Two women were wasting away slowly. One was racking in pain for the loss of a son , albeit not to death but worse. Lulu couldn’t eat, neither could she sleep wondering about her wandering son. Was he safe? Free from wild animals? Was he hungry? Her mind couldn’t rest.
The other woman, Neema was dying of guilt. She had betrayed Adili, the only cousin she knew, an exceptionally altruistic person who did not deserve the kind of catastrophe that had befallen him. And the people who caused her to betray him were moving on with their lives as if they had no conscience.
But the two women were not cognizant of another woman’s efforts to ease their pain. Nerea.
Surreptitiously, she brought her suspicions to the chief who then consulted the elders. The elders were shocked and disappointed at the evil schemes of Kiza and his elderly mother. Investigations were done, quietly and the truth was revealed. Nerea was right. Kiza and nyanya had falsely accused Adili in order to own his share of land.
It had only taken two horns of beer for Kiza to confess his deeds to a man who had listened keenly, feigning intoxication and then later reported to the elders.
A few days later, word was quickly spread out to the whole village. There would be an urgent meeting at the chief’s camp.
It was a heed that was obeyed by hordes. The chief seldom called for meetings and if he did, it was of utmost importance. The elders were waiting with the chief.
Lulu and Neema would have stayed in their beds, uninterested in the chief’s call but Nerea had urged them to attend, hinting that it was of their benefit that the meeting had been called. As for Kiza and his mother Nyanya, curiosity prompted them to arrive at the chief’s camp, earlier than most villagers.
“Mother, what do you think the meeting is about?” Kiza asked.
“When they call meetings like this, its usually about complaints of a thief , stealing from the villagers or a wild animal destroying crops.” Nyanya responded. Then she saw Lulu joining the crowd, accompanied by her daughter-in-law and granddaughter. She snorted and nudged her son to look at their direction. He sneered at Lulu who had grown so thin.
As soon as the three sat down, the chief rose up and clapped twice for attention. The multitude went quiet.
“My people, I greet you all!” He started, raising his voice to be heard by all.
“We are well, be blessed!” Everyone responded.
He paused, cleared his throat then he continued, “My people, the elders have called you here due to a very serious issue. It is not in my place to talk to you about it. Mzee Kali, please continue.” The chief said as he addressed one of the seven elders who rose up, cleared his throat and spat and said a short chant.
“My people,I greet you all!”
“We are well, be blessed!”
“My people, we have been notified of two very harmful snakes creeping through our village,” Mzee Kali continued, “These two snakes have swallowed, one of our most productive domestic animals. “
Snakes were feared animals. There was panic among the people. Only a few knew that the snakes Mzee Kali was talking about, were actually human beings.
“My people, as it is our tradition, the people always decide on such matters. What do you think we should do to the two snakes?” He asked. There were sudden excited murmurs. A young man raised his hand.
“My elders, our forefathers warned us against killing wild animals except for food. Therefore, my suggestion is , gather some five to ten men to catch the snakes, and take them to the caves on the northern part of our village, as far as possible where they cannot come back. ” He then bowed and sat down.
The rest of the villagers nodded in agreement, some applauding at the suggestion. For the first time since the meeting started, Mzee Kali smiled. He rose up and responded.
“My people , are we all in agreement?” He asked, his eyes fixed directly at Kiza and nyanya. The old man saw Kiza zealously nodding his head. His mother was inattentive.
“Wife to the late Mzee Mzizi,I did not hear your response, what do you think we should do to the snakes?” He asked. The other elders shifted their legs excitedly, others held on to their walking sticks firmly stifling their laughter.
Nyanya hated to be challenged. She stood up and looked at all of them.
“Elders and villagers. It’s simple, kill the snakes. Don’t you think that the snakes will not come back? Catch the snakes and get rid of them permanently.” She said , snorted and sat down.
The debate got more fiery. Some, Kiza included, supported nyanya’s recommendations but the majority agreed that culture had to be followed. It was concluded that the snakes would not be killed but taken far away.
Then the bombshell was dropped.
“My people..the snakes sit here with us.” Mzee Kali announced. The crowd stared at him in a daze. Nerea smiled. Lulu and Neema suddenly realized what was going on. The matter at hand concerned the two of them directly. Lulu, who had earlier thought of leaving the meeting sat up. Neema shot a glance at her mother and saw the smile. Her heart started to race.
