Three Brothers for One Woman

By Matendo Samuel

Tango Koulou was an ordinary man who lived with his three sons in the house he built with his late wife, who had died of blood cancer a few years earlier. He loved his sons, Martin, Thomas, and Benjamin, very much. They obeyed their father and would do anything for him. He was the only parent they had left, and they did their best to protect him, but you cannot protect someone from death forever.

One evening, Tango spoke to his three sons without any other relatives or friends present. “My dear boys,” he said, “I have called you here today in order to tell you the most important things I have ever told you.”

The sons seemed a little frightened by their father’s words, and they listened carefully.

The father continued: “I am an old man now. You are young and strong, and your fate is still in your own hands. Any day now I may join our ancestors, and the first thing I want to say to you, my children, is that the love between you, and the respect you have for each other, exists because it is reciprocal. As you know, I don’t have a fortune to leave you, but I will leave you what I have, and you will share it among yourselves as brothers, not as enemies.”

He addressed each of them by name, starting with the oldest: “Martin, you are the eldest, and therefore you will continue to be responsible for your brothers. You will love them as much as I, your father, have loved you. You will have to make many sacrifices for them because you are the oldest, but they must not know that you are making sacrifices for them. You will be a bridge for them to cross, after which you will be left behind. This is your responsibility. Remember my words. You will understand me in time.”

Martin replied, “I understand you very well, father, and I will do everything you say.”

Tango addressed his second son: “Thomas, you are my second son. You must listen to and respect your older brother, and you must protect your younger brother.”

And Thomas replied, “I understand, father, and I will do what you say.”

Tango addressed his third son: “As for you, Benjamin, you are the youngest of the family. You who were the last to be born from the womb of my dear wife, you are too young to listen to your brothers as you listened to me, but you would not be here if you had not readily shared your thoughts with your elders.”

And the youngest replied, “I understand, father. I will follow your advice.”

Tango was a breeder of cattle, sheep, and goats. In addition to these animals, he had a magic mirror and a magic boat. He used the mirror to see what was happening elsewhere, and he used the boat to find animals that were lost or stolen.

“My farm,” he resumed, “is small. But you have taken good care of the herd. I am very proud of you. I leave the bull and the magic mirror to Martin, the ram and the horse and cart to Thomas, and the billy goat and the magic boat to Benjamin.” He blessed the three of them, after which the sons went back to what they were doing.

That night, Tango fell seriously ill and died. The three brothers made arrangements for the funeral and mourned their father for ten days. They divided the inheritance according to their father’s wishes and decided to continue living together in the house that their parents built.

Heeding their father’s last words, they lived together peacefully and carefully looked after what he had left them. None of them did anything without asking the others’ opinion. At family meetings, they resolved things together. Their relatives spoke admiringly of the love that the brothers had for each other, and some of them even told their own children to follow their example. Yet other people criticized them, saying that their father had spoiled them by leaving such a rich legacy. The three brothers just went about their business as usual.

One day, the eldest brother saw a young woman he didn’t know walk by. She was extraordinarily beautiful, and Martin fell in love with her on the spot. He wondered how he could get her to be his wife and the mother of his children. He followed the young woman to her home, but he wasn’t satisfied with just knowing where this beautiful flower lived, and so he spoke to the neighbors. Several neighbors didn’t know who she was, but then someone told him that she was Margoulin’s daughter, and that her name was Mwika. Martin went home and didn’t say anything to his brothers. He spent the night picturing the young woman’s face. The night was long, and anyway, he couldn’t sleep.

In the morning, without telling his brothers, he visited the young woman’s father. “Good morning, Mr. Margoulin,” he said. “My name is Martin, and I have come to ask you for permission to take your daughter as my wife. Please, sir, do not refuse me. I can give you anything you want.”

Margoulin curtly replied, “I know that your father left you a bull. I will give you my daughter’s hand if you give me your bull.”

Martin said, “Sir, I will come and give you my bull tomorrow morning.”

Margoulin said, “I will not leave the house. The decision is yours to make.”

That afternoon, the second son happened to see the beautiful Mwika, and it was love at first sight for him as well. Thomas wondered where this stunning beauty lived. He forgot about his plans and followed the young woman to where she lived. He asked the neighbors about her and was told that she was Margoulin’s daughter.

Then, too impatient to wait another day, he went straight to the young woman’s father. “Mr. Margoulin,” Thomas said, “I have come to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

Margoulin replied, “She shall be your wife if you give me your ram as the dowry.”

Thomas said, “I will come and give you my ram tomorrow afternoon.”

And Margoulin said, “You had better do it a little sooner than that.”

Thomas went home and didn’t say anything to his brothers. Later that day, the youngest son was looking for grass for his billy goat when he saw Mwika walk by, and it was love at first sight for him as well. Benjamin stopped what he was doing and followed the young woman to see where she lived. When he came to her house, he asked who her father was and was told that she was Margoulin’s daughter.

And Benjamin went straight to Margoulin and said, “Mr. Margoulin, what must I do to take your daughter for my wife?”

Margoulin said, “My daughter shall be your wife if you give me your billy goat.”

Benjamin told him, “In that case, I will come and give you my billy goat tomorrow evening.”

Margoulin said, “If you really want to have her as your wife, you must do it sooner.”

