The death of a warrior

Short Story

By Jeffrey Mane Febi

 

Alone, Ooamie struggled against death’s cold embrace until he died a terrible death in his bed.

A strange spell immobilized Ooamie’s body and only his heart and lungs fought while everything froze. Doses of pain and suffering were slowly administered until he succumbed. What remained of him was a body stiff as a dry wood with a cold stare; and the tip of his tongue vaguely visible from behind the back of a half opened mouth.

It was only three days ago when Ooamie suddenly fell ill. His unusual symptoms could not be connected to any type of sorcery, so he was taken to his haus-pik just outside the village. Hidden from prying eyes and ears, he would to be monitored closely by his wife Onekayai with assistance from Fetapa the orphan.

The haus-pik was typical; round with a low roof and a door barely a meter tall. It was big enough though, and could accommodate both his family and the pigs.

His brothers began seeking people who might have a cure. A couple of days had passed and Ooamie’s condition worsened, observed Onekayai; but she could do nothing, so she did her best to nurse her husband. Fetapa couldn’t care less, and went about doing his daily chores.

Often Fetapa, a pre-teenager, wonders where his parents are, and why they have deserted him. He didn’t know his parents had both died: his mother while giving birth to him and his father from acute dysentery a few months later. No one had talked to him about his parents and he misses them.

Onekayai returned from a garden nearby. Over a huge kaukau bilum on her back, rested a bunch of bananas; and slung around her neck, a brown laplap held her sleeping child. As she jumped over the fence, she saw Fetapa with his small bow and arrows chasing lizards. He didn’t see her until she spoke from behind. Fetapa froze then quickly turned and retort; “His sleeping!”

Inside the haus-pik, Onekayai saw her husband’s motionless figure on the bed. It’s been like this for the last two days. She removed her load and breathed deeply; then carefully hung her child’s laplap near her husband and instructed Fetapa to fetch water. She rested a little, and then drank from a bamboo Fetapa brought, and started the fire to bake kaukaus for the evening.

Meanwhile, Ooamie’s brothers returned from their journeys. In the haus-man they reported their findings. When finished, a long silence ensued; broken only by an occasional distant bark from a dog. All eyes were set on the fire as its flaming tails danced mockingly. Smokes reluctantly rose from tobacco pipes and no one was heard breathing in the frozen silence that engulfed them. Even the chief’s two dogs lay under their master’s bed silently.

The chief pondered intensely over the inevitable: who is responsible; how many will he order to be killed; who should execute his orders? Everyone realized their chief’s deep concentration and no one dared interrupt him.

Then the dogs barked all at once. Startled, the chief dropped his pipe and burnt himself. Furious, he jumped off his bed, grabbed a piece of wood and started hitting at the dogs haphazardly. Those quick enough, got out of the way; others were unlucky. Someone was hit by a wood that slipped out of the chief’s hand and he crashed into another person nearby. Then much confusion erupted and the flames almost died out, if not for a weak flicker.

Standing outside, Fetapa heard much noise and commotion; but no light seeped through the gaps in the door. He heard dogs growled in pain as men shouting profanities continued beating them.

He cleared a lump in his throat and softly called out a name he was instructed to report to. “Ba-ua-ti!” No response came. He called louder; “Bauati!” No response again. There was still much noise when a voice called for calm and anyone to attend to the fire. He called again at the top of his voice; “Bauati!” Then voices ordered each other to stop talking, and there was silence.

Fetapa trembled, but he mustered some courage to call again. After what seemed like eternity, a deep and hoarse voice demanded; “Who’s there?” He responded quickly and the door opened. He felt warm air brush against his face; it felt good. Then he peered into the dimly lit house and saw figures with unblinking stares. The chief, Bauati, knew what Fetapa’s unexpected appearance means. Then Fetapa broke the news, but anger deafened them, even Bauati wasn’t listening.

When tears started to flow, a tirade of obscenities from Bauati quickly forced them dry. Then with a calm but stern voice gave out precise instructions, and everyone knew exactly what to do. He had planned these thoroughly prior to the dogs’ sudden barks. It was a simple plan; a plan to avenge Ooamie’s death. It must be done or their inaction will bring shame to their clan.

Bauati quickly dispatched some men to secure and guard Ooamie’s haus-pik, with instructions to talk to no one regarding the death. Fetapa scurried behind to catch up with the fast walking men. The risk of potential contamination from his killers who can sneak into the haus-pik using spells was great; and this would make it impossible to find out those responsible for Ooamie’s death.

After much deliberation, four strong men stepped out of the haus-man; followed closely by Bauati, and two older men. Armed with bamboo torches, bows and arrows and knives, they hurried to the haus-pik. A few meters behind, three women trailed. Malufovi, Bauati’s wife and two elderly women kept their distance from the men.

Bauati and his men entered the haus-pik and closed the door behind them. The women gathered around a fire under a temporary shelter Onekayai had erected. Fetapa was there too, but no one took notice of him. After a while the door squeaked open and figures stepped out and disappeared into the dark.

