A woman was sick and knew she would soon die. Before she left the world, she told her only daughter, Nuru:
“My dear daughter, it is time for me to be free. When I leave you, you may feel alone, but you will not be. Though my body will be gone, my spirit will live on. My blood runs within you. No matter where you are, I will be there. Please hold on to your memories of me, and as long as you’re alive, I’ll always watch over you and you will feel my love, always.”
Then the woman died.
Her daughter, Nuru, went to her mother’s grave every day and wept. Times then grew dark for Nuru, for in her grief she lost and forgot everything she was.
First, Nuru forgot how to eat and drink, and became frail. Her father sent for a nurse, who forced broth down her throat at every hour. When she grew tired of the rough nurse, Nuru remembered how to eat, and forced herself to eat solid food, but she was only able to eat one small meal a day.
Then Nuru forgot how to sleep. Each night she remained awake—walking around her home continuously. At daylight, she would retreat to her room to go to sleep. One morning, after spending the entire night walking around the house, Nuru went to her bedroom to go to sleep, as she normally would, but her father stopped her. He made her sit at the kitchen table, across from him, and he told her that she must stay awake. Each time he saw Nuru’s body drifting into slumber, he nudged her and woke her up. She stayed up that entire day. That night–though she was very tired–she remained awake, and walked around the house as she usually did.
The next morning, her father made her stay awake again, and by nightfall, she was so tired that she forced herself to go to sleep. She was only able to sleep a few hours that night before she woke from a nightmare that kept her up for the remainder of the night. After learning of Nuru’s trouble staying asleep, her father agreed to allow Nuru to take naps during the day—but only if she agreed to sleep the first half of the night. This way, she would have some semblance of a normal sleep schedule.
Yet, even with the small meal she ate each day, and her new sleep schedule, Nuru did not feel normal. She used to love to cook, sew, hunt, and garden, but she did not find joy in these activities anymore. She spent most days staring up at the sky, daydreaming. During these daydreams, she also forgot that her mother was gone. One time during a daydream, she thought she smelled her mother’s stew, and rushed down the stairs into the kitchen. There, she saw only the cook in the kitchen. Another time, during a daydream, she thought she heard her mother laughing in the hallway. She went into the hallway and saw her father’s new maid laughing. During a daydream, she once heard her mother singing a hymn outside, but when she opened her window and looked out, she saw a poor old beggar singing.
Her father thought she had gone mad! He decided that he would have to find a wife so that Nuru could have a mother to restore her broken heart. He then met a beautiful woman who he fell in love with at first sight, and he brought this woman and her twin children—a boy and girl—to his home to meet Nuru.
“I am marrying her tomorrow. I would like you two to bond. She can be like a second mother to you,” he said to Nuru.
But the woman did not like Nuru. She ignored her when her father was not home, and treated her differently from her own two children. The woman’s daughter was indifferent toward Nuru—she often ignored her just like her mother. Her father did not notice any of this; he was in love with the woman and stopped paying attention to Nuru completely. The woman’s son was the only one that was kind to Nuru, but Nuru did not trust him.
The family—the mother, the twins, and her father— began eating dinner each night without Nuru. The mother only made enough food for the four of them—she rarely left food for Nuru. So, each night after the four ate, her stepbrother brought her a slice of bread, cheese and a glass of milk. She ate this food in the room by herself.
One day, she overheard a conversation between her stepmother and step sister:
“I’m quite happy that, that stupid spoiled girl does not eat dinner with the rest of us.” the stepsister said to her mother.
“It’s already dreadful enough having to be around her during the day. That her father would expect us to put up with her during dinner too?” the mother said back.
On another occasion:
“Had I known that his daughter was a miserable spoiled little brat, I would have made him send her off to a home for girls before agreeing to marry him,” said the Stepmother.
“When he told us about her, didn’t you imagine that she would be beautiful likes us? The first time I ever saw her, I could not believe how plain she looked!” said her stepsister.
“She doesn’t take care of herself. Her hair is dirty, her clothes—I wonder if she washes herself daily? I suppose that somewhere in the ragged state she’s in, beneath the dirt, she’s beautiful. She just doesn’t care the way you do, my dear. What a shame that she does not care about her appearance, in only two years’ time she’ll be at the marrying age, what man would marry her the way she looks now?” her stepmother said.
