“A Father Cuts Off His Daughter’s Arms” is the Xhosa version of “The Handless Maiden.” Versions of the story have been recorded in Europe, in Central and South America, and in the Caribbean.
It was told by Nongenile Masithathu Zenani on August 10,1972 in the afternoon, near Mrs. Zenani’s home in Nkanga, Gatyana District, the Transkei. Six women, three men, and six children were in the audience. The story can be found in The World and the Word, with an introduction by Harold Scheub, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. Caution: This story contains grisly scenes and trauma.
There were a woman and a man. The woman gave birth—she bore a child, a girl.
And time passed for this woman and her daughter; time passed for them. Then the woman died, leaving her daughter behind.
The girl lived with her father, who had no other wife.
The father lived with his daughter, loving her very much.
A long time passed, and the child did all the work that had been done by her mother. She cut short her playtime with other children because of the demands of the labors of her home. She did everything, from the work of an adult to the work of a child.
There were the two of them there, just the child and her father.
After some time, the ploughing season came, and the lands were cultivated. The child herded the livestock; she helped to plough the fields. She continued to do the cooking, and washing clothes was one of her duties. During the ploughing season, she helped her father to inspan the oxen. Though she was a girl, she also knew how to do the milking. The father, because his daughter did all the work of the house, was free to go places, leaving her at home to tidy up and do all the work of the homestead.
That is the way it was for this girl.
Time passed for her, and she continued to do this demanding work. The other children seldom saw her; they gave up on her in the end because she was always too busy to play with them.
The child was beautiful; she was exquisite. But she did not marry. It was as if she were a married woman of her own home here: she did the work of a married woman here at her home.
Her father became troubled by certain vague but persistent feelings: This child! She looks so much like her mother!
Once, while the daughter was delousing him, delousing his head, her father suddenly turned over and looked intently at her; he looked at this child of his. He looked at her and cried.
The child asked, “Father, why are you crying?”
“No, it’s nothing, my child. It’s nothing.”
But this became a habitual thing with her father: he would be sitting with the child; he would look at her, he would look at her and cry.
Time passed, and the father’s conduct caused the child great anxiety—his staring at her, his tears. She became thin; she could not understand why her father cried like that. Her mother had been dead a long time, so she could hardly have understood that connection.
Time passed, and things went on in this way. The child was disquieted by what her father was doing. She still could not understand his behavior.
Then one day, as she was delousing him, her father again suddenly turned over and stared at her. And he cried.
The child said, “Now what is this, Father? Why do you always cry, then never say why you are crying? There must be a reason, and I’m sure it’s bad! Don’t you realize how much pain this causes me?”
“My child, I’m crying because my heart aches. My heart is in pain. You resemble your mother so much. Whenever I look at you, I think of your mother.”
The child felt terrible about this. She cried now because of what her father had said to her.
He said, “My child, don’t cry.”
The child was quiet then, and she withdrew. She was no longer a child at that time; she was a big girl, a girl who did everything. She went to herd the livestock; then she came back home. She milked, she cooked, she dished out the food—she did everything.
And she fed her father.
Again, when it was dusk, her father said, “My child—”
“Do you know that you resemble your mother?”
“Only one thing will end my anguish. You must come and share my bed with me.”
The child said, “Father! I would never do such a thing!” The child began to cry; her sorrow was great.
He said, “No, be quiet! People will hear you. They’ll come to see what’s happening here!”
So the child was quiet.
The next day, in the morning, her father got up in a sullen mood. He refused to speak.
The child was silent too. She did her various chores, the usual tasks. Then, at midday, her father said, “Now what do you have to say about that matter that I mentioned to you?”
The child burst into tears again; she cried and cried.
Again, her father calmed her: “Stop this! Are you swearing that you cannot change your mind and replace your mother?”
(Note: “Are you swearing . . . ?” Literally, ‘Are you making eight?” i.e., eight fingers. Are you making eight fingers stand up? Are you taking an oath?)
The child said, “Never! Never!”
Her father said, “Would you rather die?”
The child said, “I would rather die! That would be better. It would be better to die than to do what you are suggesting!”
