MAHATAA: The lovers

      The two lovers are in the black market in the South. Great-Grandmother Hanaa, as a young woman, dressed in her best kimono, which by standards of the South was unremarkable, leisurely browses the open marketplace lined with vendors. Her eyes instantly catch beautifully woven fabrics of bingata, a traditional cloth produced by local craftsmen. Displayed on the vendor’s cart are handcrafted obi belts with an exquisite design of bright red and yellow flowers and vibrant green leaves.

      As she bends to examine the beautifully crafted belts, loose strands of hair fall out of her topknot that she hadn’t secured properly with the wooden jifaa. There is something delicate and alluring about the nape of her neck as she picks up some obi belts to admire. Suddenly, a deep European voice startles her.

      “I think you would look best in the one with red flowers,” the tall handsome man says, grinning broadly. His even white teeth are surrounded by a stubbly beard that has missed several days of shaving. He isn’t as hairy as most of the Europeans she has heard about.

      “Their entire bodies are covered with hair,” a friend in the North once told her about the European traders who frequented the ports of the South. In fact, his brawny upper chest doesn’t appear to have any hair at all sprouting from his collar, and his arms are muscular and hairless. His skin is bronze from too much sun and he looks like a god with his brilliant sea blue eyes and thick black lashes. He points to one of three obi belts she holds in her hand. He speaks well enough in her native tongue, despite the fact that it is probably his third or fourth language.

      “What is your name?” the young man asks, and Hanaa replies shyly. She speaks the dialect of the northern province and has difficulty understanding the southern dialect, but she manages to comprehend.

      Young Hanaa thanks him for his help and moves quickly away as she is embarrassed by her sudden attraction to him. She had come to the South for a couple of days to browse the marketplace and to purchase a few items that she can hardly afford.

      She is smitten and wonders if she will see him again. She decides that she will not turn away from him if she has another opportunity. The following day, at the port, she sees him again. He is lifting heavy cartons of cargo into a huge net. The cartons are to be lifted onto a large trade ship. When he looks up, he sees her in the distance. She waves a greeting and he lays down the cartons and runs to her.

      “Hello, Hanaa!” he smiles. 

      They spend the afternoon together and make plans to meet again. He is a Portuguese trader who courts her and persuades her to prolong her stay so that they can have more time together.

      “My name is Mateus and I am an islander like you,” he says to her, his bushy eyebrows arching with enthusiasm under a thick head of curly dark hair. “I was born in the Azores, an archipelago off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic.” He says his father is a trader like himself and taught him everything he knows. He is unlike anyone she has encountered, and Hanaa is swept off her feet.

      Together, they browse the marketplace. When they come upon the obi vendor, Mateus grabs the red obi with two other belts, both fit for high-end kimono, and purchases them on the spot for her. Although the young Hanaa doesn’t have enough time to get to know him, it is love at first sight and she trusts this is the man for her. Not only is he well-to-do and handsome, he is also kind and generous. Could there possibly be a man in the whole world who could surpass him?

      Hanaa extends her stay and has a chance to get to know him. He shares interesting recipes from his country, cooking for the two of them. They laugh and share stories through mime and simple use of language.

      Soon, they make plans to marry within the year. He promises that he will travel to the northern port of Toguchi to come for her.

      “My house is called Teira-ya in our village of Gushiken,” she tells him, and he jots down the information in his journal. Before they say their good-byes, he brings out a small pouch from his vest pocket and pulls out a good luck charm.

      “I want you to keep this family heirloom as my promise that I will return to you. It has been held close to my heart since I left my country years ago. It is most precious to me, a necklace that belonged to my mother who gave it to me before my travels to protect me on the high seas.”

      Hanaa clutches the necklace to her heart as she waves good-bye. Mateus rushes up the plank to his ship, the last man to board. Hanaa dreamily saunters back to the inn where she will stay until daybreak. Then she will look for the little boat that will carry her north. She is in a trance with few thoughts as she walks past vendors when suddenly she is accosted by a stranger who yanks her by the arm into a small hut. 

      Hanaa is instantly thrown out of her reverie, and she yelps with panic as she confronts an old shrunken woman who brings a finger to her mouth and shushes her.

      “Wait here,” the old woman commands. 

      Hanaa is frozen. The old woman reappears from the back room clutching a small object folded in a furoshiki, a cloth wrapping.

      “I am a diviner and seer like you,” the old woman says cryptically. 

      Hanaa, startled and mute, shakes her head vigorously, no.

      “You are in a lineage of seers,” continues the old seer. “I must pass this precious relic to you, which you must hide as soon as you return home. Most important, you are not to open it!”

      Hanaa insists that the seer is mistaken but finds herself accepting the object. Inside the cloth is a Box that glows and vibrates. 

      As Hanaa steps out of the hut in a daze, the seer cautions gruffly, “Beware! You must not reveal this Treasure Box to anyone. In time you will come to know all that you need to know about it. Now, be off!”

    Hanaa, having fallen under the seer’s spell, leaves with the strange object tucked under her arm and returns back to the inn. The spell binds her, rendering her tranquil and cooperative. Without resistance she accepts responsibility for the box. The following morning, she stuffs the object inside of her small satchel of clothing and leaves for home.


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