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The Stick of Fortune
                     by Bukar Usman

   [Taken from Dr. Usman's eight-story collection, The Stick of Fortune]

A scene in "The Stick of Fortune"
A scene in "The Stick of Fortune"
 

 


There lived a boy in a village. His parents were very poor, but they all lived as a happy family. Being their only son, the boy was well looked after by the parents, in spite of their modest means.                                              

One day, after he had become a fully grown-up boy, his parents called him and made a solemn remark.                                                               

   "We have observed," the father began, speaking for himself and for his wife, who sat beside him, looking tenderly at her son;

   "We have observed that you are now big enough to get married and we think you should go and find a wife and rear your own children."                  

   "Father," the boy said, "you know very well we have various needs we haven't yet met. How can I get married now?"                                         

   "My son," the father replied, "the moon does not wait for everybody who needs its light to finish their chores before it disappears from the sky."                                                                                                   

   "But the money, father! How do we get the money for the dowry?" the boy asked.                           

   "That is why your mother and I have called you," the father said. "We regret that we are not well-to-do and, therefore, are unable to fulfil our traditional obligation to pay for your dowry. But you have our blessings as you go to seek your fortune and start your own family."                                        

   The father stretched his hand into a corner of the room and picked up a thin long stick. He slid his hand down its smooth, tough surface, which looked somewhat polished by years of use as a walking-stick.                                 

   "Take this," the man said, handing his son the stick, "This is my stick. It is all your mother and I can offer you. We give it to you as a token of goodwill. Take this stick to wherever you may go. It will help you to get married and to build your own family."                                                   

   The boy took the stick from his father and thanked his parents for the goodwill. The boy's mother had often expressed the wish that one day her son would leave the village to seek his own fortune. Now, the time for that journey had come. With the stick in his right hand, the boy set out on his journey, heading in the direction of the forest.                                             

   Inside the forest, he met some people who were hunting birds. They were trying to kill a big bird which perched on a tree branch. "Young man," they whispered, "please, let us use your stick to kill that bird over there."            

   The boy obliged. One of the hunters collected the stick and hurled it at the bird. As the bird fell down, the stick flung into the forest. After the hunters had searched through the thicket without finding the stick, the boy broke into a sorrowful song:                                                                                              

No, no, no!                                                                 

You must compensate me for my stick:             

The stick my mama ‘n papa gave me                    

   for protection and as my inheritance,             

The stick which may well be                 

The means by which I'd get married.                                                                                                                                                        

   The hunters were moved by his song. And they told him, in sympathy: "We really have nothing to give you except this bird which we have hunted down with the aid of your stick."            

  
   The boy took the bird and continued on his journey.                                      

   Shortly after he came out of the forest, he met the next person, a woman who was cooking food in front of her hut. When the woman saw the big bird, she exclaimed, "Young man, where did you get that bird from. It's the very delicious type. How did you know I was looking for meat to make soup for my family? May I take a close look at your bird?"                        

  
   The boy gave her the bird. To his amazement, the woman placed the bird inside a bowl, brought down the hot water boiling on the fire and poured it on the bird. The boy was  dumbfounded. He watched silently as the woman speedily dressed the bird and made soup with it. When she stirred the soup and tasted for salt, she smacked her lips and said, "Delicious! This is really delicious. My husband who would have paid you has travelled. What do we do, young man?"       

   The boy's response came through his song:


No, no, no!                                                                 

You must compensate me for my bird:  

The bird the hunters gave me                    

   when they lost my stick,                                            

The stick my mama ‘n papa gave me                    

   for protection and as my inheritance,             

The stick which may well be                 

The means by which I'd get married.



   The woman, touched by the song, apologised to him. She said she had nothing else to give him and asked him to take the food she had cooked by way of compensation. The boy accepted the food and continued on his journey.              

  
   His next encounter was with a group of farmers who were tired and very hungry. They were seated under a tree, resting, when they saw the boy passing with the food.                     

   "Hey boy!" one of them called. "May we see if it's real food you're carrying about like that or you're trying to make people's mouth water for nothing?"                                               

   The boy came to where the farmers were seated and said what he was carrying was food indeed.                                                                                                 

    "Let's see," one of the farmers insisted. He collected the food from the boy, smiled and said, "Didn't our elders say that only the tongue can say which wild nut is sweeter than the other?" Then, he tasted the food and announced to the others looking eagerly at him that, "This is really good food!" Whereupon, all the farmers pounced on the food and voraciously ate it up.                                                        

  
   As the farmer who had first noticed and called him chewed the last piece of meat and while the rest licked their fingers, the boy took up his song:


No, no, no!                                                                             

You must compensate me for my food:             

The food the woman gave me                  

   when she took my bird,                                             

The bird the hunters gave me                    

   when they lost my stick,                                            

The stick my mama ‘n papa gave me                   

  for protection and as my inheritance,              

The stick which may well be                             

The means by which I'd get married.                                                    


     Touched by the boy's review of his past travails, the farmers expressed their regrets and pleaded with him to take their matchet in compensation for his food. The boy accepted the matchet and continued on his journey.                

   Next, he came across a group of masons digging out a giant stone from the site where they had come to lay the foundation of a mud house. When they saw the boy with the matchet, they asked whether he could give them the matchet to clear the area. "We were looking for a matchet before we decided to dig out this rock which had broken the handles of our diggers. Please let us use your matchet to clear the area." The boy obliged them.                

  
   After about an hour, they were about finishing the bush clearing in readiness for the foundation when the matchet was damaged beyond repairs. Again, as he rehashed his ordeal, the boy insisted he must be compensated:


No, no, no!                                                                 

You must compensate me for my matchet:        

The matchet the farmers gave me                         

   when they took my food,                                          

The food the woman gave me                              

   when she took my bird,                                 

The bird the hunters gave me                    

   when they lost my stick,                                            

The stick my mama ‘n papa gave me                   

  for protection and as my inheritance,              

The stick which may well be                             

The means by which I'd get married.

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