A room filled with women and children. One can smell the fear and the perturbation emanating from the room. The children wouldn’t dare cry. The mobile phones are switched off, hidden in large bosoms. There should be silence, like that of a cemetary, for one knows not whether the enemy is still lurking out there.
Such was the case, some years ago. Mama Jabari, her two children huddled with ten other women and their children in her granary. Her only son in company of other sons and their fathers out there, armed to the tooth, fighting an enemy ; the other tribe.
The two tribes had lived well. To Mama Jabari, some of her closest friends were from the other tribe. She had even formed a chama with some of them.
But all that had changed when the political demigods declared war.
“I have to join the other men, mother!” Jabari had declared. She couldn’t say no. Other mothers had let their sons join the battle too. They needed a big army to fight the other tribe.
That was the sixth night, nestled in a granary with her tribe people. Morning would come and the sons and fathers would come, with news of their exploits.
“We burned their houses, their cars, their stores,everything!” Baba Jabari gloated.
“Where were the owners while you did all that?” Mama Jabari asked.
Jabari looked on, seeing the concern in his mother’s voice and the glitter in his father’s eyes.He saw the snicker in his father’s face before he responded to his mother.
“They were hiding in one of the bedrooms, then when they smelt the smoke, they tried to escape through the backdoor but we were there, waiting. We ordered them back but the father pleaded that we release his family and kill him instead.” He narrated it, without an ounce of emotion like he was telling a tale of elephant and lion to children.
“What did you do next?” His wife asked, a tremor in her voice.
He looked at her, then clapped his hands, startling his wife to a jump as he said it.
“We slashed him. Krrrr!” As he demonstrated, his thumb running across his neck.
Jabari shut his eyes, remembering the incident. This hadn’t scared him much. In the past six days, he had seen more gruesome deaths, performed by his tribesmen. They had beheaded men, stabbed them with spears, shot at their heads and chests, while their wives and children watched in horror.
At first he had a repulsive feeling, but his father, uncles and others he spoke the same language with, convinced him that it was for the tribe that they had to do it.
“Son, see what the other tribe did to our brother, your uncle, they hang him upside down and raped his wife and daughters.”
“That tribe brought a fight, we are showing them war!”
Jabari watched as his mother winced at his father’s continued narrations of their previous nights stunts against the enemy tribe.
“As long as they continue maiming, burning down our own, the war goes on.” Jabari chimed in.
“No Jabari,” his father bawled, ” We will not stop until every male in that tribe is down!”
The men who had laughed and dined together in bars, watched football together, sat alongside each other in schools during their children’s parents days, complained about their wives chattering, their children’s huge demands had suddenly realised that they had different tongues.
Mama Jabari saw the apparent ire in her son and husband. Her female friends had confided to her that it was the same with their husbands and sons. They too had shared their opinions about the ongoing wars.
“No, that tribe is disrespectful to our mheshimiwa. They deserved what is coming their way. They have to know that our leader, Honorable Tumbo is a loved man. And he will be the next leader of all tribes whether they want it or not. Let our men fight for our rights!”
Mama Jabari had worked for Honorable Tumbo’s wife for years. She was the one who took care of their villlage house when they were away in the capital city. Her job was to ensure the house was well maintained, the lawn neat and the furniture dust-free. The honorable and his wife had been nothing but kind to her and family. They had paid Jabari’s school fees from nursery to secondary.
Therefore, she felt compelled to endorse Tumbo’s call for war against his enemies. Her husband felt even more strongly about it. Tumbo had made him supervisor, supplied his team with all ammunition to kill the enemies. Tumbo paid him handsomely for his loyalty. For all she knew, her husband would have done it even for free.
Wives were supposed to cook supper early, for the men to eat early and go out to defend their people. TV and radio stations all announced the state of the country. Some had been completely shut down for ‘misplaced’ loyalties.
To those who had died from the silent night wars, hell was probably better than what they had left in the living world.
