Veronique my friend asked me if I had read the story of Johny Lino. Johny Lingo? No, I answered. And then she shared the piece with me. Enjoy.
The Eight Cow Wife
I first learned of Johnny Lingo when I was visiting an island for my work as a reporter. It seems Johnny Lingo had quite the reputation. Everyone I spoke to knew Johnny and spoke highly of him. If I needed anything, they told me to go find Johnny. If I needed a place to stay, Johnny could put me up since he had built a 5-bedroom house (an unheard of luxury). If I wanted fresh vegetables, his garden was the greenest. If I wanted to fish he could show me where the biting was best. If pearls is what I sought, his middlemanship could bring me the best deals.
“Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want and let him to the bargaining,” said the islander. “He’ll earn his commission four times over. Johnny knows values and how to make a deal.”
His son playing nearby, who heard what he said, started shrieking with laughter. “Hush,” said the father.
“Johnny Lingo is the sharpest trader in this part of the Pacific.” The boy almost choked and rolled off the steps of the porch.
“What’s going on?” I demanded. “Everybody around here tells me to get in touch with Johnny Lingo and then breaks up laughing. Is this some kind of trick, a wild-goose chase, the village idiot or what? Let me in on the joke.”
“There’s no joke. When we tell you to see Johnny it’s good advice.”
“Then why all the winking and snickering?” I asked.
“Did you tell him also, Papa, he should see Johnny’s wife?” The child bursted into laughter and fled into the house as his father swatted at his bottom.
“So why,” I asked again, “does everyone mock Johnny Lingo? “
“They like to laugh. Johnny’s the brightest, the quickest, the strongest young man in all the islands. And for his age, the richest. So they like best to laugh at him.”
“But if he’s all you say, all everybody says, what is there to laugh about?”
“Only one thing. Five months ago, at fall festival time, Johnny came to the main island and found himself a wife. He paid her father EIGHT COWS!”
I knew enough about island customs to be thoroughly impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one.
“Goodness!” I said. “Eight cows! She must have beauty that takes your breath away.”
“She’s NOT ugly,” he conceded. “But the kindest could only call Sarita plain.
She was three months past marriage when Johnny came and no one had offered for her. Unless you count the widower, Ben Panjay, who’s older than her father. He put up one cow and might have gone to two, but she couldn’t stand the sight of him, so he withdrew his offer. Old Sam Karoo, her father, was beginning to be afraid she’d be left on his hands.”
“But then he got EIGHT COWS for her? Isn’t that an extraordinary number?”
“Never been paid before on the islands. Did you notice the girl who brought the fruit this morning? Of course you did. The tall one. She’s magnificent. She’s the most beautiful girl on the island. She brought her father seven cows with four men bidding.”
“Yet, Johnny paid EIGHT and you call his wife plain?”
“I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was little and skinny with no—ahh—endowments. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked, as if she was trying to hide behind herself. Her cheeks had no color, eyes never opened beyond a slit and her hair was a tangled mess half over her face. She was scared of her own shadow, frightened by her own voice. She was afraid to speak up or laugh in public. She never played with any of the other kids.”
“But she attracted Johnny. There’s no denying that!”
“The village has been open-mouthed ever since.”
“They get a kick out of remembering how Johnny–the sharpest trader in the islands–paid EIGHT COWS for a girl anyone here could have had for one or two.”
“Some, mostly women, say he was blind with love, others suspect trickery–something in the marriage cup that muddled Johnny’s brain.”
“Sarita’s father was resigned to accepting only one cow, but Johnny walked right in and made his offer without giving anyone a chance to speak. Sam was convinced that Johnny had gone mad and they’d better seal the contract before he came to his senses.”
“Johnny took Sarita back to his house on the neighbouring island. We haven’t seen them since.”
“EIGHT COWS,” I said unbelievingly. I’d like to meet Johnny Lingo.”
“I wanted fish. I wanted vegetables. I wanted pearls. So the next day I set sail to find Johnny Lingo.”
When I met him, he was so earnest, so sober, so unlikely to go mad. I wondered even more what had made him behave with such recklessness on the main island.
“Do they speak much of me on the island?” Johnny asked.
“Yes,” I said. “They say there’s almost nothing I might want that you can’t help me get.”
“And… they speak of your wife. And that you paid EIGHT COWS for your marriage settlement. They wonder why?”
“Always and forever, when they speak of marriage settlements, it will be remembered that Johnny Lingo paid EIGHT COWS for Sarita.”
So that’s the answer, I thought with disappointment. Only for vanity!
And then I saw her.
She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Not with the beauty of the girl who carried fruit. That now seemed cheap, common, earth-bound.
This girl was lovely both inside and out. The dew-fresh flowers with which she pinned back her lustrous black hair accented the glow of her cheeks. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her. And as she turned to leave, she moved with such grace and enchantment that it made her look like a queen.
“She-she’s glorious. Who is she?”
“That’s Sarita. My wife.”
I stared at him blankly. Surely that was not the same person the islanders had talked about.
“Perhaps you wish to say she does not look the way the ‘others’ described her.”
“She doesn’t. I heard she was homely, or at least nondescript. They all make fun of you because you let yourself be cheated by Sam Karoo.”
“You think he cheated me?” “You think EIGHT COWS were too many?” “Soon it will be festival time and I will take Sarita back to the main island. She will see her friends and family again. Do you think any one will make fun of us then?”
“Not likely. But I don’t understand. How can she be so different from the way she was described?”
“She has been away now for several months. Much has happened to change her. Much in particular happened the day she left.”
“Do you ever think,” he asked reflectively, “what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband has met with her father to settle the lowest price for which she can be bought? And then later, when all the women talk, as women do, they boast of what their husbands paid for them. One says four cows, another maybe six. How does she feel, the woman who was sold for one or two? This could not happen to my Sarita.”
“I wanted Sarita to be happy of course. But I wanted more than that. You say she’s different from the way they remember her back on the island. This is true. Many things change a woman. Things that happen inside, things that happen outside. But the thing that matters most is what she thinks about herself. Back home, Sarita believed she was worth nothing. Now she knows she is worth more than any other woman on the islands.”
“Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman.”
“But,” he finished softly, “I wanted an EIGHT-COW wife.”
*(From “Woman’s Day”, Nov. 1965; Also in “Readers Digest”, vol. 132 Feb. 1988, pp. 138-142. Revised and condensed further by Es Carlson, 2010.)
What I learnt from the Johnny Lingo story by Veronique Ojay @OjayVeronique
This story can serve to teach several lessons – Spirituallly, relationship wise and even in business. But, the one thing that struck me was OPPORTUNITY.
Most of us have a picture of the ideal – what we want for ourselves but in reality we are very far from it. What we have are unpleasant circumstances. We can learn from Johnny Lingo who literally ‘re-created’ Sarita by setting the price way before she was worth it. Most times opportunities do not come in the way we want them. They can come wrapped in challenges, changes and uncertainty.
Even the creator God had a picture of what He wanted His heaven and earth to look like. What was befor e Him stood in stark contrast. Instead of holding several consultations or rebuking the situation, He got to work… today, you and I exist as eloquent attestations to the ingenuity of the master.
So, what is that thing you desire badly? Take what looks like nothing today and make something out of it. That’s the moral I got from the story, so what did you learn?
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