Her father became quiet. He took a knife and went to sharpen it at the side of the kraal. He sharpened the knife, and when the knife was sharp, he put it into a bag and kept it with him. He took another bag and cut it in the middle, so that it was no longer a bag but a kind of blanket to be worn. He folded it, and kept that with him, too.
The next day, in the afternoon, he said, “Let’s go, my daughter.”
The child asked, “Where are we going, Father?”
“You’ll see. There’s a certain place to which I want to go.”
The child departed with her father. They walked and walked, going to a distant land. The sun set. The sun set, and when the day had again dawned, they were still traveling. They had walked all night, and on the next day they continued to travel, again walking until the sun set. It was the third day of their journey, and they ranged on. Finally, they came to a large forest. When they got to the forest, the father entered the wood. Because the father was silent, the child was not speaking at all. She just kept in step behind him as he walked.
When he had gone into the forest, he said, “Now, we’ve come to the place.” As he said this, he spread the bag out on the ground. Then he said, “I say to you, come and share this bed with me.”
The child said, “Oh, Father! Never! Never!”
Her father said, “You still say that? Even now?”
“I still say that!”
He took the knife and cut off her arms. Both of them.
He put her arms on the ground, and said, “Stay there then!”
The child was in terrible pain, the garments she wore became bloody—all of them, all of them became bloody. She bled in an extraordinary way, as she sat there beside that bag. She bled, and she suffered from the cold. She was cold because of her wounds. The bleeding, the anguish went on until dawn, and she was still there—in the place she was in when her father had departed.
Time passed; she was in acute pain, tormented by the wounds, suffering from cold and hunger. She had no energy to do anything to help herself. She sat there all that time, wanting to get up, unable to get up. Finally, because she had no hands with which to grasp things, she moved herself by rolling. At last, she got support from something, and she was able to stand up. When she got to her feet, she found that everything that she had been wearing had become stiff because of the blood. Her clothes shrank, exposing her body. She had bled much, and now the blood had dried on her and coagulated. In the process, it caused her clothes to shrink. Her body was exposed because her clothing had shrivelled up and become stiff.
She walked in the forest, not knowing how to get out of it. She was hungry and without energy, without strength. She walked on; she walked in the forest, descending, ascending. The forest seemed to her endless.
Finally, on the third day of her useless walking, she emerged; she was now on the periphery of the forest. She looked around; she explored the countryside. And she found that she did not know this country at all. She did not know it at all; it was a country she had never seen. She looked around as she walked on the edge of the forest; she kept close to the forest, walking on its fringes, afraid that she might get lost.
She explored, she searched, then saw that “There are some homesteads! With gardens!”
There were plants in those gardens by the homesteads. And as far as she could determine, those plants were edible. There were peaches over there.
“If only I could get there! I would be able to fill my stomach. I’m so hungry!”
She walked, moving herself in the direction of the garden. As she approached it, she looked about carefully. She found that “This garden is walled, there’s no entrance.” She went around the garden. It was some distance from the house, it was not very close. She went around the garden; she went around it, then discovered a place that the pigs seemed to have dug, under the wall. It was not a proper entrance, but a hole that the pigs had rooted under the wall. She went to this place, then threw herself down. She had to throw herself on the ground, there was no way that she could get down easily because of the pain of the arms that had been cut off on both sides of her body. Those arms that had been cut off: she had left the arms over there, in the place where they had been severed, in the forest. When she threw herself to the ground, she struggled to roll her body. Finally, she managed to get herself through the hole where pigs entered the garden. She struggled all day and eventually got herself into the garden.
While she was attempting to get under the wall, a person from the homestead happened to enter the garden. He came in, looking for something, then he went out again. He did not see her.
She finally got her body into the garden. She found that there was much corn there, corn that had grown very tall. She rolled on, no longer able to stand up as she had before. In the end, she found some corn. She hit her body against the corn; she rolled against some corn that was on the ground, that had fallen to the ground. She got there and ate the corn that had fallen, eating it with her mouth as a hog does. She ate hoggishly, eating everything—leaves, everything. Whatever was in reach of her mouth, she ate—as a cow would. Her hunger was abated; the only thing that remained was the drumming pain.
Time passed. She slept in that garden. No one noticed that something was here in the garden.