They only had these conversations when they knew Nuru was nearby to hear them. Her step-brother constantly defended her.
“Her mother died! She is still in grief. Why are you two so unkind to her? It’s evil to be this unkind to her knowing this, especially since she is nothing but polite to you!” he would say.
“I find her beautiful just as she is. Why are you talking about her looks anyhow? She can hear you!”
Sometimes his comments would stop them from talking about her, but most of the time it only made them both quite angry.
“How dare you call that girl beautiful! You forget who birthed you when you defend her and call me evil!” his mother would say.
One day while Nuru was bathing, her stepsister stole dresses from her room. When Nuru told her father what her stepsister did, her father did not believe her! He then went out, bought her stepsister three new dresses, and did not buy any dresses for Nuru, he told Nuru that this was her punishment for being a liar.
“Serves you right, liar! I have your dresses and now your father has bought me new dresses too!” the stepsister said in glee.
On one occasion after Nuru returned home from taking a walk, she saw her stepmother wearing a dress that once belonged to her mother. Nuru flew into a rage and ripped the dress off her stepmother. When her father came home, her stepmother told him:
“Your daughter is wicked! She came home and attacked me for no reason. Look at these scars and bruises on my skin! I fear her now; please see to it that she is punished!”
Her father then took Nuru to the cold empty basement and locked her in. Nuru stayed there for days. She could not take a bath, and her father only came to the basement at night, to deliver to Nuru a plate of bread and milk. Fortunately, in the mornings, when her father and stepmother were away, her stepbrother snuck down and brought her a muffin so that she could have breakfast. Nuru was miserable locked in this room, and grew very depressed.
After 5 nights of punishment, Nuru was finally able to leave the basement. She waited until everyone was asleep before she crept out of her room and tiptoed down the stairs toward the front door to leave.
Her stepbrother was still awake and heard her leave the room; he came down the stairs to see what she was up to.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I can’t stay here any longer,” Nuru said.
“Yes, but where will you go?”
“There’s a farm in the next village,” her stepbrother said. “They have work there. If you agree to no pay, the farmer will let you stay at his home and he will give you food and water.”
“Thank you. Please do not tell my father where I am. You have been so kind to me. How can I repay your kindness?” Nuru asked.
He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a small pouch, which he handed to her.
“A strange old woman gave me this pouch full of seeds for a few coins. She told me to plant the seeds at the only location that I hold in my heart. She told me that these seeds are magic. You get one wish granted each time you plant three seeds. There are only 9 seeds in this pouch, so you only get three wishes. I don’t believe in such things, but if it is true that these are magic, you more than me, would benefit from these seeds.”
“Thank you!” Nuru said gratefully.
“Remember that the wishes will only be granted, when you plant the seeds in a location that you hold close to your heart.” He reminded her.
He then gave her a warm long hug, and after the hug, she left. She took the pouch of seeds and went to her mother’s grave. She planted three seeds next to her mother’s grave.
“You said I would not be alone. But I am,” Nuru said to her mother’s grave. “You told me to keep your memories and I have. But it causes me pain. I do not want to think of you any longer! I wish for this pain to stop!”
She wept over her mother’s grave, from dusk until dawn, ‘til there were no tears left. When it grew very bright and sunny outside, she left the grave and vowed that she would not come back.
Nuru traveled to the next village, which had the farm. She told the owner that she would work for free if he allowed her meals and a place to sleep each night. The owner of the farm agreed.
Nuru spent most of her days cleaning the barn, feeding the animals, cleaning them too, cleaning the home, and making the meals. The owner of the barn had a sickness that prevented him from helping her, so she was forced to do it all by herself. And, in the midst of this labor, Nuru completely forgot she had a mother.
One day, one of the horses gave birth to a foal with a lame leg. The owner didn’t want to keep the crippled foal, but Nuru begged the owner not to get rid of it. She wanted that foal the moment she laid her eyes on him. She thought the foal was beautiful and she felt connected to the foal it as though it were really her baby. She promised the owner that she would do extra work around the barn and care for it, if he allowed her to keep it. The owner agreed.
