Celebrating East African Writing!

The Tree

Written by Tina Madowo

Though your heart may break into a thousand pieces, if that is what it takes to save your life then I shall crash it.

Fatima pondered over her father’s words; threats of an irate father. He was going to do all in his power to separate her from the one she loved. She wasn’t scared of him. Even the promise that he would denounce her did not faze her. The boy however, wasn’t so willing to go against her father’s wishes. The boy knew that Fatima deserved a man of better stature. She was after all, the merchant’s daughter. She had begged him profusely to the point of madness but he, always the voice of reason, claimed that to love was to let go. He could not bear her having a curse on her head. Their love, he claimed, was not enough to fight the bitter tongue of her father.

“Coward!’ Fatima yelled at him when he tried to level with her. He understood her temper. She inherited it from her father.

She knew she was being unfair, even so she was in too much pain to be sensible. She took in a deep breath, closed her eyes and let the tears flow freely. The boy could not stand her brokenness and he held her in an embrace.

They were at their meeting place. The quiet place under the tree that had witnessed their love unfold. He could see Fatima’s house from the tree they had colonized as their love nest. He knew very soon he would be gone from the place, never to return. The master had already taken his beloved sheep from him and assigned them to a useless young man who had no heart of a shepherd. Now the master had warned him to steer clear of his daughter. Although he tried to, she always sought after him.

It had been thirteen days since their “affair” was discovered. The rumour mills claimed that the boy’s sole mission was to impregnate Fatima and make a fool out of her rich father. The truth was less dramatic. Only two kisses had been exchanged between the lovers. Two kisses. Sadly, a shepherd and a merchant’s daughter had no business entertaining each other’s company. It was simply unheard of. Daughters of rich men married sons of even wealthier men. It is how the world was designed.

The boy understood this discrimination. Things had to be kept in balance. Unfortunately, Fatima was much too naïve to appreciate her father’s logic. She was ready to forsake all for the boy. She was a silly girl, according to her father, but the boy, in the merchant’s estimation was the real fool. How could he ever dream of stealing the affection of his beautiful daughter? What did he have to offer to his business that Ali’s son could not? Absolutely nothing! Mohammed was to marry Fatima in two years time. It was what the two businessmen had agreed.

Fatima’s father was in the market one day when he chanced upon the boy. The merchant had been chatting up one of his acquaintances outside his shop. They were talking about nothing in particular, and the heat was affecting his concentration. As his friend yapped on, Nassir felt the need to quench his thirst with some mint tea that his wife had packed for him. He was imagining the taste of the tea in his mouth when some vagabond jerked his arm forward and made away with his watch.

Nassir and his friend instinctively made after the young man but his heels ran much too fast and they were too old to catch up. They urged the people ahead of them to stop the young man but he was a slippery creature and he danced around the arms that stretched out to nab him. Just as he was mingling with the crowd to be lost forever from Nassir’s sight, the boy jumped at the thief and subdued him.

Nassir now remembered that day with scorn. He hated to admit that he owed the boy. That gold watch was back on his wrist because of the boy’s bravery. It was for that reason alone that he had not sent the boy packing. His sin was unforgivable, nevertheless, to send the boy away would be a curse and Nassir respected the will of the gods.

After the incident in the market Nassir, in a show of gratitude, took the boy in as his help. He was a sharp young man that was easily likable; an orphan who had made his way by doing odd jobs here and there. Nassir and the boy quickly became good friends and the boy advised his master to buy sheep which he would tend to. He convinced the master of their profitability.

The boy had been at Nassir’s home for about three months when he saw Fatima for the first time. Her father had never mentioned her until a few days to her return when he announced that a party would be held in honour of his daughter who had come back from her “western studies”. The boy did not lay eyes on Fatima until the quiet of the night when the party was over. He had politely declined his master’s offer to hire a hand for the day to care for the sheep so that he could attend the party.

That night, when his sheep were asleep and the moon was gazing on the earth, he made his way to his tree to rest for a while and speak to the wind. As he approached the tree, his ears were aroused by a melody he had never heard before and his nose captivated by a scent he had yet to come across. Someone had invaded his sanctuary. The tree concealed for a while, the owner of the beautiful voice. The boy slowly crept around the tree and saw Fatima seated silently, facing the sky with her eyes closed. She was singing to God.

