“Grandmother! Grandmother! Where are you?” Noni called. “Why can’t I find you?”
Noni ran through the jungle. The lion was gaining on her, she could almost feel the hot breath against her back. Faster and faster she ran. “Grandmother!” she cried, “Help me!”
She turned and saw the lion just as it leaped into the air to pounce on her, but when the paws hit her chest she flew backwards and landed in her grandmother’s arms. Bisa ordered the lion away. He turned obediently and walked back into the jungle.
Bisa lifted Noni as if she were a child again. Then, like magic, they ascended high above the jungle, flying, floating toward home. Somehow Noni could see everything from the safety of her grandmother’s arms. One moment she gazed into her grandmother’s face, the next she saw a pond below them that she knew was close to their village. Gazelles and giraffe, water buffalo and wart hogs all congregated at the watering hole. The landscape was lush, the animals familiar. Maribou stork and tawny eagles perched on and around the lake.
Bisa floated them down toward the water, circling them around and around above the reflecting pool until Noni felt healed from the trauma with the lion. Noni saw her reflection, and Bisa’s, in the water.
When they reached the far side of the pond Bisa landed gently on the shore. Noni turned, throwing her arms around her beloved grandmother. Bisa took Noni’s face in her hands. Though she did not speak, Noni heard her as though she did. “I am with you, Noni.”
Then Bisa smiled and motioned for Noni to look again at her reflection in the water. Noni bent, but when she looked into the still surface of the water, she saw the white girl’s face on her own black body.
When Noni woke, she saw Efuru and the white girl wrapped in each other’s arms. She understood the dream and what it meant. Whatever had happened to the girl didn’t matter. She was a girl who, for whatever reason, found herself alone in the woods without her family.
Noni gently woke the two sleeping girls.
“Have a little somethin’ to eat,” she said as she handed them each a piece of bread. “Den we best get movin’.”
Efuru looked at her mother with worry.
“No need to be lookin’ at me like dat. De girl can stay if she want to.”
Efuru threw her arms around her mother’s neck. “I love you, mama.”
“C’mere, chile,” Noni said to the white girl.
The child got up and went to where Noni sat on a log. Noni opened up a tin of medicine, scooped some out onto her finger and dabbed it onto the girl’s bloody knees.
“You gotta name, chile?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” she answered. “It’s Abby.”
“Abby.” Noni looked at her. “Look like you can stay wid us if‘n you want to.”
Abby smiled. She looked over at Efuru, whose face exploded into a huge grin.
“Abby,” Efuru finally said, then again, but softly, like a prayer, “Abby.” Then she nodded, as if the name itself gave sense and meaning to her life.
Noni curled her finger at Efuru, beckoning her over for an application of medicine. Without a thought, the child dropped the shift off her shoulders, holding it at her waist, exposing her brands and stripes for treatment.
Abby’s gasp startled them. They both turned to look at her. Her hands had clamped over her mouth. Her eyes held an expression of horror, quickly transforming to tears.
Noni and Efuru, used to such sights in nearly every person they knew, were surprised by the girl’s reaction.
An awkward silence ensued, broken, at last, by Abby.
“Wh…what happened to you?” Tracks lined Abby’s dirty cheeks as tears dripped down her face.
It was Noni who answered. “You never seen a slave whipped or branded?”
“I,” she started, “I never met a slave before.”
Noni and Efuru looked at each other, their understanding slow to come. “How,” Noni asked, “how you live down here and don’t know no slaves?”
“I don’t live anywhere near here. I…I don’t even know where here is.”
Noni sighed. “We best start movin’. Let me put some medicine on you, Efuru.” She gently dabbed medicine onto her daughter’s infected brand. “Looks like we got plenty to learn ‘bout each other,” she said as she dropped the ointment into her sack. “Come on along, girls.” She smiled and shook her head as she began walking. “Miss Abby, look like you better tell us yer story.”