Novel: The Ostrich Dance - Chapter Four
Order from Goretti
A week later, Goretti ordered Absolom, who had just woken up at ten o’clock that morning, to saddle two horses. After a quick, “Yes ma’am”, Absolom dashed back into the house to find a shirt for his still bare chest. He then rushed out, still in his pajama shorts and found the saddles for the horses. After saddling, he led them to the gate where Goretti, in riding gear, was waiting.
Though she looked tough and brave, Goretti was plagued with doubts. She had carefully thought out this plan for a whole week. She wanted Absolom somewhere alone so that she could talk some sense into and crap out of him. She didn’t like the way he strutted over the compound and did whatever he liked.
But now that he stood there, obedient and waiting, she hesitated for a moment.
“Get on that horse. I want you to guide me as I ride through the village,” she spluttered awkwardly.
“Yes ma’am. May I put on my trousers and shoes on first? Please!”
“Hurry up then!”
He was gone in a flash and back in a jiffy. And so they set off.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Caephas looked dreamily out of the window. The whole convoy had slowed down. In the distance was the first sight of the village, a mere dot across the vast horizon. But it was unmistakable. Caephas felt a little bit excited. He was about witness, as a grown person, the robust flamboyance of these people, his people. The ones he had heard so much about. Then his mind drifted off again.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The Village Tour
The horse ride through the rugged countryside had actually been no different from the car ride in which he was right now. It had been a ride of discovery for Goretti, just like this was a ride of discovery for Caephas. The mud-walled, grass thatched huts; gray and brown, were the same. The children who had divided their time expertly between catching grass-hoppers, herding goats and playing football, still did very much the same thing in the village fields. They stopped with innocently wide eyes to gape at the convoy, just as they had gaped at the horses. Women bending in the fields, uprooting weeds in the cassava, potato, bean, millet and sorghum plantations; women gossiping under a gigantic fig tree, babies strapped to their backs. They would all stop, stand upright and gape at the long convoy, just as it must have happened before. So much had remained the same.
But, Absolom had been alive then, he was now dead. The children had been stark naked then, they now wore tattered clothes. The women had loin clothes then, they now had full clothes. The footballs were made of fiber then, they were now made of polythene paper. There had been horses then, there were now limousines. The children then were grandpas now. So much had changed.
Anyway, the breathtaking discoveries that Goretti made about the countryside made her forget herself. Instead of the lecture she had so expertly planned, she ended up asking an unabating torrent of questions.
“What are those children singing?”
“You mean that young girl is married already …..? How many? Four Kids….? Hey come on, be serious……That is where you people dance at night? You savages, even the educated ones like you?”
“Africans and music are birds and their feathers. Pluck out all the music and the African is dead,” he would reply calmly.
The Culture of Praise Names
“Maugo! Maugo! Maugo!”
The children chorused Absolom’s praise name. He acknowledged their greetings by hurling back a few teasing names of his own. The children laughed heartily, and so did the women, earlier bent in the farms, who had joined into the charade.
One boy, who seemed to have been particularly stung hard by Absolom’s teasing, hit back with a poetic piece, obviously directed at Absolom, whose sudden ending nearly brought the sky down with the thunderous laughter that it evoked. Absolom for one nearly fell off his horse. Goretti looked at everyone with that half-smile of one who does not know if the joke is a joke, or something else.
The horses trod on, much to the dismay of the gathering crowd.
“What was that all about?” asked Goretti at length.
This provoked more laughter from Absolom before he recollected himself together again.
“You see, we have certain things called praise names. They are known as pakruok or simply pak, and are the unique epicenter of Onagi culture. For each individual to feel special, they must have a witty or humorous title, in addition to their actual names. The pak can be a single line or a short poem. People can refer to them fondly using their pak depending on how witty and funny it is. So, what that boy Osano has done, is to chant out my entire pak title, and corrupted it by adding in a few price remarks of his own. This was, of course, provoked by the way I teased him by twisting his own pak.
