By Miss Kay
Master of arts. His art. Holding no brush, painting the most beautiful pictures. Sights, scents and sounds come alive with his words. Pictures in the books we read are motion pictures. Each weaved together. Turned pages, turned a story.
Mr Adera. His sleeves always turned up. When he laughed, his belly danced along. His face expresses different emotions. His voice, deep and rich. Intonating it with skill. Born with a boombox, you would say.
Leaning on the edge of the table, he paused. His breathing was measured. We held our breath. Our suspense was captured and teased.
“Closer, closer… then boom!” He continued. Gunshots followed soon after.
He cocked up his gun and took his position. Ready to retaliate.
“Hahaha.” We all burst out.
Again. Gunshots. This was not part of the story. Guns cocked up, everyone took their position. And we waited. Two three four. Nothing. Well, for today.
Two years back, it was a drill. That is what I was told. Later I learnt I was too young. Three years old. Now, I was old enough. Old enough to hold the gun. Old enough to defend our cause. Old enough to be counted as a man. Circumcision would later initiate me into manhood. At the moment, they needed every male to stand and defend their cause. Communal pride, progeny and land. School was meant to counter the enemy. Better a man with more than bullets, they would say.
Born amidst raids. Bullets, fires and brutal killings. My fragile heart slowly hardened. Hardness but a shell, within hope, beats hard. Though contained by the situations that surrounded me. I dared to dream. I dared to hope. I dared believe I was free. Soon I would soar, though clamped down.
Anca. Fed by two rivers, Asha to the east and Talia to the west. Irrigation doing well to keep our village green throughout the year. As the rivers were seasonal and the two rainy seasons did not shower much.
I loved my home. Grass thatched mud house. A family of eight squeezed in. The boys were old enough to sleep in their own hut, as African culture dictated. My mother however, was not ready to let her boys out. My father a stickler for tradition, surprising many by agreeing with her. Doing his best to provide for our comfort. Animal skins for our bed and covering. Skilled with his hands, my father fashioned every tool needed to make life easier for us. Beautiful kitchenware and furniture testament to his hard work. The oxen cart his greatest artwork. Beautiful, sturdy and handy.
A kraal, sheep and goat pens, providing play and purpose. The morning dew and colourful dusk filled with expectation. The mountain close by echoed with adventure. Numerous trees to climb, exotic fruits to excite our taste buds, a fall to dive into and animals to chase after. This, my home. At least the one I was born into.
Surprising, how much can change in a twinkle. The bullets, fires and brutal killings real outside our village. Bullets but an echo. Fires a whiff and brutal killings news. One bright morning, change burst through. Engulfing us suddenly.
A lot has changed in Anca. Asha and Talia still flow, but gone are the irrigation schemes. No more green, but scorched earth. Stone houses replaced the grass thatched houses, most of them but shells. Hiding out in the mountain most of the time. Civilisation brought by the village sons’ not staying long to be enjoyed. Cattle rustling changed life for the worse. Better the little we had in peace. Advancement rarely felt like advancing. Cars drove in and out of our village, a market a big welcome.
The gun, the unwelcome visitor.
“We have to protect what’s ours.” “Deal with the enemy at the gate.” Such and many statements making the gun at home.
My world turned upside down without warning. Expectations that rose with the dusk and dawn now accompanied with fear. Every wind that blew questioned. What did it blow our way? They emphasised that boys had to go to school. Girls, theirs was the path of motherhood. Education diverted them from their purpose. Boys defended the community. Education benefited us. Put us miles ahead of the enemy. The council of elders said. At some point, I thought the council lacked counsel. I was a slave. Living another’s life. I was ready to break free.
Mr Adera cut short my plan. I had my bag well packed. Books, clothes and other amenities. Necessary for survival. I had it all well planned out.
“I was ready to run. As I walked out the school, there she stood. White as a sheet, her smile present as always. Fear strangled my heart. I fell into her arms. That day I lost my family. My mother and I are the only survivors.” Mr Adera narrated.
