22 Oct 2021


The Price of Love*

‘At the beginning,’ the Judge had said, ‘I thought you were a perfectly ill-educated young man! Now I know – you are!'

By Jacob J. Akol

‘It’s not right! It’s just not right!’ Rufus Kabulu said to himself, as he sat waiting under a tree. He was pondering over the fact that Judge Mayen had not the slightest intention of letting his only daughter return to the University for the next academic year.

“And only because’, Kabulu went on, ‘that half-wit, nitwit, half-illiterate twit of a Dinka has offered sixty cows to the Judge and the Judge calls himself an educated man! When shall we ever learn that women are not for sale!

‘For sale,” Judge Mayen had laughed at Kabulu when he reproached him for his views on the subject of marriage in general and his decision to give away his daughter in particular. ‘For sale,’ he laughed again. “You must be out of your mind, young man, you must be. The idea never crossed my mind.’

‘Nevertheless, it is there,’ Kabulu had insisted.

‘You needn’t be so rude, young man,’ the Judge had said firmly. ‘You come to my house, uninvited, and embark upon a subject of which you know nothing, and a matter which is no concern of yours.’

‘I know enough to keep barking, Judge; and don’t tell me that my endeavour to save your daughter does not cause you any concern…’

‘Of course you poking your nose in causes me a great deal of worry,’ cut in Judge Mayen. ‘What, pray, is your concern in my daughter’s business?’

Kabulu ha replied that his business was that of any intelligent young man, a citizen, ‘dedicated to doing away with any archaic custom, such as the Dinka marriage laws.’

To this the Judge had said, ‘Young man, you have wasted enough of my time already and I have no intention of entertaining you any further.’

‘Not so fast, Judge,’ Kabulu had said. ‘Will you tell me, Judge, why a man of your intelligence and learning has to stick to such a primitive custom?’

‘For lack of better one, if you please! Now do you mind…’

‘Would it not be better for your daughter, highly educated as she is, to chose a husband for herself?’ Kabulu had asked.

‘At the beginning,’ the Judge had said, ‘I thought you were a perfectly ill-educated young man! Now I know – you are! Do I have to remind you that what you treasure so highly is a foreign idea – a European idea, for what it is worth!’

‘Very true, Judge, very true,’ Kabulu had said, ‘but not any more foreign than the tie around your neck. Do I need to remind you that it is a Dinka idea to walk naked?’

At that, Judge Mayen suddenly had no more stomach for Kabulu’s whims. On his part, Kabulu had quickly realised the old Judge was outraged beyond redemption by his last remark. There was nothing to be gained by staying around and getting involved in physical violence. So he made a quick exit into the street, leaving Judge Mayen shaking with anger at the door.

‘You are advised,’ the Judge had shouted at the top of his voice, ‘to keep well away from my house – and from my daughter! Do you hear! I could have you hanged for this!’

Young Kabulu (he was not really young) was a proven professional student. Having been both to Berlin and Cambridge, not to mention that infamous British school of politics, the LSE, He had almost succeeded in getting to Boston. For once, the international charities had politely told him that in their opinion he should return home immediately.

And so he had been obliged to come home. But he had found no difficulty in attaching himself to the University as reader in the Extra mural Department, concentrating his efforts on studies of the Dinka.

It was during this period at the University that he had come to know the Judge’s daughter.

It was also at that time it became apparent to him that as he frequently put it, ‘the elite Dinka male had double standards, designed solely for his personal convenience.’ To Kabulu, the case of the Judge’s daughter, therefore, presented itself as a challenge; and so he had promised himself to bring the Judge to heel and, with him the ‘unacceptable Dinka customs.’

‘You say these customs are out of date, primitive – yes, you have used that word,’ the Judge’s daughter had tried to reason with Kabulu after one of their frequent ‘cultural discussions,’ organised and dominated by Kabulu himself, but honestly, Kabulu, 'do you really think that this old Dinka custom is merely selling and buying?’

‘What more is there to it?’

‘Do you know about “divinity cows”?’

‘No, what are they?’

‘Never mind what they are. The fact is that there are two or three amongst the cattle given to in-laws. Without at least one of these cows the marriage is not sacred.’

‘So,’ Kabulu had said, ‘when a girl is married with these sacred cows she becomes automatically a member of the family, having equal rights, is that it?’

‘You make it sound so simple,’ said the Judge’s daughter. ‘You probably know from your studies that when sacred cows are exchanged between friends who previously had no blood relations, their respective families are considered as if related by blood.’

‘And it is also a Dinka custom,’ Kabulu had added, ‘that any sex between people of blood relations is incest, is that not so?’

‘You are catching on,’ the girl had said warmly. ‘You will be a Dinka before you know it.’

‘Not just yet,’ Kabulu had given a mild protest. ‘But, say, are you telling me that all the sex that has been going on between traditionally married Dinka men and women had all been a series of incest?’

‘Don’t be smart, Kabulu. You see, sometimes I think you express your views too strongly – and blindly – to care about other people’s feelings. In any case, what has all this Dinka business got to do with you?’

