The Healing Waters of Zimbia
by: Dennis R. Humphreys
Far away in a country of people, poor in what they owned, in a dry land that seemed to be cursed for raising food, lived a couple. They had been together as husband and wife for ten years. They were childless, for the woman, Towenda, had suffered an infection as a young woman that took her ability to have children. In a land where most men would divorce their woman for not being able to give him sons and daughters, her husband, Bantu, kept her, loving her just as much. She was his rising sun and his setting sun. A day without her was painful. They would often go into the land to look for food and forage for things to eat or put away for a later time. The others in their tribe would do the same but often as hunting parties together. Bantu and Towenda prefered each other's company and took joy in sharing their work.
One day as they gathered berries, Towenda left out a cry. When Bantu reached the spot where she was sitting on the ground, she was holding her hand. As he looked, he saw a poisonous serpent slither away from the spot. She had been bitten. The bite from this snake meant death...a slow painful death.
“Towenda, what has happened?” Bantu cried, asking the obvious because he couldn't believe this happened. At such times we all sometimes ask or state the obvious because the truth of what happened is often too painful to accept.
“I am afraid, Bantu, that my time with you now is limited as I feel the poison coursing through my veins. By tomorrow you will be able to select a younger woman that can bare you children,” the woman said to her husband.
“I don't want another woman. Without you, my sunrises and sunsets will no longer be bearable, he answered her as he began to sob.
As he laid her down and made her as comfortable as he could he realized what he must do. There was a magical spring twenty miles away. He heard about it often, with its magical, healing properties. Just a small amount could heal. Many in his tribe had drunk from it and were saved from death. He could run there and back in time to save Towenda. But he had no container, little time, and only his mouth to bring enough back for her. So he told her of his plan and that he must leave immediately.
So Bantu began running west, ahead of the sun to find the spring. Time was critical and he had wished they had brought a goat skin with them, but they weren't going to be long from the village on their foraging trip and they felt it was needless to carry a water skin. They only carried two bags made of woven reeds, hardly able to contain water.
It was hot out and his effort and worry made it harder as he ran ahead of the sun. Antelope took off ahead of him as he ran through their grazing area. There were vultures feeding on the decaying carcass of a buffalo, who probably died of thirst. There was a wide expanse of flat land ahead of him but in the distance were the mountains and hills where the spring would be. He knew by tradition what landscape features to look for but he had never been to this place. He hoped the spring was still there and that his memory was true.
At one point a female lioness appeared and watched him. Bantu returned the favor because the female lioness did the hunting and was very dangerous. Bantu could easily become her mate's next meal. There must be water nearby, he thought, but where he had no idea. For two hours Bantu ran without stopping. Soon he was near the foothills of the mountains. There was a shape in the mountains he was looking for and he found it. He went towards it and before long he spotted an area that was very green and lush. It was a small oasis, that often in such arid areas, would flourish by a nearby stream or spring. This had to be the place. As he approached the oasis, he saw water. It was a spring. There were trees by the spring and from their branches hung various items. They were offerings to the spirits...a thank you for their help. This was the place. People that drank from the water and were healed had made pilgrimages back here to honor the spirits. Without recognition of their mercy, you could incur their wrath and undo what they had performed. There was a pot hanging there, perfect to carry water back to his wife with but he daren't take anything from the tree that was an offering or their wrath would be three fold.
Bantu bent down to cool his thirst after running twenty miles in the heat. The sun was up high now and it would be bad going back. He rested just for a moment and then filled his mouth with the sacred water. He began his run back, towards the east and towards his wife.
A few miles away from the spring he saw something on the ground ahead. It wasn't there when he came this way before but he might have altered his course a bit and the object was hidden from sight. When he got close, he realized it was an old man, thin from age and lack of food. His skin was leathered from the sun and every wrinkle attested to his age.
He leaned over the old man thinking he was dead but the man opened his eyes as he sensed Bantu's shadow over him.
“Water,” he muttered. Bantu wondered why the old man was out alone this far.