The love she felt for the foal eliminated all the pain and heartache that she once felt. Every day, she would gently stroke the foal’s body, which brought her comfort and warmed her heart and she felt so much joy in these moments. In time, the foal grew into a horse.
Each morning when Nuru stepped into the horse stable, the horse galloped over to her in a special way because of his lame leg. The horse would then nuzzle his head against her and lick her face. This always made her smile, and she would then often lean on the horse and close her eyes, and in those moments she felt happy.
When the owner of the barn died from sickness, his daughter moved into his home and took over the farm. The farmers daughter changed the way the farm was run, and began getting rid of animals that cost more than what they were worth. One morning, when Nuru woke up and went to the stable, she saw that her horse was gone. She looked all around, but he was nowhere in sight. Nuru was devastated.
She went to the farmer’s daughter and said:
“I loved that horse! Please I beg of you, tell me what’s happened to him!”
The daughter of the farmer looked in Nuru’s grief-stricken eyes and sighed.
“Please! I mean no harm,” Nuru said.
“Fine… an old man and a little boy came by last night to buy chickens, and they saw the horse and wanted him. I allowed them to purchase him. Fear not, he is in a safe loving home,” the daughter said.
“Can you tell me how to get to this farm? I only want to say one last final goodbye,” Nuru said.
The daughter shook her head. “I am sorry. I do not know.”
Nuru went to the stable—and sat down in the very area that once belonged to her horse. She then planted three seeds in this area, then closed her eyes and said,
“I wish to find my horse so that I can be with him again.”
Later that night, Nuru went to sleep and had a dream where she was given precise directions that would lead her to her horse. The next morning, Nuru traveled to an old man’s home—the home where her horse now lived.
When she arrived at the old man’s home, she told him of her relationship with the horse. The old man was very kind and allowed Nuru to go to the horse’s stable so she could say goodbye. The horse saw her and did his special gallop all the way over to her. When he reached her, he nuzzled his head against her and licked her face. Nuru smiled, leaned against the horse, and closed her eyes in peace. When she finally opened her eyes, she saw a little boy.
“Do you know where my mother is?” the boy asked her.
“I’m sorry, I do not,” she said.
The boy began to cry.
“She left and still has not come back,” he said.
Nuru reached out and gave the boy a hug.
“It’s okay. It’s okay,” she whispered. “Please stop crying.”
The boy stopped crying and looked Nuru in the eyes. “Can you help me find her?”
She nodded. “I can try.”
The boy took Nuru’s hand and led her away from the stable and into his home. Once they were inside, the old man noticed the boy with Nuru and rushed over to apologize for his grandson’s rudeness.
“Let go of her hand, boy!” the old man said.
The little boy would not.
“It’s okay. I do not mind,” Nuru said.
The man saw the loneliness in Nuru’s face, and observed that his grandson seemed quite taken with her.
“He likes you. May I ask, are you looking for work at all?”
“My grandson’s father passed away years ago, when he was only a baby. His mother left to visit her sick aunt months ago and has not returned. I am an old man and find it hard to keep up with him. He is lonely and misses his mother! If you are seeking work, I would like to hire you as a helper.”
“A helper around your farm, sir?”
“No, I would like you to help with caring for my grandson. And in exchange, you can spend as much as you would like with your horse.”
Nuru agreed to stay.
The next morning, she went to go see her horse, but when she arrived at the stable to greet him, the horse did not gallop over to her as he normally would. When she called out to the horse, he ignored her! She did everything she could to get the horse’s attention, but he continued to ignore her. She finally went over to the horse and tried to stroke him—hoping to soothe him as he had once soothed her—but when she touched him, he backed away from her. Nuru felt very sad.
She went back into the house and noticed that the little boy was now up. He ran over to her and asked her if she could make breakfast for him the way his mother used to. Nuru was still upset about her horse and did not want to, but she did not want the boy to cry, so she agreed.
The boy told her all the steps his mother took to make strawberry pastry, and Nuru listened and followed each step just as he told her to. The pastry came out just the way his mother’s pastry always did, which made the boy very happy. Despite the sadness she felt about her horse’s rejection, she found joy baking with the boy.
