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Picha

Grain thieves scramble for safety

A VICIOUS whirlwind crossed the village snatching empty tins and aluminum pots and sending them spinning high above us. A huge army of swallows crossed the darkening sky heading towards the west.

The tiny, fork-tailed birds chirped noisily all the way. Casto, my son, and I were taking my herd of cattle from the grazing grounds that were bitterly cold evening when a dark mantle of clouds started gathering beyond the rolling hills of Isarwa.

It had been a warm October day but temperatures changed abruptly as a storm moved in. This was a prelude to the heavy rain that was to batter Kuruya for an hour.

The cows in the herd we were driving home for the night started mooing. It was suckling time. Young heifers that were tethered to stakes near the cowshed mooed back.

Darkness crept in quickly. It rained in sheets that night. Gusts of fast wind lashed the village as more clouds drifted in from the direction of Isarwa. I ventured out of my hut close to midnight as the ferocious winds threatened to snatch the roof off my hut.

A carpet of water swirled towards the river. I rushed back into the hut and got into bed. I must have slept for four clean hours. I woke up with a start to the sound of a makumba drum. It was dawn.

The drum sounded persistently calling for immediate assembly. Something really sinister must have happened, I told myself. A drum sound like that normally announces the death of an elder, a house on fire, a wild animal in the cowshed or an invasion by aggressors.

The ground rule was that all men, not women, grab their best weapons and rush in the direction of the drum sound. I scrambled out of bed and struggled into a pair of khaki shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.

I grabbed my assault rifle, a top-of-the-line Magnum that I always kept under the pillow. I scooped out of a bag twenty shiny slugs and shoved them into a hip pocket. I didn’t expect armed combat though.

I cantered in the direction of the drum. Five men had already gathered under the village tree when I arrived. It was Magori, the village chief, who was sounding the drum.

I learned with indignation that thieves had stolen all grain from Kimbo’s mahongo frond hut under cover of darkness. More men arrived. Most of them carried spears, string bows and arrows.

Everyone seethed with anger upon learning that unknown thieves had tiptoed into the village and stolen Kimbo’s stock of grain. Kimbo had a miserable harvest that season.

Vermin had attacked his shamba so ruthlessly. It was agreed that we wait until it was light enough to see the thieves’ tracks on the ground. After the rain the ground was still soggy. Some men rushed back home to hone their spears, knives and arrows. We finally set out after seeing the tracks that led us towards Isarwa.

Kimbo told us that the thieves could be carrying the basket loads on their heads, an arduous task that was likely to impair their pace. Everyone agreed that they were somewhere, hobbling along under the weight of the baskets. Inana was narrating his ordeal with a large cobra as we came to the foot of the rolling hills.

Here we found two maize cobs lying on the footpath. Kimbo picked up one of the cobs and examined it closely. “This cob has come from my granary,” he said. “I am the only person who had speckled maize,” he said.

The tracks in the damp soil had indicated to us that about ten people were involved in the theft. All of them were wearing sandals fashioned from old motor vehicle tyres.

This indicated that all were men. Women don’t wear such sandals. The thieves’ tracks headed towards Ngoreme. “These must be Ngoreme men,” Wambura said. “Yes,” Inana replied as he accidentally hit a stump with his big toe. He nearly fell down.

He fingered the toe to see if its nail had come off. “No problem. Let’s move on,” he said.

Magori said the people of Ngoreme had very poor rains the previous farming season. “They could be foraging for food in villages at night these days,” he said.

The tracks turned uphill but we decided against following them. This could be risky. The thieves were armed men, not animals. Ngoreme men are reputed for their uncanny skills in the use bows and arrows.

They hit their targets with unrivalled accuracy. “How do you engage enemies who are positioned up a steep hill?” Magoto queried. “Their arrows and spears will come down whizzing towards you!” he said.

“And how do you lob a spear up a steep hill at someone who is taking cover behind a rock?” Inana observed.

So, we walked round the hills to the opposite side to see if the thieves had descended and headed farther towards Ngoreme. We found no tracks. This meant the thieves were whiling away the day atop the hill hiding in the thickets.

“It is risky to travel under the glare of the sun carrying stolen grain on your head,” Inana reasoned out. We decided to go up the hill from the opposite direction and engage the thieves in a surprise attack.

We moved silently and stealthily like hunting leopards. We often paused to listen and sniff the air as the wind was heading in our direction. It is possible to catch the sweet smell of grain in the breeze.

We didn’t need to go far! We saw grain baskets hidden in the shrubs nearby. We paused to plan the looming war. I had served in the army for nearly twenty years so I was asked to lead the attack.

We fell on our stomachs and crawled forward. I told my men that we would launch a surprise attack on the thieves, raining arrows, spears and bullets on them.

I said that there wouldn’t be any let-up until all thieves lay on the ground dead. We kept crawling army-style until I saw the morons. I made a quick headcount and got twelve.

Two thieves were seated on their haunches atop a kopje manning what appeared to be a lookout post. Four others were kneeling on a flat rock nearby praying. It struck me as odd that thieves should have a god to turn to.

I told my men that I had seen the thieves within spear-throw range. I fingered the breech of my gun intent on releasing the safety catch as I watched the praying party in astonishment.

I lined the gun sights on one of the “men of god” but, suddenly, the gun went off in a freak shot. The slug hit a rock and whistled into the wilderness.

The thieves scrambled like maniacs and fled. They sprinted in disarray down the rocky hill and vanished behind clusters of thorny shrubs. I stood up and walked towards the grain baskets they had left behind.

My men followed me closely. Magori, the chief of Kuruya, asked me if I had brought down anyone. I lied to him that I had sunk a slug into the knee of one of the thieves but he had managed to hobble to safety.

spmwita@yahoo.com

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Author: SOSTHENES MWITA

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