Time passed, time passed until the sun set; she slept out there in the cold, with no covering, exposed like that and in deep pain. But her hunger was eased. Her hunger was assuaged because she had swallowed and eaten everything, whatever was in reach.
At dawn the next day, she was still not hungry because she had eaten things that had not been cooked. Her stomach hurt now, it bit her because of the things she had eaten. Another sun set, and the next day was the third day that she had been in this garden, and she felt hungry once more. She had to try again to get some food. But there was no fallen corn here beside her, the corn was high up and beyond her reach. So she rolled herself, she rotated her body, even though it was painful; she persevered because she was hungry. Finally, she came to a place beneath some peach trees. Peaches had fallen from the trees, they were on the ground. She picked them up; she picked them up with her mouth, eating them. When she had picked it up with her mouth, she would swallow a peach whole. She would chew it and swallow it—all of it. And again her hunger was eased. When she was sated, it was difficult for her to stand; she was unable to stand. So she sat there. And while she was sitting there, the owner of the garden, a man, came out.
He said, “Now what’s been tramping things down around here? What’s been eating things in this garden? Everything’s been leveled! What has been trampling around here and eating here? What has come into this garden? Just look around—” speaking to someone else “—see if there’s a pig in the garden.”
They looked around, seeking a pig. They searched and searched in the garden. Then one of them discovered her—the girl.
That person fled.
“Here’s something! Here’s something! There’s a thing over here, something I’ve never seen! It’s dirty! A thing that’s lying under the peach trees!”
The owner of the house went to see this thing. He called his dogs and went over there. He wanted the dogs to attack this thing. He went over there; the dogs barked.
The child said, “No! Come to me, Father, and I’ll tell you what has happened! I am not a pig! I am a human being! Come!”
He stopped, then said, “What kind of person are you? What has happened to you? What kind of person is this?”
The girl said, “No, Father, I am a human being! Come here! I can’t get up. I’ve been injured!”
The man stood at a distance from her, apprehensive. He was afraid to approach this creature.
The girl said, “No, I am a human being, Father! The only thing is—my arms were cut off. I got into this garden through that hole there, where the hogs come in. I threw myself to the ground, then crawled through. It is very difficult for me to stand. I can’t get up when I’m on the ground. When my wounds are touched, I am in great agony. It’s painful—here, in the arms! Both of my arms were cut off!” So said the girl, and she began to cry.
As she cried, this man approached her. He examined her more closely, and when he had done so, he saw that “This person has had both of her arms cut off! She has no arms. Here at the head, she is a human. Here in the face, she is human.” And the feet, he could see from the feet that “This is a human.” But this human was dirty and stiff. It was clear that this coagulated blood had come out from these arms. But it was not coming out anymore, only the wounds remained.
He said, “Where have you come from?”
The girl said, “I come from such-and-such a place. I was taken there by my father who brought me to a forest that I do not know, in a land that is strange to me. He took me to that forest, then cut off both of my arms. And he left me there in the forest. Three days later, I found my way out. I was forced to come out because of the pain. I was forced to come out because of the pain, and my spirit shriveled because of my bitterness. I saw that I was going to die. I tried to get up. I was finally able to do so when I leaned against a tree. When I made the effort, I managed to stand up. Now that my arms have been cut off, I cannot stand up without support, without something to lean on. The only way I can get up from here, Father, is to be picked up.”
The man said, “Your arms. What happened to them?”
The girl said, “My father cut them off.”
The man said, “Why did your father do that?”
“My father cut off my arms—My mother died, and the two of us, my father and I, lived there at home for a long time. The two of us lived there many years. One day, my father suddenly turned on me with the idea that I should sleep with him! Because I resemble my mother! He wanted to bring back my mother through me. I did not agree. That’s what made him take me and mutilate me. That’s why he dismembered me. For two or three days, he kept insisting that I sleep with him, and I kept refusing.