'I haven't much to spare as my wife is dying and this is the sacred water that can save her. I understand it only takes a little so I will give you some so that you may live,' Bantu told himself and he spit some of the life saving water into the man's mouth. He rubbed some of it on the man's parched lips. In almost a miraculous recovery the man sat up and thanked Bantu for his charity. Bantu wished the man well in his heart and returned to his journey.
In a short while, Bantu, passed a spot where the rocks jutted out of the ground probably fifty feet. He had passed here earlier. A woman was lying on the ground amid some rocks. It appeared she had fallen from the higher rock and was hurt. Bantu ran to her. She was barely alive.
“I'm afraid I am dying. I fell no pain now and I can't move. My insides pained me earlier but that has subsided,” the woman said in a garbled presumptuous way.
'I will give you a bit of the sacred water I carry in my mouth and perhaps that will help.' he said to himself. He bent over giving the woman a bit of the precious water. Within minutes she stirred and sat up, feeling better. Bantu got up and started his run again. The woman looked after him and thanked him.
The landscape was simple in a simple place. There was no room for complexity in a world of live or die. The place was arid and inhospitable for most but it was home to some. As he ran the heat became unbearable but he pressed on until he saw a child lying on the ground dying from the wounds received from a wildcat of some sort. There were cuts all over her body and she had lost much blood. Bantu took pity on the child and bent over giving her some of the healing water. He had great hope for his wife when he saw people healed so quickly from the water. The child stopped bleeding and sat up with a smile. She wrapped her arms around Bantu and hugged him painfully.
“Thank you, sir, for your aid,” she told him. Bantu nodded at her and continued his mission with just about enough water for his wife he thought.
He was happy when he was getting near. His trip was almost over, when he spotted a lone figure lying face down in the dirt. There was an arrow in the young man's back, one of his own tribe's arrows. He turned the young man over and saw he was one of his tribe's enemies. He pulled the arrow from the man's back so he could lay him down on the ground. It appeared the arrow had pierced the man's lung and he was dying. Without thinking, Bantu bent over the man and emptied the last of his water he carried into the man's mouth. The man gasped and coughed but he opened his eyes. He realized his enemy was holding him and sat up.
“You saved me but why? I am your enemy,” he asked Bantu in a puzzled way.
Able to speak now without any water in his mouth Bantu answered him.
“Just because my people are your enemy and they have told me you are mine doesn't make it so. You are not my enemy and your needs were great so I helped. I am afraid now that I have helped four people along the way and my efforts to save my beloved wife have been in vain.” Bantu explained to the man,” I must go to her. It's too late to go back for more water and the only thing I can do now is make her final moments among the living comfortable and ask her forgiveness.”
As Bantu turned to go and begin running again the man called after him.
“Perhaps there is nothing to forgive,” the man yelled.
Bantu heard the man's comment and was confused by it. He ran getting tired by the minute but he kept up the pace. It wasn't far now. His heart was getting heavy now as if his wife had already passed. The loneliness was beginning to seep into his being as he knew her end was near. How would he live without her? Watching the setting sun in the evenings would not be joyful anymore. Getting up and sharing breakfast for the coming day would have little meaning. Bantu would be alone. He had friends among his tribe but that wasn't the same. The intimacies shared with someone you love, have a meaning no one else can comprehend.
Bantu came into sight of where he left Towenda. There she was sitting in a field of flowers that weren't there when he left her. Their fragrance was strong, carried on the breeze. He ran to her and fell to his knees not expecting this. He hugged her and kissed her and she did so with him.
“I don't understand woman. I left you dying and I come back to find you sitting in a field of flowers very healthy.
“I don't understand either husband. In my delirium I was visited by four shadows that told me to sit up, I was fine, and so I did. I told them I didn't understand either, that I was dying from a snakebite and you had gone to get the sacred water to save me but you had not come back with it yet and here I am...alive,” she repeated to Bantu.
Then one of the shadows stepped forward and spoke. Even though he was the only one that spoke I knew it was also what the other shadows were thinking.
“It isn't the superstition of the water that has saved you but the acts of kindness of your husband in his journey.”