(Find the original story as posted on storymoja here)
Lokiyang stood under the receding shade of a solitary tree in the vast savannah studying the land that he once proudly called home. In less than an hour, the shade will be hugging the tree firmly amid the mid day sun. The long, dry grass stood motionless on the windless day, like an army during a guard of honour inspection. A hawk perched on a tiny, dried up tree which still stood bravely against the harsh climate.
It was almost mid day and the mighty fireball in the sky was heating up the barren land at almost thirty five degrees to the centigrade. Walking barefoot on the hot red earth would have been torturous, yet the kids who had run past him a few seconds earlier seemed the least bothered by the heat.
There was a time, a long time ago that he had run on the same hot earth bare foot. He couldn’t recall whether there came a time he had complained of the heat; he had been born in it, born of it, born for it. He was one with the unbearable heat!
But that was then. Circumstances had forcibly detached him from such heated sentiments.
He removed his right sandal and stepped on the ground, it was like stepping on a hot oven. This made him smile at the thought of how living in the big city had softened him! He put his ‘city softened’ feet back into the soothing safety of his black leather sandals and leaned back against the tree.
Piloting his eyes towards his far right, he made out a group of men, around half a dozen of them, under a bigger tree whose shade spread a bit wider. Two of them were lying down, heads placed on wooden headrest pillows which at other times functioned as seats. A few others were just there, doing and saying nothing, a hallmark of worn out souls. Another two stood further from the rest, seemingly engrossed in deep conversation, pointing towards the cattle grazing just a few metres away.
What was the conversation about, he wondered. Could have been two men discussing terms of trade for the grazing cattle which probably belonged to one of them. Or perhaps negotiating the bride price of one of their daughters who they intended to give away as an unwilling bride to a man old enough to be her grandpa!
Lokiyang was pretty sure it was the latter; these folk were deeply immersed in such kind of cultures where they ‘traded’ away their daughters for a few heads of cattle and goats. To them, a girls’ consent to marriage was never a consideration; women were born to get married and sire children. That was their maxim, carried like a covenant from one generation to the next.
A group of women were approaching him, jerricans of water aptly balanced on top of their heads. Some carried sleeping children slung on their backs held in place with red shukas bouncing along to their mother’s movements. Behind them were a bunch of other kids, not easy to tell the girls from the boys, carrying smaller jerricans of water which, Lokiyang mused, would reach home half empty as the kids were playing all the way.
The women gave him perfunctory glances as they passed; glances devoid of curiosity or familiarity, they held or gave away nothing, murmuring reluctant greetings in their language to which he murmured back a reply that even sounded strange to his tongue. The kids stared at him, his finely pressed shirt and pants and leather sandals which had now gathered a fine layer of red dust clearly depicting he was a stranger to their land.
Closer, he could now tell the girls from the boys. The latter wore tattered pants which showed their ashy, black buttocks with a pair of scrawny legs sticking out from them. Most boys wore nothing else on top, displaying skinny, sun scorched chests. Mucus hung from their nostrils, connotations of poor hygiene attracting a host of flies which danced around them grazing on the greyish mess. The boys cared less; they actually seemed to entertain the flies!
Lokiyang would have wanted to tell them to wipe off the mucus, but with what, their tattered pants and shukas?
He had a squeaky clean hanky inside his pocket which would definitely not be adequate to go around wiping the bunch of kids! They ran along to catch up with their mothers, each branching off on the numerous tributaries along the savannah which led to their homes further ahead.
These kids were stuck in the middle of a story which had no good ending for them; that is if nobody did the wise thing of showing them and their carefree fathers the advantages of going to school. Considering the deep emphasis these men laid to their retrogressive culture, such a move, he figured, would be clinically impossible.
Lokiyang sighed deeply. He no longer felt like this was the place he had fondly called home years back. He just wanted to get over with whatever had brought him here and head back home.
Home to his wife and two daughters and a fridge, a TV, AC and a dog named Spikey!
Years back, a rift had emerged between him and his father as a result of what may have been the forbidden fruit; he had plucked one from a tree his father had strictly ordered him to desist from. And now that he had, things took a drastic turn, pitting him against his father on one side and his fruit of choice on the other.
He chose the fruit, a decision which severed ties between him and his senior. Not only that, the entire community considered him to be a sell out, a wayward son who had failed to heed the advice of his sagacious father.
And now, even as his mother was lying on her death bed, the rift was even stronger that it was back then. The old man had adamantly refused to let him come visit his dying mother, even after she had pleaded with him. He was still not ready to forgive his only son.
Even the pangs of death could not soften the old man’s resolve not to embrace Lokiyang again as his only son. Not until he went back to their ways. Not until he left that outsider he called a wife, regardless of how many children she was capable of siring.
She was not from their tribe. She belonged to an enemy tribe, good for nothing cattle rustlers who maimed and killed others just for the heck of it. Then, to add salt to injury his only son runs away with a daughter of his arch nemesis.
Lokiyang recalled how things had escalated from bad to worse when his father realised that he had been literally sleeping with the enemy. He had vowed to put a spear through the girl and feed her to the dogs, a threat he of all people knew his father meant every word of.
On the other hand, her father had reacted in similar fashion when the news of the forbidden union reached his ears. He viewed it as magnanimity so characteristic of the vanquished that an enemy tribe would bewitch and lure her daughter in the hope of forging a peace treaty.
War was declared. They wanted to liberate their daughter from the conniving spells cast by their enemies. Goats were massacred in a bid to appease the gods; well, right until she said that she had not been bewitched, rather she had fallen in love with Lokiyang.
Her father promised her that he would chop off her legs if that is what it took to keep her away from Lokiyang. And he would shoot a poisoned arrow through Lokiyang’s heart to kill the forbidden love once and for all. He would never agree to the union even if Lokiyang’s tribe gave him the moon as bride price; not even in his grave!
At that point, the two love birds had hatched a plan to meet up one night and disappear completely from home.
Lokiyang’s mind was brought back to the present by kids who were pushing each other on a rusty wheel barrow.
The sun scorched even harder. Sweat mixed with red dust formed a layer on his skin.
He had to move. He had to reach his father’s homestead even if it meant getting speared. For so long he had missed his mother’s embrace and loving arms. He longed for her touch, her reassuring smile, her kind disposition which was a stark contrast to his father’s combative, hard nature.
Tears welled in his eyes as he imagined his mother who was now on the verge of succumbing to illness that would perhaps claim her life. How he had missed her, how he had prayed to be in her arms again, to tell her how much he loved her and how her granddaughter resembled her.
As he approached the homestead, he noticed an unusually large group of people surrounding his mother’s hut.
His heart sunk low. That kind of gathering could only mean one thing………
THE END. https://akhymjanja.wordpress.com/