Thief By David L. Lukudu (Sudan)
A False Thief
By David L. Lukudu (Sudan)
Author Notes: I'm a graduate of Makerere University Medical School, Kampala, Uganda. Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. I come from Southern Sudan, Juba in particular; but because of the war in my homeland, and for study reasons, I've lived in East Africa (Uganda, mostly, and Kenya) for the last 11 years. I completed my housemanship (internship) and am looking forward to working as a medical doctor (medical officer) in war-torn Southern Sudan.
Sokiri was dressed in a red shirt and a green pair of trousers. His eyes were bloodshot and weary. His hair was sparse and unkempt. On his feet was a pair of mutukeli, tyre-sandals; locally made in Konyokonyo market. He had never imagined he would wear those out of date things again; but for some desperate petty thief who had broken into his hut, about three days earlier, and had stolen the only pair of shoes he had.
Sokiri was almost the only living creature moving along the road, may be it was because many of his people had migrated to Northern Sudan. His legs kept on carrying him from one side of the road to the other as he trudged on from the direction of Hai Game market. Red dust rose and settled wherever he stepped on the gravel road. He shook his head bitterly.
“Wallai (in God’s name),” swore Sokiri. “These Sudan Security agents … roaming all over Juba on their motor bikes…” he continued, “they have just messed up my day, by ordering the old woman to close her andaya, local bar, that it is becoming a centre for political talk for the common people. But could not people have breathing space?” He still wanted to continue drinking. Now he could not make it to another andaya: he was not sure if those other women would also allow drinking on credit. “How could I go back home so early, with still two hours or so for the sun to set? How could young boys force a man to go home so early to a nagging wife? And … and … the on and off bombardment of Juba town… Wallai, how could a man run around and cower like a child, let alone shake like a leaf? These rebels … who claim to be fighting for a New Sudan, for the liberation of their people in Southern Sudan... Where do these Junubeen, Southerners, want to take us? First it was Anyanya one from 1955, the year before Independence, to 1972; with only about ten years of some break afterwards… Now it is the SPLM/A (Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army) with about eight years of disturbance so far, since 1983…”
Sokiri paused, only briefly, as he scratched his rough goatee and then sent a jet of saliva sideways.
“Fighting. Fighting. Fighting. No peace. How could they torture us like that? Khartoum is very far and peaceful. People who have been to that place have talked of life flourishing there, as if there is no civil war in the country! Business! Business! Business! The Northerners – the Arabs – are doing very well in that. Then the new and modern buildings springing up almost everywhere in Khartoum. New and modern houses…and I’m here sleeping in a grass-thatched hut in Juba, wasting my whole life…”
He shook his head once more from side to side.
“How can some people in Juba live in better houses and others like me in mere huts? All my life, I’ve never slept under a corrugated iron roof… Never: only huts, huts, huts... grass-thatched roof, with mud walls and mud floors… Imagine I’ve never even climbed up any stairs! Not even those ones of wazarat, the regional government ministries in Juba. The world is changing and progressing and some people like me are still sleeping in those filthy dwellings - garbage - fit for animals.”
He moved on, unsteadily along the road, raising more dust.
“The civil war…the rebels…are spoiling my dream of becoming a rich businessman like Mahmoud. Now they’ve even made Mahmoud go back to Khartoum.” He had worked with Mahmoud, managing his (grinding) mill at Hai Atlabara, a suburb in Juba, for almost two years, but now things had changed... “Now the man has left Juba and was gone for good ... all because of their shelling of the town. SPLA? Curse on them.” For about six months now, Sokiri had no job, and the little money he had saved all along was no more. “I’ll have to go to Khartoum. Who will stop me?” His cousin, Loro, who was a Major in the Sudanese Army, had assured him about two days earlier that things would be all right. Was it not that things were easy for an army man since this was a military government…? According to Major Loro, Sokiri’s name was already on the list with the man in charge of Sudan Airways Cargo, at Juba Airport; it was a matter of less than two weeks… Of course, the only means possible to travel between Juba and Khartoum was by air… “But these free things also … let me hope I won’t take six months waiting like my sister the previous year. What else is there apart from hoping and hoping…? But that hardheaded wife of mine… She doesn’t want to go with me to a better place? Okay. I’ll leave her behind and we’ll see who will win. I may even get married to a beautiful Mundukuru (Arab) girl in Khartoum. She thought I was a simple man? She was joking with life… And that stupid friend of hers, Korofo … it was all because of her.” Korofo came back from Khartoum after barely a month. That life in Khartoum was hard for Junubeen (Southern Sudanese). Areas on the outskirts of the capital city, which were previously unoccupied and no one would perhaps imagine living on, where the displaced people had settled earlier and erected make-shift houses were being razed to the ground, and Northerners were rushing in to claim the land from the government - claiming, but buying. Southerners were being dumped in camps in a remote desert called Jebel Aulia, more than forty kilometres south of Khartoum to start building from nothing, if nothing means empty sacks of relief grains, pieces of cartons, unwanted iron sheets, vehicle parts…etc…etc… That those who could afford rent in the city, well and good, but still the figure was raised and kept high, when the Northerner saw that a Southerner was interested in one of his property. Those circumstances had changed the few relatives living prosperously in the city: they would not accommodate one with a good heart, as was the custom or culture of the people. That the Christian-based, as well as other non-governmental, relief organizations that rushed in to support the displaced Southerners had to channel their supplies through an Islamic relief agency of the government… and if one had a Muslim name, or was willing to accept Islam, things would flow smoothly in the camps. “ Korofo…Korofo… Korofo with her stories…” Sokiri was refuting the facts. “ Nonsense. These are people who just blame their laziness and failures in life on the Arabs. I’ve worked with Mahmoud, a Mundukuru, for about two years; we had been very close and good friends. Northerners are very generous and generally brotherly. Now Mahmoud has gone back to Northern Sudan. Women. Women. Women. What does Koforo know?”