It was eight o’clock. The policemen had been bribed to fall asleep. Baba Jabari’s gang came for their immediate boss. He would lead them to the next attack. Baba Jabari called out to his son.
“They are here Jabari, lets go!”
Two men would be left behind to take his wife and children to the granary, the women’s hideout, where the rest were.
Mama Jabari heard her husband ordering them to hurry up, “Today we go to the Mambos!” He said. Mrs Mambo was her close friend. Pain sheeted though her like a sharp toothed creature eating from inside her. She knew if she let this pass, that pain would eat her up and leave a skeleton out of her.
The two men waiting for her were becoming impatient. She was in the toilet. They whispered that she had probably eaten too much. Little did they know, she was communicating with the enemy.
My dear Mrs Mambo, they are coming for you! Run!
She pressed send, switched her phone off, hid it in her bosom, closed the door behind her and walked to the granary, with the two guards one man in front , the other behind the three females. The two men ensured they all got in , quietly and locked the door behind her. They went a few metres away and joined the other three guards who had been watching the granary. The five would keep watching, the whole night. It would be another long night.
But the next morning would be different. The men came, in tears and blood. Their women received their husbands and sons to clean their wounds and curse the enemy for hurting their beloved.
“Where is Jabari?” Mama Jabari asked, her body shivering. Her husband wouldn’t talk.
“I am sorry, mama Jabari!” Her brother in law said.
“No…No…No…Noooo!” She wailed and wailed louder as he recounted how her son had died.
“It was as if The Mambos knew we were coming, tens of men attacked us from all sides. We tried to defend ourselves but they were too strong for us. They stopped when we heard police sirens and gunshots.”
Jabari was no more. Him and three more men had lost their lives that day. A heavily guarded burial for the three was done. A solemn atmosphere it was. Politician after politician spoke, condemning the murders. Tumbo’s speech was the most rousing of all.
“We will not allow our sons to die in the hands of barbaric men! Bad leadership has to come to an end….” He continued, but started to speak proverbially, urging people to arm themselves for the real war was just beginning. His supporters forgot they were mourning and applauded him loudly and excitedly.
When he finished his speech, he walked towards the bereaved, his wife was now by his side. For each family, they gave a bag of food stuff and some money. And the crowd cheered at the magnanimity of the couple.
Mrs Tumbo couldn’t let go of her househelp. She held Mama Jabari and the two women sobbed in each other’s arms for minutes. The crowd looked on sympathetically, amazed by Mrs Tumbo’s humility.
Later, the two hopped in a chopper and left as the crowd waved at the disappearing copter, wiping the dust off their faces. The crowd walked home, through the roads that would have been very suitable for banana farming.
TV stations televised the burial of Jabari and the three men. Although it was of no importance to her, Mama Jabari realized that she did not appear anywhere in the television. Neither did she see the parents of the other dead men. The highlights were on Mr Tumbo’s speech.
It was the same on the other side. The other tribe had lost a daughter. Their leader Mr Botum had also attended the burial. The TV stations did not say much about the victim. The main news was on Mr Botum’s speech.
“We know the so called leaders who instigate bloodshed on our land! Our country cannot continue suffering…” He then spoke in his vernacular and his supporters hailed him and chanted mantras of war as Mr Botum pretended to calm them down.
Baba Jabari switched off the television.
“I can’t bring myself to hearing him speak. I hate this Botum man. He is the cause of Jabari’s death.” He clicked and blinked several times as he stared at the picture of his son that hang on his wall.
“When will these fights end?” Mama Jabari asked, tears forming in her red eyes.
“You heard Mr Tumbo, the war has just begun…Oh, that reminds me, Mrs Tumbo asked me to request you to arrive at the their village house very early tomorrow morning. She will travel to the UK later in the day and she says she needs to see you.” He said, as he resigned to go and sleep. He would sleep for three hours only and then join other men for a secret meeting.
