The glee, gloom of village life

Isdore Guvamombe Reflections
Back in the village, in the land of milk, honey and dust or Guruve the sun somehow set swiftly, sending the village into a brief rush, as villagers went to and fro, locking away chicken, goats, cattle and precious little else.

It was winter and the time livestock freelanced and roamed wild and free only to be locked up at sunset as mainly an accounting process. Hens clucked drowsily the last, bidding farewell to the silhouette horizon before being locked in for the night, with chicks in tow.

Boys and girls had plenty of time to play too. Boys played plastic balls, dug for mice, hunted the elusive hare or birds. But mice were plenty and a daily delicacy.

Girls bathed, shaved and plaited their hair. Other girls simply smoothed their hair with bush syrup to look good. Body lotion came in various forms, including cooking oil, bush oil and rarely, conventional lotion from the shops.

Teenage boys and girls cast lustful eyes on each other before grudgingly leaving for their respective homes. The mature daters gave each other codes for a night’s meeting.

Women looked for their children, picked up every precious little else and, of course, looked for their husbands. The search for husbands was often in vain, for they would be drinking somewhere at the numerous village drinking homes. The village was alive.

We stayed with grandmother and like any village woman, she suddenly busied herself with her indoor and outdoor cooking fires. The indoor fire was mainly for the evening meal, while the outdoor one was for us and grandfather. We always sat at the outdoor fire sorting mice, the hare or birds that we would have shot. Each boy had a catapult that normally dangled from the neck. It was a permanent necklace. Boys generally never bathed. The portion the catapult squeezed against the neck was normally of a different hue from the rest of the body, for, the catapult kind of rubbed off and cleaned the dirt from around the neck area.

The dust that caked on our feet was cleaned by the blankets overnight and our legs looked much cleaner in the morning. What with bed-wetting and the struggle over a single blanket?

As an afterthought, granny told us to look for grandfather. It was late and getting dark, she exclaimed, busying herself with the cooking pot and humming softly to herself. It was not very difficult to locate grandfather. Men normally gathered for drinking binges at three or four homesteads as the sun set timidly over the untidy mix of corrugated and thatched roofs of the older huts.

We went past homestead after homestead as the smell of cooking fires drifted in accompanied by that of oil lamps. In this violent twilight bats flitted over our heads as we moved in between compounds.

We found grandpa drinking with other village elders. We first identified him by his thunderous oratorical voice before we even got to where he was. His voice was outstanding!

We picked the discussion that had to do with aphrodisiacs. A newly married man was being urged to drink the drags from the bottom of the clay pot. It made his back strong, grandpa insisted. When we got there the gourd of beer was doing the rounds and it was grandpa’s turn to drink. The huge fire made him more visible in his goatee beard.

He held the gourd high in both hands tilting his head back, drinking deeply, savouring each gulp. He sighed with contentment and lowered the gourd to the ground, wiping his lips and chin with the back of his hand.

Grandpa wanted to say something before he had really finished swallowing.

A spasm hit him and he coughed, spitting on to the ground and using his cultured right leg to cover the sputum with loose sand. He stuck a grubby fist onto his mouth to stifle the sound but it was too much for him. He coughed and his eyes seemed to want to jump out of their sockets.

The next to drink was Karitundundu, the village oracle, respected by all and sundry. There he was, outstanding in his black regalia and dreadlocks. Steady, calm, composed and resplendent. Karitundundu saw us first and gave a hush sign, as if to say “mind your language, children around.”

We approached grandpa with caution. He felt his ego bruised after we told him he was wanted home. He asked if there were any special visitors home, to which we said, “no!” He then turned angry, sending us to go tell grandma that by the time he arrived home, she should have packed and gone.

“You little idiots and your grandma, you think I don’t know my way home? Go and tell your grandma to pack all her belongings and go or else she should hang herself by her private parts!

“Get away from here!”

We were used to grandpa’s abuse when drunken. We walked back home but told granny half the message. We could not repackage the message on the hanging part. Granny seemed unmoved by the message.

That night he did not come home. We always slept on the floor while grandma and grandpa slept on the old bed. That night granny turned and twisted in bed, the old springs reporting the frustration. By mid night grandpa had not turned up.

Finally as dawn gave way to sunlight, and chicken and birds started reporting the dawn of a new day, somebody came running home. Grandpa was found murdered in a nearby bush. He had been robbed of the cash sent to him by one of his sons to buy cattle for him. It turned out that he had been flashing the money at the beer drink and someone had stalked him on his way home.

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