Benjamin went home and said nothing to his brothers. The three brothers each furtively prepared their gifts for Margoulin. The big day arrived, and each brother was still keeping a secret from the others. In the morning, as he had planned, the eldest son quietly left the house with his bull and went directly to Margoulin.

Margoulin, who did not want his son-in-law to leave without showing him anything, called his daughter over and said, “Mwika, this is your husband. From this day forth you belong to him.” Margoulin then slaughtered the bull and gave Martin the entrails, and they ate together.

Margoulin told his future son-in-law, “Now that you have fulfilled your part of the bargain, you may return tomorrow at sunset to take your wife home. She belongs to you now.”

Martin went home with joy in his heart, eager for tomorrow to come. At noon, the second son took his ram and went to Margoulin’s house. When Thomas got there, Margoulin told him, “You have surprised me and fulfilled your part of the deal, and now I will fulfill mine.”

Margoulin called his daughter over and introduced Thomas to his future wife. He had food prepared for Mwika’s future husband, and during the meal he said, “You may return tomorrow at sunset to take your wife home.”

Thomas went home and waited impatiently for the next day. In the evening, the youngest son quietly left the house with his billy goat. When Benjamin arrived at Margoulin’s house, he was given a warm welcome. Margoulin said to him, “You have won the hand of my daughter by giving me your billy goat. Return tomorrow at sunset to take your wife home.”

And Margoulin called his daughter over and presented her to her third husband. During all this time, Mwika did not challenge her father. Benjamin left happy, knowing that he would marry the beautiful Mwika.

Night fell, and the three brothers kept their engagements secret. They had each acted alone, without letting anyone else know. They spent the night on cloud nine, anticipating the next day. Each of them intended to surprise his brothers by showing them the beautiful woman he had just married.

At sunset, the three brothers set off separately, each thinking he had left his brothers at home. They were surprised to see each other at Margoulin’s house. They wondered what was going on, but they soon figured out what had happened. Margoulin had cheated them. They decided that Margoulin should pay for the animals he had received. If he did that, then they would forget the entire business.

But Margoulin said, “Each one of you has eaten the meat of the animal he gave me, and all three of you came to ask for my daughter’s hand in marriage. You must decide among yourselves whether one of you will leave with my daughter as his wife, or if all three of you will marry her.”

The three brothers argued loudly, while Margoulin waited for their decision. Eventually they agreed to leave Mwika with her father. They swore that none of them would ever take her as a wife because they were brothers, and they had promised to heed their father’s last words. They realized that if one of them lived with Mwika, it would sow hatred between them. Still, having negotiated with her father, they considered themselves technically married to Mwika, and so they left Margoulin without asking for their dowry back. They went back to their lives.

Occasionally, the eldest son would use the magic mirror to see Mwika’s face. One day when he was looking in the mirror, he saw Mwika dying, and he rushed to tell his brothers. He showed them their dead wife in the mirror.

They decided to leave right away. Thomas hitched his horse to the wagon, and Benjamin got into his magic boat. With the help of the mirror, they figured out where their wife’s body was. When they got there, Margoulin, who was crying, begged them to save his daughter.

Without hesitating, the youngest son threw his magic boat to the ground and loudly pronounced her name. Mwika instantly rose from the dead, and all three of them rushed to embrace their wife. Margoulin was stunned and overjoyed. Seeing the love that the three brothers had for their wife, he realized his terrible mistake at once.

The three brothers were about to go home without saying a word to Margoulin, but he begged them to leave with Mwika. “I am sorry I lied to the three of you,” Margoulin said. “You acted wisely, but I still don’t know what your intentions are with my daughter. You have saved her life, which I was unable to do. Please take her with you, she will be safer with you than with me.”

Martin said, “Sir, we are brothers, and we loved your daughter so much that we gave away all that our father left us. We were even prepared for her to sow hatred between us. You were the only person capable of dividing us. We chose not to take your daughter as a wife for the three of us, and we have sworn that we will never marry. But we will watch over your daughter day and night because we are technically her husbands and she is our wife.”

Margoulin begged Martin to do something to prevent other men from coveting her. Mwika was a beautiful woman, and men were bound to pursue her. Margoulin wanted her to join their family because then she would be loved and taken care of. The brothers went home and discussed the situation. We are brothers, they said, and our father told us to love each other. We must not fall into another trap.

Benjamin said, “Margoulin is very clever and selfish. I’m afraid that he will cheat us again because he only thinks about himself. I suggest that we take our wife home and have children with her as a sign of our love.”

They decided it was a good idea to live with Mwika. They went to tell Margoulin, and he was happy to hear it. “But who will she belong to?” he asked.

Thomas replied, “That is for us to decide, but we assure you that your daughter will be well taken care of and that nothing will happen to her as long as we are with her because the three of us truly love her.”

The three brothers left with Mwika. A few months later, Mwika got pregnant, but no one outside of the family knew who the father was. It was a secret between the brothers and their beloved wife. Over the next several years, they had more children, without anyone else knowing who the father was. The brothers raised all of the children together, while looking after their wife. They were a model family, and their story was touching to everyone who heard it. The three brothers had found happiness, and they never again made the mistake of keeping secrets from each other.

18 August, 2023