His narration pricked my curiosity. Knowing was my business. Annoying at some point to my parents. Why preceding what. How following soon after. Once receiving threats of being pulled out of school. I had to stay.
Children raced home. Kicking pebbles along the way, others bragging of their bravery. As they dramatized raids. The after school activities I had become accustomed to.
“Happy to have you back with us?” I was surprised. Wrapped in a firm hug. A kiss on my cheek.
Nakato, my sister. The missionary may have visited, but he was not wholly embraced. We held on to our ceremonies. Naming important of all. Being the second set of twins born to our parents, she was named Nakato.
“Huh?” I replied. Startled and confused.
“You were sloppy in your packing. Leaving barely a trace of you. Plus I’m your twin, knowing is my business.” Nakato shared.
“Son!” My father’s voice boomed.
The hairs on my arm stood straight, cold sweat dripping on my back. I stared at Nakato.
“Relax. He has no idea. Probably mad that you are late.” Nakato whispered into my ear. Then walked away.
“Yes father.” I meekly replied.
“Why is it that you are late? Have you forgotten the scheduled meetings we are to attend? Your brothers and everyone else is present, please don’t embarrass me son. I love you son but that school is getting too much into you. Diffusing slowly to your twin. Enough talk! Hurry along now.” Father spoke.
I had to run to keep up with his big footsteps. The meeting was a drag as usual. Not my idea of spending the evening. Homework is far much better, though never issued. We had to be free to attend these meetings.
“Why don’t we try something new? Put the guns down for a change and enjoy life. When last were song, dance and laughter heard in our village?” He spoke.
Words that caught my attention. Who is he that dared the council of elders?
“Young man, you are out of line. Why question? Have you forgotten that you are a victim of the raids? Your father, God rest his soul, fought to his death.” A wrinkled bent old man retorted.
“What if I do not want to fight for a cause anymore? I have no cause. My family was taken from me. Life is what I have left; no one will take that away from me!” He shouted.
Mr Adera. Never had I seen him annoyed. Neither shout.
“Young man you are way out of line! How dare you! Respect the men who shared the same blade with your father! No wonder you are un…” The wrinkled old man shouted back.
“Enough Wendo! Let the young man be!” His comrade interjected. Sturdy as an oak and slothfully slow.
I raced after Mr Adera as he stormed out of the meeting. My father slow to catch me. Sitting beside him, under the only oak tree in the village. I waited for him to speak.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That is how it has always played out. What are we fighting for, only to be gone never to have lived?” He asked
“Mm… Worth nothing I guess?” I replied.
“I at times view the girls more privileged than we. At least their purpose serves continuity; ours serves what I do not understand. Maybe a bit of chest thumping. For which we practice daily.” He rambled on.
“How old are you?” He suddenly asked. Gazing into my eyes.
“Ni…” I stammered.
“No need to answer. You will do. Come with me.” He responded. Pulling fast my hand.
I was running half the way. Huffing as we got back to the meeting. We needed not to ask for anyone’s attention. All attention was on us.
“A play.” Mr Adera said.
“I see the white man has gotten into your head? Where will we get to with all fun and play? Dead! That’s what we will be. Dead I tell you! As our enemy strategize, we sit and make merry. Gone sooner than yesterday.” The wrinkled man laughed out.
“Hush. We want to hear what the young man has to say. After all, of all our sons who have gone, he chose to stay.” A man seated at the back quipped.
“Let him speak!” They all began to chant.
Drawing the attention of their wives and daughters. I was enjoying this meeting.
“Quiet, quiet everyone. Young man, you may address us.” The chief said. Calling everyone to order.
“Elders of the council, my fellow villagers. Peace be with you. Peace dwelt with us, now just a vivid dream. Mayhem, anger and revenge have taken up our hearts, minds and lives. Is this what we desire to pass on? Will there be a place for them to call home? What will be our legacy? Will our names be mentioned with the heroes known, or fade away? Our children have dreams. Let us not turn them into fallacies. That is why I suggest a drama play.” Mr Adera explained.