Osano ng’ining’ini (Osano the little red ant)
Ng’ining’ini ng’ino kuon (The ant that eats maize meal)
Manyaka osiato geng’ kumoaye (Till its behind blocks its rear view)
Goretti did not see the joke, but the story continued.
“You see, normally the pak ends with: Magoyo olwenda kibaji (Leaving the cockroach worried).
But now considering that Osano does have big behinds …………”
Goretti’s laughter drowned out the rest. It was quite a sight to see her laughing. He sweet baritone laugh, her white even teeth and her closed eyes, were all something to behold.
Soon the story went on.
“My pak usually goes something like this:
Maugo! Maugo! Maugo! (Tsetse fly! Tsetse Fly! Tsetse fly!)
Ndii! Ndii! Ndii! Mamona yweyo (Continuous “Ndii!” which interferes with my rest)
Dhoge bor kanamaki! (Long proboscis when I catch you!)
But Osano changed it to.
Maugo! Maugo! Maugo!
Ndii! Ndii! Ndii! Makwalo nyiga! (Continuous “Ndii!” who steals my daughters)
Toke bor abiro royi! (Shapeless head I will castrate you!)”
Even Absolom himself could not help laughing a second time. And they laughed together. They talked of nothing else for a long period.
The Evening Fire
Like all fine mornings, that one ended too soon. The horses trotted dutifully back home with only one thing in mind: good old hay. Absolom and Goretti had one thing in mind too, to share their experience with the others. The others for Goretti were her immediate family gathered for lunch. The others for Absolom, were all the servants and their siblings, gathered around the fire to roast newly harvested corn-on-the-cob and groundnuts.
But the day wore off fast. And soon it was evening, then night. The servant’s children were gathered around the evening fire. They talked and joked and laughed. Pakruok after pakruok rent the air. Everyone laughed at Absolom’s funny rendition of the earlier events of the day. Janak Ajulo’s daughter Aledi stole glances at him, as the leaping flames played romantic reflections on everyone’s face. The night favors the hyena, so the saying goes. He would be all hers tonight. She could hardly wait for the tsetse bite.
Maize cobs exploded like firecrackers on the fire. One or two unfaithful spouses took advantage of the children’s absence to squeeze through the fence or evaporate into the bushy part of the compound. Other girls stole glances at other boys, Goretti gazed down at the distant fire from the balcony. She had plans of her own too. An owl raided another owl’s tree. Night the universal blanket covered it all.
Soon it was time for bed. Bed meant a number of meanings in the DC’s compound. For some of the children, it meant sleep. For teen girls and boys, like Aledi and Absolom, it meant adventure. For the even older ones, it meant going to sample the brews of the village. So when time for bed was mentioned by one of their number, all thought of different things. However, there was still something to be done together: singing.
Aledi the Soloist
Aledi the natural group soloist awaited no invitation. She cut into the night with her even, honey filled voice, with a dudu folksong well known to all. A little boy used a piece of firewood to drum on the ground and all the voices joined in the chorus. Soon, one child after another, jumped up and down in a trance-like jig. Isolated peals of laughter cut through the song temporarily breaking the harmony, but soon enough, the song would go on.
Suddenly, an unprecedented explosion came from the fire, scaring everyone into silence. A child, who had been dozing, screamed. Then everyone was laughing. The danger was not real. A soft grain of maize had heated up and burst into white pulp as it roasted. For a while, the child, who thought everyone was laughing at him, cried. Everyone was actually laughing at their own false alarm. However, the song soon picked up again. The child, realizing that no attention would be gained by crying, gradually joined into the singing.
“Time for bed!”
Opondo’s soft command killed the song. No one had noticed him sneak silently behind them; he had been attracted by the loud explosion. All the same, none could afford the luxury of pausing in surprise at this unexpected arrival. Opondo would not repeat himself verbally; his whip would do the repeating. So everyone scurried off, one girl not forgetting to pick her noisy, half-roasted cob out of the fire. Quickly, everyone was gone. Opondo picked off the half-burnt pieces of wood from the fire; and extinguished them by rubbing them on the ground; leaving only the glowing embers. Then he too went away towards his house. Goretti watched it all from her high perch.
