By Kur Wël Kur, Adelaide, Australia
January 7, 2017 (SSB) — Aged 26, Zacchaeus urged himself to marry as quickly as possible. Terrors of the lonely death, without a descendant, kept him awake in countless nights. He preferred a time alone most of the times; time to reflect on insurmountable responsibility to nurse his family tree back to a biological growing speed.
There was only one way to do that: To marry and have many sons. And handfuls of daughters for wealth. Wealth for his sons to marry many wives. Wives to maze his clan with his descendants. One of Zacchaeus’ lonely times was to wander off to the town. His battalion was in a barrack fifteen minutes away from the Torit town. His occasional loitering got him into rough edges with his boss, 2nd LT Kala. He warned him many times, but Zacchaeus became creative. He looked for slightest excuses to visit Torit town especially the deep well hand-pumps positions.
One particular Afridev well hand-pump became a customary destination for Zacchaeus. He had made numerous pilgrimages to that Afridev well. But none of the girls who quibbled over who should fetched water first, caught his wishes. He was desperate for a hardworking, tall and beautiful girl. Kindness in his future wife was a quality he kept to himself. He hardly discussed it with his best friends.
Zacchaeus would stroll to the pump and stand under a tree, just watching the traffics of girls and young married women to and from the pump. And for nearly two weeks of his visits, none of the girls volunteered to offer him water for drinking. Some girls shied, some hated his gut; the sign of him. He was in the verge of giving up, but he promised himself to make one more trip back to the pump.
On the fourth Saturday of January 1992, he asked a permission from Kala to town for personal matters. He materialised under the same teak tree. The day was Zacchaeus’ lucky day. A tall, lean and dark-skinned girl was waiting for her turn to fetch water. Her name was Elizabeth Aliet Kuot. She lived with her paternal uncle, a lieutenant commander in Zacchaeus’ battalion. Couple of goose bumps rippled on Zacchaeus’ skin when he saw her. Sideways, she shot shying glances at him. Sweat was pouring on Zacchaeus’ face and patches of sweat crawled into one another on his back. Elizabeth Aliet grabbed a three-litre jerry can, filled it with water and strutted to where Zacchaeus was dehydrating.
“Would you mind drinking water from me,” Elizabeth Aliet asked without looking at Zacchaeus.
Zacchaeus debated with himself for a few seconds whether to ask her names before drinking or ask her after quenching himself. His later argument won. He seized the jerry can and gurgled the water down his throat.
“From whom did I just drink the water?” Zacchaeus asked handing her the jerry can.
Elizabeth Aliet smiled and clutched her jerry can and paced backward.
“Sorry…,” she said. Still pacing backward. She turned and left.
“That would be a different day topic; now I am busy and have to go,” she said.
She shot those words over her shoulder as she raced back to where double scores of eyes were resting on her. Some of those eyes were sending out a pure jealousy, and some were sending out respect for the work of kindness Elizabeth Aliet had just performed in their presence, a task that had no one among them had the guts to deliver. One of the looks-givers was her cousin, a rival. Her names were Martha Bil Deng.
“Aliet, this desperation for new boyfriends will get you kill,” she said looking away.
She was audible enough for Zacchaeus to hear the demoralising words. He was almost shuffling his feet to leave, but after those stinging words, he froze. Martha Bil’s tone allowed no excuse for someone like Zacchaeus, or rest of girls to take her words as a joke or funny. He changed his mind on leaving, just to witness Elizabeth Aliet’s reaction. To his surprise, Elizabeth Aliet didn’t even look back to check whether he was gone or not.
Aliet elbowed her way through the bundles of girls and young married women; positioned her thirty-litre Jerry can under the faucet; swirled around to the pump handle and started pumping water. Martha Bil had already filled her Jerry can. Each lifted the load onto her head; they strolled away balancing the loads on their heads hands free.
Zacchaeus left immediately after.
With no mobile phones. No internet, the lifeline of all social sites, [in 1992 in South Sudan] tracking friends of any kind was a nightmare or a quagmire you may guess. Zacchaeus was already sick in his stomach and in his mind when he left the mighty teak tree, the host of his dreams.
Mixtures of excitements and fears were churning out in his stomach; his legs became rubbery. The fear of losing Elizabeth Aliet was the cause of his miseries. And sure enough series of trips to the pump bore him no fruits because Elizabeth Aliet’s schedules changed. She fetched water in morning hours.
But he wasn’t aware of it. Back then, in those times of the civil war, people travelled a lot; Zacchaeus feared that Elizabeth Aliet had left Torit for another town. Towns such as Pageri, Nimule, Kajo keji, and many other Equatorian towns were brimming with internal displaced persons’ (IDPs) settlements. He was a worried man; philosophy says worries shape the humans’ thinking…
Kur Wël Kur has a Bachelor Degree in Genetics and Zoology from Australian National University (ANU). He was the former the General Secretary of Greater Bor Community in Adelaide, Australia. He can be reached via his email contact: kurwelkur @ yahoo.com
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