From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

The Dowry

In the faraway world of the South Pacific, there is an island named Nurabandi and, nearby, another one called Kiniwata.

The natives of these islands are all said to be very wonderful, to be fine and proud, but they still hold to the ageless custom of offering a dowry to a girl’s family when a young man asks for her hand in marriage.

Johnny Lingo lived on the island of Nurabandi. He was handsome and rich and perhaps the smartest businessman on the entire island. Everyone knew that Johnny, a young bachelor, could have his pick of just about any of the single girls in the region.

But Johnny only had eyes for Sarita, who lived on Kini-wata, and some people had a hard time figuring that out.

Sarita, you see, was a rather plain, homely looking girl. When she walked, her shoulders slumped and her head ducked down just so.

Nonetheless, Johnny was deeply in love with Sarita and made arrangements to meet Sarita’s father, a man named Sam Karoo, to ask for her hand in marriage and to discuss a proper dowry.

Now, the dowry was always paid in live cows because the animals were at such a premium on the small islands of the Pacific rim. History showed that some of the most beautiful South Pacific girls went for a dowry of four cows or, in a really rare instance, five.

Further, Johnny Lingo was the shrewdest trader on the island of Nurabandi and Sarita’s daddy, bless his heart, was the worst of anyone on the island of Kiniwata.

Knowing this, a worried Sam Karoo sat down with his family the night before the now-famous meeting and nervously plotted his strategy: He’d ask Johnny for three cows, but hold out for two until they were sure Johnny would give one.

The next day, at the very start of the meeting, Johnny Lingo looked Sam Karoo right in the eye and said evenly, “I would like to offer you eight cows as I ask your daughter, Sarita, to marry me.”

Well, Sam stammered that would be just fine. Soon there was a dandy wedding, but nobody on any of the islands could figure out why on earth Johnny gave eight cows for Sarita.

Six months later, an American visitor, a gifted writer named Pat McGerr, met with Johnny Lingo at his beautiful home on Nurabandi and asked about the eight cows.

The writer had already been to the island of Kiniwata and had heard the villagers there still giggling over the fact that stupid ol’ Sam had duped the wise Johnny out of eight cows for the homely and plain Sarita.

Yet in Nurabandi, no one dared laugh at Johnny Lingo because he was held in such high esteem. When the writer finally met Johnny, the new husband’s eyes twinkled as he gently questioned the writer.

“I hear they speak of me on that island. My wife is from there.”

“Yes, I know,” said the writer.

“So, tell me, what do they say?” asked Johnny.

The writer, struggling to be diplomatic, replied, “Well, that you were married to Sarita at festival time.”

Johnny pressed on and on until the writer finally told him candidly, “They say you gave eight cows for your wife, and they wonder why you did that.”

Right then, the most beautiful woman the writer had ever seen came into the room to put flowers on the table.

She was tall. And her shoulders were square. And her chin was straight. And, when her eyes caught Johnny’s, there was an undeniable spark.

“This is my wife, Sarita,” the now-amused Johnny said, and as Sarita excused herself, the writer was mystified.

And then Johnny began to explain.

“Do you ever think what it must mean to a woman to know her husband settled on the lowest price for which she could be bought?

“And then later, when the women talk among themselves, they boast what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another says three. But how does the woman feel who is bought for only one?” said Johnny.

“I wasn’t going to let that happen to my Sarita. I wanted Sarita to be happy, yes, but it was more than that. You say she is different than you were told. That is true, but many things change a woman.

“Things happen inside and things happen outside, but what’s most important is what she thinks about herself. In Kiniwata, Sarita believed she was worth nothing, but now she knows she is worth more than any woman on any of the islands.”

Johnny Lingo paused just so and then added, “I wanted to marry Sarita from the beginning. I loved her and no other woman. But I also wanted to have an eight-cow wife, and, so you see, my dream came true.”

Roy Exum

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