Invasion of the Den
When the house had swallowed Opondo, Goretti descended to the ground. She sliced quickly into the darkness and was soon at tsetse fly’s door.
“Maugo! Maugo! Maugo!”
She whispered so that her obviously English accent could not be detected from within. Assuming it was Aledi, Absolom said to come in. Goretti had stayed for long enough among the Onagi to understand simple commands like that. She turned the door handle and slipped into the room, lit by the soft blue glow of the bulb. Absolom was lying on the bed. He was only dressed in a pair of cotton shorts and was facing the opposite wall.
“Aledi, close the door!” he commanded in Onagi without once ever turning.
“Yes darling!” came the response in English.
Wait a moment! Aledi had never spoken English to him. Absolom jerked round like a spinning top. On seeing whom he saw, his mouth flew open, and he wasn’t smiling this time.
“Goretti! What ….?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” she interjected somewhat losing confidence. “I just thought I would surprise you by coming here unexpectedly. But since I am not welcome….”
She turned to leave.
“But surely,” his voice stopped her, she knew instinctively that he had started smiling again. “I am just an African, a servant. Did you just call me darling?”
“Look Absolom, I’m sorry. I should not have come here. As for calling you darling, I thought…. thought that is what your girlfriend would have said. I was just pretending to be her. I have to go.”
“Wait a moment, why did you come here?” he sat up in bed.
“Because I wanted to see what you room looks like. I thought you would never ask me.”
“But I also thought it was impossible you would ever want to come here.”
“Look here, you are the boss, I’m the servant. If I did something quite outstanding, it would mean absolutely nothing to you.”
“Something, like what for instance.”
“Like making my room attractive; my tastes are quite native.”
“Beauty is universal, it knows no colour.”
“Only the beholder. So now that you are here, what do you think of my room?”
“You see. Doesn’t mean much to you. My girlfriend would be head-over-heals in marvel.”
“Any of them. So you’ve been watching me. I never thought you would be interested in my activities.”
“I never thought so too, until you took me out today.”
“Going out was your idea. But I think you have been observing me for some time for you to know I have many girlfriends.”
“Well, since I saw you that night with the girl, I have been curious.”
“Oh! Eve, she is such a gentle girl. Thought the DC would throw her in jail for tress-pass. But, as it were, you don’t seem to have told him. Would you tell me why?”
“He wouldn’t have believed it. You have a lot of privileges around here I have noticed. Maybe that was just one of them.”
“Sometimes I just imagine he cares for me. But then, that is just a silly feeling.”
“What about me?”
“Do you ever imagine that I ….. you know, care about you?”
He gazed steadily at her. She was so different from his usual girls. She talked straight and expected answers. Not like his girls, who talked in twists and turns and circles, until one made some kind of interpretation, right or wrong, of what they said. Usually, it took them a day, or a week, or even a month, to make a point. Of course it was due to their natural shyness and tough upbringing in a paternalistic society. As they became more used to him, however, they became progressively clearer; but not as clear as this.
Yet she was also similar to them right now. The way she looked at him beseechingly, her eyes crying for the truth, for understanding, for care. This was the do or die, make or break moment. He suddenly realized why she was here, and he also made another discovery. He loved her.
“I don’t know,” he answered her hanging question, “I honestly don’t know. You have certainly sent mixed signals. Sometimes you command and threaten, other times you are caring, like this morning and now. I don’t know. But there is one thing I know for sure. That there is no other lady I have ever cared for and loved the way I love you. I always believed that I would never get you. Now, I can assure you of one thing. If you accept right now to be my lover, I will have no time at all for any of those other girls.”
She appeared to have been struck by a sledgehammer. He felt as though he had just thrown a sledgehammer off his shoulders. There were no more words. She suddenly regained composure, then excitement. She ran forward, and threw herself on him and they tumbled awkwardly onto the bed.
At that very moment, Aledi slipped into the room.