On that night, the family of Papa 33 had to sleep in the damp cassava plantation near the stream behind their congested wattle huts. There was no choice. Zero. The issue at hand demanded it. It had to be done.
Neighbour X had attempted yet again to kill their new mother. This time he had come with a creaking wooden barrow, a sugarcane machete and a gunny sack. He had shouted his intention to chop her into cabbage-sized chunks of flesh then wheel the remains in the plastic gunny sack to the new village police post to report his crime of revenge. He had wailed how his heart was made of flesh and not plastic. “I may be an albino but eeeish!! Am a human and I have a temper with limits! “he railed as he did a horrible war dance on his jiggered, nailless toes before a horrified family of 4. According to him, the antics of Mama 33, owner of the guilty animals, had now exceeded the limits of mercy. They had become too much. Intolerable.
It had taken the entire extended family of 33s – two adolescent twins, their hunchback sister, aging father of 70, four wildly lowing cows and a wildly backing emaciated puppy – to control the rage in Neighbour X. Fought to the ground, disarmed, preached to in vernacular scriptures of mercy and later appeased with a thermos of milky tea and a bowl of boiled cabbage, X’s fury finally subsided. He left. But not before pointing his red marijuanish eyes at the 33’s cattle boma with disgust written poetically all over his face. The warning was clear. This was the last time he had tolerated the now incessant nocturnal antic of his neighbour’s cattle. “Death is what will happen here if the same mishap is repeated,” he thought in his tiny bald head as he lumbered away on his bow legs.
So a military decision after a meeting of the 33s was reached that in the cassava (and bhang) field they had to sleep. A trap. Tonight.
Armed with a charcoal brazier (jiko), a thermos of black tea, stout sticks and heavy blankets, a half roll of marijuana, they entered the maize plantation at 12.54am. Three high school students on vacation and their diabetic ex-watchman father aged 70. The dogs had been taken to a relative a village away as part of the strategy.
One AM. Two. Three…..and at exactly half past Three, dozing started. But that was the time 33 heard the barbed wire fence squeek. Squeek. Squeeek. Silence. Squeek. Silence. Foot falls. Silence. Foot falls. Silence. He could hear his own heart pumping cold fear all over his drugged body. He whispered to his father, brother and sister. “He is here!”
They monitored the invading interloper under the silvery moonlight in palpable tension. SHE walked on tip toes and paused, walked and paused! After a while, the silhouette in its naked splendour and eerie hairdo headed straight for the cattle boma nearby. It opened it. Drove out the silent cows and shooed them out of the gate and straight into Neighbour X’s cabbage garden……AHA!
That was when 33 and his family struck.
Huyooo! Screams! Screams! Footfalls and panting breath. Catch her. The woman, alarmed like a startled duiker, attempted to take off in the direction of the stream. She came face to face with the old man himself with his bow and arrow aimed directly at her heart. Petrified, the fleeing “man” stood still like the wife of Lot. Hiding “his” face from the tensed old man by looking backwards and clutching at his naked “testicles”, “he” stopped on “his” tracks. “He” could see the approaching brothers and their sister with their sticks raised in imminent attack. Caught. She was.
Screams crossed the ridges as neighbours poured out of their sleepy huts and dogs barked across the moon-drenched rural village. Enemy! Enemy! Eneeemy! Echoes.
The caught MAN was identified as good old Neighbour Y. Yes, he who sometimes preached in the village church in the absence of the Bishop. He was stark naked with a mound of black cotton clay on his head and tall grass stems stuck into it facing the sky: a ritual wig.
They hung him on the barren mango tree and skinned him alive with sugarcane machetes halfway to his pubic area as they hurled curses at him and the rising crime rate. The village vigilante arrived, an hour later, to untie his limp and disfigured body. They tied it in a white piece of common cotton and took it to the village police post. He died at noon.
Neighbour X confessed in church about how he had mistakenly thought that Mama of 33 had always intentionally driven her cattle to eat his cabbages in the past few weeks. They forgave each other for the small misunderstanding after looking deeply into each others albino eyes….
It was whispered loudly at the funeral of Neighbour Y that an upcoming village witchdoctor had asked him to perform a ritual to appease the gods who had suddenly made him impotent. He had not been able to be of service to his 7 wives for several months since his demotion as sub-chief after a scandalous corruption case. The doctor had prescribed a naked night ritual of driving the cattle of Mama 33 into the farm of Neighbour X. The ritual was to climax with the bloody murder of Mama 33 – a human sacrifice. His virility would then or thus be restored. The belief in the wit and craft of the upstart doctor had not worked. It had cost the poor believer his own life. Why the ex-sub-chief, a respected and able deputy man of God, had done it is still subject of on-going speculation. Some say that he feared his fondest wives will elope to the city as the recession continued to bite deep into their restless stomachs…And why the notoriously randy witchdoctor had picked on Mama 33 as the victim for a dead ritual will forever remain a subject of much controversy and speculation in Village N, somewhere in the heart of Africa….
NB: That is how I recollect my first experience of several losses of human life that Life itself has made me to witness. You might have heard about the incident on state radio. It was also reported on the provincial news column in two of the local vernacular newspapers. A commission of inquiry has since been set up by the Special Presidential Village Security Committee to leave no stone unturned until all those who broke the law by participating in the mob justice are brought to book……