the good news to the waiting guests. “More drinks gentlemen! Let the musicians praise the bride. The bride is a wild fertile rose in a desert! Let the musicians praise the groom. Let them sing to the virility of his power! He had irrigated and had sown his seeds on a virgin land! He had passed the test with honours—the test of his potency— of his manhood.

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