Elisa was a school friend, the girl who was always getting in trouble with her mother for being too rough and tumble. She was the girl who would be seen climbing the trees to pick the nicest, ripest plums; the girl who thought nothing of taking off her long skirt and jumping in the pond. Elisa was a wonderful balm to the rigid, disciplined soul that Rosa was. She was constantly nervous around Elisa, not sure she should feel such pleasure around her nonsensical antics, nor sure if she should be following her around. Yet, she knew that denying herself the fun would hurt more than any lectures she got from her mother and older siblings.
As the girls grew up, they completed the minimum requirements needed to get out of school. Their families were of the opinion that education was for the boys. They would be the ones who would become doctors, or teachers, or office workers. Women were to learn at home, how to keep a home, how to cook, and how to take care of others. Their lives would be a constant of caring for others. Rosa knew this, believed it, and lived it. Elisa was more of the flighty type: at once she’d talk about how many children she would have, and at other times, she would proclaim that she would die an old maid and never marry.
After school, the only other place Rosa and Elisa met was at church. The time away from the freedom of schools had changed Elisa somewhat, and as the months unraveled into years, both young ladies changed. Rosa took to housework and preparing for marriage like a duck to water. Elisa grew thin, pale and there was a constant frown on her once smiling face. Word around town was that someone was trying to court her, and her parents were already looking at the different farmers’ livestock for the big event.
Having always spent time roughhousing with the boys, it was only natural that Elisa set her heart on someone her age, someone too young to marry her. It was the custom that the men had to be older, as they would use their life experience to be the leaders in their homes. Liking and wanting to marry someone of the same age was always considered a recipe for disaster. As the weeks passed, Elisa’s heart grew heavy.
Her chores included going to the community pump to gather water for daily use. On the most important day of her life, Elisa wended her way up the small hill to the hand-cranked pump with two buckets in hand. For as long as she had known, this was the only way to get water. She hated the hard work, and she longed for her glory days of school, when all she was expected to do was pass.
She dawdled, thinking with deepening fear at the man she was expected to marry. He was older - a widower actually. His wife died while giving birth to a little girl. The little girl had come with her father the last time, and it pained Elisa to remember how sweet the little girl was, very obedient – smiling and looking at Elisa with innocent eyes. If she were to marry that man, she would be a mother, a stepmother! She just couldn’t bear the thought of being with someone she couldn’t bring herself to love.
The little girl’s father was a nice enough man. He worked hard as a farmer, and he also had a little shop that sold treats and specialty items for school children. But he was not Angel. At the thought of the boy she liked, she looked up and around, hoping for a glimpse of him. All she got was a glimpse of the small gathered crowd at the pump. She joined the line, her breath catching as she saw who was helping pump the water: Angel. As she drew near, she breathed a sigh of relief that she was the last person in line. In a stroke of luck, she had dawdled long enough to let other villagers pass her by. Now she could ask Angel to help her take the heavy buckets home.
On their way to her house, a plan was hatched. Giddy with excitement, they parted ways a few houses away from Elisa’s home.
Rosa remembered the first time she heard the story of Elisa’s escape. Somehow, in the dead of night, a few days after that fateful meeting at the pump, Elisa threw a few of her things out the window, and feigning the need to head to the outhouse, she made her way to her meeting point with Angel. The details then got slightly murky. It was said that Angel’s parents woke up the next morning, and upon finding Elisa in Angel’s bed, made a great fuss. The society rules being the rules, Elisa could not be made to go back home. In one fell swoop, the young couple had thrown Angel’s education out the window, and she had ruined her reputation, so much so that there was no way the widower would want to marry her.
Elisa’s parents were angry and embarrassed, but they too could do nothing to make her see sense. The deed was done, and Rosa, after hearing all the wild stories, thought that perhaps her friend would finally be happy.
Imagine the villagers’ surprise when a few months later, Elisa, with a small bundle of clothes in her arms, made her way back home. Life with Angel was not all happiness, especially with two very angry and condescending in-laws who made her life a living hell. Angel hated working at the plantation, and at the thought of the loss of his education, became very moody, taking his anger out on Elisa. They fought constantly, and it became so unbearable, she went back home, hoping her parents would forgive her.
Rosa went by to visit Elisa after her return, and she knew that things had changed. Elisa’s parents had welcomed her back, but not before giving her a sound whipping. While she had been indulged in her precocious ways before, that no longer was the case. She was little more than a housemaid. Bitterly, Elisa said that every so often, her mother would refer to her as little more than used goods, good for no-one, not even the widower. Her life, it seemed, would be an endless lifetime of work. With a sad laugh, Elisa reminded Rosa of her plan to be an old maid. Without her really wanting to, it seemed that prediction would come true.
To his great credit, the widower waited a few months before coming back to visit Elisa. He was kinder than she had ever given him credit for. No longer rash, no longer naïve, she could grow to appreciate someone who overlooked her indiscretions. Love was not the butterflies in the stomach for her. Not anymore. Understanding one another, giving the other a chance to grow, it seemed that’s what love was all about in the end.
Elisa’s wedding to the widower was a very small affair, held at her parent’s back yard. It was only she, the widower, his little daughter, her parents, brothers and sisters. No livestock were killed for the occasion, she wore a cream dress, no veil, and after, when she moved into her new home, her entire family helped move her things. When she closed her eyes to sleep as a newly married woman, she gave up a silent prayer of thanks.
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