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The Reckoning

By Nyankami Miroro Atandi (Kenya)

 

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Nyankami Miroro Atandi

 

In the midst of preparing for the great gathering, Mokeira, debating with herself, remembered what her mother had once told her as they were tending to the cows one evening and to which, now, she thought how right she had been. The vista had come not a moment sooner; “Mysterious things find their abode in the centre of the mind. Neglected, they occupy the deepest recesses of our imaginations, having stolen their way through the gate of foolish slumber to lurk until commotions of doubt germinate to thereafter assume the dominance of a charging buffalo. Thus, it is not through fear that one will rise from that well. Rather, it is by the courage that feeds their vision, enabling it to see beyond the horizon. My dear, the meaning of this is that the greatness of an intellect lies in its boldness.”

 

Owing to this task bestowed on her shoulders, as the steed reining those trying moments galloped with increasing speed towards the verdant pasture pleaching wantonly fright’s meadows in rich and variegated hues of crushing doubts, she inwardly sought a reassuring confirmation that all would be indeed well whose token she hoped would imbue her with the wisdom of her ancestors that would enable her to discern as they had, and according to their wishes; by keenly paying an ear to the pulse of the rising tempests in her bosom, she readily accepted that by acknowledging the searing might of these conundrums, therein posited stood the likelihood of being infused with an insight whose innerving confidence would lance the tumult of this fiery whirlpool at its very heart. Her maternal grandfather had told her that knowledge, existing as seedlings in people’s minds, grew from ever-newly fathomed truths.

 

“If you were to be granted omniscience, your thinking would cease, young one. And doubly so if someone else were to come across the fact that you had such capabilities, because they, themselves, would defer theirs and stop playing their part in the cycle of life to leech on you, and, in the process, drag you down with them; to think presupposes work, and believe me my girl, not a lot people that you see around like to ponder on things, more so the ones involving. Thus, whoever finds solutions cut out and ready for the taking, looses out because life, through toil -mind you, in harmony with the rest of nature- comes to be and thereby lives. Hence, it is better for all to tirelessly keep on searching for truth as the situation demands by seeing beyond the pain,” he had one day told her that in a firm voice that echoed vigour of spirit despite his advanced age, as they were walking back home from his usual leisurely walk in the evenings. And she enjoyed every moment of these walks as to her, it felt like she was drawing directly from the fountain of life.

 

A day to the momentous occasion, she retraced a familiar route she had walked with her now departed mentor as evening yawned its wake. At the top of the hill, she looked down on the houses below, and considered just how things had changed. Once this vast expanse of land that swallowed one’s smallness in the sheer extent of its magnitude, belonged to her people. A horde of invaders then poured in and dispossessed the indigenes of as much land as they could lay their hands on, burning up villages here and breaking up there communal farmlands, those frantic, marauding men, overrunning simple people wherever they trod. And, with guns poised ready to discharge, they guarded the land they had stolen. Infused with conceit, they praised their own errors, covering up their disasters with clever words and attributing divine authority for their deeds. As they were settling in, they started forcibly engaging in a selfish economy that emphasised that the mode of exchange was money and money alone. And all their love was watered down with money, a sure disease that was contagious as it was deadly in its ramifications as the new strive for individualistic pursuits brought lawlessness, hopelessness and acquisitiveness in its stir.

 

Disorder, having been gusted by the pummels of a changing landscape, blew windward, to settle down as strewn, rusty sheets of corrugated iron roofs that had once been used elsewhere which, after being discarded by their former owners, had somehow found their way here as coverings for the scatterings of nondescript mud houses. With the arable land falling into ever fewer hands, the dispossessed increased inversely. And the crops changed; those that could be quickly sold now started to litter the landscape -ripped open, was the belly of the earth that once ovulated enough to feed the world in her fertile menses and in its stead laid barren, gapping wounds putrid from misuse with the rivers coughing dust to the heavens.

 

She had a sturdy frame that made her look almost like a man masquerading himself, with stocky legs and heavy shoulders, the daughter of a farmer who had succumbed to ague coupled with blindness when she was young. During those moments when loneliness paid her coldly uncalled for visits, lurking in the long shadow cast chillingly by the presence of this unwanted visitor, memories of how many a time her father, once an outgoing, vivacious man whom during his last days came to be an emaciated shell of his former self, belligerently rapped with unnerving force the doors of her consciousness; before he passed on, his conversations were often unctuously punctuated with a fervent wish to go home.