“These snakes are greedy, deceitful and wicked schemers.They not only deceived the chief and the council of elders but also caused an innocent member of our village suffering and undeserved shame. Consequently, others have suffered much more as a result of the actions of the two.”
Nyanya was the first to realise that she and her son were the topic of discussion. Kiza had not yet decrypted Mzee’s Kali metaphor. He still thought the elder was talking of real snakes. But the truth was very soon to be dropped on him on his laps by his very own wife.
“One brave woman will come here and narrate it to us all. Nerea Kiza, here is your chance!” Kali called out.
Neema stared at her mother. Was this really her? She wondered, mesmerised by the boldness of her mother, as she confidently walked to the front and greet the mass of people. Neema felt so proud of her mother.
Kiza’s eyes would have popped out of their sockets. He rubbed them, in disbelief sure they were lying to him.
“What are you still doing seated? Stop her and let her know her place!” Nyanya desperately hissed at her son who rose up quickly and pointed a finger at his wife.
“You, sit down!” He shouted but stepped back almost in fear at Nerea’s response.
“Or what?” She said, moving closer to him, her chest pushed forward, her head held high and arms akimbo “Kiza..you will not silence me this time. I will tell them all of your greed-driven odious plots.”
By this time, three young robust men had come close to Nerea to protect her from any form of violence. Kiza realized he was no match for three warrior-like giants. He and his mother cringed as Nerea disclosed what they had done to Adili and her daughter.
“I will not sit down and watch them destroy the late Mzee Mzizi’s home with their manipulations, bullying and lies. My sister Lulu is dying here, as everyday goes by without her son. My own daughter , because of guilt is also getting close to the grave. No, I refuse to shut up as it has always been demanded of me. Let my voice bring back Adili, let my voice bring a smile to Lulu and Neema.”
She finished her electrifying speech and bowed then walked with a more self assured gait, sat next to her daughter and held her hand, the other extended to Lulu.
The people were struck dumb.
The two culprits bent their heads in shame, Mzee Kali started to address them, one could hear the rage in his voice,
“Wife of the late Mzee Mzizi, your late husband must be turning in his grave. You are a disgace to Mzizi home and this entire village. At your age, instead of making peace with people as you await your death,you only feed your greed and plot evil with your good-for-nothing son. Like you yourself said, you two snakes deserve to be killed!” He spat at Kiza’s head and the crowd heaved. That was the worst form of curse.
Silence reigned for some minutes. The crowd anxiously waited to see what would happen next. Mzee Kali glanced at the other elders and they nodded. Then he spoke.
“Before we decide what to do with you, you have to apologize.” He said to them.
“Yes…yes…we will…right now, please forgive us…”
“No!” Mzee Kali interrupted their pleas. “Don’t apologize to me, apologize to (long pause) Adili.” The crowd started to mutter, unable to comprehend the old man’s utterances. Kiza and his mother were more confused until the image of the young teenager appeared from the chief’s office and slowly strided to the mob of people and stood next to Mzee Kali.
“Adili!” Lulu yelled in joy. She sprang up and ran to embrace her son. The rest watched, some tearfully, others in awe while a few (Just Kiza and nyanya) looked on spitefully.
“Now, apologize!” Mzee Kali ordered and Kiza did, hysterically while his mother said a few inaudible words.
The old man asked Lulu and Adili to go home. Adili needed to take a bath and eat some food. The two walked hand in hand.
“My people, the two messengers who we sent to search for Adili found him sleeping under a tree, weak and hungry. That boy did not deserve that pain. …It is now upto you great people of our community. What do you wish to do with these two snakes, do you still think they deserve permanent banishment?”
“Banish them forever! Banish them forever! Banish them forever!” The frenzied mob sang, over and over until the chief stood to calm them down.
“The people have spoken, Mama Kiza and Kiza Mzizi, leave this village and do not ever come back. Two warriors will follow you as you go as far away from this village as possible…”
The other elders whispered something to each other and the chief hurried and whipered it to Mzee Kali.
“Thank you, chief for reminding me about the land issue. The elders have concluded that Adili gets back his land…as for Neema…the elders have forgiven you. Had you schemed along with your father and grandmother willingly, your half would have been given to Adili.” The villagers clapped, happy at the elders’ verdict on the land matter.
