Clarissa Hughes

Pula and the Fixer

Pula ran across the bare, cracked, cement earth throwing her mother a toothless grin.

“Don’t be too long in the forest and remember the dangerous ones”, she called after her effervescent firstborn.

Pula loved the forest. It was her favourite place to play. She loved being on her own. The other children used to tease her about her name. Pula meant Rain and her uncle was the Rainmaker in the village. The children thought that Pula was a show-off name, like a millionaire calling his child Money. She preferred the forest for company; it was much kinder.

She was making for the waterhole. There had been no rain for months and she knew it glistened like a jewel for thirsty animals.

She walked through the forest breathing the talcum-powder sage bush. Mopane flies buzzed her face bumping like minuscule electric pulses against her skin. The sun was still low and a golden tide enveloped the coarse, indomitable camelthorn trees.

Pula noticed a small, furry, ochre body trotting jauntily along the path towards her. She stopped and waited, unafraid of the jackal. He wasn’t dangerous for humans, not like buffalo, elephant and lion. But he was a pest. He killed chickens in the village. People generally threw stones at a jackal when they saw one. They despised the jackal because he wasn’t any use. He was irksome. He was vermin.

Stopped on the path, the two of them, Pula and the jackal, faced each other. Oddly, he didn’t appear scared of Pula either. In fact, he seemed quite pleased to see her.

“Ah, there you are”, he said.

Pula’s eyes opened white in surprise.

“I have an important message for you to take to your uncle”, he continued.

Astonished, she said nothing.

“Are you listening to me, child?”, he demanded.

She nodded.

“Your uncle will throw the bones and pray to the ancestors for rain today. If he does this, the He Rain will answer his prayers. The He Rain is very angry with humans for not respecting our mother, the Earth. People must be taught a lesson to make them remember how powerful he is and how to treat a woman”.

This was enough to frighten Pula into speech.

“Yes, yes, I know about the He Rain. He is destructive and dangerous. But why me?” she asked.

“It’s obvious. It is your uncle who brings the rain and your name makes you the chosen one. Pula is the She Rain, the gentle, loving, nurturing rain that makes the grass grow for the cattle and the maize flourish in the field. It is only the She Rain who can calm the rage of the He Rain. But hurry child, there is no time to waste. Look at the black clouds, the wrath of the He Rain draws closer.”

That did it. Pula turned and ran back along the path to the village. Perhaps this was one big joke at her expense, but the approaching storm (where had it come from so suddenly?) suggested the jackal was sincere. This was too important not to act. She had to do as bidden.

She ran as fast as she could. Her uncle did his rainmaking rituals early, before the sun’s heat sapped all energy. She had to get back to the village before his final incantation so that he could undo the prayers. Because after that there was no going back, you got what you asked for.

Anxiously she glanced at the sky and realised the storm was upon her. Afraid of being swept away in the deluge, she climbed a tree and sheltered amongst its branches. Lightening flashed, thunder rolled and rain fell in a solid sheet. Even protected by the thick foliage she was pummelled by the torrent.

The He Rain raged “You have disrespected your Mother and Me! You have chopped down the trees, you people are avaricious and acquire more than you need and you throw your garbage into rivers, the arteries of the world. Now the arteries are blocked and the rain, the lifeblood, has burst its banks. You think you are better, cleverer than us. I will show you who’s clever.”

She cowered in fear. She knew it was true. She’d heard her uncle talking about the old days when rainmaking was easier. He said that the proverb “Rain falls into beauty” had been true back then. Now it was very difficult to call the rain because people felt they were above the natural law, that they did not need to keep it anymore.

Pula clung to a branch and endured the verbal and liquid torrent. And then as suddenly as it appeared, the storm vanished. She climbed down from her tree and ran knee-deep in water towards the village. The forest was subdued by the storm, but not numbed. Animals slowly emerged from their hideyholes and shook the water from their pelts gingerly, venturing a blotchy paw, a shiny nose into the sodden world.

At the outskirts of the village the fields were drowned. The goats and cattle had vanished, swept away by the heaving water. She ran to the huts, calling her uncle’s name. No response. She called for her mother, but all was silent. She ran from hut to hut calling and calling, yet no-one replied. All were gone. Not a soul remained.

She sat down on a floating stool and hung her head between her hands, despair wracking her small, soaked body. An even more bedraggled, furry mess stepped out from behind her uncle’s hut. It was the jackal.

He made his way over to a toppled mortar, perched daintily on top out of the sogginess and looked gently at Pula.

“There is a way out of this, you know.”

Pula couldn’t look at him, and with her head still hanging she mumbled to the muddy water swirling around her shins “How’s that?”

“I will speak to my friend the Sun. He has the power to dry all this up. But there is no point in asking him if he has to do it all over again because people haven’t learnt the lesson. Do you think people will have learnt to respect their parents?”

She looked at the jackal and shrugged.

“I tell you what, if I ask my friend the Sun to dry everything up, can I make the promise, at least, that there is one little girl who will try and tell the people what all this means and how humans brought it on themselves?”

Her mouth slowly spread into a gap-toothed smile, and she nodded.

And so the sun responded to the jackals call-to-arms and dried all the water up. The people came back and the cattle returned. There was nothing that could be done about saving the maize. It was too late for that.

Pula kept her promise and relayed the message.

And she did more.

She told the villagers that they mustn’t begrudge the jackal a chicken every now and again because it was he who was the fixer.

And there are times when everyone needs a fixer.

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