Kazungu had only read about convictions and death penalties in books and newspapers, and it perpetually made his flesh crawl. On that awful day, he had asked his wife to confirm the clear and annoying sound that came from the car. He drove an old PEUGEOT-504 which had been passed down generations from his grandfather, a local chief to his father a palm wine tapper and finally ending its course of life with a middle aged teacher, whose students had nicknamed the “beetle” not because of how he looked or walked but how the car moved rapidly from side to side along the dusty paths of the village.
The whining sound from the back of the car was now alarming. Noticing that his wife had become oblivious of it and was just shaking the crying baby, Kazungu decided to bring the cranky car into a halt on the roadside. He exited the car supporting his huge belly which had kept growing in spite of his fast decline towards poverty. He walked round the vehicle assessing the source of concern, wishing that the government would increase his salary to accord him freedom from the debts which were suffocating him. From a distance Kazungu noticed two well-built men with sleeveless shirts approaching with clubs and machetes and he assumed to be the village askaris doing their patrols. He also observed that they were walking more purposefully, a stark difference from the relaxed way the askaris used to patrol the village.
Bending over, he inspected the rusty rear bumper which was held together on both sides with binding wire. The exhaust pipe which was also held in place with similar wires had broken off near the edge which kept scratching the ground whenever he hit a bump. An urge to see if the men had passed grew heavier as he had an awful instinct; their awkward lack of communication and the way they swung their weapons had unnerved him a bit too. Taking a quick glance at the men, he saw them make quick steps towards him and before he could react, the taller one lunged at him, his machete missing Kazungu’s head by inches. The attacker lunged again, screaming, and missed a second time, giving Kazungu time to get up quickly to assume an offensive position. He wasn’t sure what to do, so he just raised his fist, heart beating furiously as he taunted the man to come at him again.
The other attacker had gone round to the passenger side, his machete raised and Anyika, Kazungu’s wife started screaming as the machete landed on her arm while she protected the baby. Her screams filled the air and it must have scared the attackers because they fled into the bushy cocoyam farm. Fear turned him into a stationary pillar while Anyika kept creaming. The baby was crying very loudly too.
Anyika was hurt badly and her dress was filled with blood. Kazungu wasn’t sure of the extent of the injury. The baby, whom she had hurled on the driver’s seat, was still crying, eyes wide in shock,. Instinctively, he went round, lifted the baby as he tried to console him before placing him on the back seat. His thoughts were on two things; making it to the village dispensary a few minutes away and his recollection of the two attackers the previous day drinking palm wine with Maduka, his creditor, and the looks they gave him as he drove by.
Kazungu had fallen out with Maduka several months back after he declined the latter’s offer to surrender his coco yam farm as repayment for the money he owed him. Kazungu knew his coco yam was a gold mine and surrendering it to Maduka would mean being displaced from his ancestral home. He rather preferred paying off the debt gradually from his meagre primary school teacher earnings and Maduka had threatened to get his land by any means necessary. He was a brute, this Maduka.
Later on after kazungu and his wife had received treatment, the chief had confirmed that the two attackers had been apprehended by the youth in charge of security and they were being held at the local cell awaiting the baraza to decide on their fate. He also confirmed that they had confessed to have been sent by Maduka to commit the crime. They were however not supposed to hurt anybody, they said, the devil had used their lack of sobriety and pushed them to almost killing Kazungu and his wife! Anyika’s arm was suspended on a sleeve and Kazungu had to manage with a walking stick.
Two weeks after the incident, Kazungu’s wife slowly recovered but missed three fingers and even though kazungu didn’t air his concern, he was worried about who would take care of the farm now that his wife could not do much with her hand. He couldn’t afford to hire labor and he was more of a class person than a field one. He acknowledged with a heavy herat that much as he wanted her to work the field, she could not manage. The baby also needed her attention too. He imagined taking another wife, but remembered that finances were a thorn in his flesh; he was barely managing with his small family.
The palm oil lamp gave a yellowish glow against the darkness in his hut. The night was still, the moon had been swallowed in the sombre night clouds. His neighbour who normally slept outside and snored like an old scooter was also unusually silent that night. The crickets were a bit silent too, and kazungu pondered over the case hearing the following day. Maduka had been apprehended too, and Kazungu had mixed feelings about the whole thing. While he felt that the perpetrators deserved to be dealt with accordingly, he also felt that were he in Maduka’s shoes and someone owed him such an amount of money, he’d almost have resorted to the same action. Maybe they were right about the devil having influenced their deed, maybe they just wanted to scare him a bit so he could speed up the payment.