He came with news the next meeting. The political bigwigs, Tumbo and Botum had called for ceasefire to allow for talks to reach an agreement. Mama Jabari was happy she would sleep on her bed, her back ached because of the granary sleepings.
“Oh my dear!” Mrs Tumbo said when she saw Mama Jabari, “I just had to see you.” She said as she embraced her, careful not to ruin her newly polished nails.
Mama Jabari felt a gush of joy that Mrs Tumbo had wanted to see and comfort her for the loss of her son. But that was a feeling that did not last long.
“My son is joining varsity tomorrow. He is travelling to the UK tomorrow. I need you to pack the clothes he has thrown on the bed. He says he just cant leave without those ones.” She said as she chuckled at her statements.
Mama Jabari swallowed hard but tried to hide her fresh pain of losing her own son.
“Oh, that’s good news. Which university is he going to?” She asked trying to form a smile.
“It’s a hard name, I doubt you will remember it. They call it University of Nottingham.” Mrs Tumbo saying the words of the university more clearly and loudly. Mama Jabari shrugged her shoulders and threw her hands in the air dismissively causing her employer to burst into laughter.
“I told you one can bite off their tongue trying to say it.” She said, still laughing as she beckoned her to follow her to her son’s bedroom.
Mama Jabari started to pack the clothes that had been carelessly thrown on the bed and floor, neatly putting them in a leather suitcase. As she bent to pick some clothes from the floor, she saw a varsity magazine. It was a brochure of the University of Nottingham. She picked it up and started to flip through the pages.
As she awed at the mega facilities offered by the varsity, she saw a familiar face. She pulled the brochure nearer to her eyes and recognized him. Standing among five white students was Mr Botums’s son. Neil Botum. The son of the leader of the other tribe.
Her late son had showed him pictures of Neil in the internet flaunting his father’s wealth. She wondered whether The Tumbos knew that Botum’s son was in the varsity. The dangerous political enemy’s son was in the varsity that Mrs Tumbo wanted to take her son. It was catastrophic!
The door burst in and Ricky came in. He saw the pale face of their househelp.
“What’s wrong, you look like you have sen a ghost!” He said.
“Ricky, do you know that the univeristy you plan to join is the same that Neil Botum attends?” She asked, sure to see a shocked face in Ricky but he stood there, unperturbed, non-chalant.
“Yea, he is actually waiting for me. He will show me around before I get used to the new environment.” Ricky replied.
“What?” She asked, as she turned back to her chores, while Ricky picked his phone and left looking at Mama Jabari quizzically.
Mama Jabari felt a stab on her back. They had been played. Here was Ricky and Neil, sons of sworn political enemies attending the same university, being their brother’s keeper, while sycophantic fans back at home were tearing each other up in the name of loyalty to the leaders.
She looked around and realized that Ricky’s nights had beautiful dreams on the magnificent bed while her son was lying cold in a grave after spending sleepless nights under the leader’s commands.
She wondered whether The Honorable Tumbo would allow Ricky to join the vigilantes.
She laughed at the small granary she and other women hid. She laughed at the Mambos, their passion to retaliate and zeal to hate back. Never could she have allowed Jabari to hang out with Mambo’s children. The children themselves already loathed each other yet before all these melee, they had been friends until the tribal deities had disputed.
She looked at the suitcase, she was halfway through. She was supposed to be mourning yet no one cared. She was working as if she had buried a carcass of hounds as a son.
She stopped and went downstairs. Mrs Tumbo was blowing on her nails.
“Hey, are you through? His shoes! They also need to be cleaned!” She heard Mrs Tumbo yelling behind her.
“You will not die if you clean them yourself!” She shrieked back and felt a wave of madness rush through her when Mrs Tumbo pleaded, that she still needed her.
“You only need me when you want to use me.” She muttered. Didn’t they all? She couldn’t wait to tell her husband.