He shook his head yet again as he wobbled on.
“Women. Women. What does a woman know, sincerely, apart from gossip and her work in the kitchen? Ehh… I’ll fit in Khartoum; simple: I’ll convert to Islam; as simple as that! I’ve been calling myself a Christian, but I cannot even remember the last time I prayed to God or entered a church; it makes no difference whether I’m a Christian or a Muslim – ”
“Aaaghrrrr-”: he gave away a prolonged belch, pausing for a few seconds only.
“I’ll manage life in Khartoum… Junubeen don’t understand … they just rush into conclusions. And ... and ... the old man… He wanted me to go back to the village after all those seven or so years in Juba? Ha.” He smiled at himself. “Going back to the village to dig instead of going ‘ahead’ to Khartoum – a laughing stock? Never!” He would not do that. He would not go back to the village to struggle with the soil: it was old fashioned - primitive! He, Sokiri, was already forty-something and would soon grow old but he had had no good of his life. How could he go back to the village? “I’ll not even join the SPLA. SPLA? Nonsense.” That would be the last thing he would do, or better, that would never happen. How could he join people who were bombing him in his beautiful hometown? How could he mix with the Nilotics – who were so many in the SPLA – cattle rearers, with their cattle mentality? How he hated them - people who believed that they were born to be rulers… He would rather mix with the Mundukuru than with the Nilotics… How could he live in a bush as a rebel when he hated sleeping in a hut in a town?
Sokiri never noticed a lorry coming from down the road, behind him; the lorry went on: peeep, peeep, peeeeeep as it approached him; it narrowly missed him, showering him with red dust and black smoke. The smoke choked him, provoking a cough. He stood still, momentarily. “Dyeken na nguuti (your mother’s private parts)!” He cursed at the lorry in Bari and continued zigzagging along his route, murmuring a tune from old Congolese records remembered.
“Ehu!” He shouted. “Ehu!” He repeated the noise, smiling at himself for creating a disturbance.
Sokiri pushed open the door of his hut at Line Temeregiya, a suburb at Juba, and staggered inside, whistling another tune. He was disappointed to see Namme, his wife. She was seated on the only (single) bed in their hut, knitting. Her three-year-old daughter, keji, was on the floor, made of a smear of cow dung and black soil; Keji was eating and playing with her share of belila - boiled beans and maize grains.
“You’re still here… I told you this morning to leave my house and go back to your father’s house, or wherever you wish…I’ve already disowned you as my wife… you don’t listen … you fool…you don’t respect me…you stupid …you – ” he barked at her; his head dancing up, down, up, down as he struggled to keep his balance.
“No, I won’t go anywhere. I know what you’re after. Ha! You want to sell this hut and run away to Khartoum… What good is there in Khartoum? Haven’t you heard that it’s not easy for Southerners there? I’m not going anywhere. Why did you marry me after all…? I repeat, I’m not going anywhere. You can go to your promised land. We shall feed on the small rations from the relief distribution, even if it means belila everyday. I won’t go anywhere.” She burst, defiantly, as she carried on with her knitting, ignoring him partially.
“You with your Korofo, a rotten tin of lies, rumour-monger…” Sokiri retorted, as he spat on the floor. “Teeah!” He jeered at his wife, still unstable with his balance.
Suddenly, Keji got up, excited, and ran towards her father: “Baba… Baba….” He shoved the child away; the child fell on her buttocks with a dull thud and began crying.
Namme stopped her work.
“Why do you do that? Is she not your child too? What kind of father are you? You with your drinking …you drunkard. Everyday you come home looking for trouble. You. You. Devil you. Whatever is itching you these days… ” She was indignant, pointing a finger at him as she talked. And she moved towards the child.
“You point me with your dirty finger ... you … sharamuta (whore) …” Sokiri was saying. Then he gave her a kick on her back with his tyre-sandal, the sandal hitting her on the targeted spot. She fell on her daughter, intensifying her cry. The child shrieked; the noise seemed to have woken up something deep within Namme.
Namme became mad with anger: “Today you’ll see. Today… everyday…you think I’m stupid. Today…wo wo ngote dyeken (…mother of female private parts)…” She ran towards a rack on the opposite side of the room, biting her right index finger, and she drew a long knife and charged at her husband with it.
