Before they left her parent’s home, Marina argued with her husband to leave Ulaylee behind, but he only commented that there were many unmarried men in their valley. “It is good to form alliances. If we have a big family, others will not attack us to steal our food during times of famine.”
“Ha! Ulaylee will lead the attack.” Marina hissed.
As Marina and Hau followed by Mama E’KuN and Ulaylee climbed the hill toward home in the evening dusk, Sabrina wasn’t happy to see her older sister. She snarled to her husband Rue, “Can we put them in the goat shed? Ulaylee is mean, and I don’t want her in my house.”
Rue sighed and put his arms around his wife. “We need a bigger house. Tomorrow I will put a new roof on the goat shed.”
Sabrina looked at the scowl on her twin’s face and knew that she had not had an easy trip with Mama and Ulaylee.
Still, both Rue and Hau knew the value of family alliances. Papa often warned them to watch that neighbors didn’t encroach on their hunting grounds. Ulaylee could be useful if married to an honorable man.
After two days in the same house with Ulaylee and her Mama, Hau and Rue walked down the hill to where their papa lived with their step-mama. They laid all their troubles out on the table while their step-mama served them pottage seasoned with herbs from the hillsides.
“And Ulaylee has a sharp tongue.” Hau almost whined.
“And she told Marina to start the fire. I won’t have her telling my wife what to do in our home.”
“And she ate my second bean cake.”
“She’s a terrible cook. Won’t put an onion or bit of fish in the dinner.
Papa S’TO nodded and listened until his sons ran out of complaints. Finally, he added his own observations. “And, in addition to having a voice that grates on a man’s ears, she is scrawny.” The men shook their heads and prepared to face the reality of not being able to marry off Ulaylee.
Papa’s new wife looked at the discouraged men and volunteered. “She will not do as her younger sisters tell her. I will invite her to come here. I can at least teach her how rich people cook.” The older woman wrinkled her brow and skewered her husband with her eyes, “And you will do something about her horrible voice by teaching her to sing.” Next, she turned on her step-sons, “You can make the young men in the valley curious by introducing your beautiful wives to the other families in the valley. Tell the neighbors that Marina’s and Sabrina’s sister is staying here.”
So it was, that Ulaylee and Mama E’KuN moved out of the goat shed and in with Papa and Step-Mama S’TO. Step-Mama made certain that they all spent the day laughing and singing. If she talked about being rich once, she said a hundred times. “Of course the S’TO’s are so rich, that we can eat all the fish we want, or rich men like a bit of dried berry with that, or rich people always serve more than they can eat.”
Intimidated by the older woman and having no knowledge about what real rich people do, Ulaylee quickly learned ways that were different from the poverty of her father’s household.
Marina and Sabrina gave thanks over having their house to themselves again and prepared to visit their neighbors. They tore the fabric Marina brought from the city into skirt lengths and stitched together a new set of clothes. Rue and Hau encouraged them to sew and let Step-Mama cook their dinner, since she had help.
On the first day Rue intended to visit a neighbor, he took the wheelbarrow with some tools to help plant the fall crops, and Sabrina danced along beside him in her new finery. The next day, Marina wore the pretty new clothes and visited another neighbor while Hau helped repair their fences.
With the goal of getting rid of their elder sister, both girls knew enough to take gifts of hair ribbons or a pottery cup with them to visit the neighbors. They lied through their teeth and said they could take a day to visit because their sister worked so hard and cooked all their food. The mothers with unmarried sons accepted the gifts and listened to Marina or Sabrina with their convent manners praise their sister. They smiled and planned to return the visit soon.
The S’TO men congratulated themselves on the progress of their plan to present an acceptable Ulaylee to the community. They still shook their heads every time they looked at the scrawny, slightly stooped older girl.
Finally, Rue and Hau decided to take their lovely wives for an evening stroll and unburden themselves. Rue started, “Hauk is interested in meeting Ulaylee.”
