Everyone wanted her. The most beautiful girl in the village. It was said that her bride price would be something above fifteen pigs. The young men of the village started earning, saving, scrimping, and flirting years before she hit her 18th birthday, marriageable age.
Ras was one of the competitors. And he wasn’t blind. Hila was indeed a catch, and honestly, he was the best match for her, in looks, and in wealth. Hila and her parents had taken to coming over to his parents house to “visit” his mother, or alternately, the neighbors next door, though he had long started to suspect that it was to show Hila off to him.
“Good morning Ras,” Giselle said one day as he walked by her house.
Giselle was the daughter of Ras’ next door neighbors, and she was almost as plain as Hila was pretty. But when she smiled, she put everyone at ease. Giselle had a gentle, kind way to her that contrasted with Hila’s brilliance and flair. Ras and Giselle had been playmates and were still friends after growing up.
“Good morning Giselle. What are your plans for today?” Ras replied.
“I am helping Mother prepare a meal for this afternoon,” she said. “Hila and her parents are coming over to visit again.”
“Again? They were just here last week.”
Giselle smiled at him. Was it just him, or was her smile somewhat sad? “Yes,” she said. “But they have taken to coming here often. Perhaps she will stay here one day. I think they would like that.”
Ras took the hint. “Would you like that, Giselle? To have Hila so close by? The two of you will be great friends, I am sure.”
Giselle’s smile faded slightly. “Perhaps,” she said. “Please excuse me, Ras, I must go inside.”
Ras watched her enter the house, feeling slightly uneasy. Giselle did not seem wholly approving of his choice, Ras sensed, though she had not said so directly. There had been a growing distance between them, it started since they had grown up, but had increased when he started courting Hila…which was as it should be, but Ras couldn’t help feeling a bit of a loss anyway.
He shook his head and went on his way.
After Hila and her parents visited Giselle’s family, the adults suggested that the young people take a walk somewhere, as they often did. Ras eagerly took Hila, Giselle, and Giselle’s younger brother Natan, on a stroll around the village.
At some point, when Hila and Giselle were busy exclaiming over the beauty of a scenic point, Natan leaned over and said to Ras “Do you love Hila?”
Ras looked at him, surprised. “Why do you ask?”
“Her parents said that they would choose you for their son in law. Do you want to marry Hila?”
Ras chuckled. “Everyone loves Hila,” he said.
“But do you? Or are you competing with the others only?”
Ras paused. “Natan,” he said. “If you were me, would you marry Hila?”
“No,” Natan said with firmness. “If I were you I would marry Giselle.”
Ras smiled at the brother’s loyalty to his sister. “Why is that?”
“She has a heart that is a thousand times better than Hila’s,” Natan replied. “Hila only cares about her looks and winning a bride price higher than any girl in this village ever has before. Giselle cares about people.”
Ras could not deny that it was true.
“So, do you love Hila?” Natan said. “Are you going to ask for her hand?”
“I was…” Ras said. “But perhaps I will think about it.”
Over the next few weeks, Ras observed Giselle and her parents closely.
As he did, he grew conflicted. Hila was beautiful, that was for sure, and for a time Ras had gotten caught up in the competition, but then he started noticing some things. For one, Hila seemed to enjoy the competition a little too much, pitting the young men against each other to win the privilege of walking her home or giving her a gift.
Her parents were also proud of all the attention their daughter was attracting: “Our Hila is the jewel of the village!” they crowed. “Whoever marries her will be a lucky man indeed.”
Meanwhile, Ras noticed that there were a few unfamiliar young men at Giselle’s house. When he had the chance, he asked Natan about it. “Who are the visitors who stayed at your house yesterday?”
“Oh, he was one of my sister’s suitors,” Natan replied nonchalantly.
“Giselle has suitors?” Ras said, surprised. “But she’s so young!”
“She’s the same age as you,” Natan pointed out, and started to go back inside.
Ras didn’t know why he called the boy back. “Uh, never mind.”
Natan gave him a cheeky smile. “Do you want to be one of them?”
“One of who?”
“My sister’s suitors. Giselle may not be as pretty as Hila, but she’s a thousand times better. And I kind of like you, too. Wouldn’t mind if you were my brother in law. Think about it.” Then he went inside.
Ras shook his head with a smile. Natan really was fond of his big sister. He’d never thought about it before, but Giselle would be a great choice…if he hadn’t already started courting Hila…
The next day, Ras went to Hila’s house.
“Give that back to me! It’s mine.” he heard a young female voice say, her irate voice carried through the window. It was Hila’s little sister, Lily.
“I need it more than you do, Lily,” Hila said back, and there was a distinctive whinein her voice. “Ras is coming today and I need to look my best. You won’t miss this scarf.”
“I don’t care. You already have had it for weeks, and you promised to give it back but you never did. I want it back!”
“Oh, stop being a spoilt brat, Lily. If I marry into Ras’ family I will give you a dozen scarves.”
“I don’t believe you. You always get your way!” Lily cried, and Ras heard her footsteps stomp away as he knocked at the door.
Just then, Hila screeched. “You little chit!” she said. “How dare you take my necklace! Give it back!”
“Not until you give back my scarf!” There was a scuffle, which sounded like it was coming from right behind the door, and then Lily’s voice again: “I hate you! You’re the worst sister ever. I wish I had a sister like Giselle instead of you.”
“You wish…!” Hila’s voice was low but full of venom. “Giselle is nothing but an ugly girl who will probably become an even uglier old spinster. You deserve a sister like her. I am getting out of this awful house.”
“Do, please!” Lily snarled back as Hila whipped open the door and found herself face to face with Ras. Her angry expression immediately smoothed into a smile, faster than a frog snapping up a fly, and Ras suddenly felt a sense of repulsion.
“Oh, hello, Ras!” Hila said brightly. “Come in, we weren’t expecting you today.”
Ras looked at her, and then at Lily, still fuming behind her sister.
“Uh, no, thanks,” he said. He was holding a flower, but hid it behind his back. “I am busy tonight. Good day, Hila.”
Hila’s expression dropped as she closed the door. Ras stepped quickly away as he heard more screeching from the house: “Look what happened, you horrible little flea!” Hila was screaming. “I hate you!”
A few months later, the village gathered together for Hila’s wedding. Ras watched contentedly from the shadows while the beautiful girl gazed smilingly into her new groom’s eyes as they danced.
“They look happy, don’t they?” a voice said at his elbow.
Ras turned and smiled at Giselle, drawing her arm into the crook of his own.
“Not as happy as we will be at our wedding next month,” he replied.
Giselle blushed, and on her other side, Natan grinned at the both of them.
“Glad you aren’t him, huh?” Natan said, gesturing at Hila’s bridegroom.
“Natan! Hush,” Giselle scolded him lightly. But Ras pressed her hand and turned to his soon-to-be younger brother-in-law.
“Very,” Ras said.