Bedlam on a Quiet Street

The din was enough to wake the dead. I could hear it from five kilometres away on the lake. I suspected some kind of reception. The village is always busy doing nothing this time of year and the only thing that households know is beer parties and marriage send offs.

I banished the idea of a funeral from my head, nobody was sick in my village. Furthermore, the other inner me confronted me of being too pessimistic, so I continued fishing, feeling the sharp edges of the small wooden canoe piercing into my buttocks while I held steady on to the fishing line waiting to pull on the fish that dares it.

Fish are rare nowadays but on this day, they were unveiling themselves as if to compensate me for missing the commotion in my village, I had four slimy precious catfish and another was on its way up. It was a rare trout-type-of-fish, so rare it doesn’t have an English name. It refused to die by pulling on the line and threatening to straighten the hook and break free.

As soon as I loaded the stubborn fish onto the canoe I looked back at my village smiling. My father said my growing up in town meant that I would never become a fisherman, well here I was…as I confronted my father in my mind and looked towards my village, something told me to hurry.

I paddled shoreward with all my might. I was sure of what I saw; there was a crowd at the village courtyard, which was also our lawn. Something was the matter and the shouts mingled with the wailing were certificates of certain trouble.

The beach was unusually quiet for four of the clock in the afternoon, it would usually be thronged with younglings dicing with the murky estuary waters and the elders would be tendering to their nets, patching the holes that debris delivered by the river made in their nets.

Not even the lazy ones were there to slant their heads, telling stories of how much flour they had and the only thing that has been keeping the children hungry was the scarcity of fish. Their absence, especially of the fish beggars, was very unsettling.

The beach was only empty when there was a derby football match between the village team and the one from across the river or when there was a political rally which meant free beer and meat for the lazy and the guzzlers, dance money for the ladies and chance for mischief and collection of empty bottles and bottletops for the kids.

I panicked; I rushed to the near bushes where I had hid my clothes from belt and slippers thieves that lurk the beach. I then pulled at the canoe to keep it away from the water as possible, this by lifting one end of a canoe and staggering in a half circle towards land then going to do the same to the other end until the canoe was about three meters away from the water.

I took the wooden paddle drove it into the fish from the gills to the mouth so that the fish hang like clothing when the paddle was balanced on my shoulder. Everybody would give respect to someone with such a catch, especially the women picking cassava leaves for relish in the fields. Others would offer cash and others would use their in-law and chief status to extort the fish. Today there was no one to admire or take away.

I rushed through the thick shrubbery and the piercing reeds that emitted lake flies when disturbed and to add the pressure to my panic, the quails that suddenly flew from two meters leaving you panting with fear. Why do these birds not fly until you are this near? No wonder the Israelites picked them for manna.

Running in the sand is useless and annoying when you have distance to cover, the road back to the village is as sandy as the beach and it takes crisis to notice the annoying sands. Children love the hot sand; walking five meters then jumping on grass to cool off. I had slippers on and didn’t worry of heat after all it was nearly sunset.

The only itch was the slippers sinking into the sand behind me then launching the sand onto my bare back and then the sand gliding down my back with some bits finding their way into my panties where they created all kinds of discomfort. With the village up ahead, and the din growing louder I cared less of sand balls sharing space with mine.

The first person I met on entering the village was the shabby village laughing stalk with an acute syndrome that left him glorifying food and nothing but food all day.

“Hey, what is going on?’ I asked nicely.

“Pasaku somba yooh,” was the answer the fool gave.

There was no one but I still did not curse the unhelpful man, I feared it would multiply my chances of finding something grave up ahead, which means in normal cases I would have cursed. Going beyond the prescribed diction of the dictionary was the way of the lakeshore after all, I would have said something about his drooling mouth or his funny head – instead, I ran on.

I was home. There was a ring of people blocking it thoroughly with the children outside the ring trying to peep through the elders’ hips. Inside the ring was my uncle or my young-father as we would call him, he was brandishing a machete and was being restrained from entering my fathers’ house by three other elders.

“What is going on?” I shouted: I never trusted my uncle because he showed too much that he wanted my father’s chieftaincy. I always knew and feared that one day he would try to hasten the passing of my father to get the chieftaincy, since he was next in line.

“He has raped, this young one…yes Dorofy, he has hurt her bad and he is in there! Let me go and cut off his manhood why are you protecting him?” my uncle shouted and I know the last statement was not directed to me, it was for his captors, after all I was not there to listen.

Dorothy was my only sister, she was only twelve and after the passing of mother, she did all the motherly work at home. Who had raped such a young sweet innocent child? Her breasts did not even have the power to push against her t-shirts and make any visual impact.

I knew small boys that hung around the house trying to date her but they were too young to rape her and even if they did, the resultant sex would be fair. I knew it was somebody big and my father was hiding and shielding him in the house in his chiefly capacity. I calculated that this is what had animated and angered uncle, who always tried to earn marks by pouncing on and rectifying my father’s mistakes.

I never answered back when my father addresses or undresses me. I have never rebelled, but today I would confront him to release the rapist. I was not going to hear his wise owlish statements today; nobody rapes my only sister and goes unharmed.

I was thinking about all this while I fumbled over paraphernalia in the pantry, the sacks, the mortars, the old pots, the panga, yes that was what I was looking for! I grabbed the machete and the crowd did as it had done before by splitting and giving me a good space as if I was the only one with a solution to the hullaballoo.

I felt an arm on my arm and when I jumped onto the veranda I heard someone falling behind me, I had overpowered him. The living room was empty, only my aunties were there, all crying. When they saw me they cried harder and louder. I went into the corridor towards the rooms. All the rooms were wide open and empty and at the far end lay my fathers’ and the houses’ master bedroom.

It was locked but I was too angry for it and soon the door fell inwards, succumbing to my one kick, I stepped in with the machete in the air. There in front me and hanging from the roof, struggling, was my father dying.

I threw down the machete, my arms were weak. I then knew why his younger brother was so determined, why my aunties were raising their wailing voices when they saw me and finally why my father was committing suicide.

I could have saved him by climbing on the bed and then using the machete to cut the string from which he was hanging, instead I went to the sitting room and told them to make space for the body and funeral.