When it happened the first time, I was delousing him. He kept looking at me, crying. I saw that he was crying, and I asked him what made him do that. But he would not tell me. He just said, ‘It’s nothing!’ I thought that he was feeling unhappy because of our circumstances—being left behind like that. And I began to lose weight; I became thin because of his behavior. This is not the usual weight of my body, the way you see me here. I’ve been thinner than usual for a long time because of what my father was doing. On the next day, the second day, at dusk, my father again said that I should go to bed with him. Again, I refused to do so. I cried. He hushed me, saying that people would wonder what was going on. So I stopped crying. On the third day, my father said the same thing, and again I refused. Then he said, ‘Are you refusing? Definitely refusing?’ Did I prefer to die rather than do what he was proposing? I told him that I would rather die than go to bed with my own father. He said, ‘All right,’ and he took a knife—I saw him pick the knife up, but I didn’t know that he would use it to harm me. He loved me very much. I had no reason to be suspicious of him. He loved me. He used to say, ‘My child, you really resemble your mother. When I look at you, I can only think of your mother.’ I didn’t pay much attention to that. I didn’t think that he really felt so seriously about this. He took a sack; I watched him as he tore it, as if it were a blanket. He said to me, ‘Let us go!’ He knew where we were going, but he did not tell me. I walked with him, asking no questions. This was in keeping with my usual behavior, I always did whatever my father said. We journeyed then, we walked for several days, we traveled night and day. On the third day, we entered a large forest. When we got to the middle of that wood—we never stopped—he made me sit on the ground. Then he spread out the sack that he had torn. He said, ‘Let us go to bed!’ insisting that I should go to bed with him. I said, ‘I’ll never do that, Father!’ and he asked me if I was still refusing, even then. I said, ‘Father, I still refuse to do so!’ He asked if I would prefer to die rather than do that thing. I said that I would prefer to die rather than do that. He said that I would not see the daylight again. He took out a knife and cut off both of my arms, then put them down on the ground. When he had done that, he went away. On the third day, I came out of the forest and walked here.”
This fellow listened to what she said and concluded that she was telling the truth. He was clearly filled with compassion when he heard what had been related by this dirty child who was covered with sores on both sides of her body, and who had no arms.
He said, “What you’ve told me is painful.” Then he went to the house and asked his wife to come out. She did so; she approached her husband. He said, “Do you see this?”
“What is this? What kind of thing is this? Why are you not fearful of such a thing?”
He said, “Well, just listen. I have heard a sorrowful story. Just look closely: this is a human being.”
This wife observed closely then, and she saw that this was indeed a human—it was just that she was very dirty and soiled with blood. The part of her body not covered with blood was very small, but that small portion not clotted with blood was enough to reveal that she was a human being.
This wife said, “Where did you say this thing came from?”
The man said, “It turns out that this is what we thought was the pig that’s been eating things in the garden.” So said the man, and he peeled the corn off the cob for his wife, to the extent that the girl had peeled it off for him. [He went into the details of the story for his wife to the extent that the girl had related the events to him.] He told her everything: he told her of the girl’s departure from her home with her father, of the journey to the forest, the arrival in the forest, until finally on the third day she came to be the person in this garden. These days, when they were all added up, amounted to nine days: she had been in the garden a total of three days; at her home, the period during which her father had sought to persuade her to sleep with him amounted to three days; they journeyed for three days; and she came out of the forest after three days of wandering.
“Now, my wife, take this person. Go with her; see that she’s washed. We’ll keep her with us. We’ll treat these painful wounds and heal her.” The woman took the child then and helped her to stand.
When she was standing, she said, “Leave me alone now, I can walk on my own.” So said the girl. “I’m able to walk. What I can’t do is stand when I’ve been lying on the ground. When I have been lying on the ground, I cannot get up again.”
They went then, they went out of the garden gate. They entered the house. The girl was undressed, all those dirty things were removed. She was undressed, and the dirty things were put to one side. Garments from this home were put on her; she put them on and was covered. When she had been clothed, she was given something to eat. She ate, and when she had finished eating, water was dipped out for her; she was washed, scrubbed, that blood that was dried and sticking to her was scrubbed off. When those things had been done, when she had been clothed, they started to wash her garments. Her clothes were washed thoroughly; they were made elegant again. Then they were spread out to dry.
The man and his wife conversed with her. She was asked again to tell
the story of how she came to be in this situation. So the girl told the story to the mother of the house—how it was that she came to be here, how it was that “I ended up this way.”
Now it happened that, here at this homestead, there was a young man who did not yet have a wife.
