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Akim and the Mermaid
Once upon a time, in Africa, there lived a girl called Akim. She was very beautiful and kind, and many young men asked for her hand in marriage. But her parents wanted to make sure that the man she married was the right one for her.
Eventually, they decided on a young man who lived several villages away. He was brave and strong and came from a wealthy family. Although Akim had never met the young man, she felt sure he would be a good husband and she accepted her parents' decision without question. So, the marriage was arranged and a date set for the ceremony.
"It is the custom for the bride to go to her future husband alone," said Akim's father. "But, as you are going so far away, your younger sister will accompany you, so that you will have a friend to talk to when your husband is out hunting. You will also take a woman servant with you, to help with the cooking and cleaning in your new home."
When the time came for Akim to leave, all the people of the village turned out to wave goodbye and wish her luck. Akim was sad to leave her home, but at least she had her sister and the servant woman to keep her company.
They walked all day, carrying their heavy bundles of belongings. Eventually, they came to a lake where they stopped to rest. "The village is on the other side of this lake, mistress," said the servant woman. "Why don't you bathe and prepare yourself to meet your future husband?"
Akim thought this was a good idea, so she undressed and stepped into the cool, refreshing water.
Suddenly, the servant pushed Akim with all her might until she disappeared under the water, into the deepest part of the lake. Akim's little sister cried out and ran to the water's edge, but there was no sign of her sister. "Why did you push her?" cried the little girl.
"Shut up, and listen to me! From now on, you will call me Akim. I will marry the man who was chosen by your parents. If you dare to tell anyone, I will push you into the lake as well!" said the wicked woman. "You will be my servant now, and you will do exactly as I say or you will be sorry."
The little girl was very frightened, so she did as she was told. Then the wicked servant put on Akim's clothes and together they went into the village, where the young man was anxiously waiting.
When he saw his bride he was a bit disappointed. He had been told that Akim was very gentle and kind. But when he looked at her, he thought she looked bad-tempered and disagreeable. However, the marriage had been agreed and he was a man of honour, so he married the wicked woman the next day.
He had built a fine house for his new wife to live in and the wicked woman lived there, waited on hand and foot by Akim's poor little sister, who was too frightened to tell anyone what had happened. The little sister worked hard from morning till night, cleaning and cooking, while the woman did nothing except shout orders at her..
"Go to the lake and fetch some water," she shouted one day, "and hurry back, or I will beat you!"
The young girl took the large water jar to the lake. When she reached the water's edge, she bent down to fill up the jar. Then, to her astonishment, she saw her sister Akim rising up from the depths to meet her. "I thought you were drowned!" cried the little girl.
"I nearly was, but the kind Spirit of the Lake saw what that evil servant did and wouldn't let me die. Instead, I was turned into a mermaid. Look!" At this, she wriggled out of the water on to the bank.
Her sister was amazed at the long fish tail Akim had grown, but was overjoyed to see her dear sister alive. She told of the cruel servant woman and how she had masqueraded as Akim and had married the young man in her place. She also told of how she was forced to work every day as a servant.
When Akim heard this she was very angry, but there was little she could do as a mermaid. "I will ask the Spirit of the Lake for help," said Akim.
"Perhaps there is a way we can expose that servant's treachery. But, for the moment, you must say nothing of our meeting to anyone. Just go back to the village and carry on as before. Come here each morning so that we can be together."
All this time, the husband had been feeling very miserable. The lovely woman he had hoped to marry had turned out to be cruel and selfish. She beat her young servant and never did any work herself. All she did was sit around all day and complain.
One day, when he was out hunting, he was feeling particularly downhearted. So he sat down by the side of the lake and gazed sadly into the water. "Oh, I am so unhappy," he sighed.
Suddenly, the surface of the lake rippled, and the man heard a voice. "I am the Spirit of the Lake," it said. "You are the victim of a wicked trick. Your wife is not the girl you were supposed to marry."
At this, the man jumped to his feet in astonishment. "Then tell me, how I can find my true bride, 0 Spirit of the Lake!" he cried.
"Tomorrow morning, go to the side of the lake where your wife's servant collects water, and hide in the bushes. Then you will discover the truth."
The next morning he did as the Spirit had said. It wasn't long before Akim's sister arrived. He watched as she knelt by the water and cried out, "Akim, Akim!"
After a short while, the most beautiful mermaid came up out of the water and slid on to the bank. He listened as the two girls talked of the wicked servant and how the Spirit of the Lake had promised to help them.
When he had heard enough, he jumped out of the bushes, knelt down beside the mermaid, took her hand and said, "So you are the real Akim. You are as lovely as I was told. That evil woman will be punished for her crime, and you will be my true bride."
When the Spirit of the Lake heard this, the spell was broken and Akim's tail disappeared.
"Oh, Akim," cried her sister. "How wonderful —you're back to normal again!" And they hugged and kissed each other with joy.
Then they went back to the village and told the story to the chief, who was very angry. "Bring the wicked servant here!" he commanded.
The woman was dragged from her house and brought before the chief. When she saw Akim and her sister standing next to the man she had so cruelly tricked, she fell down and begged forgiveness.
"How do you want me to punish this woman?" the chief asked Akim. "Should I have her thrown into the lake and drowned?"
But Akim was not a vengeful person. She asked only that the wicked woman should be driven from the village for ever, so that she could marry and take her rightful place beside her husband and live happily with him as his true bride.