The buzzing of the flies was the only sound heard in the small hut. It was hot, and a dusty breeze brought the smell of goat dung and someone cooking rice and spicy roots.
Nafasi looked down at Kanzi's weak frame. Her baby girl. She remembered exactly what it had been like - her first child after years of marriage, and when she held the tiny bundle in her arms, she had already suspected it would be her only child. She had loved her nevertheless. Rajabu had been angry with her for not giving him an heir, but their life had been peaceful. She had watched Kanzi grow up, play, learn, work, go away and marry. Then the great famine had come, and Kanzi was pregnant. The outcome had been inevitable.
Nafasi tried to remember only the good times. Her dark skin stretched tight across her bones. She had always been a strong woman, and the years had imprinted the stories of her working years on her frame. Their life had been hard, filled with need rather than gratitude, and between hard work and the short hours of sleep there had been little else.
One day kept floating to the surface of Nafasi's memory. The library camels had come to the tiny local school, and Kanzi had sneaked away from their goats. She had always been a curious little girl. A stranger read stories to the children, and two goats had run away in the mean time. At night, after Rajabu's anger had receded, Kanzi declared, "I want to go to school."
Nafasi had been busy preparing dinner. "You can't go to school. I need your help."
"But I want to read?"
"What good is reading, anyway? You would only get distracted, forget your work."
"You know I wouldn't. I would learn and become rich."
"Women don't become rich. And men don't like smart women. It's better if you stay at home." Nafasi looked over her shoulder to make sure Rajabu hadn't heard a word of their conversation. He would only get more upset.
Kanzi was stubborn. Nafasi tried to reason with her, but the girl would not let go of her dream. "I want to read. I want to learn" was all she would say.
"Wouldn't you rather want a new dress? I could get cloth and make you one."
"I want to read."
"Come on. Wouldn't you want to go to the cinema when we come to the next big town?"
"No, I want to read." Kanzi stomped her little feet on the ground. Red dust covered her thin legs.
Nafasi hesitated. "Well..." She had saved money for a long time to be able to buy this. Rajabu loved sweets, and she had hoped to surprise him one day, when his mood was especially dark. Now she had to change her plans. "What do you want more - books or chocolate?"
Kanzi's eyes grew huge. "You don't have chocolate."
"I do, and it's yours. If you promise to stop with these stupid ideas."
Later that night, Kanzi sat in a corner of their hut, licking the last bits of chocolate from cheap tin-foil. Of course the chocolate had molten several times since Nafasi had bought it, and dust had crept into the foil. Nevertheless it was a rare treat. And Kanzi was a girl of honor, she never mentioned her desire to read again.
A tear slid down Nafasi's wrinkled cheek. She remembered her little girl, and how proud she had been that day that her daughter would take her responsibilities and forgo her own foolish dreams. She couldn't help but wonder whether things might have been different.