It was said to him, “Son, this person should become your wife. No one dare make any comment about her deformity. She must be your wife, she must bear children for you, because she is a human being, a person. She has everything. The only thing she doesn’t have is arms. She won’t be able to work because she has no arms, but that doesn’t really matter. We don’t mind that. We only want her to bear children.”
The young man agreed, and she became his wife. The son accepted the suggestion. He agreed to the proposal presented to him by his father and mother.
The young man and the young woman were happy.
They saw that she was a beautiful person. “She’ll make beautiful children for us.”
So it went, the young man repeatedly going to the young woman’s house. She became pregnant, this woman who was under the compassionate protection of these people, this woman who had no arms. She became pregnant, her stomach grew; she became that kind of responsibility. As for her arms, she had long been healed, the pain had stopped. She was now a person who seemed to have been born that way, without arms.
Her stomach grew; the time came and she gave birth. She bore a child, a girl once again—just as her own mother had given birth to a girl child.31
She bore a child who was beautiful, who resembled her.
She constantly looked at this child. And when the others looked at her, they said, “It’s clear that her mother was like this, Dear ones! This baby resembles her mother, even though her mother has no arms.”
She too, when she spoke, would say, “You see—my own arms, my own wrists were like these.”
Time passed then, time passed in this way. The child was weaned, and, when that had been done, the mother began to realize that “My life is no longer comfortable.”
Her husband, the son of this homestead, had taken a train and gone away.32 She was made uncomfortable because she began to be treated badly by her in-laws, by her mother-in-law and her father-in-law.
(Note: The storyteller here alludes to the realities of life in South Africa, of husbands going to the cities to work, leaving their families behind.)
They were now suggesting to their son, “Why is it that you make no move to have another wife, to have a woman other than this cripple?”
But the son loved this wife, even though she was the way she was. It was his parents who wanted him to seek another wife, a wife who would be able to work. The son paid them no attention, but his parents had begun to dislike this daughter-in-law of theirs. They began to refer to her in this way: “This cripple has wasted this young man’s time. He doesn’t have a wife.”
And in this way: “There’s nothing this thing can ever do in this house. She does nothing. Everyone has to do things for her!”
And this: “She doesn’t know how to do anything! We have to wash for this thing; we have to cook for this thing. We have to build for this thing. Even water has to be dipped for her!”
And this: “She is able to do nothing! She has to be fed, food must be taken to her mouth, she can’t even feed herself because she has no hands!”
It was at this time that the young man boarded the train and went away—he was going to seek work in the land of the white man. He went off to look for a job. This wife of his was left behind, even though her life was difficult, even though she saw that “I’m no longer loved in this house. It was my parents-in-law who first wanted me to be their daughter-in-law. Now they have gone back on their word, even though their son still has a good attitude toward me.”
These parents plotted to make it possible for their son to have another wife; their plans for his future excluded his present wife. They wrote a letter; they wrote to their son. In this letter, they pretended to be his wife; they wrote the letter as if it were drafted by his wife. They wrote, “I, your wife, am pregnant. I am pregnant, I came home pregnant. When I came home, no one made reference to this pregnancy. No one objected.” [She became pregnant by someone other than her husband and then had the effrontery to return to this home.]
The parents-in-law wrote this letter completely on their own; the wife had nothing to do with it.
When the son received this letter that came from his mother, though his parents pretended that it had been composed by his wife, he wrote an answer to his wife. He asked her if she had received his letter, “the one I wrote first, before the one you wrote to me regarding your pregnancy. And regarding that pregnancy that you reported to me in your letter and have not reported at home: why have I not heard of this from my own people? Why is that? Why should I learn of this from you, and not in the proper way, from my own people?”
When the wife got this letter from her husband, she became suspicious. She said, “There is something menacing me here. I can see that I am no longer in good favor in this house.” She was unhappy because she knew that she could never return to her own home, to that father of hers who had killed her. She could not even consider going to him. Ever.
Then she received a letter from that father of hers, from her own father. He was writing from his home. He had heard of a certain woman who had given birth to a child. He had heard that this woman had been picked up in a garden, that she had no arms. He had learned that, in the homestead where she had been found, she had become a person who, when she had been washed, was seen to be beautiful. He had discovered that she had become a worthy person, a person who bore elegant children for them. He had heard that she was living very well. She had her weight back now, she had her beautiful body. This man had thought that she had died; now he realized that she was not dead at all. Therefore, he concocted another plan, something he might do to be certain that she would die.