He had never been as captivated by anyone as he was with the beautiful lady he saw that night. Laced in a white garment which the boy could not quite tell its fabric, she took his breath away. Since she had yet to notice his intrusion, he studied her in the stolen moments. Her hair was black and held back in a big bun at the centre of her head. Her brown skin responded well to the moon’s illumination. He took in the shape of her pierced nose, her small mouth, her slender neck and even her jeweled ears. Right there he decided that he had never seen a girl so striking.

He must have been too engrossed in his examination of her that he did not notice when she went quiet and opened her eyes to find him staring at her.

“It’s impolite to stare,” she said tilting her head slightly to her left so that her eyes met his. He was momentarily tongue tied and he mentally scolded himself for being caught so off-guard. Composure returned to him a second later and he found his voice.

“My apologies Ma,am. Forgive me.”

He knew it was Fatima even though he had never met her before. As her servant he accepted that he could only admire her from afar so he did not dare move any closer to her. Instead, he bowed his head as he normally would with his master when he wished to excuse himself and bade the fair lady goodnight. As he turned to leave however, the heavens interceded for him and she asked, “How do they call you?”

“Me?” he asked. Aware that no one else was in the vicinity he knew it was a stupid question ask.

She seemed amused by his question and she giggled at his confused state, “Yes you. What shall I call you?”

“My name should not matter to my master’s daughter. I am a simple shepherd.”

“Even shepherds have names don’t they? I’m Fatima. I suppose you already know that.”

He nodded in agreement. He seemed uncomfortable in her presence, as if he yearned to flee. Surprisingly, she held out her right hand to him, “Will you sit with me?”

He did as she requested. He had never in his twenty years been so close to a beautiful woman. He was much taller than she was. He could tell because even seated next to her she seemed to disappear in his tall frame. He could not comprehend why he felt so nervous around her. The smell of her skin made his mind run wild with scandalous thoughts.

She interrupted his thinking and declared, “I was singing to the heavens.” Her eyes were on the moon. Her back still rested on the bark of the tree.

“You sing so beautifully.” When she said nothing in return he prodded, “What were you saying to the heavens?”

“I told them to send you to me,” she smiled in response and looked at him. He understood that she was joking.

“Father has told me about you. He says you’re magnificent; an excellent worker whose better than all his employees.”

His eyes fell to the ground in embarrassment, “That’s overly kind of him to say.”

“I looked for you at the party, but you never came. Where were you?”

“With my sheep,” he said proudly.

“Of course, you have no time for your master’s daughter,” she teased again.

“My apologies, Ma’am I did not think my presence was required.” His eyes were still on the ground.

“Ma’am? No one calls me that, just Fatima. I’ve wanted to meet you ever since father told me about you. Whenever we spoke he would always boast about you.”

The boy’s cheeks were turning red from the compliments. The moon light did little to hide his state from Fatima.

“I try my best to work hard,” he said, finally finding enough courage to meet her brown eyes with his.

“Anita told me that every night after you finish your chores you come under this tree to speak to your thoughts. I knew you would come here. I wanted to meet you in person.”

He was staring at her again. Amazed at the lengths she had gone to inquire about him; impressed that she even involved Anita the cook in her scheme to be alone with him. He was half flattered and half scared that Fatima was interested in him. She was unlike many girls he knew. She was too forthright, unafraid to speak her mind. Maybe it was her western studies, he could not be sure, but her boldness impressed him. At that moment when the tree shook at the force of the wind and the light of the moon caressed their faces he knew that he was about to make a mistake, but it was written.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” she told him almost in a whisper, “I formed a picture of you in my mind but in the flesh you are much more handsome.” Her eyes searched his face and she lightly drew her arm to his cheek.

If earlier that day the boy had been told that he would spend his quiet time in the company of the beautiful Fatima, he would have laughed at the impossibility of it all, yet here he was ready to cross a line he knew he would regret in future. He moved his head close to hers and met her lips with curiosity and desire. It was their first kiss; their second one would have Fatima’s father curse the day he met the boy.


I was inspired by the characters from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. The boy was the main character in the book. He had first shown interest in the daughter of a merchant but he found true love in Fatima while in the desert in his quest for the Alchemist. 


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