In the beginning, the world was all darkness and doom. Women toiled and cooked thanklessly, while their men hunted and made war fraught with a weary sense of helplessness. They asked themselves depressing questions: What was it all for? What was the point of living this dreary life, whose sole goal seemed to be mere survival?
Then, one morning, a tired hutwife stepped outside her door into the rain to get some fresh grain for the day’s bread, only to discover that her detail-deficient husband had left the cover off the grain crock, and the precious faro stored inside was covered with water! Furious, she thrust her hand down through the water and pulled up some grain to see if it was salvageable. Her anger was increased when she discovered that the grain was not only soaked through, but gone soft. She shook her fists in the direction of her husband’s long-departed hunting party; what a waste!
The bread still had to be made, so our working woman walked next door, gossiped with her hutwife neighbor, and borrowed some grain. Unfortunately, as she was pounding the grain out to make flour for bread, she discovered it was nearing staleness. Oh well, she asked herself. What choice do I have? If that useless lump I call a husband doesn’t like it, he can think about it while he searches for more grain.
Come supper time, the tired couple was seated on the floor of their hut’s kitchen-living-dining-bedroom, eating their fire-roasted game, when the husband suddenly exclained, “This is the worst damn bread I’ve ever tasted! What have you done?” Predictably, a raucous fight ensued, until the neighbors came over to calm the situation down (and left quickly, feeling insulted by insinuations about the quality of their grain). When all was said and done, the husband was thrown out to sleep under the stars, and on his way out he took several loaves of bread and angrily shoved them into the crock of water-drenched grain, giving no thought to the extra work that would cause his wife when she later cleaned out the crock.
For several hot, sunny days, the man did not return home except to leave a hunk of spit-roasted game outside the door as a daily peace offering. Unfortunately, his wife was still feeling hurt and angry, and the roasted game, tasty as it was didn’t change her mind about her husband’s uselessness.
But then, one scorching afternoon, she decided it was finally time to dump the faro (which she thought was, by now, probably rotten) out of the crock and clean it for her next trip to the grain market. When she removed the lid (thoughtfully replaced by her husband after he disposed of the bread loaves) from the crock, she was again incensed – the crock was now filled with a thick sludge, and looked like it would be even more difficult to clean. Oh well, it just meant another week or so of roasted-game penance before she allowed her husband back inside the house…
But wait – that sour aroma emanating from the crock also possessed a pleasantly sweet quality, arousing her curiosity. Some innate sense alerted her that, while visually unappealing, this was a nutrient-rich (and maybe even palatable) sludge.
Our hutwife hurried back inside and grabbed one the clay bowls she had fashioned in her little bit of free time. She dipped it into the sludge, raised it to her nose, sniffed, and took a cautious sip of the warm bread stew.
She wrinkled her brow. It didn’t really exhibit astounding flavor, but wasn’t terrible, either. What if I eat it, as a porridge? she wondered. Using two fingers, she spooned a small bit of the sludge out of the bowl and put it in her mouth. It was sweeter than the liquid, and promised to leave her stomach more full. What’s more, after a few more sips and tastes, her mood started to shift, and she began to look forward to her husband’s game delivery that evening.
Later in the day, as the sun was sinking toward the horizon, the hapless husband approached his hut, nary a spring in his step. He was weary of sleeping outside, and had begun to believe that his wife would never forgive him. Why could that woman never overlook his few stupid mistakes and appreciate his many manly qualities? Lost in his thoughts, he almost failed to notice something very important.
In front of his hut stood his wife, wearing her sheerest, skimpiest, laciest wildebeest skin.
He walked up to her uneasily, fearing she had perhaps found another man, one who would not forget to put the lid down after filling the crock. But that notion was dispelled when his wife smiled crooked a finger at him, and gestured that he should continue toward her.
As he got closer, he saw she was holding a bowl of gruel. He started to greet her sheepishly, but she lurched toward him and shoved several fingers of gruel into his open mouth. Surprised as he was, he couldn’t help but appreciate the sweetness of the porridge, which was like nothing else he’d tasted. He asked her when she had learned to make it. She replied, “I didn’t make it. You did,” and went on to explain her discovery about the crock’s contents.
The reunited couple supped on game and gruel, and sipped of the liquid from the crock. As darkness of night deepened, they drew closer by the fire, each growing more desirable to the other, until the skimpy wildebeest skin had somehow slid off her body onto the floor.
A year later, the couple has become a family of three. Their little hunter-toddler has brought happiness and a lot of extra work to their huthold. They both have to work a little harder, their time and resources are stretched a little bit thinner, and the neighbors still aren’t talking to them. But at the end of a particularly difficult day, when they are feeling especially weary and the little one has gone to sleep, they settle in for a late supper of porridge and some sips of the liquid they skimmed off the top of it, and relax happily with one another.
And even later, when he is on his way to bed, the husband smells the approach of rain, slips outside, steps up to the crock, and smiles as he raises the lid.