So it was that he wrote this letter, a letter that purported to come from the land of the white man. It was addressed to her; it called her by the name of her own parents’ place, not the name of her husband.
The letter said, “I had better never see you at my home again! I am coming home. If I come and find you there in that house, I am not only going to stab you, I shall kindle a fire and put you in it! And you will burn! That is a better way of doing it, now that I have seen that you are able to rise again when you have been stabbed with a knife. I am certain that if I burn you to ashes, you shall not rise again! I do not want to hear your name. I want no child who comes out of you—not at all! Not at all! Not at all! And I do not want an answer to this.”
That letter arrived—it came from her father, who was pretending to be her husband. At the end, the letter said, “I do not even want to sign my name to this letter! You recall what I once said to you, that I do not really care to have a wife who has more arms than you have. Now I wish I had not said that!”
The young woman read this letter when it arrived. Then, in misery, she cried, “I wonder what will happen to me! I thought that I had found a place of refuge [literally, a place to lean against]. I wonder who has turned my husband against me? I always had some idea that this might happen. Nothing ever happens without some foreshadowing, nothing ever happens completely by surprise to anyone. In the beginning, I wasn’t badly treated here. I don’t know what I’ve done.
“I was picked up by my father-in-law in the garden. He found me there, then called his wife, my mother-in-law. I told them of my ordeal, how it came about that I had become the thing that had entered the garden through the hole the pigs had made under the wall. And they seemed that day to be very compassionate toward me. But that sympathy ended soon enough. My misfortune, my torment, goes deep. But I must go now—where, I don’t know. But if what is in this letter is true—”
Her father-in-law, the father of her husband, took the letter, saying, “Let me see that letter, young woman.”
She gave the letter to him. When he had read it, when he had read all the things that were written in it, when he found that the letter contained the things that the young wife had said it included, he said, “This is painful. Even to me. Now really, my child,” said the man of this house, “I only wanted him to take another wife, a person who knows how to cook. It’s not that I hate you; it’s because you’re unable to work. I don’t hate you, I love you! I just wanted someone to be here in the homestead, someone to help with the work. Your child has to be put on your back, you can’t even do that by yourself. That child must be taken from your back by someone; you can’t do these things by yourself. But this letter from your husband is painful to me. You must just remain here until he comes home. We’ll see what he does when he gets here.”
The wife cried in her pain, she said, “No, Father-in-law! I’ve been told to get out. I’ve been told that otherwise I’ll be hurt. I don’t want to stay here until that happens. What will wake me up if I should die?”
Her father-in-law said, “Just allow things to happen, let’s see what develops. We’ll be here when he arrives.”
The young wife said, “No, no, please, let me go! Please, dear ones! When someone from another home says that he’s going to kill me, it’s not likely than he’ll spare me if he’d rather destroy me. If my own father killed me, if my own father did not spare me, then it’s even more likely that a stranger will kill me. It’s much more likely that one will be killed by a stranger than by one’s own father. So please leave me alone. Leave me, let me go. Put the child on my back, let me go.”
The father-in-law tried to persuade her to leave the child with him, but she refused. She said, “I can’t leave my child behind. Let me go with her, particularly because I’ve turned into an animal in the eyes of the person who caused me to have the child.”
She traveled then, she traveled with the child who had been put on her back. The child had a billycan that contained its food. She was put on the
woman’s back and buttoned up; she was tied on her mother’s back. The woman journeyed, and, when they had gone a great distance, the baby cried. The child cried; she wanted to get down: the child was hungry. But her mother had no arms, she did not know how to get the child down. Both of them cried now. The mother of the child cried; she wept because her child was crying. Her baby was hungry, she wanted to eat, but the mother did not know how to get the child down from her back and feed her.
As a result of all this, the child had to urinate. And she urinated. Then it was obvious that the child wanted to defecate, and she defecated. All this caused the mother to cry; she wept, crying with that child. The mother cried until she became tired.
