Continued from #4
By Aine Susan
Black smoke rises from the remains of yesterday’s ordeal, darkening the somber atmosphere.
The song bird woke to share his sweet melody; brightening the day for anyone who cared to acknowledge him.
Katabani was up again, making his presence known with his endless complaints and whining. He knew I’d take him on another futile journey, shadowed by yet another pointless story, and yet still, he followed. I took pride in thinking, “Perhaps he does it to spend just a little time with me.”
Those were yesterday’s memories. I realised as a sharp pain brought me back to the present.
“Where’s my boy?” I yelled, staggering up in a craze.
“Sit down Shwenkuru! We are all safe. All except…” Karuhanga’s voice broke. He turned away and faced the growing crowd to hide his eyes. I disapproved of this, a man must never cry. But at that moment, the weight of the situation bore down on me as well and I felt my arms weaken, all strength drawn to grip my cane for support.
“Don’t touch her!” Katabani yelled at the approaching villagers.
“Nessi, wake up! This kind of drama is too much for a morning like this! Get up and make my warm bath! I must count and see how many cattle survived the raid. Tell her to get up, mother!” he demanded. Tears, running down his face as he lay his lifeless sister to the ground.
I decided to put an end to the boy’s actions. They were causing more pain to his mother. I had seen death more times than I could count and as much as I wanted to grieve like everyone else, someone had to have their head above the water.
Shifting more of my weight to the cane,I moved closer to the scene.
One of the villagers saw me approaching and immediately informed the closest person to him. Suddenly, there was a murmur in the crowd and a few more people turned to catch a glance, looks of concern on their faces. I was grateful that as much as my body was old and I was in pain, I was not staggering or hesitating in my steps. That would have been embarrassing.
The murmur of the crowd caught Katabani’s attention. He looked away from his mother to see what everyone was whispering about. The moment his eyes locked with mine, he broke into a run, rushing through the crowd that parted to give him way. I stopped, it would be much better for the boy to reach me. Anger was always great fuel and he needed a way to get rid of it anyway. He was not as fast as he usually was and I realised it was probably because of the few angry scratches that marked his skin. Some of them still seemed to be bleeding,his blood mixing with dirt and for a second,worry gnawed at my heart. The little boy would get an infection if his wounds were not attended to soon and then, death.
Falling upon my feet, he pleaded. “She’s doing it again Grandpa – tell her that these tantrums yield nothing.”
My heart sunk, grief is a heavy burden to carry, especially when you have to be the strong one.
I placed my trembling hand on his shoulder, where it would stay for the remaining days to come.
“Son, she won’t wake up.”
“Liar!” he snarled, causing me to flinch. “You,yourself said we’re related to gods. This can’t happen.” His little shoulders shook, his face downcast, both in shame and sorrow. Finally, the shaking stopped and I heard him take a deep breath. He stood up, a man on a mission and took off, reaching for a pot that had been forgotten with all that was going on.
I frowned, “What was he doing?” and before I could even answer that question another one popped into my mind, “Where is he getting all this energy from?” the Katabani I knew and had gotten fond of had an almost repulsing hatred for chores of any sort.
He made his way to one of the troughs filled with water for cattle, plunged the pot into it,and went through the crowd again. His mother looked up and her eyes widened in disbelief.Before anyone could stop him,I heard a splash. Katabani had poured water onto Nessi’s body to wake her up, yielding nothing but a bitter truth. He had desecrated the dead.
“I’m sorry sister,” he whimpered,and fell onto his knees. “I shouldn’t have run out to join the warriors. You shouldn’t have followed me out. This can’t…,you can’t be dead.”
A week of hateful speeches, talk of having one overall leader to oversee the council of elders, the customary burial rites, sacrifices and invocations, drawing up plans of vengeance followed, and Katabani was still a shell of himself.
My son was of no help in this situation; passing by as seldom as possible, probably unready to face the shame of leaving his family to woo the next potential wife, or the guilt of not knowing what to say to a family he never knew that well anyway.
“Father never learnt the way of the man, did he?” the little boy’s voice interrupted my thoughts.
“It’s one thing to listen,” I cleared my throat, “and another to believe, learn and put in practice.” I sighed defeatedly.
“ Shwenkuru, this wasn’t Walumbe – it was an act of men: Men who couldn’t spare a defenseless girl. I will learn the way of the man; and I will use it to make sure this never happens again.”
I could see his eyes glitter in the dim light and was hit by a desire to take him in my arms again; the way I used to when he was smaller, but all I did was continue with the story, in which his mind had put so much hope.
“Even the greatest storms fade away, son, I muttered. It was the most I could do to comfort him now.
“Tomorrow, day break – the spot by the river bank.” I added, trying to make a quick getaway for my hut, only to be betrayed by my back.
“You can’t get up on your own, can you, Shwenkuru?” he grinned.This earned him a well calculated knock at the center of his bald head.
“Grieving doesn’t exempt you from discipline,” I retorted, while he rubbed his head to ease the pain.
Dawn found me at the river bank. The waves beat against each other, racing perhaps, for an invisible finish line. I could hear his rasping breaths from miles away, clearly in a fight against the branches and vines that fenced the river side.
Grandpa! I hope this story of yours doesn’t have some tragic ending – I’ve had enough of that for…”
“Kintu knew his sons like the river understands the flow of the land,” I interrupted, prompting him to settle on the rock beside me.
As a father, he’d watched them grow into the current natures which they themselves had failed to understand.
Kano the first was always a tender soul; what others reckoned was peasants’ food, he’d collected as treasure. He always saw the magic behind what others called simple; drawn to keeping peace and helping, even the tiniest ant that could ask for his aid.
Kano the second: shrewd, vigilant and bolder than the lion. The only time he was fragile was when he stroked the fine hide of the calf’s back. With people, he seemed aloof and cold, yet from birth, he chose to play in the kraal.
Kano the third was nothing less than the treasure he brought forth – an ox skull; his father’s pride. He always wore a smirk on his face,lagged behind in all his tasks and waddled in every struggle, yet he could recite, like a songbird, each fellow’s habit, quirk or flaw. He watched and calculated.
Perhaps another task could help the boys, perhaps they could finally see their skills and potential; perhaps when all this was over, they’d teach their children to live to the fullest.
He stared into the gourd of milk he was sipping – pure fresh white milk.
“The problem with water is all the distractions it holds: the ripples, waves and reflections. Everyone needs a blank page on which to start his own story. MILK…” he pondered.
To be continued