Four generations ago, Thuli’s ancestors had cleared the forests to build a settlement in the forest hills close to the mountains. It was high up and far away from civilization but they were surrounded by nature all around. Natural springs and forests surrounded her little village which was sparsely populated. Their most immediate neighbor lived about ten minutes walk down the hill. In fact their’s was the last house on the hill. Above them were forests from where a deer or two would drop by accidentally. The place was quiet and beautiful. Her parents tilled the land for their living growing maize, potatoes and mustard among other hardy crops.
Thuli was only fourteen but was strong in built, perhaps a little too strong for her age. Being the only child in a farmer’s family, she helped around the farm after school. They reared some cows for milk and dung to be used as manure. She knew that their very lives depended on the farm which was a back breaking job.
She walked with a boyish gait and could engage someone straight in the eyes while talking – something village lasses weren’t supposed to do. She climbed up high trees to collect leaves for the goats, carried cow dung in a bamboo basket harnessed to her head and raced uphill with the boys.
That winter, her mother gave birth to a baby boy in their cozy little thatched hut. The night was cold. She woke up to find her mother in the bed with the new born.
‘Thuli, look you have a baby brother now’, said her mother. Thuli jumped with joy. Now she could have someone to play around with. When the sun came up, her mother took the baby outside the verandah to give him an oil massage.
‘Thuli get me some mustard oil. It’s time for Babu to have a massage in the sunshine.’
‘Yes, mother’. The baby gurgled with pleasure as she placed generous amount of warm oil on his little body. She massaged his head first then the rest of the body.
‘Do babies need massages every day?’ asked Thuli.
‘Of course, silly. We need to get his bones strong enough to withstand cold. Life is difficult for a farmer so we need to get him prepared, don’t we?’.
‘OK. now time for some milk’. She wrapped the baby up in a warm blanket and nestled him beneath her bosom to breast feed him. Soon the baby was fast asleep. She got up slowly to place the baby on the little hammock hanging from the ceiling on the verandah.
‘Thuli, you look after your brother. Your father and I will go and harvest corn in the lower field. We should be back by three’.
It was a Saturday and her school remained closed. She went in the hut to clean the utensils and have the little baby all to herself. She was excited.