“We agree with what you have shared. Except for the drama part. You forget school is for boys, not all of us.” A dark hairy man seated at the front commented.
“I see us dramatize every day. How hard can it be? We, your children, can entertain you, our parents.” I said. Surprised at myself.
“Boys and girls together? That’s unheard of!” The council of elders jointly disagreed.
Civilisation I realised was limited to goods and services. Reason needed no civilisation.
“We come from the same womb. If birth does not discriminate, why would what we can do?” Nakato said. Surprising us all.
“I knew that girl had more than brains in her head?” A man seated close by whispered.
Nakato and I smiled to one another.
“It is for the fool to be rush, for the wise to be slow. After considering all that has been shared, as the village chief I hereby set apart next weekend as a holiday. The children’s play as the highlight of the holiday.” The village chief remarked.
The village was a buzz. Convincing boys and girls to work together was no breeze. The apple does not fall too far from the tree. As their parents, tradition was ingrained in their minds. Mr Adera’s story telling broke the ice. The daily evening meetings replaced with storytelling. Our attention captured and rapt. Everyone attended them. Laughter, sadness, fear and courage the emotions expressed with each tale. I slowly learnt the trade, having a go at it once or twice.
“A good apprentice you are.” Mr Adera commented. Walking together after one meeting.
“My teacher has taught me well.” I returned.
The girls outdid the boys. Mastery well displayed by the boys. However, grace and emotion flowed from the girls. Over and over, we tried to overcome the rigidness. It seem in built.
“How hard can it be?” I complained.
“Do you hear yourself speak? Observed yourself and all men in the village? Methodical, that’s how men and boys are. Takes you time to adjust. We give you time. As for the women and their daughters we easily adapt. Notice how your sisters pay attention to detail in every work? With grace and calm, handling even the newest task. That’s the beauty of humanity. Each of us contributing to earth. Try not to change the boys, Encourage that which is in built.” My mother advised.
“Hey. Come on.” Nakato greeted me. Pulling me by my arm.
Our mother left smiling to herself. As she kneaded dough.
Amir and Bheka were rehearsing. Their audience slowly building. Spills of laughter appreciating their performance. We could not contain ourselves. Now I understood what mother shared with me earlier.
“Join in.” Nakato nudged me.
“What? No! I’m not well prepared. No. I won’t make a fool of myself.” I declined.
“Amir and Bheka are doing great and they are not as skilled as you are. Get in there.” Nakato insisted. Pushing me forward.
“Nakato no. Stop! I’m not ready.” I protested. Doing my best to resist movement.
A clap. Soon claps. Useless. Nakato always won. Witty, her upper advantage.
Bheka: Here he come.
Amir: Yes. Yes. Great One.
Bheka: Agree with you. One small with big word, great.
Amir: (Adjusting imaginary spectacles.) Big word need big eyes. Friend listen. (Clearing his throat) Do- si- le, re- si- let, ech- o. Me do good?
Bheka: You do very well.
I: It’s docile, resilient and echo! Ask what you don’t know.
Amir: Teacher no happy.
Bheka: You forget, he no teacher. He boy with big head.
I: I, big head? I see the future, all you see is now. School, play, eat, and sleep.
Bheka: See, big head. Now he say God.
I: (Raising my voice) It’s called vision!
Amir: Now real big head, his use big word.
Bheka: (Puling Amir by his side.)See what big head write. Take a bow.
Amir: (Looking confused.) He say we fight again?
Bheka: Now you small mind. He say we show bow.
I: (Annoyed.) Both of you are small minds! It’s an expression!
Amir: Teacher say expression show. We go look for bow.
I: Aah! Ask what you don’t know!
Bheka: We read. We know. We go look for bow. Join me friend?
Amir: Yes. Yes. (Handing me their papers.) Big head take big words.
Angered, annoyed, embarrassed. Containing these emotions was not easy. Laughter all around, unbearable. My own family were cracking their ribs.
“Where are you off to?” She asked. Spinning me around.