‘Feelings! Feelings!’ Kabulu was almost angry, ‘I am fed up with people telling me about their feelings – and you, of all people, should not tell me about your feelings!’

‘I was not talking to you about my feelings. You make yourself enemies by trying so hard to affect change in traditional societies. You can’t do it alone, you know – and’, added the girl light-heartedly, ‘you don’t even do it very well.’

‘With people like you around me all the time reminding me about people’s feelings, how is anyone able to do any worthwhile job? We can’t go on the way we are, nursing feelings forever.’

‘But why are you so hard on the Dinka? Other people have to change as well.’

‘One thing at a time. I happen to be studying the Dinka at the moment – and, talking about feelings, what about mine? I find the Dinka customs, some of them at least, not only what I have already called them – primitive – but also divisive and irritating. Other men from other tribes who might wish to marry decent Dinka girls would not be able to do so, simply because they have no cows to pay.’

The Judge’s daughter had considered this for a moment and then said, quite seriously: ‘If you had cows, Kabulu, would you marry a Dinka girl?’

‘You seem not to get my point,’ Kabulu had said, I am simply opposed to selling and buying of human beings.’

‘What would you have me do, Kabulu?’

‘Marry for love, that’s all I can say. At your age, with your education, you ought to have better sense. You owe your parents nothing under the sun, absolutely nothing. If anything, it is they who owe you a living. You had no choice coming into this world. You are their responsibility until you have been given the chance to make this one important choice. Marry your own choice.’

‘You’ve really got yourself into the habit of losing yourself between rounds, haven’t you? I think your lectures might be of some use in Milan. Not here, just now, Kabulu.’

That is how they always ended, these dialogues between the Judge’s daughter and Rufus Kabulu. The girl never left Kabulu in the slightest doubt that she would go along with her father’s wishes if the situation arose.

‘The female idiot,’ Kabulu had often said, kicking himself, ‘no matter how highly educated, she is still a fool.’

On this particular day, however, things were to turn out very unexpectedly. His rendezvous with the Judge’s daughter was arranged a friend of hers. The friend, usually wary in her dealings with Rufus Kabulu, always a third party, had been less inhibited than usual when she saw Kabulu in the morning.

‘Four sharp – and you’d better be there on time. This may be the end or the beginning of a long friendship. You never can tell,’ she said, smiling, and disappeared before Kabulu had had a chance to say anything.

‘Never mind,’ Kabulu had said, and had gone about what he was doing. The change of manner in Judge Mayan’s daughters friend didn’t sink in – until now, as he sat under the tree and waited for the Judge’s daughter, who had failed to turn up at the appointed time.

While he was contemplating the affairs of the morning, the sweet voice of the Judge’s daughter rang, like a bell, in his ears.

‘Rufus,’ it was the first time he had addressed him by his Christian name.

Kabulu looked up, and there, right in front of him, was a figure beyond his wildest dream. The nineteen-year-old daughter of the Judge was attired in a blue silk dress which her father recently brought back from a trip t Paris. Her face was lit with that melancholic charm which only women in love possess.

Kabulu had no voice to express his thoughts. But immediately realised what had been bothering him since he first heard the news that the Judge’s daughter was getting married. He was simply sick – with love.

‘Rufus,’ she called again, ‘I have something to tell you.’ He was still speechless.

‘I want to talk to you,’ she said once more.

Unsteadily, Kabulu tried to get up. But she swiftly moved forward and placed soothing hand on his shoulder. ‘Stay where you are, please.’

Like someone hypnotised, his gaze was glued to her face. But the Judge’s daughter, unaware of Kbulu’s feelings, sat on her heels right in front of him and, with an open, innocent admiration, she examined his face for a moment and said: ‘I know now what it is like to be really in love.’

Kabulu was still speechless.

‘When my father first told me,’ she went on enthusiastically, ‘that DD was interested in me, I was over the moon, for DD was every girl’s idol. But that was only for a moment because I thought I would never feel the same again if we met. When we did meet, sometime ago, I thought I could not love him. Well, I just could not make up my mind.’

She paused for breath, and then suddenly, she placed both hands on Kabulu’s and he covered them tightly in his.

‘Rufus,’ she began, ‘you have changed my life! You have shown me one thing that’s worth knowing in life – the knowledge of oneself. Rufus, I am in love – with DD! I have always been but I never knew. Now I know for sure, I shall always love him!’

She paused again, expecting Kabulu to say something. There was no reaction from Kabulu, apart from his hands losing their grip on hers. She looked at him for a moment, and then, for the firs time, she realised what she had meant all this time to Rufus Kabulu.

‘No! Kabulu, not you! You didn’t think for a moment that…that…’

She did not finish what she meant to say. With vague sadness in her voice she said, as she backed away, ‘Goodbye, Kabulu, brother.’

Kabulu gazed in silence at her retreating feet until he could see them no more. Then, he did what he had not done for as long as he could remember: He cried.

*’The Price of Love’ was first published by Sudanow, August, 1977. It was later included in A SHORT ANTHOLOGY OF SUDANESE LITERATURE published by EMBASSY OF DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE SUDAN, OFFICE OF THE CULTURAL COUNSELLOR, Washington DC. 

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