All went home, awed at the events that had unfolded at the chief’s camp. Neema ate a full plate of food for the first time in days. Adili ate two. They were all in Lulu’s house. Nerea and Lulu watched as their children ate happily.
“I am sorry it had to end like this, losing your husband.”
“I am sorry, too but he dug his own grave and Mzee Mzizi liked to say, ‘A man who tests the depth of a lake with both feet will surely drown.'”
It was the beginning of a firm friendship . A friendship that would see the two enjoy the success of their two children. Neema and Adili became great business farmers. They became the most productive dairy farmers. With thirty acres of land, they did just anything a dairy farmer would wish to do to produce thousands of litres of milk for sale. Mzizi soil was indeed blessed.
Nevertheless, it had been tough for Kiza and his mother. The warriors had made them walk hundreds of kilometres away from the village. For many days and nights they walked. When the warriors turned back , nyanya urged her son that they should turn back too.
“Mother, do you want us to go back to the village?”
“No, instead of going the same direction we came from, we will turn left, to my sister’s place, she might be sympathetic and take us in, it’s going to be another long journey.” And the two started to trek to nyanya’s sister’s place.
“Mother, are you sure about this? Your sister did not even speak to you on father’s burial.” He said, streams of sweat dropping from his whole body as he panted under the scorching sun, holding his wobbling mother who stopped every five minutes to rest.
“Do you have anywhere else in mind?” She asked and he shook his head.
It started to rain. The two shielded themselves under a tree. They did not go to ask for shelter in the nearest homestead. It was believed that, requesting for shelter would cause instant death to one of the host’s family members and this would result to Kiza and nyanya being stoned to death.
Then they encountered a huge obstacle. A bridge to get them on the other side of the deep rivers was almost tearing down.
“Maybe if we cross the bridge one by one, we shall make it.” Kiza suggested.
“That’s good thinking. You go first.” Nyanya said.
“No mother, you go first. I wouldn’t leave you here.” Kiza insisted.
She begun to walk through the bridge with faltering steps, her walking stick on her shoulders for balance. And she made it.
Her son encouraged by the success of his mother, followed, but the frail bridge could not carry his weight. It broke into two letting him loose into the hungry waters.
All nyanya could do was helplessly watch as her son flung into the water as he screamt out to her. She sat down hoping against hope that he would emerge from the waters but they remained still. She wondered how she would make it alone without him. An inner voice kept singing at the back of her head, “This is all your fault.”
With wild fruits to survive on, she continued to walk, refusing to take the blame for her misfortunes. She told the voices in her head that her son had died for eating too much and being too hasty.
It isn’t my fault that he married a shameless woman who couldn’t cover his nakedness.We should have killed that Adili. I should have killed Mzee Mzizi before he shared the land to those brutes.
Nyanya’s sister was weeding the land around her home when an old woman walked towards her. Her eyesight was poor due to old age. She was strong compared to the feeble woman that walked towards her. The woman was skinny and dirty. Nyanya Tema didn’t realise it was her sister until she spoke.
“My sister, how are you?”
“It’s you.What brings you here?”
“Tema, I have nowhere else to go. This is also my parents home. I also have the right to stay here.” Nyanya said.
Tema felt a wave of anger rush through her.
“Don’t come here with that nonsense. Not after everything you did!” Tema replied.
“That was a long time ago!”
“It was but we never forgot. Kovu, you took Mzizi from me. He was supposed to marry me. You tricked him to feel the warmth of your legs and got pregnant for him. But that wasn’t enough for you, you told him my parents wanted him to marry a barren me. That I had been cursed.
Do you know what that did to me? That lie spread to all the suitors that had shown interest in marrying me , they all ran away and I have remained without a husband since then. Our parents had to live with the shame of having a mature woman in their home while other daughters of my age brought forth grandchild after grandchild.
You..you ran away with my Mzizi, never to be seen again. Now you come here claiming that you have rights. Kovu, get away, now. Your presence opens painful wounds.” Tema said emotionally, as she closed the door on her sister.
For the first time, nyanya shed a tear. She started to walk back, emaciated, tired and famished, holding on a quavering walking stick . She remembered Mzee Mzizi’s last words, “If anyone defies my orders, they will roam the earth like a lunatic.” She finally accepted that it was all her doing. She decided to continue walking until she couldn’t walk anymore. A tear. A regret. A snort.