White tents sat on their shadows. Black ants nibbled crumbs and circled iron restraints that married tents to the earth. Inside were families whose huts were licked clean by the flames. Only huts in the East had escaped the lust of violence. But the ashes were now impregnated and unable to swirl in the wind. The rains had come. There were needles of grass on the ruins and chatters swam atop cries of hungry children. There were no buildings of note. Even in the East a child could count the remaining huts with his fingers and toes. In fact, St. Mary Our Lady Catholic Parish was the only stone monstrosity in the village. If one stood on the steps of the church, his eyes bit a huge chunk of the land of the forest in a single gaze.
Before the war, huts had conquered the East and Central region. The West was where maize stalks swayed. Even now, there were patches of green splendour in farms that had heeded the early rains. The Central where the Chief’s throne had once occupied, together with surrounding homes, was now swathed in white tents with red crosses on their sides. If one was a bird flying a thousand metres above, Sigwembe village was akin to an amoeba – an uneven edged globule in the middle of a green field. It was a drop of humanity thrown in the middle of a jungle.
Shakombo’s drum rested on his back and with each step towards the centre of the village, the number of children calling his name increased. Their plea was one: ‘Please tap so that we can dance.’ With a good-natured smile, he promised them a treat the day after. Still, some jumped and hung on his strong arms. He let them swing to their fill.
He could see Joseph ambling forward. “If he is not careful, he will lose his mind too,” he thought and hastened his pace.
But Joseph knew that the dignity of a man is his loincloth. If a sane King were to walk down the streets naked, the youngest child would pronounce him a madman. Such is the assumption that guides people’s understanding every time their eyes set on a naked dirty man on the streets. His skin was chaffed, his hair matted, and trickles of unswallowed food wet his hairy chest. Children would have been scared stiff, if there weren’t too many madmen in the village.
“A single stool is unsightly, but what is a massive dump to a man’s eye?” Joseph mused silently, watching the madman.
Abundance, even of evil, dampens the nerves. He had known the madman just like the many, who now watched him collecting all the polythene bags jiggling everywhere. He was now a self appointed god of environmentalism. His trail was clean. Those who had hated him in his former self sneered. The great majority saw no difference between the naked men and their own selves.
A queue snaked through the village. It was long and winding, a tired queue. Instead of men chatting and stealing glances at women, they laid their buttocks on the damp earth and waited. At the farthest end, ringed by a pack of soldiers, was a blue container. From its belly came the people’s lifeline. Joseph walked and sat at the hopeless end of the queue. After two or three minutes, the men would stand, make two steps forward and again lower their buttocks to the damp earth. That was all they had to do until they reach the hopeful end of the queue.
Red Cross personnel crisscrossed the village with gusto, their faces painted with pity and big old love tapped beneath their ribcages. Their smiles were considered and their emotions hung on professional meters. They laughed when with their ilk, but wore craggy faces when dealing with victims. Joseph watched them with interest. He was a curious man. Not that there was anything else he could do. The plain painful life of being reduced to beggars of relief food could only be spiced by an observant eye.
A pick-up truck emblazoned with Médecins Sans Frontières logo crawled from St. Mary Our Lady Catholic Parish and set its sight on the food distribution point. Behind the wheels was Father John Ward, now on blue jeans and white Médecins Sans Frontières sweatshirt instead of the priestly garb he had spotted in the morning. He was a doctor by profession; a graduate of both the century-old University of Birmingham Medical School and Université de Franche Comté.
He fixed his eyes on the suffering mass. His heart sunk and boiled in the hydrochloric acid in his stomach. He was ashamed of his actions. Business steals the soul of a man. He had made abnormal profits smuggling guns in his holier-than- thou pick-up truck. His bank account was healthy and would remain so for quite some time, no doubt, but the smell of death had erased all the pleasure. His soul bled each time he manoeuvred his truck between mounds hiding a quarter of Sigwembe’s population. Each time a body was collected from the tall grasses, the village would walk to his doorstep and ask him to intervene on behalf of the dead. Each time he ran to the back garden and disgorged evil on the innocent greens. Not that he believed in absolute good.
Joseph stood, made two steps forward, and lowered his buttocks on the damp earth. He could see Shakombo walking to the hopeless end of the line. He sat down. Joseph watched as faces lit, each earnestly begging Shakombo to tap so that they can dance. Shakombo rubbed the tautness with his palm and hit it gently with his middle finger. A man recalled an old song. Guttural sounds escaped vocal cords that had been silenced for hours. Music cares not whether the bowel is empty. Three men arose to their feet, four men sorry. No, five men …
This is a continuing story, read earlier posts
Diaries of the Living Dead #1 https://richardoduor.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/diaries-of-the-living-dead-1-2/
Diaries of the Living Dead #2 https://richardoduor.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/diaries-of-the-living-dead-2/
(Next posting on Wednesday, 26th June 2013)