Our September 2019 Writing Contest
This contest is now closed to submissions!
The prompt for this contest has been...
The protagonist is conflicted. They have to decide if they'd give up something that's very important to them in order to help a loved one.
Only one person can assist them with this difficult decision. Who is it? How do they reach out to that person? What happens next?
We have 1 honorable mention:
"Proxy" by Maggie Nerz Iribarne
Maggie's story was sad and touching. We especially loved the gradual reveal of what was really happening.
And the first-place winner is...
Cathryn D'Aldi with "K'Hamisi's Decision"
Cathryn's story is beautiful, captivating, and thought-provoking. We especially loved the ending for the protagonist's poignant thoughts--and for setting up a fresh dilemma for another character.
Great work, Cathryn!
Read the winning entry below.
By Cathryn D'Aldi
K’Hamisi’s decision was expected by the elders when the tribal council convened at sunset.
He watched the western sun, behind a dark line of Parasol trees, slip below the horizon. Stars speckled the dusky eastern sky with faint pulses of light.
K’Hamisi brushed a stonefly buzzing around his head. He hadn’t made up his mind.
His decision had seemed straightforward when the council requested K’Hamisi take a second wife.
Nia, his cherished spouse, provided comfort, joy, and loving support during their fifteen years of marriage.
Why would he require a second wife?
K’Hamisi sought his mother’s advice.
“Keeping many wives is a long tradition in our country, Son. A sign of manhood.” K’Hamisi’s mother adjusted the sleeve of her kaftan, hiding her crooked arm.
“Marriage to one woman has made me happy, Mother.”
“Your father and brothers scoff at you behind your back, K’Hamisi.”
“Tell, me, Maitũ, how has being the first of father’s four wives benefited you? Father’s new wife live in comfort, while you, you...” K’Hamisi waved a hand at the mud-dabbled walls of the hut, the dirt floor, the sparse furnishings.
“It is not you right to question,” his mother said in a trembling voice.
“Your husband never enters your hut. Complains your bed is cold. How do you accept the rejection?”
“Speak no disrespect of your father.”
“Father?” K’Hamisi paced back and forth. “His households, his wives, his businesses occupy him. No time or interest in the many children he has produced. And look, Maitũ.” K’Hamisi kneeled in front of his mother and rolled up her sleeve. He stroked her crooked arm gently.
“Please, no more,” his mother whispered. Her frail body trembled.
“Father refused medical help for you when his favorite wife broke your arm.” K’Hamisi stood. His eyes burned with anger.
“Go home, K’Hamisi.” His mother tugged her sleeve and covered her arm. Tears glistening in her faded eyes. “Go home to Nia.”
Tat, K’Hamisi’s thirteen-year old son, stirred the council fire glowing in the yard.
“Careful,” K’Hamisi cautioned as sparks, like fireflies, flew upward into the dusk. Crackling flames leaped from the stone-ringed firepit and illuminated the brilliant red and yellow geometric designs on the circular hut.
Smoky wisps curled around K’Hamisi’s ankles, and swirled around the circular room like an inquisitive visitor.
K’Hamisi inhaled the pine-scented smoke.
Pine boughs had burned in a circle of white stones outside the hut while he and Nia, wrapped in each other’s arms, consummated their marriage.
K’Hamisi’s morose face brightened for a moment. If Nia were here, she’d glance at him with bright, mischievous eyes, her lips would twitch, and she’d tilt her head towards the corner of the room where a thick quilted pallet, covered with animal skins, lay on the wooden floor.
But Nia wasn’t home. Women were forbidden from the attending or observing council’s secret proceedings.
K’Hamisi had sent his wife and their three daughters to his father’s compound forty kilometers away. Tat and he had been alone all week.
“Father. Father. Someone’s coming.” Tat tossed a pine branch into the crackling flames. “It’s Uncle Refilow,” he said and jogged to greet the man bent over a bicycle pedaling along the dusty road.
Refilow propped his bike against the wooden fence post. K’Hamisi’s half-brother wore traditional garb: a long, loose-fitting shirt flowing to his knees, tight, tapered leggings, and sandals.
“How time flies, K’Hamisi,” Refilow adjusted his fila, a bucket-shaped hat embroidered with red and gold leaves. “Hard to believe your son is old enough to observe the council’s meeting.”
“Hard to believe you are old enough to be an elder on the council,” K’Hamisi said. “Tat attends the academy this term. I’ll miss him.”
“Brother, you have an opportunity for more boys. If your decision to make the widow, Yejida, your second wife. But. . .” Refilow frowned. “You are wearing a shirt and jeans. It appears you’ve abandoned traditional customs.”
After visiting his mother, K’Hamisi had sought out Refilow for advice.