The following day, the case was set to begin around mid-morning before the noon sun raised high to burn the wisdom from the sagacious baraza’s minds. Kazungu made his way slowly, hopping on his walking stick as he could no longer drive. His car was out of commission having suffered a terribly from the attacker’s blow. The exhaust pipe was out and the rear bumper was beyond repair.
It was a warm day. The chief’s compound was packed. Leather sandals blocked the entrance, which always got into his nerves. Out of respect, he took off his straw hat and joined the silence, which enveloped the whole compound. After a few formalities, the two attackers were brought before the baraza, bound. The chief pronounced that an attack on a fellow villager was a terrible crime and that they had come to a conclusion that the best resort would be to banish the two together with their families. They were however accorded the luxury of leaving with their meagre moveable properties so they could start life afresh wherever they went.
Maduka was summoned as well. His sentencing was heavier since he was the brains behind the whole operation. The baraza pronounced the death sentence on him and his family was also going to be banished to avoid what the baraza called a reoccurrence of the same from the initial seed of hate planted by their patriarch. His sentence would be carried out after the new moon.
Suddenly, as is wont to happen in the region, the clouds gathered together, squeezing each other so hard that it started raining. The old men of the baraza hastily picked up their stools, seeking the shelter of the main hut as Maduka was left soaking. It was one of the youthful askaris who made a dash in the pouring rain to pull Maduka back into the cell, but before he could make it to him, a terrifying bolt of lightning struck Maduka who fell on the soggy ground, eyes wide in shock.
The sweet aroma punctured the air around Kazungu’s grass-thatched hut. It was another warm and he could hear the pestle and mortar rhythmically grinding what he assumed to be cassava flour. It was the best time of the season as they gathered the bountiful harvest into their stores. Women flocked fields while men carried along attending to their herds. The cool winds blew all day and night in ecstatic anticipation. There were many preparations to be done as the planting season would also begin shortly. Maduka’s burial was also to be conducted by the village women. Normally burials were conducted by village elders, but due to the circumstances that surrounded him, he had to get a miserable send off.
Elders met severally at the chief’s quarter to deliberate on the issue at hand. Maduka’s untimely death had left them pondering on whether to still banish his family or let them stay as nature had taken its course already. His family were beside themselves with worry. Ihuoma, Madume’s wife grew edgy around people who viewed them as an outcast. His own bicycle was drowned at a nearby river hoping to kill the bad omen that had been left behind roaming together with his belongings. His clothes had been shredded and taken to the edge of the forest and buried in a meter-deep trench. Nothing was left to chance. This was the way of the village and their beliefs.
Kazungu decided to pay a visit to the council of elders regarding the issue of the poor family who were suffering because of a mistake they had no hand in.The issue was not going to be easy but he carried on hoping to change the cause of action. He got there just before the elders retired for their afternoon nap.
He was welcomed well, each elder asking about his wife’s recovery and how she was faring. They made mention of the way in which Maduka had died, happy that the gods had taken the responsibility. No one could point a finger at the gods; their power was absolute.He tried to convince them to let Maduka’s family be, but they were adamant.
“You know Maduka has always been a rabble rouser in this community,” Ikidieze, the chief elder said. “This is not the first time he’s caused pain to families within our community and those of our neighbouring village. He is the reason we have lost the honour we once commanded due to his heedless behaviour. You know a closed mouth catches no flies,” he explained, his colleagues nodded in support.
Kazungu left when he realized his pleas had landed on deaf ears. He expected Ikidieze to understand, solely because he was the only one among the elders who had embraced modernity and decided to joins school even in his advanced age. He expected him to show some sympathy. As he left, he made up his mind to work out a way to assist the poor family. He sympathized with them and could no longer handle their accusing looks since they felt he was the reason why Maduka was dead.
That night, he slept early as the decision weighed heavily on his mind. As he closed his eyes, he was ushered into another dimension where Maduka’s homestead was up in flames and all the villagers were running everywhere with buckets of water trying to put off the fire. Ihuoma, Maduka’s widow and her children stood by the fence, watching the commotion as if they were not even part of what was happening.
Suddenly, Maduka seemed to emerge from the flames, cutting through the commotion heading straight for Kazungu who stood at a distance. No one else seemed to see Maduka, not even his family.
“See the fire you started?” Maduka whispered in Kazungu’s ear. “An innocent family is suffering because of your actions.”
“It was your fault,” he said. “You ought not to have sent people to kill me.”
“And what’s the punishment for those who owe the dead?”
Kazungu remained silent.
“The fate of my family is in your hands,” Maduka said as his figure receded back into the flaming homestead.
“Wake up, wake up!” Anyika hissed, shaking Kazungu from his dream. “Can we no longer sleep in peace because of your dreams now?”
As he heaved, Kazungu made up his mind on what he was to do when darkness gave way to daylight later.