The boy told her many stories about his mother, as they ate their pastries. Nuru marveled at the love he had for his mother, sensing–within each story he told—that his mother was very special.
When they were done eating breakfast, he took her for a walk with him to the garden where they picked flowers and chased each other around. They ran until they were exhausted. As tired as she was, she enjoyed the time she spent playing! At suppertime, the boy had her make his favorite dinner, the same way his mother made it. Of course the dinner tasted just the way he remembered it when his mother once cooked this meal for him, and so, once again he was very happy.
Nuru found that she was so tired from her day with the boy, that when it was time for bed, she did not bother to go back to the stable to see the horse. While she did not fully understand why the boy wanted her to pretend to be his mother, she found happiness in her new role.
The next morning she went to see the horse again, hoping that he would act as he normally did. But, like the day before, the horse ignored her. She did everything she could to get the horse’s attention but he would not respond to her. She even tried to touch him, and when she did, she did not find comfort in the touch as she once did. This frustrated Nuru, and she gave up and went back inside the house.
This time she was glad to spend time with the little boy; he provided a distraction from her horse. The two spent the day together doing all the things that the boy loved to do with his mother. She continued the charade because she enjoyed being his mother just as much as she once enjoyed being a mother to her horse.
Nuru stayed with this old man and little boy for many months. The boy warmed her heart the way the horse used to. She loved seeing the smiles and the happiness in his face, especially when she succeeded in completing tasks in the same measure as his real mother. Each day they made breakfast together, took their walks, played until they were tired, made dinner, and went to bed quite exhausted. Nuru became so preoccupied with her new role that she stopped visiting the horse entirely, and rarely thought of him.
One day, the little boy was very sad, and when Nuru tried to go about their usual routine the little boy would not cheer up.
“What can I do to make you happy?” Nuru asked him.
“I forgot my mom’s laugh. I don’t remember what it sounds like anymore,” he said. “It was my favorite laugh. How do I remember it?”
Nuru thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t know… I guess we could try things the way we normally do, to help you remember.”
The boy nodded.
“Laugh the way you believe she may have laughed, then I will copy off of you. You have said that my voice is similar to your mother’s, so when I laugh, it should cause you to remember what her laugh sounds like.” Nuru suggested.
The boy agreed. He spent several moments thinking about what he believed his mother’s laughter sounded like, and once he had an idea in his mind, he laughed. Nuru then copied him. When she finished laughing, the boy smiled very wide and nodded his head in approval. He now remembered his mother’s laugh and this made him happy for the rest of the day.
That night the boy told her he finally remembered everything about his mother! The boy was convinced that in light of his perfect memory, his mother would return home to him. Nuru did not want to let the boy down, so she agreed with him, and promised him that his mom would come very soon.
The next morning when she woke up and went into the kitchen, she was surprised to see that breakfast had already been prepared. She looked past the plate of pastries sitting on the table and saw the boy sitting next to a woman that looked just like him.
He smiled at Nuru and pointed to the woman, “I remembered everything about her, and she came back!”
The woman smiled at Nuru. “Thank you for reminding my boy of me. He told me all about you, Nuru. I was away for so long tending to my aunt, I was afraid that when I came back he would be sad and angry with me for leaving for so long, but he is happy, and it’s all thanks to you.”
Nuru nodded her head. “I’m glad you have returned to him, and that I was able to help while you were away.”
They told her she could stay as long as she wanted. She agreed to stay, but now that the boy’s mother was back, he was not interested in spending time with Nuru. She no longer felt comfort when she was around the boy, and though his mother was very nice to her, she felt out of place. She tried to rekindle her bond with the horse, but the horse still ignored her. Since she was lonely, she knew she would soon have to leave.
One night before bed, the little boy asked her to take a walk with him. They walked hand in hand like they used to.
“Do you have a mother too?” he asked her.
Nuru did not remember that she had a mother. This was the first time the boy had ever asked her about her mother. Nuru shook her head.
“Everyone has a mother! Even you Nuru. You must find her. Where is your mother?” he asked her.
For some reason, after he asked her this question, Nuru could barely breathe, her heart ached, but she could not recall why she felt such pain.
