Tap! Tap! Tap! Tap! An army of feet stomped on the street accompanied by an orchestra of tin cans clanging, empty whisky and soda bottles turned up the ante and the crowds went wild. The army of feet began to shift and slide backed up by ambulance sirens in the distance it was a melodic coincidence.
The ante was building and rearing to go; louder, wilder and higher, vuvuzelas trumpeted filling the air with fiery aerosol cans hissing out and blazing at the end of cigarette lighters. The streets were lit up in all senses of the word. It was a warm December night and everyone in the neighbourhood was restless. The mosquitoes swarmed with a vengeance and the pungence of the spilling sewer seeped into and saturated the houses making the outdoors much more appealing to the indoors.
First it was teens who sneaked out of windows, then the younger ones more averse to punishment, then the parents came out giving up all together on being ‘safe’ in doors. Lomondi was a neighbourhood that did not have much to celebrate. The crime rates in the city were all as a result of the urban poor from Lomondi, the city’s 10 million resident’s poo and excrement converged right outside the shabby gate of the Lomondi neighbourhood. The stench, the mosquitoes, the garbage was all they knew.
They had spent so much time in misery and lamentation in news reports showing the rest of the city what their state of existence was, and how damning it already was that they couldn’t get decent jobs. But this one night they all gave up complaining and when one person kicked the metal garbage cans out of frustration, the noise gave one acapella teen group an idea. And it was a whole night of music.
The police patrolling the area, stood from afar. Suited up and ready for a riot and itching to hurl their tear gas canisters, but tonight, something held them back. Tonight they stood and bobbed their heads to the music. They couldn’t believe that something that beautiful could come from scrap and paupers. It was infectious. One police officer holding his riot shield and night stick began to strike his shield repeatedly in a beat and the other cops joined in with their night sticks and shields. Soon they were humming and for a second. The entire neighbourhood stopped and heard the cops. “They can sing! Mafisi can sing!”someone yelled. The neighbourhood went wild and drummed, blew their vuvuzelas like never before. They went on and on till the crack of dawn when the cops had to change shifts. The street drew motorists who initially drove with windows up and noses high and snooty, but when Lomondi’s dirty street symphony was alive and kicking no one could pass by without being drawn to be part of it.
It was a dull dreary day in the Lich village, but that was not going to ruin the mood. The annual village festival was set to commence at noon. Everyone looked forward to grabbing some grilled snail and field mice dipped in chilli sauce from Mama Lulu. She was the best; her stand was always thronged by people. Then there were the Kadede twins who ate their fill in the nyuka drinking contest. The porridge was so hot last year that Ololo the eldest of the Kadede twin’s throat bled. He couldn’t speak for three months. But that wasn’t going to stop Ololo take on the competition once again this year.
Then there was Somi, the village sage who would foretell the future. He was always on the mark. And most of the time his messages of doom always revolved around Sundu the butt end of village jokes. Sundu was the wealthiest yet dumbest in the village. He inherited several heads of cattle running to the thousands and had vast land. But half the time he lost part of it at some bet or over some girl he ‘defiled’; the village knew these girls were ‘free rangers’ giving up their family jewels to the highest bidders. But no one wanted to disgrace the name of their parents.
Last year, Somi foretold of a loss of 400 heads of cattle for Sundu’s wandering eye at River Sese. The Sage didn’t divulge further, but we all knew it was revolving around Sundu’s favourite village rendezvous point at the River with the free rangers. This year everyone awaited to hear the new year fate of Sundu, who was always high on busaa behind his high fence when the declaration was being made.
This year’s village festival was a new attraction. A grandmother’s weaving competition with the winner getting a chance to sell her wares in the famous Uyoma market where the chief would select a future bride from the lineage of the grandmothers, as was tradition.
Just an hour before the festival began, screaming children ran past Sundu’s homestead. And he did something unusual; he invited the children in to pick ripe guavas and mangoes from his trees to take to the festival. The children didn’t hesitate. “He must be appeasing the ancestors.” One child joked as they picked the fruit. Sundu overheard and laughed. The children picked the fruits and left.
After the eating contest as the cheers died down and the crowd began to disperse for some more snacks before the next show, a tall, dark gentleman emerged before them. He was dressed in Colobus monkey skin with a spear in one hand. “Lwanda Magere!” one child yelled “pierce his shadow, let’s see what happens” another kid yelled. The crowd laughed.
The Sage appeared and raised his hand and silence fell. He walked round the gentleman sizing him up. Then the Sage fell to the ground face flat and grabbed a handful of soil and began to consume it. “What is happening?!” One child asked her mum fearfully. The legend had come true, this year’s festival, was the fulfillment of one of Somi’s prophecies and Sundu would finally have the last laugh.
Toti always had such an active imagination. She would sit back and on occasion imagine herself in the thick of the jungle breaking bone with her Kung Fu, spinning random tree barks and branches, commando style, fighting assailants of illegal trafficking syndicates, rescuing women and children and winning international recognition for her work. She would occasionally sing freedom songs in her own honor.
Today she was up to something different she wasn’t fighting armed rebels, this time she was playing teacher. She hadn’t been playing outside since the accident happened. Toti had been disfigured from a really bad accident that collapsed her jaw and left her face unusual. The upper half was normal, but her lower jaw was completely contorted, her lips no longer existed, it looked like a mash up of teeth and flesh. She wore a surgical mask to try and distract the stares and mockery from the ignorant. She was only eight years old.
Toti’s mother watched her keenly from the grilled front door. She left the front door open but pulled back the grill so that she could have a good look of how Toti was faring on with the kids and ample time to run and rescue her if she was in any distress. Because of her jaw, Toti’s speech sounded very muffled and she drooled a lot. She had to wear a bib. Her friends in the neighbourhood were more receptive than Toti’s mother expected. They ran and hugged her and quickly dashed to play bladda then ‘teacher’.
The children were very aware of Toti’s injuries and weren’t willing to play any batting games, ,that Toti requested, for fear of causing her more harm. They played for about four hours and Toti’s mother called in all the children to have lunch with Toti. At the table they all watched in silence as Toti slowly pulled off her mask to take her liquid meal. The room’s silence was broken by Noni whose spoon landed on her plate when she missed her mouth while staring open mouthed at Toti.
Toti laughed, looked around the table and then said, “this is the price of saving other children from the bad people who steal us and sell us to be hurt.” The other children smiled, got up from their seats and went to Toti and hugged and kissed her.