When Old Man S’TO learned Ulaylee liked to spin and weave, he grew excited. “A weaver would be a great asset to this valley. She can make her husband very rich.”
Ulaylee met her family at the gap in the fence around her hut. She hugged them and gave them each a watery smile.
Mama E’KuN narrowed her eyes. “Why aren’t you happy? Has that man of yours mistreated you? If you aren’t happy, I’ll take you home with me.”
“No! No, Tik is wonderful. No man could be better. His Mama is sickly and cross, and I don’t know how to make cheese. She calls me ugly.”
Marina and Sabrina looked at each other. They knew they didn’t want a weeping Ulaylee on their doorstep. “May we meet your new mama? We’ve brought bean cakes and berries for a treat.”
Ulaylee introduced her guests to her new mama. Polite greetings were exchanged until Mama S’TO spoke up. “T’SSy M’TU,” she addressed the sick woman using her childhood name. “Just look at you. Nobody would have guessed that you’d end up a crippled old women before your time. I remember when J’ST died and you said I’d die within a year. I lived, and I’m married again to a good man, but look at you. At least, you can congratulate yourself that your son married into a prosperous family.” She looked at the sick woman and shook her head.
Ulaylee looked around wondering where the prosperous family might be.
Marina set the bean cakes and berries on the crude table by the door. “Ulaylee, do you have any cheese to go with the berries?”
The old woman sneered from her cot in the corner. “Spoilt it, she did.”
Ulaylee had begun to learn that she might be able to trust her married sisters and brought out a soggy mess wrapped in leaves. “It’s soft.”
“Oo, just the way I like it.” Sabrina squealed. “I’d like some on my berries.” She took a generous helping of berries on a bean cake and added the runny cheese.
Mama S’TO would do anything for her daughters-in-law so she followed Sabrina’s example and went so far as to take a bite of the runny mess. “Oh Ulaylee, I’ve never tasted anything so good. Come Mama E’KuN, you must have some.”
Sabrina took a delicate taste. “This is wonderful. I doubt that Mother Abbess ever had anything this good at the convent.” Sabrina’s voice rang with wonderment. The runny stuff that Ulaylee called cheese tasted tangy and buttery. It coated the tongue with a rich, sweet-tart cream that held pleasant under tastes speaking of herbs and berries.
Marina took a delicate bite, “Sister, you’ve done this perfectly, but it needs a better container than the leaves. I’ll send Hau down with a proper crock this evening. Well, two crocks because I want some for us.”
Mama E’Kun changed the plan again. “Kam is walking me home, if I took some with us, he could carry it. Send down three crocks.
Mama S’TO piled berries on a bean cake and drizzled some cheese over the top. “Come T’SSy, some fresh fruit will make you feel better, and only the very rich get a treat like this cheese, but then our girls were raised in the city, so they know about these things.” She served Mama S’TnG a bean cake laden with berries and cheese.”
The sick woman fretted, “I’m not used to that stuff. I don’t like new things. I’m not hungry. I’m never hungry.”
Ulaylee hadn’t grown waspish as a spinster to no avail, “Mama S’TnG, your son owns land, a house and herds. He’s rich compared to the laborers in the city. We must live befitting our station in life and that means not eating like peasants.” She turned to her sister, “If you can send a pitcher down with Hau, I’ll send back goat milk, too. I really need dishes and haven’t found good clay to make some.”
“I’ll send back dishes with Kam.” Mama E’KuN volunteered. “Papa and I want to give you a wedding gift.”
Mama S’TO had lived with Ulaylee long enough to know she wasn’t the best cook in the valley, “Ulaylee, Mr. S’TO thinks you might do best to spend your time weaving rather than cooking. I can send you bean cakes if you can make us spun goods.”
“Rope.” Marina said. “I know it isn’t so much fun to make, but you make good strong rope, and we can always use more.”
“I agree rope first, but we need blankets for the babies. If you make the yarn, we can knit.” Sabrina pleaded with her older sister.
Mama E’KuN lifted her chin and brushed a whisp of hair behind her ear. “Oh I’m so happy to see my daughters settled so well.” She looked around the hut and into the shrubbery outside the door. “You will make your husband very rich.” She nodded.
Before the sun reached its noon-day height, Ulaylee’s guests departed with promises to return. Mama S’TO’s promise may have sounded more like a threat to the sick woman on the cot in the corner. Mama S’TO hugged Ulaylee, “Now don’t fret about cooking. I’ll bring something by tomorrow, if you can have some rope for us.” She turned to her old enemy, “Goodbye T’SSy, I’ll be back real often. Us country girls are just going to have to learn the ways of rich city people. Your son has married well.” She left.
Mama S’TnG lay back on her cot and whined, “I’m in pain. I must rest. People make me tired”
Ulaylee said, “You rest. I’ll go make rope to trade. I think I’ll ask Mama to send a healer to us for your pain.”
“Nobody can help me.” Mama S’TnG whined.
Ulaylee hummed to shut out the sound of the whining as she changed from the pretty dress to her familiar work clothes. She silently marveled over owning two dresses. Finally, she set a gourd of water beside Mama S’TnG and left for the day.
Mama S’TnG had a broken pelvis, but she could still think. She lay in the dark hut and contemplated her new daughter. She felt certain the girl was as ignorant as she was ugly. Mama thought about Ulaylee’s sisters and her own childhood rival. She contemplated complex concepts like power and wealth. As she drifted off to sleep, she recognized that the ugly woman her son brought home just might be very powerful and would bring the family great wealth, as much as wealth existed in their valley.