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Potato Thief

By John Oryem Ernest Loguca (Sudan)

 

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When Dad arrived we were paraded in front of our mother, scared like puppies. Sleep stole us faster after we had eaten cowpeas leaves, soaked in sesame paste. It was very tasty indeed! The millet bread made us thirstier.

That night as we played in the moonlight, we had to come from time to time to the family pot to quench our thirst while we played hide and seek. The water in the pot that night tasted sweet like Kenana sugar. We wondered why our thirst turned Kinyetti River water to taste that way.

Despite earlier information from Mama in the morning about Dad's arrival - 'he may come today' - Dad arrived late and he found us spreading in the open. It was hot. The heat wave in the town was excruciating as if a blacksmith had died in there. If it were wet season, the very spot were we had slept would have been a hyena's hunting ground, no matter even if  it was just in front of our mother's hut. Sometimes Mama used the flattened ground for drying fermented beer flour in preparation for several occasions that come and go.

When it was about 11:30pm that night, we were overwhelmed by the headlamps beaming out of Dad’s 109 Land Rover. The lights flashed right into our eyes as the car dragged itself to park in front of Dad’s room, which was only meters away. I woke up before Mama; she was breastfeeding Olweny, our newly born brother. Mama only raised her head in protest from the bright headlamps.

As soon as the car stopped, I rushed to open the car's door to my father. Dad rubbed my head in admiration. I felt his rough fingers passing through my curled hair. I grabbed Dad’s brown briefcase from his hands. He picked up his sandals from the backseat of his car; “Here Sam, put them under my bed.” I did as Dad told me.

The driver and some strange youth who had arrived with Dad struggled to pull a heavy wet sack from behind the car. “Put it in the kitchen there till morning!” I heard Dad telling them. Darkness and sleep could not allow my curiosity to search for what Dad had brought from the countryside.

But Grandma always sent us fresh maize, potatoes, pawpaw and most valuably, sesamepaste in a foremost milk container. Whenever we went to our village during summer holidays, Grandma would always be happy, moving faster while serving us. Our demands were unending. Grandma loved us and often referred to us as 'my elephant tusks.' If we were in school in Torit and Dad went to the village alone, Grandma would present her gifts to us through Dad; she always said shyly; “Take them to my worms. They don’t have these things in your town there!”

The day we arrived at our village, Grandma’s rheumatism would become thing of the past. "You take my pains away when you come!" she would always whisper to us. At night we would fight a serious battle to determine who would sleep in front of Grandma. Feeling her soft stomach was all that each of us would fight for.

Our school being 6 miles away, I woke early the following morning and brushed and washed my face quickly. I packed my school bag with my books. I removed my mathematical set and put a few potatoes in their place at the left pocket of the school bag. I mended back the sisal sack with a nail from the kitchen. When Mama saw me sewing back the opened sack she asked; "Why can't you roast them first?"

"No time Maa!" I said.

The first three periods went smoothly although my heart lingered for the raw potatoes in my school bag. I folded them tightly in a separate nylon bag. During break time, we either went to the football pitch or hung under the legendary mahogany trees in our school compound. And that was where our school market operated from.

I had carried my bag with me to the courtyard. When I was replaced after only about seven minutes, I picked up my bag and began to clean my raw potatoes. I began eating them like a goat.

One boy came and begged me for some bites; I refused and wetted the whole piece in front of him with spittle. Another boy came and begged me for the second time. I did to him like to the one before.

After a few minutes I became thirsty and began to stroll to the borehole. I was holding one last piece in my hand. On my way to the borehole I met the two boys who had begged for my potatoes earlier. The boys intercepted me before I could quench my thirst. They started shouting instantly; "You thief! You potato thief!" The shouting went on for a few minutes. It gained attraction and shortly went wild. Some girls even joined the boys; "Thief, thief, thief!"

Within minutes my books were scattered everywhere.  The market stopped; footballers fled to where I was being taken. "Thief, thief, he is caught today." The school compound roared beyond control.

Before I could reach the teachers' quarter, my entire body was in total pain; blood was oozing from my right ear, dropping onto my white cotton school uniform.

I was taken to Sr. Appolonia's office. Our class Prefect was called, accompanied by the two witnesses who followed me inside Sister's office. On seeing me, Sr. Appolonia reached out for her notorious whip. "What is it? What is it?" she asked angrily.

"He stole potato from the school field." said Lado our class prefect. I was already trembling and in tears.

"Clean your face, that blood….." Sr. Appolonia ordered.