“If you remember all the things about her—like I did for my mom— she will come back!” he said.
Then, he gave her a long hug, and ran into the house to get ready for bed. Nuru felt very strange after having this conversation with the boy, but she did not understand why she felt this way. She also knew that she needed to leave the boy’s home, but she did not know where she could possibly go, as she had run out of options. Feeling hopeless and alone, Nuru realized that for the first time, in a long time, she had no idea what to do next. She then decided to use her last three seeds. She planted the seeds next to the little boy’s garden, and closed her eyes.
“I wish to be told where I should go next so that I can move forward and be happy again.” Nuru said.
She then went inside the house and went to sleep. That night Nuru had a dream of an old woman, whom told Nuru to remember that she does have a mother just like the little boy, and that she must find her way back to her mother–it was time for her to go back hom
Nuru woke up the next morning and after telling the boy and his mother that she was leaving, Nuru headed back home.
It had been a long time since Nuru thought of her mother. After being reminded in her dream that she did in fact have a mother, Nuru felt an immense amount of pain. All that she knew—all that she remembered about her mother–was that her mother was dead. She tried very hard to recall memories of times that she shared with her mother, the way the little boy was able to remember his mother, and yet Nuru could not remember her mother. She did not remember her mother’s laugh, or the taste of her mother’s food, nor did she remember what her mother looked like, or what it felt like to be loved by her mother. The only thing she recalled clearly was pain; the pain she had once forgotten was back again. Still, she continued to her old home, in hopes that she would remember everything that she had ever forgotten about her mother and ease her pain.
She arrived at her old home the following day, and to her surprise, the door was unlocked. When she went inside the house, it was dark and cold. There was barely any furniture inside, as if the home no longer had inhabitants; the house did not feel like the house she once lived in. She began searching each room for her father, the twins or her stepmother. They were nowhere to be found, and their rooms were all bare. When she got to her room, she saw that it was empty too. She could not imagine where her family was or where her things were! She feared that the attic—the place that held all her mother’s things—would be empty too, and that she would never be able to remember her mother. But when she went inside the attic, much to her surprise, her mother’s things were still there. She began sifting through her mother’s dresses, jewelry, and hairpins in hopes that she would remember her. Still, nothing felt familiar to Nuru; she could not remember her mother!
In desperation, she decided to go to her mother’s grave. She had not been to the grave since she had run away. When she arrived there, she was surprised to see several tall violet lilacs with butterflies swarming over now standing on her mother’s grave. She kneeled down and gently touched one of the flowers, and when she touched one, she felt a sense of familiarity. She thought that perhaps her mother loved lilacs.
“I do not remember much about you, but I believe that maybe you loved lilacs. I do not know how to remember you, but I want to. ” She said to her mother’s grave.
Nuru then reached into her dress pocket for the pouch, so that she could plant seeds. Yet, when she opened the pouch she realized that it was empty. She had no more seeds to plant, and so no more wishes would be granted.
She felt great despair; with no wishes left, and no hope, Nuru let go and released all of the pain she had felt—the pain of losing her mother, the pain of losing her horse, the pain of losing the little to boy to his real mother, and the pain of feeling alone. She wept and wept, until she was so exhausted that she fell into a deep slumber.
In her dream, a familiar voice said, “My dear Nuru. I am not angry with you for not remembering. I was the spirit in the old woman that had once given your stepbrother 9 magic seeds, and it ‘twas I that guided your stepbrother to find the kindness that already exists in his heart and give those seeds to you, so that you could have moments of happiness in the midst of your despair. You were in pain and you needed to forget me, so I granted that wish for you, but now that you’re ready to remember, let me remind you.”
Then her mother’s face appeared. This face smiled for a few moments, and then the smile transformed into a familiar-sounding laugh. Soon after, the laughing face transformed into a flashback of a memory that Nuru instantly remembered—her as a little girl helping her mother cook stew. Another flashback appeared, this time with Nuru as a baby—her mother was rocking her to sleep. She saw flashback after flashback—one right after the other—memories of the times she once shared with her mother.