Sokiri gazed at his wife: how many knives was she holding? He wondered. It seemed to him she had more than one knife – about two or three – as his eyes deceived him. He knew that he was weak, that he was not strong enough to resist her with the knives. He quickly turned and got out of the hut. Outside, he saw Namme coming, fiercely, determined.
“I’ll kill you today…today...” She went on, rushing towards him.
“Eh!” He cried and became sober enough to make for the road.
His wife ran after him, leaving the child crying in the hut. “Thief! Thief!” Yelled Namme. “Thief! Thief! Catch thief! Thief! Thief! Catch him! Thief! Thief! Catch thief!”
As was the manner of the people, especially the youth, living in that area, whenever a thief was being pursued, they would join in the chase: some for fun; others for real, to cast their bitterness against the widespread stealing on any robber they could land their hands on. “He stole the radio I borrowed from my friend … he has my clothes…he stole my underwear…he has my watch…he stole our goat… etc…etc…” were some of the words the people uttered whenever they ran after one.
As Sokiri ran, people grabbed stones - big or small, sticks, or whatever they could lay their hands on, and joined his wife, crying out for more people to join them: “Thief! Thief! Catch thief!”
He felt a stone hit him on the back; another landed on his head. “Aaah!” He moaned. He almost fell down. Could he stop? Could he tell them that he was not a thief? Would they recognize him? Would they listen to him? No… they would not believe him. They would finish him. Fear gripped his heart. He should get away from them. Fast; fast; he increased his pace.
Sokiri turned a corner on his left, his breathing becoming heavier and heavier. He glanced backwards: “No! What a mob!” They were still after him. A small path branched to his right, leading to Hai Game market; he hesitated, but only for a second: there were three or so men there; they would get him. He continued along his route.
A teenager in front of him, with a wide smile on his face, tried to grab him by the arm; “I’ll kill you,” he muttered, as he dodged the boy, and took a quick look once more behind. He could see some eager young men not giving up on him. They were still coming. Faster, faster; his rubber sandals seemed to spur him on and on; his heart was drumming audibly underneath his heavy chest; his nose and mouth were widening to draw in more air.
“Thief! Thief!” the pursuers went on, hurling more stones at him. He felt two stones on his back and saw three more bypassed him. “Ayeee!” he screamed. As he made for the corner, he bumped on someone who was dressed almost similar to him – a red shirt and, was it khaki or a black pair of trousers? – but had a small bag in his hand. He fell down; “Agh!” He cursed the man, who did not fall but continued running. He got up in a swift, and as he turned the corner, he saw another crowd coming from the opposite direction! For a moment, he stood aghast. How come they were now coming from the front? He peeked again backwards and saw the mob from home; he also spotted the young man who collided with him turning leftwards and disappearing between some houses. Then he understood; he understood why the man was running. He tried to follow him, but another rain of stones poured on him. He could not make it backwards: the flock from home had blocked his way. Those at the fringe of the new crowd were the first to land on him. They kicked him; they stripped him; they tore his flesh with their sticks and whips: all in unison of a thirsty throng. “Agh! Agh! Agh! Oh! Woo! Woo! … No! … No! …” Cried Sokiri as they beat him. But who could listen to what a thief had to say? Who was a thief anyway? He clutched his private parts lest someone should chop them off; there was a man brandishing a panga, machete, amongst the crowd but it seemed he could not make his way towards him. Some people joined the chase for fun: they were enjoying every moment of it with smiles, laughter and dancing. Others were there for real: “Don’t leave him! Kill him! Kill him! Thieves make us poorer. Don’t leave him…!” They growled as they attacked him furiously – as if beating off their anger against their poverty and hardships on him. “Don’t leave him…he stole my bag. Where is my bag? Don’t leave him…” he heard a female voice amidst all. How merciless they were! He cursed them. He cursed Namme. What wife could do that to a husband? If only he had known….
Ta-tat, ta-tat; a policeman sent bullets into the air. People scattered; others dived to the ground. The constable pushed his way through to Sokiri. “You people…” he remarked, shaking his head from side to side, his rifle in his hands. He bent and felt the suspect’s wrist: dead? He was almost dead – may be not yet dead. Well, a hand… Ironically, some young men rushed forward and helped carry him in the direction of a police van, which was parked beside Kokora road. Namme… how could she do that to him…? How…? He bitterly assured himself in his semi-conscious state: no one would ever ridicule his manhood again when all was over… No one…
“He stole my bag…my money... He stole my bag …” went on the lady, following the police officer.
Sokiri’s wife, still holding her knife, likewise came forward, uttering: “He fought me…he he... wanted to kill me – this thief…”
“Come with me,” the officer ordered the two women, as he moved in the direction of the vehicle, his weapon in his hands.
“Selwa, please take care of my daughter.” Namme was requesting a neighbour. Then they got into the van and were whisked off.
May be they went to Malakia Police Station; may be to Juba Teaching Hospital.