“Away from all these!” I retorted.
“Amir and Bheka were right. You are a big head, plus stubborn. Just because they made fun of the play?” Nakato questioned.
“Ha. My twin joins in.” I laughed.
“If embarrassing you bursts your big head, I’m happy to join in. School is for all boys, each picking what they can to survive. All equal. You can’t play both teacher and student.” Nakato lashed out.
“Have you forgotten how hard I have worked on this piece?” I asked.
“That is very clear to me. Looking at the piece, it’s all big words. You forget who you’re working with. Education to most boys is a rite of passage, not lifestyle.” Nakato replied.
“Cheer up. You’ve brought back laughter, set the tone for the holiday.” She added.
“This laughter I would rather forget.” I commented.
“Now you be small mind. Come with me.” Nakato spoke. Pulling me back into the village.
Amazed. Watching families together. Boundaries broken as each freely expressed themselves. Men not in their meeting, the kneading trough idle and children still. Families as one in their homes, laughed hard. Broken routine. I smiled at Nakato. This laughter I would not want to forget.
Two days to the holiday. Anticipation was high. Cooperation the order of the day. Much had been accomplished. Change of thought the greatest. We were indeed peaceful. No worry. Living life.
All children: (Standing side by side) we shine bright for all the world to see us.
To the hearty claps, we took a bow. Mr Adera up on his feet. Friday. The last rehearsal ended. Children hugged each other. High fives and laughter exchanged. Mr Adera stood to speak. The sunset, cool breeze. Lowing of cattle, bleating of goats and sheep at a distance. Girls and boys seated together.
“Well done. You are ready. Ready to entertain, ready for greatness. This has been more than a drama play. You have learnt to live. Living as one. Living in love. Forgiving, accepting that we are different. The gun is not for us. We are to shine bright for the world to see.” Mr Adera encouraged.
“That was wonderful. I noticed a few changes.” Mr Adera said. Walking beside Nakato and me.
“Yes. I’m not the only storyteller in the family.” I replied. Smiling at Nakato.
“I believe I have you to thank young lady for the changes? From my observation you are dear to each other.” Mr Adera commented. A twinkle in his eye.
“Allow me to introduce to you Nakato, my twin sister.” I said.
“Pleasure meeting you young lady. Yours is a bright future.” Mr Adera greeted her. “Get well rested, the holiday will be long. Good evening to you both.” He added.
“Good evening to you.” Nakato and I responded.
We parted ways.
Saturday morning. The sun was low, hidden behind low lying clouds. Its rays, but a speck. The breeze cooler. The trees danced more than yesterday. Birds calmly perched on them. Their sweet melody adding to the rhythm. Perfect atmosphere for play and adventure. All chores completed, the mountain welcomed us with open arms. Children raced in. Climbing trees, tasting fruits and competing. Who would swim fastest? Who knew the mountain best? Who caught the most hares? The mountain received its largest number of visitors. It was not overwhelmed; it had enough activities to keep us all entertained.
Back at the village, women were busy cooking. Kneading troughs kept busy, fires lit. Older girls and boys helping out. The goats and sheep needed slaughtering. Millet and sorghum needed pounding. Under the only oak tree in the village, the men of the village congregated for chats. Deliberations as well as stories were shared. Occasional laughter echoing in the village. They were served with traditional milk from time to time
This was the atmosphere. Days long gone now here with us. A celebration. A feast.
The weather was cool. Hunger not a thought. Though all the cooking needed people to eat. We were summoned from the mountain. As sheep we were gathered and led to the village. Men had already been served. We were the awaited guests. Seated we were served. Little was the space to accommodate food. Play helping create space. Tummies full, it was time to dance. The old, the young. Each put their best foot forward. Best of all was the harvest dance. Even the old grey men had not forgotten the moves. Amidst storytelling, the earth went to sleep. The full moon glowing in the deep dark. A fire was lit to keep us warm. As one we sat to listen. Captivated by stories of days gone by. Days when the gun was unknown and harmony is all that Anca knew.
