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The Little Woman's Water Pot
Early one morning, a little African girl woke on her sleeping mat. She stretched and yawned when she heard her big sister, Deda, pounding maize into meal and singing. Zua wished she was big enough to pound maize. It sounded great fun.
But when Zua stood in the doorway of the round African house, she didn't look at her sister. No, she stared at Mboni, her mother, with unblinking round eyes, wondering whatever she could be making with so small a lump of clay.
"What do you make, Mama?" she asked curiously. Mboni looked up.
"What do you think it is, my Brightness?"
Zua looked at the small lump of red clay in her mother's hands, wondering and wondering. Then she shook her curly head.
"It can't be a cooking-pot. It's far too small."
"It's not a cooking-pot," agreed Mboni, pressing her fist deep into the centre of the clay. Then she moulded the red clay into the shape of a jar with a narrow rim, turning and smoothing it with her strong, clay-stained.
"And it can't be a water-pot. It's far too small for that either," said Zua.
"But it is a water-pot, Zua. A little water-pot for a little woman."
"She must be a very little woman if she can only carry a water-pot that size." Zua
sounded puzzled. "I've never seen a woman as small as that, never."
Deda laughed merrily.
"Ho! Ho! Just hark at Zua. She's never seen a little woman."
Zua hated to be laughed at.
"Well, have you, Deda?"
"Oh, many, many times," answered Deda, chuckling to herself as she gave the maize a final bang.
"Will you show me this little woman, Mama?" pleaded Zua, feeling very curious.
"If all goes well, you shall certainly know her, my daughter," promised Mboni gently, and with that Zua had to be content, for neither her mother nor sister would tell her any more about the little woman.
Soon Mboni set the tiny water-pot to dry in the sun. It looked very, very small beside the other water-pots and cooking-pots waiting to be baked.
"Don't touch the little water-pot, Zua. It is still very soft."
As Mboni spoke, they heard Granny calling from her house not very far away.
"Mboni, Mboni, are you ready? It is time to fetch wood for the firing tomorrow."
All the women of the village hurried off with hatchet, bush-knife and bark-string. Zua rode on her mother's back, for it was a long way to the forest.
"Why doesn't that little woman make her own water-pots, Mama?" whispered Zua in her mother's ear."
"She's far too small, Zua."
"Is the little woman smaller than Deda?"
"Yes, much smaller. She can't even pound her own maize," said Mboni. "Now, Zua, see how big you can make your bundle of wood for the pot-firing."
On the way home that afternoon, Zua had her own burden of wood to carry. She walked before her mother and sister proudly balancing it on her head without once touching it with her hands, just as they
had taught her.
"Behold our little Brightness! Does she not bear her burden well?" said Mboni to Deda and their bright eyes gleamed with pride in their little one.
When all the wood had been placed round the firing-pit behind the village, Granny was satisfied. "It is good!" she said. "We have enough wood to fire many pots."
Next morning while Mboni polished her unbaked pots with a pebble, Deda and Zua went to collect leaves for the firing-pit. It was great fun carrying huge banana leaves to use for lining the pit.
In the late afternoon when the sun was not so hot, Mboni called her daughters.
"Deda, Zua, it is time for the great firing. Come, help me to prepare the pots."
The girls helped to pile the pots on top of each other, with leaves between each so that they should not be broken.
"I'll take the large cooking-pot," said Mboni. "Zua can carry the little woman's water-pot."
"What, me?" asked Zua in great astonishment. Mboni smiled.
"Yes, you, Zua. If you can carry wood you can carry water-pots, but be careful or the little woman will lose her water-pot before it is fired."
Zua was careful, very careful. This was the first time she'd carried a water-pot on her head. It was much more difficult than carrying wood, for it might break if she let it drop.
"Look at Zua!" exclaimed Granny. "Isn't she a clever girl!"
Zua glowed with delight and showed every one of her white teeth in a large smile, as she proudly walked through the village bearing her small burden.
Mboni placed the little woman's water-pot with the larger ones on the mound of leaves in the firing-pit. Then she helped Granny and the Aunts to fill all the pots with leaves and twigs and cover them with more leaves and wood. Then the large logs were piled into a high tower over the hidden pots. The time of firing had come!
Granny brought embers from her own fire in a broken crock and laid them on the dry leaves in the pit. The women knelt down and blew hard at the embers. The leaves spluttered, crackled and smoked, then out burst many flames at once. A lovely sight!
"The Great Fire is lit!" shouted the children, jumping up and down in their excitement.
But Zua sat quietly beside her mother, watching the flames. "Please, fire, be kind to the little water-pot, make it hard, make it strong, to carry water for the little woman," she said softly.
Soon even the big logs were blazing and the heart of the fire glowed like a furnace. It was so hot that the women and children had to draw back or the heat would have burnt them.
Tired with all the excitement, Zua fell asleep. When
she awoke she saw her mother lifting a small pot out of the glowing mound of white wood-ash.
"The little woman's water-pot!" she shouted. "Oh, do be careful, Mama!"
"Don't touch, Zua, it must cool first," explained Mboni.
It seemed a long time to the little girl before her mother picked up the little water-pot and flicked it with her finger-nail.
"Ping! Ping!" sang the little water-pot.
"Hark, Zua!" said Mboni, flicking the little water-pot again. "Ping! Ping! It rings as true as a bell. It has fired perfectly. Not a crack, not a blister. It's the most beautiful water-pot I have ever made."
"Won't the little woman be pleased!" cried Zua.
So a trail of women padded homewards on their hard-soled feet, each carrying a pile of newly-fired pots. But none was prouder than Zua carrying the little woman's water-pot on her own head.
Zua's father stood waiting at the door of their home.
"Well! Well!" he exclaimed. "What a day for rejoicing! If it isn't the little woman, Zua, with her very first water-pot on her head. Welcome home, my own little woman!"
Then Zua's heart glowed with delight. At last she knew who the little woman was who was too small to make her own water-pot. It was herself!