The flashbacks stopped and the familiar voice that she now recognized to be her mother’s came back, and said, “You remember me Nuru! Now I need you to remember that I told you I would always be there with you. When I left the physical world, you thought I abandoned you, but I have been there with you this entire time. Even when I granted your wish to forget about me, I did not leave you. Nuru, I was your strength. I was the good and kindness that exists deep within you. I was the light that helped you out of your darkness. I protected you and watched over you. Let me show you.”
The voice stopped talking. Nuru saw a flashback: she was sobbing at her mother’s grave –it was the day after her mother had died. After this, she saw several flashbacks: her father forcing her to eat, and stay up all day so she would sleep at night. She saw flashbacks of her stepbrother giving her a hug, sneaking her muffins, and giving her the pouch of seeds. She saw the foal when it was first born, then doing its special gallop over to her, and all the times she spent washing and caring for it with all her love. She then saw the foal as a horse, licking her face while she leaned against him and closed her eyes.
Her mother spoke again:
“You wished to not think of me and I granted your wish. You did not think of me, or remember me, but I was still there in spirit. I was the spirit in your horse, the love, and comfort, and happiness you felt. And when you wished to be reunited with your horse, because I felt that you were healed and ready, I led you to the little boy, so that you could remember…”
Her mother stopped talking. Nuru saw an image of herself soothing the little boy who cried for his mother. Then she saw flashbacks of all the times she spent with the little boy—cooking with him, walking to the garden, whispering secrets together, and the day she spent with him reenacted his mother’s laughter.
The images went away and her mother spoke again:
“I needed you to remember the love a child feels for their mother because I wanted you to feel that love. And when you wished to be guided one last time, I told you to come back to me, to come home Nuru, so that you could come to me as you have, and I could tell you that I love you and that I am there with you right now, and that I’ll always be here.”
Her mother’s face reappeared now, and she was now giving Nuru a very warm smile.
“Now you know that you are not alone, and that you have never been alone. Know that all that is good, that is kind, and that is love, is your mother’s spirit. My spirit is always with you and so is my love. Do not wallow in pain any longer! Just feel love, my Nuru, because love is all that matters, and only in love will you ever find goodness and happiness.”
Nuru woke up.
When she opened her eyes, a man was standing over her.
“Nuru?” the man asked.
Nuru was still in a daze from her dream.
“Do you remember me?” he asked.
Nuru looked at him carefully. It took several moments to realize the handsome man that was standing over her was her stepbrother!
She jumped up and gave him a hug. “It’s been so long! How did you know I was here?”
“Last night I had a dream that you were here, so I came here this morning and saw you.”
“Why is the house empty? It is as if no one lives there anymore! Where is everyone?” she asked.
“A year after you left, my mother and sister developed a sickness. It eventually killed them both. I knew they were the reason you left—they were so unkind to you. After they passed away, I went to the farm to find you—I wanted to tell you, you could come back home, but the farm was empty and there was no one there. Your father looked for you, too. He told me about your mother’s grave. When you were not at the farm, I came to the grave and that is when I saw all of these lilacs. Since you planted my seeds here, I knew you would return, because this is the place that you hold in your heart.”
He gave her a loving smile, which stirred her heart and caused her think of her mother.
“My father was looking for me, too? Waiting for me to return?” Nuru said in surprise.
“Yes. He was very sad when you ran away. I kept my word and did not tell him where you went. He has guilt for how things went with you two. He has come to this grave often, hoping for you to return so that he could make amends with you. He moved away, and we have not seen each other in a while. But I know he would love to see you.”
Nuru looked at the pretty tall lilacs covering her mother’s grave, and thought of all the wonderful things her mother told her in her dream.
He reached out and took Nuru’s hand. “Come with me Nuru. I can take you to your father, and I can take you to see my home, if you need a warm place to stay tonight.”
She then took one last look at her mother’s grave before she grasped her stepbrother’s hand and went away with him.
Over time, she forgave her father, and they rekindled their relationship. The man that was once her stepbrother continued to treat her with love and respect, as he always had, and the two soon fell in love and were married. Goodness had found its way in Nuru’s life. And, she knew that in this goodness lay the spirit of her loving mother who would always be there watching over her. So, in the love she shared with her husband, her father’s blessings, and her mother’s goodness bestowed upon her life, Nuru finally had everlasting happiness.