"Yes Sister, we saw the potatoes in his pockets. He brought them from the field there." My two accusers lodged their case in unison.

"Is it true Sam?" Sr. Appolonia asked me.

"I brought them from home." I answered.

"No, no, we saw him in the field." Ohisa insisted.

"Keep quiet. Who told you to speak!" Sr. Appolonia shouted to the other boy. We were all silent. My tears began to dry.

Four teachers passed through the verandah where we were standing in front of Sr. Appolonia. The last teacher went and rang the bell for the fifth period.

"Come here!" ordered Sr. Appolonia. I moved closer to her, seeing her whip still in hand. Sr. Appolonia moved her right hand closer to my face with white dust up to her wrist. As soon as I was but a few inches from her, she pushed her fingers into my cheeks. She rinsed my cheeks as if she was killing lice.

Sr. Appolonia pulled me upward, then downward till I was about to collapse. I cried like a child. The prefect and my accusers laughed at my torture. When Sr. Appolonia stopped, I felt as if I should give strong 'hook' in the faces of my accusers.

"Go back to class quickly." ordered Sr. Appolonia.

I adjusted my falling shorts, tied the front buttons and went with my traitors towards our classroom. "You will see me on the way today!" I said to the boys while pointing my fingers in the air.

We faced lots of piping and commotion when we reached our classroom. Lado was unable to scare everyone shouting at me;

"Thief, thief, potato thief."

"Thief, thief, potato thief." 

The Assistant Head Master, who was passing by, heard commotion in the classroom and entered the classroom abruptly. Within a few minutes dead silence followed.

"What is it?" he inquired. "Thief, thief, thief." Other children roared; all eyes in the class were sternly fixed on me. Some girls were even pointing at my direction when the teacher arrived. My eyes were buried in my palms.

"Quiet please!" shouted the head teacher.

It was mathematics period and everyone knew how serious Teacher Alex was in his lessons. When he came for his lesson, all assaults on me stopped abruptly. The prefect had temporarily moved me behind the girls for fear of assaults from bigger boys. Some boys were pinching me; others threw pencil dusts inside my shirt; "Thief, thief, thief" some kids were still whispering at the back of the class while teacher Alex was drawing mathematical tables on the blackboard.

That afternoon was a day of many unusual things on our way home. I was shouted at until I reached the gate of our family home. Neighboring boys who were not even at our school began spreading news about the incident involving me in our school; "He stole school potatoes. He is a thief!" Fearing being bullied on the way to Kinyetti River for bath in the evening, I stayed in our compound and played under acacia trees next to our fence. When Dad arrived from the workplace he found us idle and invited us for weeding in our family farm along the main road. We collected weeds and grass; gathering them to be burned by Mama the next day. All passersby would greet Dad as he continued digging and weeding in the field. Just before we could retire, Sr. Appolonia appeared from the Mission riding her bicycle. Dad rushed to greet her after she had stopped. My eyes were kept away from them because they seemed to have been discussing serious matters of dogma. It wasn't the first time for Dad to be talking to Sr. Appolonia. Dad would often ask Sr. Appolonia about our progress in school.

"Let's go home!" Dad ordered us after cleaning his hoe and rake. We pulled our gumboots and took a bath with cold water from the barrel next to the kitchen.

"Sam, Sam, come here!" I heard Dad calling. I went and sat in front of him like a dog waiting for bones. "So you are a thief ehh?" I kept silent, dumfounded.

"Sam I never knew you were a thief!"

"No Baba." I pleaded.

"Who told you to steal school potatoes?"

"I did not steal Baba." I said fearfully.

Dad descended on me with a heavy whip. I cried, hoping for help from Mama. She had intervened at times in the past.  My voice penetrated the evening skies. Nyekese my dog barked as I wailed. Unable to save me, it fled outside our home, badly confused.

"I will kill you!" Dad announced.

Soon Mama kicked the door open. Breathless, she pushed away Dad's foot from my head. My teeth were colored with dust.

"What is it? What? What?" Mama asked hurriedly.

"He stole potatoes from school this morning." Dad said to Mama.

"You are wrong; the potatoes are the ones you brought from the village yesterday! I saw him putting them in his bag this morning."

Dad had already moved steps away after my rescue by Mama. Turning to me she asked; "Did you steal potatoes Sam?"

"No Mama they were the very ones I put in my school bag this morning." Dad did not say a word to Mama though he was still standing nearby.

"Why do you want to kill the boy because of a potato?" Mama asked. 

 

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