The trip to his half-brother’s village grocery store resulted in sleepless nights, temper tantrums and a decision to send Nia and the girls on a visit with his mother while he struggled with his decision (made problematic by a glimpse of the widow Yejida).
With Nia snuggled beside him, pretending to be asleep, K’Hamisi had stared at the ceiling while disturbing thoughts whirled:
Nia is my one true love.
I have remained faithful--with a few exceptions.
For all Refilow’s whining, his situation proves satisfactory.
Polygamy, if managed properly, could be an agreeable arrangement.
Refilow was busy inspecting melons from the wooden stall in front of his store the morning of K’Hamisi’s visit.
“The council’s concern, K’Hamisi, is for the widow.” Refilow selected a large, green melon and thumped it twice.
“Don’t scowl, Brother, makes you look fierce. The widow, Yejida, has a young child. Has been left destitute after her husband’s accident.” Refilow added the melon to a large wicker basket overflowing with produce. “And,” he said grinning at his half-brother, “Yejida is the youngest sister of Father’s latest wife.”
K’Hamisi laughed. “This tells me much, Refilow.”
“The widow is very attractive, Brother.” Refilow nestled the ripe melon in a large woven hamper bulging with onion bulbs, ears of corn, mangos, and yams.
“If that is true, brother, why don’t you take Yejida as your third wife?”
“The council in its wisdom has selected you. Besides, maintaining two families costs dearly.”
“Bah! Our father has no difficulties keeping four wives. And seventeen children.”
“Soon to be eighteen.” Refilow lifted the bulging hamper of produce and scanned the pedestrians hurrying along the uneven sidewalk.
“Times are different, K’Hamisi. Grandfather, and now father, gained power and influence among our tribe by having large families.”
“Yes, yes,” K’Hamisi said with an impatient flick of his wrist. “Many sons and daughters tending the cattle, cultivating sugar cane fields and coffee plantations, weaving fine cloth.”
K’Hamisi’s half-brother flagged down a shirtless rider steering a rusty bicycle past his shop. “Hey, bicycle boy. Delivery for the widow Yejida. Tell her the basket is compliments of my father.”
Curious, K’Hamisi excused himself and followed the bicycle boy weaving in and out among the crowds to the widow Yejida’s residence.
The widow opened the door to the bicycle boy’s knock. An infant mewed softly in her arms.
K’Hamisi sucked in a mouthful of air. Refilow was right. She is beautiful, he thought.
Younger than Nia was when they had married. Taller, too, with broad hips and a full, rounded bust. Yejida’s smile revealed bright, straight teeth. She hoisted the infant on one hip and grasped the handle of the woven basket from the bicycle boy.
“Thank Refilow for me,” Yejida said. Her voice was soft and lyrical.
Lust dug deep into K’Hamisi’s soul, unwrapped the waxed cerecloth binding his buried emotions and resuscitated suppressed desires.
Tat collected the cushions the elders had sat on during the council session. K’Hamisi stirred the dying embers with a pine bough.
Silvery moonlight brightened the darkness. The buzzing of night insects mingled with the voices of the departing elders.
“I disapprove of my son’s decision,” K’Hamisi’s father said. “The council never should have given him a choice.”
“The decision was his to make,” an elder said.
“Our old ways are best,” said another.
A woman stepped from the shadows. “It was a choice the council had no right to offer,” she said in a soft, lyrical voice.
K’Hamisi’s heart thudded.
Tat stared at the woman. “I know her, father.” He dropped a cushion and ran towards the woman.
K’Hamisi rushed after his son.
“Yejida?” Refilow asked. “How did you get here?”
“What’s important is that I am here,” Yejida said. “I respected tradition and waited until the council had dispersed.” She smiled at Tat who was clinging to her hand.
“Why are you here?” K’Hamisi’s father asked.
“To speak for myself and for all women. And for Nia who can’t be here because her husband sent both her and his daughters away.”
K’Hamisi pushed past the elders. “How do you know my son?” he asked Yejida.
“I know you daughters, too.”
“Yejida feeds us cake and ice cream,” Tat said. “When we visit.”
“Nia comes to my house for the Women’s Equality Society meeting.”
“Nia has not time for frivolous get-togethers.” K’Hamisi pulled his son to him.
“Nia comes before her weekly shopping trip to Refilow's.”
“What nonsense are you teaching my grandchildren?”
“Grandfather. Respect for families, neighbors, strangers isn’t nonsense.”
K’Hamisi bowed his head. Infatuation with the widow had blinded him. The only person he should have consulted about the decision to take a second wife was Nia.
“If you like, I will explain.” Yejida walked towards the flickering fire.
“Let’s go, Refilow. Toss your bike in the boot of my car.” Several elders followed K’Hamisi’s father.
“Don’t leave, Refilow.” K’Hamisi took his son’s hand and followed Yejida.