A Silent Song and other Stories


  • How outstanding traits attract respect, praise and admiration

Ninema Summary

Ninema is a poor girl from a low caste. However, her disposition is simply admirable. South African author Vrenika Pather tells a tale of a poor girl with big dreams, in the story Ninema.

We admire Ninema for various reasons:

Ninema is diligent. She rises at 4:00 a.m. to reap herbs from her garden. Her crops are healthy since she has the knack for growing crops. To earn a living, she sells fresh produce at the Indian market.

Although life is tough, Ninema is as tough as old boots. She accepts but does not resign to her situation. This earns her much deserved respect.

Ninema is a poor girl who lives a modest lifestyle. She has never had hot running water. She washes her face and feet with cold water from an outside tap. This does not deter her from dreaming big dreams. She works tirelessly and saves money hoping to buy a small house of her own. After work, she lounges for half an hour envisioning her dream. She envisages a home with hot water with the kitchen inside. The industrious woman also plans to have a large garden where she can plant fruits.

She does not expect this on a silver platter. She works her fingers to the bone. Everyday, she takes a long walk to the market where she sells her produce. Since she learned her trade from her parents, she believes in the grace and power of the generational wisdom of family trading. She is also good in accounting.

Ninema’s business flourishes because of her organized nature and her cordial treatment of her customers. She arranges her herbs appetizingly. She always ensures her stall is ready before she sits to sip her tea.  She has a steady flow of customers who are attracted by the neat look and smell of her stall. Ninema knows that she needs to sow more seeds since the demand for her produce is so high. Her business makes good profit. No wonder her hanky bulges with notes and coins.

The success of her business can also be attributed to the genial reception she accords her customers. Ninema believes that the first and the last customer bring luck so she takes care of them extra carefully. She treats all her loyal customers with courtesy and gratitude. Ninema is always busy but still takes genuine personal interest in each customer. She knows whose son is studying medicine in India, whose daughter was married and who moved to a new house and where they bought it.

On this particular day when the last customer is a new customer, she gives her a free bunch of mints. The elated customer is besides herself with joy and promises to always buy Ninema’s herbs.

Ninema has some rich clients who are loyal to her. These include Mr. Chinran and Mrs. Singh. Mr. Chinran is always the first to support her. Other market women joke that he is in love with her.  The infatuation is futile since he is a rich lawyer from Brahmin caste and the family cannot possibly allow him to marry a poor girl.

Mrs. Singh is her other loyal customer. Although she is rich, she haggles for lower prices just to enjoy spending more time with Ninema and away from the boredom  of her big lonely house. As much as Mrs. Singh is obstinate , Ninema handles her masterfully and even refers to her respectfully as auntie. Another prominent customer of hers is Dr. Seedart. Other customers wait patiently while Ninema speaks to him.

Ninema has earned the admiration of her peers at the market. She stands out because she is different. She is plucky, undeterred, focused and uncompromising. She is respected because she faces challenges bravely and wins.

People of all genders alike admire Ninema for she is physically attractive. Ninema is a beautiful woman with long black hair. While walking to the market, her hips sway from side to side while she balances her baskets on the head. Her beauty turns heads. Men stop and stare at her perfect body – long, toned arms and cinched waist. Women admire her high cheekbones. Ninema does not pay heed to the trifles. She is focused on making a living. She does not waste time chatting at the market like other women.

Ninema is also confident and uncompromising. She does not budge no matter how hard Mrs. Singh haggles for lower prices. She is an independent thinking woman who runs her business with an iron fist. She does not give in to what others expect of her. She acts independently with confidence. Some people are thrilled by a gritty personality. Other women in the stands are fond of Ninema and wish to know her secret. They always compromise themselves at home and at work and this makes them angry with themselves. But they admire Ninema since she is different.

Ninema is strong and unyielding. When an amorous man accosts her on the way home, she defends herself. She fights back ferociously leaving the shameful man astonished.

She attracts hearty laughs and cheers of approval from the other women.

And when men stare at her, she faces them with her black piercing eyes.

Surely, admirable traits make us stand out from the crowd and help us to earn respect and admiration among peers and beyond.

New words in Ninema

Bun – hair tied in a tight coil at the end of the head

Nape – the back of a person’s neck

Chiffon – light transparent fabric made of nylon/silk

Cinched waist – a feature in a garment that tapers narrowly at the mid-section, accentuating the curves of the body

Unthinkable – unimaginable

Prying – too inquisitive

Hot under the collar – angry or resentful

Haggled – bargained

Ploy – trick

Sage – a culinary herb

Sashays – walks in an ostentatious yet casual manner, with exaggerated movements of the hips and shoulders.

Lasciviously – lewdly, indecently

Nestled – lain comfortably comfortably within or against something.