 

Her hair was dark, but her dry skin, whose lacklustre irradiance echoed want characterizing circumstantial nurtures rather than nature, was counterpoised by a captivatingly sensuous mouth set on a countenance whose joyful warmth hid a hard and painful past. The hair combed, fell to her shoulders and on this day, a long, neat khaki dress covered her lean yet nimble physique. Having weathered some thirty lunar seasons, ago when she had started showing signs of having full breasts, she was forced to go and work in the city to supplement her family’s meagre earnings. Two of her sisters had starved to death in a famine and she had only kept alive by living in the fields with her grandmother and eating raw vegetables. At the hands of her employer she had suffered daily beatings, traces of which her body still bore. When she was fourteen or fifteen she had been affianced to a boy one year her junior, who worked as a tea boy for a tractor company in town. Because most of her family was starving, she went immediately to her in-law’s house, becoming not so much a wife as a maidservant. She never ate with the others, but only fed on that that they had left.

 

The next day, answering an earlier call to assemble that had been proclaimed throughout the village and valleys beyond, clans accordingly responded in their multitude. There were the mighty swarms of Ufu who seemed to fill the assembly ground like a locust invasion. Confident were they on this day that their doubts about the Zuras would be endorsed. Many praised the Ufus’ resilience and patience as having undermined their suspects’ boisterousness. This ambience made Ufus’ supporters exude an aura of tingling confidence about, walking without fear and acknowledging whispered praises from each other. With the day unfolding, elders of this village could be seen consulting among themselves on how to make the assemblage a comfortable success. The place was aflame with all sorts of talk. Crowds mingled with eager imaginations and anxious minds. Speculation was rife on what would be discussed. No wonder that they all hurried like a gully towards an ever-hungry river!

 

Masantha, the revered Zura sage, trudged along with a heavy heart and troubled mind trying to find a reason that would justify their view. Mokeira, her young age notwithstanding, had a depth of insight like one having seen the passage of many moons and seasons; she battled with her conscience, eager to pass a judgment fair to all. On her way to the assembly, she used a winding route as if its meanderings would balm the pain in her heart. She indeed fully acknowledged that kinship disputes are hardest to judge, leaving in their wake many a time peppered hearts, as often times the essence of a debate -opportunities allowing- would be wrung into distortions owing to either side coming before the panels with closed hearts and minds.

 

Finally as the sun stood up on high, the caucuses dispersed with everyone easing into their seats under the shade availed by the cover of the passion fruits that spread upon a roof made of broken, crisscrossed tree branches supported by wooden poles equally spaced all round. Mokeira stood up, made a slight bow to the crowd and requested that they please hush up for the debates to commence. “I humbly salute this gathering, and the panel of elders. You all by now must know the reasons that have brought us together for this occasion. Just in case no one should say that they were not aptly informed, we are here to wrestle with two matters that trouble us. And as we battle with words, let us keep in mind that the root issue is harmonious coexistence. Of prime importance is the elimination of rifts amongst us in order to ponder over how to combat the looming crisis of unbridled lunges at amassing wealth,” she softly said.

 

Continuing, “We must beseech the ancestors to supplicate the gods on our behalf that this day brings a boon for us, inspired only by the thought that all things are united through the act of creation. Unfortunately the bond we once had, its cords are breaking with the discords signifying the moods of our grief. Their long, black shadows, dear friends, pleads with us that we bear witness to their truth that seems to portend that worse things are to come. The Zuras have committed a serious injustice. In the days of old, certain tasks were assigned to them, as in actual fact to each and every one of us, because it was only right that we trust them. But they have failed us! By their neglect of these duties has there been occasioned a worrying imbalance in the order of our communal life whose sequential effects have bestowed upon us this pain of uncertainty. But the doers and victims alike commit offences; hence, with soberness, it would only be prudent if we looked at the twin faces of any deed. It cannot be gainsaid how the Ufu begrudge the Zura, wanting to visit equal sufferance on them if the opportunity allowed, but it must be duly appreciated that they have conducted themselves in the utmost admirable etiquette. They were within their rights to inflict revenge, but did not do so by considering a greater moral truth that binds us all together: Interdependence! This is so because there is a fine balance between all the aspects possible under creation. And thus, you must pass your judgment impartially and without fear.”

 

By the time she had finished, many were confused; obviously misplaced, a portion of the crowd with uninitiated minds in observing decorum had presumed that her speech was going to be about praises. They could not understand how Masantha, a dear friend of Mokeira, could be reprimanded in such strong terms like this by his ally.

 

Clearing her throat in an effort to catch attention, she went on, “And with all things standing, it is clear that the Ufu, too, must be hauled over the coals for, after all, was it not them who instigated the skirmishes? By not coming to the aid of the Zura during a food crisis, had their actions not sown seeds of discord among the wider community?” Eyes darted in hunt for answers like the insects of the night, each eager to delve into the other’s heart but holding their peace, with the silence spanning like a connective tissue amongst them that sighed the contemplation that it would be wise to hold one’s tongue rather than rattle the doors of stupidity with pretentious utterances.

 

Someone, reasoning that things must follow from the start, stood up and said, “We must take the case as presented to us by Mokeira. From the beginning, she intimated that two parties were to blame. Still, these offences do not weigh the same and as such must be looked at in that light. Those guilty of any offence must admit liability upon which we shall decide what punishment best fits the misdeed. Masantha’s carelessness has been much talked about, excepting the fact that it is not the whole story. Appreciation must be given to the detail that his moral stewardship has been an inspiration to a lot of us. How, then, can we humiliate him such for these few simple lapses of neglect? On the other hand, though respecting the Ufus’ restraint, their later step illustrated wanton disregard nonetheless; they overstepped their mandate by not consulting widely and wisely. Against the veins of common reason that bind us collectively, they then sent their messenger to violate Masantha’s house in search of incriminating evidence without prior permission. Can ulterior motives not be read in that act?” To these last words, the Ufu bitterly protested stating that the speaker had dishonoured them by casting their character into vile doubt, and alarming those who had thought of the meeting as inconsequential. Their sole intention, they said, was only to retrieve what was theirs.

The speaker who had been interrupted continued thus, “So, if I am made to understand correctly in this regard, does one wrong justify the commission of another? For the record, I do not, and have never wished, to unjustly accuse anyone. My chief concern is that you dared to act outside the norms that bind us; and by not consulting the council of elders, Masantha cannot be judged in equal measure to you.” Surprised, the regroupings, now accompanied by stifled voices, indicated that the crowd was searching its mind.

 

Mokeira, aware of the impeding confusion, broke in and said, “To cloud the issues with words only leads to greater divisions. From the foregoing, it is clear that Masantha is guilty. Notwithstanding his growth in wisdom, he failed in his undertaking. The enormity of this offence is the shredding of its simplicity. It should be asked: If a man of his stature, morally and socially, can let a momentary lapse in sound reasoning impair his judgement in a matter as straightforward as this, what should be said of the rest of us? Without insinuating infallibility on his part, the demerit of all these arises of the fact that rather than bending backwards so as to mull over the consequences of his actions -and ample opportunity was there to do so- he downplayed rules of decency warranting mere consultation before drawing any conclusions. It is in this regard that he has completely failed us!” And with these, Mokeira sat down setting a sombre mood about the place.

 

From where the gathered elders sat, Tunza, from the hosting village, taking over the floor, continued; “Good people, in categorical terms, this is what is in front of you; to be the judges worthy of our names, we shall not submit nor bend to any whims, nor be wavered by feelings of friendship and attachments. In light of the unfolding, it should be borne in mind that Masantha’s indulgence is as grave and callous to the rest of us as it is to his victims. But let all be listened to in order for each of us to search deeply our souls and pass a judgment that is just and fair to either side, and, by extension, us all. Masantha,” as he gestured towards his direction, at him to come over, “may now address you please.” With these, he, too, sat down.

 

After these words, some felt only his peer, old man Wazo could fairly without prejudice, pass judgment. From a section of the crowd there were loud disagreements with this, with this group stating that during creation, all diversity was held together by a commonness that served as a concept through which the countless constituents express their own life and truth. Above this din, a shout called out loudly for attention.  It was Lesos, whose quaking voice betrayed a seething rage. “My friend is not in this act alone; I, too, am to be equally blamed, for it was I who urged him to it,” he said. Some nodded their heads in agreement, while others said he was only shielding him because of his high regard of him. Finally, Masantha’s voice could be heard above the crowd’s; “I have with humility listened to the people. I acknowledge my bareness, of which am ashamed, and which burdens my heart with the stampede of a hundred bulls. For that, I totally accept the charges brought against me. On that material day, am afraid, forgetting how fragile trust is, I took it for granted and overran my limits in discharging a simple, yet very delicate duty, which neglect has threatened the very essence of our existence; I cannot defer by another setting of the moon punishment duly to be meted out to me in order to appease the raging spirits in people’s hearts.”

 

An Ufu, rising, said, “Simple minds are easily swept away by mere words of righteousness. But a more basic truth stands out -through negligence, sometimes simple events overwhelm us. Nonetheless, it is our definite and absolute duty to seek for explanations whenever something befuddles us. Those who sleep on their wits, afraid to enquire, are apt to be thrown into yet more confusion to thereafter blame forces from without, forgetting their lack of keenness and insight makes them gullible to the inherent dangers of a particular simplicity. As to ask when in difficulty is not a sign of stupidity, as much as one would want to accommodate them and repeat issues for clarity’s sake, sometimes one gets overtaken by events, and it being so, cannot apportion to themselves blame for others not being up to speed in their respective assignments. Had there been only one side to the story, perhaps it could have been understood. But since there are two, anger only withers and blunts the varied aspects of truth. Need it be gainsaid that sometimes troubles enrich our souls? And if so, why then, without underestimating the magnitude of our respective offences, must we condemn others’ actions as being so grossly unjust? Are the ties that bind us together to be denuded by showers of regret fermented in frisk seasons? Hence, it is my humble submission that if we should take economy as a basis for victory, we would then have no confidence as the forces we have to reckon with have a relatively superior economy considering the contemporary conditions we find ourselves in, and, too, instituted to dig in a corresponding status quo; the effects infectiously are lingering on like a long, drawn-out funeral requiem over the now rotting, but not buried, corpse of the old system. As such, our methods of infusing and instilling morale for the redefining journey ahead would be of minimal benefit to them, hence our need to build it on environmental consciousness.”

 

This gentleman from Ufu’s speech wrought yet more confusion; others were persuaded by its eloquence while others remained steadfast in their consideration of him. Mokeira shot up and proclaimed, “Adding on what someone put across awhile ago, our laws clearly state that an offence is an act that must be looked at as stemming from the doer but before we consider other causes. Therefore, what you have just said is devoid of truth.”

 

From amidst the crowd, came the call, “Enough of these! From our lips pour forth many words. Some, as quickly as the tongue is swift, while others, cautiously, as if moulding themselves into a certain order in the mind of the beholder; these latter bespeak meticulousness in the arid expanse of frivolous thoughts. Therefore, that which brought us here must be kept in focus. I am of the opinion that Masantha and Lesos are guilty as the cooking pot is black! I am truly sorry for this, but the peace accorded by his taking an otherwise simple, although serious, matter for granted stole into him the deep mental slumber of ignorance. Only one type of punishment best befits Masantha’s crime; he must loose his honoured place in the community. As for Lesos, credit must be accorded to his honesty. As the secret of life lies in learning from the errors we commit, those who fail are the same who can rise by their courage. But to start on a wrong path leads to wrong destinations. Therefore, given the fact that he abetted in the commission of a most grave offence, to serve as a future deterrent, I am of the opinion that he be ostracized from amongst us for a period of twelve moons. This is so, so that another person must not, by all means, mislead another for whatever reason. The Ufus’ sense of guilt is indeed intense but all the same, their shallowness arises of the fact that it has cast undue divisions of their ignoring to seek neither the consensus of the elders nor that of the community at large.

 

And complimenting what the speaker who has just sat down said, indeed the issues before us are communal and, in addition, as they are, in every respect, individual. Accordingly, their seriousness pours of their influential characteristic whose onslaught can only be first acknowledged, so that thereafter remedial measures for the redefining journey can be taken bearing this in mind -by duly taking cognizance of your opponent’s capabilities, will you be properly armed, in this regard, to counter the consequences of his actions. This is so in order to redeem our identity through redefining our consciousness; the essence of the battle which will lay to bare the impacts of the new myths imposed upon us to reveal the hidden facets necessitates tumultuously tackling questions about who we are, where we are from and where we are headed so as to bring out new meanings that will lure out from their lairs contradictions camouflaged by the said heinous myths.

 

For that reason as therapeutically the acceptance of shame is a curative process, and so the Ufu, for their wanton disregard must slaughter fifty of their goats and ten cows and distribute the meat among the concerned villages as atonement, failure to which all their livestock must be confiscated. Horrendous as it may seem, the point being driven home to their community and sundry is that irresponsibility shall not, and must not, at all be condoned. If what I say is approved by the elders, let it be noted that that my inspiration comes from the wisdom of contemporaries of the likes of Masantha, in spite of his error in judgment, and others before him.” Like one from a long journey, he sat down followed by a deep silence.

 

After thoroughly deliberating between themselves, the elders unanimously endorsed this speaker’s sentiments for his thoroughness, which even the Ufu acknowledged. He spoke not to show oratorical skill; rather, it sprang of a need to do justice rooted in the need to mesh with natural laws that guaranteed nature’s balance corresponding to the merits of a given situation because creation always flourished by dispersing equally into the earth her seeds of life, with the start of each season beholding the start of an end, in a continuous loop. And the arbitress, after the consultations, her psyche was jolted by the crispness of a soul-shaking insight that gashed in luminous essence the gnarled dawn of a new and commanding awakening that assertively coursed its bolt rupture through the core of her very being; the spasm of its piercing passage to her felt like one caught in the blood-curling grasp of a shriek abruptness by the animated fingers of a rending lightning whose wake suddenly seared in her mind the gravity of what was at stake.

 

Standing from her seat, in a grim and sad acknowledgement of the tenacity of this ominous arousing, she beseechingly said, “It is with an unsettling vision that we have looked at the remote points of what is before us and though fully granting that its weights would yoke us with a thousand hearts, anyways still ploughed on in spite, as those of like minds speak the same language. But, also having fully appreciated the enormity of the said assigned task, we were driven to it by our own minds and love, for the happiness of friends is best shared by both. Nevertheless, change is many a time easier to celebrate than to reside in on its fearsome reaps, because sometimes one’s joy blinds them to the fate of others.” After a prolonged pause, with earnestness in her voice, she slowly asked, “Is there anyone in disagreement with what Matundura has just said?”

 

Many were shocked at the intensity of acrimony that had been throbbing in their hearts and those of the multitude gathered there, necessitating the questions: Could these be heralding our end? Could it be that the seeds of disintegration have taken root, to omen an ill spell that will beset us till eternity? “The acquisition of this knowledge has brought along with it only tears,” another could be heard lamenting.

 

Wazo, reassuringly, philosophically replied, “Though the freshness of a thought or new thing excites the mind, care must be constantly nurtured to alert one against their unfettered consumption. How certain is one that in this new scheme of things, resultant creations will betide more beautiful things of them?  As a result, one needs to be on a keen lookout concerning what the new visions feed into the mind. The new creations, products of the hands of this man who came, in their completeness throbs the pulse of their life locked in the limits of each’s beats. Thus, are they not but simple decorations for display whose creativity cannot stretch beyond them?  How, then, can the sires of the dreams of Man in their finitude soar over the chasms of the gods spanning, as the basis, a conjoined intelligence across the entire universe in an eternal movement that is generative as it is, as well, degenerative, in their thinking?

 

Man, in this new individual garb that he has come to adoringly adorn, dazzled by the wily shimmers of his assumed intelligence, has from his very eyes come to glimmer the light of his enthusiasm. But forgetting that as the sun is old, so the gods have ever planted in the print of each tread a new seed and are thus not overwhelmed by appearance. Hence, having looked deep into things eternally, all that they have moulded measures up to their love. In this vein, good people, does not the poetry weaved in the exquisiteness of these mesmeric spectacles plead that we humble ourselves with great patience and humility -through stubborn wills, it cannot be indeed gainsaid- so as to behold the mastery unravelled in sheer majesty by a great heart and generous mind? Surely, I dare say, the blossom of these new sows, their beauty heavily haunts with disaster as this new beginning is bound to extend its life matching with the toll of its errors! In deed, they have sown amongst us a terrible reckoning, for, undeniably, uncertainty is a terrible disease; its victims lob hither and thither, their minds festered with doubts that refuse all unpleasant truths.”

 

In shame, the Ufu, with heads bowed, turned and walked away, uneasiness ploughing at the marsh of their thoughts, though keeping in mind that they had to learn the pain of love by courageously and steadfastly bearing through this ill wind.

 

While watching them go away, Mokeira thought; folly rushes through things, but waiting in the substance of creation, wisdom unfurls in it.

 

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