The Arrogant Bride (A Story Told in East Africa)
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful maiden who lived in a small village. She was very proud of her beauty, and in time became so arrogant that her family despaired. “Only beauty matters,” she would say.
“It is a person’s character that matters,” her parents and grandparents argued, but when the time came for the young woman to marry, she refused every suitor. “He is too tall. He is too short. He’s fat. He’s thin. His eyes do not shine.” On and on she would snap criticisms at the men who came to seek her hand. At last, she said defiantly, “I will marry only someone who is as handsome as I am beautiful.”
“Your pride will be your ruin,” her mother warned her.
One day the villagers held a dance. Guests came from around the country, and among them was a tall, handsome youth dressed in a flowing robe. Around his head, he wore an embroidered ring that looked so beautiful to the admiring villagers it might have been a halo.
No one was more dazzled by the stranger than the proud maiden, and when he asked her to dance, she readily accepted.
All evening long the maiden and the handsome stranger danced together. By nightfall, they announced to all that they were in love.
“We will marry in two days,” the maiden told her family.
Her parents were overjoyed, for they had come to believe they would never meet someone their daughter would love. But their son, the maiden’s brother, was alarmed.
He stepped forward and took his sister’s hands in his. “Don’t marry this man,” he pleaded. He had carefully watched the stranger all evening, and he alone knew that the man meant danger, for he had noticed the second mouth at the back of the stranger’s head, a mouth almost hidden by his embroidered ring.
“He is not what he appears to be,” the brother said, but the girl would not listen, and two days later the couple wed.
Late in the day of the wedding festivities, the groom whispered to his bride, “Come, we will go to the home I have prepared for us.”
Without even bidding her family farewell, the maiden slipped away with her husband, and they set off into the forest. The maiden’s brother secretly followed them.
As the couple walked, the husband whispered to his wife, “Can you still see the smoke from your family’s home?”
She turned to look. “Yes,” she said.
“Walk on, then,” he said, and they walked on.
“Can you see the hills of your village?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Walk on,” he urged, and though she was tired and growing homesick, she followed him.
“Now, do you still see them?” the groom asked his bride, and when she turned, she realized how far they had journeyed. She could see nothing of the home she had known all her life.
“No,” she said softly.
Before long they came to a small hut deep in the forest. The couple walked inside and went to sleep.
In the middle of the night, a rustling sound woke the woman. She turned to reach for her husband, but he was gone.
The young woman shivered, for outside hyenas howled, and wild animals padded through the forest, stalking prey. Thousands of eerie sounds filled the air, and the woman huddled beneath her blankets, her eyes wide with fear.
At dawn, she heard a rattling sound at the door, and her husband’s voice called, “It is I, your husband. Let me in, quickly.”
She opened the door and threw herself into his arms, and then she saw flecks of blood spotting his cheeks. “You’ve been hurt,” she gasped, but at that moment, his robe fell away and she saw he was not human. He was a spotted leopard with her husband’s face and voice.
She screamed as she pushed him away. He crouched, ready to spring upon her, but just at that moment, distant drumming sounded. The creature, transfixed by the sound, froze still as stone.
Seeing her chance, the woman slipped past the creature and raced into the forest, where she found her brother drumming to distract the leopard. “We must run for our lives,” he told her, and together they raced through the forest, back to their village and their families and friends.
From that day on, the maiden cherished her family and her fellow villagers, and she lost her arrogance and excess pride.