Purple and yellow fabric caught in the slight current and rippled out across the large rounded river-stones as the young woman thrust her hands into the cool water. Bent over, she reached across to the plastic bucket and pulled out a worn t-shirt. Suds of soap floated lazily into the main stream of the river, gaining momentum and dancing off between the tree-lined banks.
Intent on her task she worked quickly, not straightening up. The sun would be up soon, and this morning she felt uneasy; there was a tension all around her like an unseen presence.
At last all the clothes were wrung into tight bundles, and she began to rinse the bucket. A large fleck of foam landed on her cheek and she brushed it away with her upper arm, smearing the white bubbles on her pale skin. One final swill and she returned the clothes to the bucket. She stood upright and rearranged her kanga that was tied above her breasts. Only in the morning did she go out like this, allowing the early sun to touch her skin.
The other women from the village would soon be coming down to the river. Noisy chatter and laughter would fill the air, replacing the bird songs and babble of water moving over stones. Reem set off up the well-worn dirt path. To one side of her the mounting sun sent its rays trickling through the high grass; to the other, coolness emanated from the depths of the trees and bushes. A cockerel crowed and wood smoke drifted on the morning breeze. Soon she would be at the small shamba gardens that bordered her village and supplied fruit and vegetables from the rich red earth.
Reem smiled to herself as she noticed a dead branch that had dropped off a nearby tree; she could take that now and not have to go in search of firewood later. Steadying the bucket on her head, she stooped to pick up the branch. A soft thud behind her was her only warning before a strong hand covered her mouth and another pulled her backwards. Her bucket tumbled to the ground, spilling the clean wet clothes into the dirt. Her feet lifted as she was dragged further into the bushes. Reem’s arms thrashed at her assailant. She tried to regain her footing, but a second set of hands grabbed at her roughly, twisting her arm behind her. Rough sacking pressed against her face. Everything went dark and she gasped for air. Her right leg caught on something and she heard her kanga rip, then the remains of the fabric fell from her body. A calloused hand ran over her breasts. She tried to wrench herself away.
A man laughed. She kicked out in his direction.
“Hey! We don’t have time for that,” a gruff and panicky voice called.
Another male spoke “We’re too close to the village. Let’s do what we came to do.”
“We’ll have her first. A nice body for one with such pale skin.”
She was roughly pushed backwards into the dirt.
“Here, hold her.” Hands pressed Reem’s shoulders down as she struggled. The sacking had moved partially from one eye and she tried to shake it from her head.
The grip on her shoulders released. She could see a pair of jean-clad legs and dusty bare feet to her left — the man who had laughed. Turning her head slightly she ran her eye up his legs and saw large hands unzipping the front of his jeans. She fought to get up, kicking her legs out wildly. The sacking fell from her face.
A hand seized one of her legs. She struck out with her free leg and felt it come into contact with flesh. A body was lowering onto her. She screamed. A fist came at her face jerking her head back. Pain turned to blackness as her body went limp.
“You crazy bastard. Why didn’t you just do what we came here for? Now half the village will’ve heard.”
“Leave her. We have to run.”
“No. Take her. Help me carry her.”
“It’s too late.”
“We need to run. Listen. There’s shouting.”
“I’m not leaving with nothing.” The man pulled a machete from the back of his waistband.
“I’m going.” One of the men ran off into the trees.
“Me too,” said the other, “we must go.” He watched as the man raised his machete high and hacked down at the woman’s arm. Blood flowed from the gash and seeped into the dirt. The man raised the machete again bringing it down harder. Together they looked at the partially severed limb as blood dripped from the blade. The woman moved and gave a weak groan. The voices were closer.
“They’re coming. Run!” He sprinted towards the river.
The man with the machete bent over one more time, pulled off the woman’s headscarf and ripped a handful of pale hair from her head. Only then did he run after the others.
The opening chapter from my novel ‘The Other Shade of Black’, as yet unpublished.
More information on people with albinism and their plight in Tanzania can be found here: