The Street Hawker and the Herdsman By Valentine Ukachukwu Umelo
(R - Nigeria)
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The Street Hawker and the Herdsman
By Valentine Ukachukwu Umelo
(R - Nigeria)
Click here to send comments
Click here if you'd like to exchange critiques
The girl ate the man up and down with her eyes as he hurriedly undressed. Catching her staring at him, he said, “Fine girl, don’t worry. It is nothing. In fact you will enjoy it.” Then he slinked closer as he stepped out of the last of his clothing. He smelt. The body odour wafted to her. It was the smell of weeks old sweat, stale, rancid, musky. She wrinkled her nostrils. Then she realised he had worn no briefs. Her jaws dropped. She never thought any sane person, man or woman, would walk about without briefs. Her shock of discovering that he was ‘briefless’ had hardly subsided when a small, strangled scream choked her.
“Oh, this thing will kill me,” she cried.
“It will not kill you,” the man said. His beady eyes shifted left and right, like a caged rat’s. His member, now rigid was curved downwards from the cap. It pulsated at intervals, nodding. A fully-grown woman would have found it formidable. And the girl was barely fifteen.
“It will kill me. You see how it is long?” she said, adamant.
“What kind of human being are you, even?” the man said. He was furious. But he calmed down. Anger and impatience would get him no nearer his target. He knew he was dealing with an, ‘undeflowered’ girl. He thought they no longer existed. He changed his tactics.
“You are ripe now,” he said, flashing his black and scattered dentition. “See this thing, how it is pointing. It can blind someone.”
He was intent on boosting the girl’s confidence. Success depended on it. The girl did not understand. She sought clarification.
“What can blind someone?” she said.
“This your breast,” he said. “See how it is pointing. Like needle.”
The man had by now successfully undone the zip on the girl’s green threadbare blouse, slipping it halfway down her slim hands, her snaking veins bulged and standing firm. The girl, terribly baffled was still pondering the idea of how breasts could blind. Pointing shyly and straining to look downwards at her now fully exposed robust breasts, she argued vehemently:
“Breasts can’t blind.”
The man was suddenly irritated. He let the girl’s blouse, which had completely come off her hands drop to the floor. He took in her young hips, just beginning to shoot out. He noted the soft, silky pubic hairs straining out of thin fabric of faded panties, scarcely able to contain her ample buttocks. He noted her flat, muscular stomach; noted the tiny belly button, like a black pea. He gulped air, his Adam’s apple bobbing wildly, his member aching, nodding, radiating heat. This whole tête-à-tête was getting uncomfortably protracted, the man thought. And complicated too. He must end it once and for all and get on with the business he had in mind. He snarled angrily.
“You want the money or not?”
They were inside a dilapidated, out-of-the-way classroom. The man’s bare necessities were strewn about in a corner, behind a cluster of broken chairs and lockers. It was here, behind this cluster of broken chairs and lockers that the man slept. It was here that he had successfully goaded the girl. And had gone ahead to make his proposal, a suggestions that the girl never dreamed of. The girl was shocked, and said so in as many words:
“May God forbid bad thing.”
“You mean to tell me you have never ‘do’ before,” the man challenged.
“Don’t worry then,” the man said conciliatorily. “I will buy everything in your tray. No need for a fine girl like you to be suffering in this hot sun.”
The man watched hopefully as the girl considered his proposal. He was right about the issue of the hot sun, the girl thought. These days, the sun was unusually hot. Everything seemed to be ablaze. And recently too, the girl thought, her mother had scolded her severely for bringing back her wares unsold, only for most of them to get rotten and be thrown away. The losses incurred... Her mother already owed a lot to those from whom she bought her goods. How happy her mother would be if for once she came back home with her wares all sold.
On full-foliaged mango trees outside, ravens cooed plaintively; out in the field, the man’s cows, which he had left to herd themselves mooed, seeking attention. The man was a conscientious herdsman. He never joked with his flock. In fact, he lived for them. But for now, he failed to hear their call. Instead, he was proceeding to help the girl make up her mind. He licked his dried lips.
“Your mother will be happy with you if you sell everything in your tray. If you bring nothing back, but money.”
The girl swallowed hard. She recalled yesterday. She had come back with one-quarter of her wares unsold. It was the ideal opportunity for her mother to give her a dressing down. Her mother didn’t let the chance pass: My daughter, you are very lazy. Why do you keep bringing back your wares, eh? Where do you think I will get money to feed you and your brothers and sister? Look at your mates. Titi for instance. She doesn’t bring anything back, not even a finger of banana. Why don’t you do like Titi?
It was by chance one afternoon that the girl had discovered how Titi sold all her wares. She confronted Titi. Titi defended herself.
“If I don’t bring this money, they will starve.”
By ‘they’, Titi was referring to her junior brothers and sisters-all seven of them.
“I have to do it,” Titi went on. “Since my ma fell ill, there is nobody to help. My dada doesn’t care. Besides, it does not always hurt, except when he is rough. Like today. He gives me extra money too. I can buy earrings and new panties. See?”
Raising her gown, Titi showed the girl her new underwear, gift from her man-friend. The fabric was cool, and soft to the touch. The girl liked the purple lace by the hems.
The girl was shocked. The jovial herdsman had changed. She hugged herself, noticing her nakedness for the first time. What was she to do? As she thought about his proposal, knowing how her mother would react if she brought back her wares unsold, her heart softened. She might as well do like her friend, Titi. Let the man have his way if it would make her mother stop berating her everyday.
The girl whimpered and moaned, caught her lips with her teeth, clutched a chair leg, clawed at the floor as the herdsman sawed his way, struggling to penetrate. There was a tear, then a searing pain. The girl let out a short wail; then gave out a sustained moan. She couldn’t make up her mind who to blame. Her mother who wouldn’t let her be; or Titi who told her it wouldn’t hurt.
“Please stop,” she cried. “It is paining me.”
The more she pleaded, the more the man dug. Suddenly, she felt warm wetness about her. Pushing with all her strength, she glimpsed bright red blood trickling down her inner thighs. Her fears of moments ago gave way to hysteria. She began to sob, at first faintly, then loudly. The herdsman, intent on his mission was oblivious of her discomfort. He was a mask, his eyes shut tightly; his face contorted. She took one look at him amid the hot tears blinding her and feared for her life. She began to scream. But the man deftly clasped a crooked hand over her mouth. What became of her screams were whimpers.
The herdsman had been at the job of cornering the street hawker for the past several weeks. Each time it seemed as if he was going to succeed, something had cropped up and ruined his efforts. The last time, one of his cows had developed instant madness. It had began running wild. He loved his animals. And had to abandon his carefully planned scheme to go after it. The pride of any herdsman was the well being of his cattle. Love for a woman did not interfere in that relationship.
Once every year, the herdsman would make the compulsory trip down south with his herd of cattle in search of pasture, travelling over a thousand hundred kilometres. This mid-western town was where he preferred to pitch his tent. Here, the rain fell steadily. The grasses in the compounds of the numerous grammar schools grew long and lush. Sometimes, he envied his cattle as they munched away, green fluids dripping down the sides of their mouths. This was his eleventh voyage. In all that time, he had never come across a more beautiful girl. Most importantly, there were no complications. He had learnt from the girl that her father was dead.
Yesterday afternoon, he had seen her for the umpteenth time as she hawked fruits and nuts in the neighbourhood of the vast grammar school. As usual, he jested with her.
“Who is your wife?”
“You,” the man said, flashing his scattered dentition, his idea of a romantic smile.
The girl smiled shyly, scouting the ground. She didn’t want the man to get the impression that she was laughing at his rotten teeth.
“I will marry you.”
The girl said nothing.
“If you will agree to marry me, I will dash you one man cow and one woman cow. Soon you will have a herd like mine.”
The girl smiled. All the while, her white tray, laden with groundnut and cashew nut and green oranges and yellow bananas lay balanced on her head, shading her, like an umbrella from the fierce sun. To reduce the pressure of the load, and to prevent it from messing up her newly plaited hair, a piece of brown cloth was neatly folded in the manner of a coiled millipede and placed in the centre of her head.
The man said, “Don’t you like cows?”
The girl surveyed the field. Scattered around were cows of various sizes and ages. A gentle wind began to blow, carrying the odor of the grazing animal towards them. Thought of day old sawn grasses came to her mind. The girl imagined how much one of those cows would fetch in the market. If she were to sell even one cow, it would solve all their financial problems. But she was sure he was only joking. He can’t be serious about giving away one male and one female cattle just for the fun of it. Unlike other days when he just simply flirted, this time the man pushed harder.
“Come tomorrow, you hear?” the man said. “Come when people have go to church? I will buy plenty groundnut and banana from you.”
“But I have groundnut and banana here. Why not buy now.”
“I have no money today. Tomorrow, I will have lots of money. I want to sell one of my cows.”
“Okay,” the girl said and began to drift away.
The man eyed her young bosom and licked his charred lips, hating his terribly dry skin. He transferred his herdsman’s stick, which he had been leaning on from his right hip to his neck, hooking it on either side with one hand. He may not be able to give the girl a cow. That was not possible. But if she cooperated, he would give her lots of money. He had enough to spare.
“I will let you keep the change even,” the man shouted after the receding back.
As the girl went along, she imagined how much money she would make from selling her fruits to him tomorrow. And he said he would let her keep the change.
Sunday dawned bright. By ten o’clock the neighbourhood was deserted. The girl did not go to church. She told her mother she wished to start hawking earlier, so as to sell off everything on her tray. Her mother thought it was a good idea.
Just when he was giving up hope, the man sighted the girl approaching from the distance. Her tray, laden with fruits was perfectly balanced on her head. The girl wasted no time delving into her first bargain of the day.
“How much banana and groundnut you want?”
“I will buy plenty,” the man said.
“Then buy,” the girl said, her voice impatient. “Or have you not sold the cow yet?”
“I have, but the money is not here.”
“So where is the money?”
“It is in my place,” the man said, pointing.
The girl knew his place. It was one of those fallen classroom blocks in the distance, which she could see, even from here. She had often seen him retire there.
“Let us go there,” the man said. “I will let you have the change.”
The girl was excited again. She let him round up his cows and lead them towards his place. Then she followed behind.
The women perceived the whimpers first. They nudged themselves questionably.
“Where is it coming from?” one of them whispered.
The group of several man and women, members of a local church had at the last moment decided to take the disused road which ran through the grammar school in a bid to catch up time, being already late for a fortnightly prayer meeting at their sister church on the other side of the school. Soon the men heard the whimpers too. The women began to hesitate out of curiosity.
“Sisters, how late can we be?” their leader pleaded. “Let’s get on with our business.”
But the women were no pushovers. Feminine instincts warned them of what might be going on. Cautiously, they traced the source of the unnerving sound.
“Isn’t that the tray of one of these girls selling things?” one of them pointed out.
The girl’s white tray, fully laden was absentmindedly placed in a windowpane. The men saw it. They knew at once what was going on. In a flash, they were bounding towards the classroom, the women right behind them, church meeting forgotten.
In order not to warn the perpetrator of their approach, they tiptoed through the last paces to the classroom. Some looked through broken windows; others through the door. The sight of a teenage girl sprawled on the floor, struggling weakly as a grown man pounded away on her, his hands firmly clasped against her mouth, was incomprehensibly appalling. Rooted to the ground, they stared, mouths open. As one woman went into a fainting spell, others threw up what they had had for breakfast.
Just as sudden, the herdsman realized he had company. He opened his eyes. Several pairs of angry, blazing eyes burnt into his. Everything stood still. For how long, no one would be able to tell later, but like magic, action resumed at a much heightened pace again somewhere along the line. Seeing that he had been caught red-handed he sprang off the girl, his erect manhood dripping blood and seminal fluid as it pulsated.
“Bastards,” he muttered angrily in his native tongue.
Reaching for his browned out caftan carelessly thrown aside, he grabbed and drew from it the needlepoint, glittering dagger, which he always carried. Sighting this, everyone of the church group took off, the women’s voices ululating resoundingly as they fled.
The herdsman pondered his predicament for the thousandth time. Two things bothered him. He would presently take care of the first. But the second? It was more painful. He knew he was going to be punished severely. But the fact was that he did not even achieve orgasm. He was there, but not quite. He did not feel his body tremble; did not hear himself bellow. How bad can anything get, he wondered. It was because he was from other parts, from the north, that was why they would ensure he drew a heavy punishment. Were it in his parts, he would have gotten off with a light punishment, if he were punished at all. It wasn’t as if the girl died. Only minor bruises, which she brought upon herself by wriggling and wriggling and wriggling. And maybe that little tear in the mouth; nothing a doctor who knew his worth couldn’t handle. And of course, he was true to his words. He paid her. Generously. He put the notes inside her tray, wedging them with a bunch of banana. Had she seen that kind of money before?
His mind was made up. He would not allow the local authorities to have the last laugh. They may jail him, imprison him, kill him, but they would never have his beloved cattle. He would teach them not to expect to reap where they did not sow. Did they think he didn’t know their scheme, that as soon as he was safely in prison and out of the way, they would move in quickly and auction his animals, growing fat on his sweat? Did they know how long he had been herding those animals? They were over forty cows now. He started with only two, his inheritance when his father died. The police were in for a giant-sized surprise when they arrived. He knew they were already on their way.
And the herdsman put his razor-sharp dagger to immediate use as he took care of the first of his bothers. He started with the males and worked fast. Each animal he went to, he gripped its testicles, sliced it neatly in one fell swoop, watched the testicle drop to the ground. He did not wait for the animal to crumble in a heap before moving to the next. One after another he seized a testicle, sliced with all his strength, yanked, warm blood spraying his arms and face and legs.
“Reap where you did not sow, will you,” he shouted in his mother tongue as he worked. “Reap where you did not sow.”
He kicked grass, fell and stood up, his hands and body all sand and blood. He sobbed as he went from one animal to the next, yanking off testicles, jumping away quickly. Soon the animals recognized they were in danger. They bounded away as he approached. He chased and chased and chased. Finally tired, he crumbled to the ground. He hid his face in his bloodied hand; allowed his dagger to slip to the ground beside him. He wept bitterly. How bad can anything possibly get, he wondered again and again and again.