Sunday morning. Not a sight of the sun, only its warmth was felt. The low lying clouds grew darker. The breeze turned into a cold wind. Trees howled. The birds were silent. The tree branches’ cracking, clear to the ear. The rainy season was here. This time round, it would pour. The mountain was not receiving any visitors today. We were all confined to the village.
Heavy trampling. Sounded like marching. Terrified, we held our breath. Still as logs. We waited, praying that our fears not end in death. Closer, closer and halt. It was an army. Gallant men stood at the village entrance. Spears at their side. The dreaded was our fate. Death. We watched and waited. As a unit, the gallant men stepped aside. Old men were revealed. Ten of whom walked forward. Surprising. Still and silent we all remained. Watching and waiting.
The tallest of the bunch spoke. Astonishingly thin and loud. “People of Anca…” He began. “We have heard the songs. Songs that reminded us of who we were. We took your daughters in marriage and you accepted our sons. We called each other brother. What was ours was yours. Famine and drought not our doing. That came from the Great One above. Death our own doing. Harmony and peace long forgotten. Our children hardly know it or understand. We come in peace. We pray accept us. Call us again brother.” He ended.
No one moved. Only glances exchanged.
Behind the old men stood their wives and children. A young girl about my age stood trembling in her mother’s hold. I stood up. Murmurs began. Nobody held me back. They just watched. Straight to that young girl I walked. Stretching my hand to her when I stopped. Confused, she glanced at her mother. I did not move I waited. Soon Nakato was beside me. Her hand stretched out too. Awaiting a young boy to take hold of it.
Hand in hand, we turned around. Ready to walk back into the village. The village was walking towards us. Mr Adera leading the pack.
Song and dance filled the air. Side by side, cooking continued. Side by side, folk lore was enjoyed. Eating as brothers. A family.
Boom! Boom! Boom! The beating of drums.
“Men and women. Boys and girls. It is time. Time to watch. Time to learn. Welcome our children. Enjoy.” Mr Adera welcomed the audience.
(Boys walking to school. Bheka stands awaiting someone. School bell ringing at a distance. The boys begin running.)
Bheka: You late for school. You know teacher wait for us with bamboo stick.
I: Quiet. The less you talk the faster we move.
Bheka: You want faster, I show you faster. (He increases pace.)
I: (Catching up with him.) Not alone.
(Gunshots are heard. Boys run out of school. Guns in their hands. Girls meeting them at the village entrance.)
Kami: No use going in there. You die.
Nakato: Come. Let us run to the mountain.
Amir: No we go in. Fight. If die, we die heroes.
All boys: (Nodding their heads.) Yes. We no cowards. We prepare for today.
Kami: (Slaps Amir on the face.) You foolish and small head. You see death and not run. Want to die as parents? If all die, tribe die.
Amir: (Soothing his cheek) You foolish. You slap me. I show you then show them. Get away.
(Gunshots are fired. Everyone screams and runs towards the mountain.)
(Slowly the children leave the mountain. Everywhere silent. Bodies all around. Screams and cries are heard. Children crying over dead bodies, others rolling on the ground.)
Nakato: (Sniffling) Mama who shall braid my hair? Gone you are. Never again shall I smile as I watch you help father. The kneading trough never to feel your hands. Even now your disappointment at me I desire. If only to be again with you.
Kami: (Chocking on tears) Father gone. Mother gone. Alone. I do not know. How be big?
Amir and I: (Walking towards Kami and Nakato.) Cry not. We here. Together we grow. Be like the mountain.
All children: (Standing side by side) As one we shine bright for all the world to see.
(All children take a bow as the audience stand and clap.)
Drops of rain fell on my face. The rains were here. Asha and Talia would once again flow. Brown would soon be green. Mud pools abundant for play. This the beginning.
Nakato stood beside me as we watched all, dancing in the rain. Mr Adera joined us. We all smiled. He had stirred the water, we enjoyed the ripples.
My name is Lekan. True to my name, my wealth is growing