A/N: Welcome to my first original story available to the public! I will be working on this daily so you will see it as I'm updating it.
Summary: A group of village people live in the forests of central Africa. As part of their culture, women are married off in arranged marriages and forced to produce children to work. There are two women who are coming of age at twenty-one years to be married off - will they go with the flow and be safe and secure within their society's standards? Or will they do something else?
Chapter 1: Stand-Up For Yourself
Kulele stared at the flowing river, watching as it split course and the water was forced to choose a direction. The water had traveled for miles and miles to get to this very fork in its path - and where time seemed infinite, everything and everyone had to go in a direction. She looked behind her at the villagers going about their day to day tasks, some young mothers with newborns, teens walking in groups with freshly picked crops. There were young pregnant women who were only slightly older than she, and she quickly turned her head back to the river. Taking a deep sigh she looks up towards the sky and mumbles a small prayer.
She knew the day was coming where that young pregnant woman could become her. She would soon be married off to one of the village men to produce a child for the prosperity of the village. The intricate connect between life, aging, and death meant that the villagers had to be persistent in their survival efforts. She had never seen herself being interested in creating a child with one of the village men however - she couldn't fathom that existence. Was their something wrong with her?
The sun was beginning to set and the sky became a hazy purple, reflecting itself on the flowing river. She basked in the metaphorical freedom of the water choosing a direction and the sun seemingly answering her prayer. She knew what she would have to do. She turns away from the west and heads to her family's place of residence. Dinner was finally ready and her older brothers and wives, two little sisters, and father and mother would not begin the meal without her.
She sits on the floor next to her youngest sister, her family prepares a small portion of the food for the gods, then they prepare plates for everyone else. She looks across the table from her brother's and their spouses - in their culture, the wife moves in with the family of the husband until a child is produced.
"Kulele-" Kuate, a middle aged handsome man with a cheshire cat grin calls to his middle child.
"Yes, papa?" Kulele responds with a mouth full of food.
"I want you to understand that you are doing this for the wellbeing of the village. Without this, we would not survive." All eyes simultaneously are on him and their plates as well.
"I do understand, papa." The disappointment in Kulele's eyes speak volumes but the fake smile she slaps could fool the best of body language interpreters.
"This is your last meal with us and I want it to be special." He pulls out a gourd of aged fruit wine. He passes it around for everyone to pour their portion. "I began aging this wine every time a daughter was born to celebrate this very moment."
She nervously grabs the bottle from her young sister, Kelalu, who is unaware of the feeling of drinking aged wine. She spills a little on her hand out of nervousness but keeps her composure. There must be a way out. She couldn't go through with this ordeal, no matter how selfish it meant she had to be. Would doing a selfless act for the village truly make her happy in the long run?
"To Kulele and her future! To many many children and success of the village!" He raises his cup to toast and everyone does the same. All but Kulele of course - her cup is held just a tad shorter than everyone else. They toast and drink. The entire duration of the event, an event for her, Kulele just feels empty and lost, unsure of the next step for her to take.
Everyone is beyond intoxicated, under the influence of the aged wine and excitement. Their excitement becomes their downfall, as yawns begin to erupt across each individual. It was time to sleep and be prepared for the next day - marriage day.
Kulele is seated in a chair, flaunting a beautiful, colorful marriage garment. Her mother is behind her, pinning the tresses of coils, moisturizing every strand in their family butters. She looks better than any princess ever could and with her appearance, any man would be happy to accept her. Her mother finishes and walks away and Kulele sees her reflection in the mirror. She looks beautiful, but in a way foreign to her - this appearance seemed foreign and strange. A tear slips from her eye as realization sets upon her; she will be given away in a matter of moments. She will be going to live with a completely new family, maybe to never see hers again. The demand will be high to produce children, that would be so disconnected from. She walks to the exit of the wardrobe into the open air.
Ahead of her was a young gentlemen wearing his male marriage dress. The people around begin pointing to her and he sees this beauty and immediately smiles. She slowly approaches, giving an ingenuine smile. She knew this guy, having encountered him in her childhood. He definitely has grown into himself and he was a very nice looking man, just not for her.
The banging of drums can be heard as she approaches him, the ritual beginning. The village leader had a bowl of concocted potions to seal the marriage in love and unity. She stops directly in front of him, trying her hardest to hide her inner feeling. The village leader holds his hands up and slowly lowers them and the volume of the drums lower as well. He puts his hand into the and grabs some of his concoction into his hands. He forces Kulele and her soon to be husband's hands together, smearing the substance between them. He closes their hands together.
"This signifies unity between you, Kulele, and you Tunale. May love grow and prosper between you with time." He places the bowl to the side and raises his hands for the volume of the drums to increase. Everyone around begins chanting and praying as Kulele and Tunale stare at one another. He seems pleased with her and brings her in closer for a kiss to seal the agreement. She winces but allows it to happen, uncomfortable with the entire exchange and ready for this to be over. The chanting dies down and a path is laid out for them to walk upon. The path leads to the consummation room, where all the couples go after the ritual is over.
The villagers step on either side of that path, and Tunale walks forward. Kulele is reluctant to move but he nudges her. She follows him slowly behind the beaded curtains, freaked out at the high expectation of her for the day. Upon entrance of this ceremonial place, there is more aged wine, a feast for two, and 'the mat of contraception'. Village stories say that when newly married women come out of this room, they have conceived and will bear many more children.
Tunale begins undressing and seats himself on the mat. He pours wine from the gourd for the two as Kulele stands off toward the entrance. 'What am I supposed to do?' She thinks to herself. She begins to subtly look around, for any sign of escape. Looking to the left, she sees grapes, bread, and cheese along with a very sharp knife. To her right, there is a meal of lamb, greens, corn, cacao, but no way out. She turns back around to stare at the entrance but still hears the villagers surrounding the place. Tunale sees her hesitation and tries to increase her comfort level.
"Why don't you come sit close?" He pats the area next to him. She walks over to the food instead.
"I've been up all morning and am a bit famished. Can we eat first?" He nods and stays seated.
"Would like two servings of everything." Kulele rolls her eyes and mumbles under her breath, "I didn't ask you." She brings the plates to the mat area and sits on the far side of him.
"Will you not be removing your clothes? We need to complete the ritual." He makes a statement that Kulele was trying to escape from. She decides to be honest with him.
"I do not want to remove my clothes."
Tunale slowly turns his head around in disbelief. She really didn't have a choice in this situation and they must complete the ritual or the Gods may send bad luck to their families for decades.
"We have obligations to fulfill and we must remain here until they are completed." He turns back around and continues eating. Kulele looks up and sees the knife next to the fruit and cheese from earlier. Being as sneaky as a cat, she grabs ahold and tucks it under her leg. If he was going to make this hard, she was going to make it harder.
He sits his plate on the ground and lays his nakedness back upon the mat. She tightens her hands around the knife. He begins to reach towards the back of her garment and tries to removing the sleeves so that the garment would fall. Fall it did, but her arms remained in the loops and she stiffened. He began rubbing his hand down the spine of her back, ever so slowly - his member begins to rise. She tries to move away from his advances but also doesn't want to expose the knife.