She slept, then they journeyed on, moving a distance equal to that which they had already traveled.
Then the baby was startled from her sleep. The baby was awakened, she wanted to get down, to suckle so that she would be nourished.
The mother was also tired, she was also hungry.
This occurred on the second day of their journey.
When the sun set, the mother had not yet found a way to resolve the problem: among other things, she was unable to sit down. And she saw no one whom she might call to come and help her in her predicament. That is the way things were through the night.
The next morning, the child was still crying, still hungry. Finally, she went to sleep. She slept, then was startled from her long sleep. It was time for her to awaken again, and she did so, and again she started to cry.
The night had passed, the third day dawned.
On that morning, the mother and child were on a plain. There were no homesteads: the way was barren, there were no villages. The mother crossed rivers, she became thirsty but there was nothing she could do to satisfy her thirst. Were she to throw herself down with the child on her back, the child would be hurt. And she too might be hurt and be unable to get up.
As she contemplated this crisis, she looked ahead and saw a large lake. She could see that there was much water in that lake, and she hurried toward it. She walked and walked, and finally she was very near the lake. When she was a short distance away, she moved quickly, directly to the body of water. She got there, she walked around the lake; she was thirsty, the dam was full. She went around, investigating the possibilities. No matter what method she might try to get water, it would be difficult for her. No matter what she did, she could not solve the problem. No matter what she did, it would be very challenging. No matter what she did, she knew that “I’ll be hurt! Anything I do will be futile. No matter what I do, I’ll drown. I might as well dive in.” But she drew back, fearful of drowning. She went to a place some distance from the lake and cried. Then she returned to the lake. She was able, after a time, to get down on her knees—but she could only do so with abruptness. She went down on her knees, and when she had done so, she tried to bend her head down to the water so that she might drink. But when she tried to bend her head, the water churned, splashing water in her face.
Suddenly, there emerged a bird with long wings. This bird flew above her, it soared through the air, and the woman was terrified. She was still frightened when the bird poised on the brink of the lake. She trembled as the bird dipped its wing into the water and splashed water, suddenly, abruptly.
The bird spoke. It said, “There is your right arm for you, Young woman. You shall have your arms. Your husband is in great sorrow. His parents have written to him, referring to his expulsion of you. But that letter actually came from your father, that devious man, the filthy one who cut your arms off. He is the one who is driving you from your marriage. You really do have a good marriage. You shall live well, my child!”
Her right arm was now there!
Oh! She looked at it! She leaned on it, and was surprised.
“Why, what’s happened? I see an arm just like my own!”
The bird again dipped its wing into the water, splashed water, and said, “There’s your left arm, my woman! Take the child now and feed her. Then go home, go back to your home of marriage.”
And that is what happened.
She had both of her arms again. She took her child’s billycan, then sat above the lake. Without getting up, she began to feed her child. When she had finished doing that, she dipped again and again into the lake, and she drank. Her thirst vanished as she drank, her thirst ended.
She began to talk babytalk to her child, bouncing her about, putting her on her lap, hoisting her up, bringing her down, admiring her, putting her on her back, then again taking her and bringing her to her breast. She walked about with her child, hushing her, smacking her child’s buttocks, doing many things to show fondness—things she had been unable to do when she had no arms. She did all those things now She pinched the child, and the child cried. And when the child cried, she hushed her, she wiped the child’s tears. She suckled her and fed her. She fondled the child, she cradled her, patted her on the face. And the child cried again, and the mother did all those things once more. When the child urinated, the mother took the blanket and wrung it out.
Then she put the child on her back and went on her way. But she did not return to her home of marriage. Instead, she went to a homestead that was north of her homestead of marriage. She arrived and sat there, asking for a place to stay.
It was said, “So-and-so’s wife has arms! How did she get them?”
She said, “How did I get those arms? They just came out! I was given them by the ancestors of my home because I lived in such grief. They suddenly came out, I saw them. That was after I had been expelled from my home of marriage. I’m not going back to that homestead, even now. I’ve come to stay here. I want to find work so that I can rear my child. At my homestead of marriage, even the child is not desired anymore. My husband wrote to me and said that he was going to kindle a fire and put me into it—because when my father had tried to kill me by cutting off my arms, he had failed. I didn’t die, I arose! He’s not going to stab me. If he does stab me, I shall not die. He wants to burn me up, to turn me to ashes, so that he shall never see me again. But now the ancestors have made arms for me. I had my arms restored suddenly when I was over there. But there was no one there! After that happened, I decided to turn around, to return, to seek work. I no longer belong at my homestead of marriage. So please help me, keep me, be my friends.”
