Is there any Choice?
By Annet Mukasa
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This time it was a “rite”, which, if given a choice between witnessing it and death, I would opt for the later. But is there any difference? … .
Arose from the unknown depths of my sleep like a diver surfacing from the sea-bottom. When I opened my eyes, light rays through the ventilators fell across my face. Is it moonlight? Sunlight? Daylight? It was sun-setting light, and I was already late.
“Better late than never.” But besides the saying, how could I miss that exciting free cinema? “Girls visiting the bush.” What I mean is that, it was a “rite” I would dare miss if I was dead. Well, in the shelter of my “sacred tree”, I sat on that usual branch which gave me a strategic view. The girls were late. Or was I the one who was too late? Anyway, the sky was azure clear and it lit up with a luminous light from the setting sun. I could see to the furthest end of the forest. I sat motionless, waiting. Somewhere, the veld fires were burning and fragments of charred grass were all over me. I waited, one moment feeling like a fool, the other telling myself that it wasn’t unheard of for a twenty year-old man to sneak on teenage girls visiting the bush.
There was an atmosphere of quietness, save for the soft singing of the birds in the trees and the sighing of the breeze in the treetops. Instinct drew my attention to the direction of the nearby shrubs. Some one was moving. I cursed. Whoever was invading my private territory would be damned. Damned because he would interrupt my exciting moment when the girls came. A tall figure came forward. He wore a dark-brown shirt, folded at the sleeves and a black pair of trousers, wet to knee level. On his head was a fibre-made hat almost concealing his eyes. But that aquiline nose stood out clearly under which lay the bushy beard surrounding the somehow fleshy lips. He was carrying something in a manner one carries a sleeping child, with head resting on the shoulder. He moved towards my “sacred tree”, his cautious footsteps eloquent of purpose. In the over-grown shrubs just infront of my “sacred tree” he stopped, looked around quickly then put his load down. It was a child.
The wind came. It shook the tree and made my shirt flap. I held onto the branch firmly. Or should I say bracing myself for whatever was going to happen? Well, he squatted down and extended his left leg. Folding his trousers, he unfastened a cloth around his calf and pulled out something. A sword, glittering even when there was no light to reflect. My limbs went numb. Insidious anxiety took over me and I felt the first prickings of fear. The fear grew into terror as he stood up with the sword in his right hand. He looked around again, as if to make sure no one was seeing him. He bent down and removed the child’s clothes. It was a girl. She lay down lifeless. With his left hand, he lifted up the child’s hand, which fell back limply. My first desperate thought was to shout for help, but I couldn’t. I knew him. Not as you could know a person, but as I knew him. I saw him spitting on the sword before poising it at the child’s neck, his left hand tilting up it’s chin. I was going down. I was going to stop him. I was going to scream or maybe just turn the sword on him. But my bile was rising at an uncontrollable rate. And instead I closed my eyes. My whole body was numb but I could feel like there were sinuous slithering of snakes on my skin. IT was a second of total paralysing horror.
The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes were the leaves of the tree on which I was seated. They were dark green. I blinked hard in an effort to clear the fog which had formed in my eyes. Was it a dream? Had I witnessed a child-slaughter? Was he the one I had seen? Why was I up a tree? I had the answers to all my questions. At first, I could barely move. The treacherous power of weakness had enveloped me. My hands were as cold as an icicle but my body was sweating all over. I gathered all my energy to climb down the tree. Down the tree, I stood for a while to get my bearing, at the same time trying to hold back the impulse to have closer look at the beheaded child. I failed, and clenching my fists, I moved over. The child’s body lay writing, arms and legs moving like they could crawl away from the scene. I was going to vomit or may be just die. The body was familiar. Those bow-legs and the protruding stomach, I knew her. A new terror closed over me and my legs grew heavier under me. I heard another sound, then multiple movements. I had to get away. One, two, three steps and I was down with a sharp pain in my left leg.
“Just kill him too.” A voice sounded. I was dead.
But I did not die, otherwise I wouldn’t be in prison awaiting the day I will be hanged. Hanged because of the murder I did not commit. Because I could not disclose the murderer, --- the one who shed that innocent blood. The blood of our neighbour’s child. Just as I took the shame, all the jeopardy, so am I ready to take the death. Why? Because he is my father.
By Annet Mukasa