Hau affirmed, “More than interested. I met Kam by the creek. He hinted he’d be willing to help us build an addition on our house.”
“And, Young S’Tng would be the best possible match for Ulaylee. His mama seldom leaves her bed, so his wife could rule her own home. He isn’t opposed to getting married. Trouble is…” Rue paused.
“Trouble is…” Hau tried to explain.
Marina snorted, “Trouble is Ulaylee is ignorant and ugly. I’ve tried to teach her the letters, but she doesn’t want to learn. Papa has tried to teach her to sing, but she complains about that.”
Hau scratched his head. “I know you’ve been working hard to make new clothes for yourselves, and you deserve them. And, you’ve been generous with Mama S’TO. Can you do something to make Ulaylee look…well…more like a woman?”
Marina and Sabrina paused in the path, looked at each other then said, “Maya!” at the same time and burst into giggles.
Rue and Hau stood in the path staring at their wives who continued to giggle and wink.
Finally, the twins explained that Maya was a woman who “worked nights” near the convent. “The men seemed to like her well enough.”
Thus it was, that the two sisters set to work with their needles and fabric to construct a new dress for their older sister. Ulaylee, knowing nothing about Maya, accepted the attention from her sisters without question. The new dress became a reality of ruffles and bright embroidery. If the white bodice appeared a little sheer, the generous ruffle around the neck disguised the real size of the attributes slightly visible below its hem. To Ulaylee, who’d never owned a new dress, this one appeared to be the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. She even became quite proud of her sisters’ convent education, such as it had been. She resolved not to screech at them.
Both of the young wives worried that an unhappy husband might return their sister to their doorstep, so as they sewed, they giggled and talked to their sister about the wonders of keeping a husband happy in bed and how to get baby for herself.
The whole family hunted, harvested, and cooked to prepare for the day when their neighbors would come to build a new room onto the S’TO’s house and to meet the sister of the beautiful S’TO twins.
For their part, the mothers in the valley sent their single sons to the creek to wash. They brushed and groomed their sons much the same as Ulaylee was being oiled and trussed.
Finally, the dawn came when the S’TO family arose before the sun to prepare to meet the neighbors who would help with their building. Ulaylee with ribbons braided in her hair and her bright ruffled dress, stood at the gate as her sisters told her and, as each guest arrived, offered them a cup of water she’d bent forward to dip from the big black pot.
Ulaylee had never had a man take an interest in her before. She suddenly realized that today was her opportunity to escape a lifetime of servitude in her parents’ home or the scowls and rolled eyes of her sisters in their home. She rose to the occasion beautifully. She curtsied to the older women as her sisters had taught her. She smiled sweetly at the young men and cast her eyes down when meeting the married men as her mama taught her. At mid morning, she served the workers more water.
While the workers rested after the mid-day meal, Papa S’TO stood beside Ulaylee and surprised his guests by singing a beautiful love song. For good measure, he sang a second song about a beautiful maiden looking for love. He hoped the young men would get caught up in the song and take the hint that Ulaylee might be beautiful. Finally, he asked his daughters to sing a folk song with him. Ulaylee had a small solo part that she performed quite well.
Before the sun left the sky, the S’TO house had grown to include two new rooms enclosing a small courtyard; Hau and Rue had received compliments on their lovely wives and men had poked Papa S’TO and called him sly for marrying The Widow S’PU. Finally, the neighbors gathered up their belongings and scraps of food the S’TO’s wrapped in a’rk leaves for their journey home.
As the last of the workers trailed down the hill, Mama E’KuN placed Ulaylee’s hand in Young S’Tng’s strong hand. The whole family wept tears of joy as the smitten young man led his bride to her new home. Ulaylee, almost floated as she left her sister’s house. She felt enchanted with her strong husband, and she knew herself to be more fortunate than she’d ever dreamed possible.
Mama E’KuN had been wise enough to hint to Kam and Hauk that she had more daughters at home, so nobody ended the day carrying home a burden of disappointment.