Time passed; she remained in this homestead. They sent a messenger to her homestead of marriage, to explain what had happened to her, to explain that this young woman was here now—with arms.
They sent a person over there to her homestead of marriage, and he arrived with this message: “I’ve been sent from over there. The third day after she left her homestead of marriage, that young woman was suddenly seen—with arms! I tell you, she has arms!”
“Oh!” those of her homestead of marriage exclaimed. “What are you saying?”
“I say, she has arms! She says that she was expelled from this home. And now she says that she wants to live over there. She’s looking for work. She wants to work so that she can feed her child. Because she was expelled from this place. It was said that she would be burned!”
Her father-in-law said, “Yes, that’s the way it was. There’s a letter from her husband, that’s precisely what he says in the letter. I tried to restrain her, to keep her from departing. We’ve not been happy here since she left. Is it true? Is it true? Does she have arms?”
“Yes, she has arms! Go and see!”
The man got up, he went off hastily with the mother-in-law so that they might observe this thing for themselves.
Can it be true? Does she have arms?
They arrived. The young woman was smiling because she really did love them. But she had become confused on that day in the past. They too had loved her all that time. They too were perplexed—by her departure; they could not understand what their son had done.
The daughter-in-law explained things to her father-in-law: “I was crying, Father, and walking. On the third day after I left your homestead, I came upon a large lake. I was unable to do anything; I was wondering what to do. Should I throw myself into the lake even if it meant that I might drown? And so on. The child was hungry. The child was hungry, and so was I. And there was also in the physical state that I was in.
“Then, when I went down to my knees, when I went down to drink, a bird suddenly came out of the water. It splashed water in my face. I was startled, the bird flew above me. Then it came and dipped a wing into the water; it again came and splashed me. It said, ‘There’s your right arm, Young woman! Your arms that were cut off by your father are coming out today!’ The bird told me about everything that had happened; it told me that no letter had come from my husband. It said that the letter had been sent by my own father; he had heard that I was living well, and he wants me to die. The bird told me to return to my homestead of marriage, but I was afraid to come to you. I was formulating a plan whereby you should see me living in another homestead, Father. I didn’t feel that I should presume to return to your homestead.”
“Oh, my child,” said the father-in-law, “could this be you? This one who has no arms? Just stand up, my child!”
“Please take your child.”
The daughter-in-law took the child.
He said, “Just put her on your body.”
She did so.
He said, “Please take her off your body.”
She took the child off.
He said, “Put her on your back.”
She put the child on her back.
He said, “Please lower her.”
She did so.
He said, “Well, my child truly has arms!”
The mother-in-law was amazed; she was astonished by these events. And she was crying now, a mixture of pity and sadness at the departure of her child. Yet the departure had not been their fault. All they had wanted was another wife who would feed even the crippled woman herself because she did not know how to feed herself on her own.
Now they began to coax her, asking those in this homestead where she was living to allow her to go with them, to go to their home. They would write to their son.
The people in this homestead agreed to the request because they had no part in these affairs. All they knew was what had occurred on this day.
She went with them; she and her parents-in-law arrived at their homestead. The parents wrote to their son, telling him about his young wife: “We have just seen her, and she has arms now.” That letter followed another which they had written, the earlier one stating that she had departed, “having been expelled by you.” But the letter they were writing to him now would not reach him because he was coming back, returning to all this confusion. He felt that it could not have happened, that his wife would just disappear like that, especially since he had never written anything untoward to her.
Her husband arrived then. He arrived and saw that his wife had arms. When he got there, he said, “It is good that things have turned out like this. Your father was incestuous, and out of his filth he developed your arms once again as he continued to wallow in his perversity. He is in league with the devil. God is on your side, my wife. There was a plan here at home that I should take another wife. Never would I have another wife! I would have employed a servant to do the work for you, but I would never have taken another wife.”