The women entered the haus-pik and eyed the corpse sorrowfully. They looked at the eyes; fierce warrior eyes that lights up with love and compassion for his family; they caressed the cold hands; strong hands that many times brought them food and meat. The legs felt soft and fragile; not the ones they’ve relied on for swiftness and power. They didn’t see a warrior tonight, rather, a husband and son they would miss dearly.

Their hearts broke and they sobbed into the night. Their heads ached but still they sobbed. Ooamie’s wife wanted to cry out loud but she can’t. She wanted to sing to her husband’s ghost in the rocks yonder; to tell him he will be missed; their child would be fatherless; and his kaukau is still by the fire place. She wept bitterly. The others were strong and wise women; the very reason they were asked to come. They ensured she did not make sobbing sounds. If she did, the guards around the fence didn’t hear any. And this was to be the order of things; silently grieve until Ooamie’s death is avenged. So far it was good.

They heard the first insect chirp as dawn approaches. More insects joined and early dawn reverberated with chaotic sounds. Their hearts heaved with anxiety as a bamboo-pot was pushed further into the heart of the fire and watched closely. Malufovi ensured the pot did not burn, but it steamed violently as droplets of liquid hissed into vapours.

Then they heard a faint sound; a pleasant tune amidst much noise. They listened hard and only heard; “two for Ooamie and one for Bauati!” It seemed distant still, but Malufovi removed the bamboo from the fire; emptied its contents on banana leaves and they gathered around to eat.

As he stepped over the fence, Bauati called out to his wife exhaustedly; “Women can cry aloud now! Women can cry aloud now!”

Fetapa was woken from his sleep by joyful singing and weeping. But he felt hungry and moved to the fireplace to search for leftovers. He felt a soft and round thing on a stone by the fireplace. It was fleshy so he sniffed it. It felt like meat and he tasted it. Then placed it in his mouth and bit into it. It was food alright, and he started chewing it.

Word reached other clan members in the village and soon they all gathered at the haus-pik. Many cried openly and sang old songs about warriors who flew with cockatoos on the rocks yonder.

Suddenly Malufovi realized she had left the testes on a rock by the fireplace. She rushed into the house and searched but to no avail. She went out and saw Fetapa chewing on something nearby. She enquired and Fetapa told her what he was chewing. Malufovi angrily ordered him to spit it out into her hands and he reluctantly obliged.

Two days of mourning had passed, and Bauati realized Ooamie’s corpse was missing its sex organ. Further checks revealed a piece from the left inner thigh missing too. He knew the mothers loved and would miss Ooamie dearly. Then with a chuckle and a slight nod, ordered the corpse be buried.

Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey Febi

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A night to forget

Short Story

By Jeffrey Mane Febi

Every organ inside shook! His heart was knocking loudly. The lungs were gasping for air, and he opened his mouth. Air rushed in.

‘Aaargh!’ jets of violent pain streaked up his back. He quickly got up but something strong forced him back onto his back.

‘Silip! Silip!’ a harsh and determined voice ordered.

He couldn’t see a face but a huge dark figure was leaning over his slim body. A pair of bulging red eyes and a strong odour that smelled like a failed brewing experiment immediately rang alarm bells. He knew then what he had got himself into.

A cold rough hand began checking his pockets and emptied their contents, then the dark figure left and all was quiet. Except for the knocking – knocking behind his chest.

Stunned! He didn’t quite know what had hit him. Its force was strong enough to have sent him crashing to the ground.

He looked around with hazy eyes. The street was dark under an overcast sky and certainly deserted. An old street-lamp that has survived the harassments of night-dwellers beamed a pale yellow light distantly. He watched the dark figure moved leisurely into the light; a high-pitched whistle rang out, and two more figures emerged then all disappeared into the night.

‘Aaaaargh!’ The pain, it was awful. He turned slowly on the ground and caressed his back, and then got up. His head started spinning, and he fell back to the ground. There he remained, motionless. After some time moved his legs about. The pain was subsiding.

I’ve fallen on something hard, he thought. He pushed his hand underneath and felt around for something solid. He couldn’t find any, and pushed further, ‘aaaaaaargh!’ he pulled his hand out at once. Then supporting his body from the back with his arms, he carefully raised his upper body to sitting position, and rested.

‘Shit! I should have known better’, he hissed through clenched teeth.

Then something warm started dripping down his nose; he wiped it, and it started flowing and dripped down his shirt; ‘damnit!’ He couldn’t see clearly in the dark but he was certain it was blood. He turned his head to the side, away from his body and blood fell to the ground.

He touched his nose gently; an awkward curved hump confirmed his fears. ‘Oh nooo!’ In desperation, he pulled his nose. Moved it from side to side. And pulled! He had seen somebody done it before. He knew he could do it. He tried hard despite discomforting pain. And moved his nose to its original position; at least he thought so.

Speechless and exhausted, an empty gut feeling engulfed him and dried up his throat. Then tears gathered and rolled down his cheeks. He wiped his eyes gently and fought back more tears, but self-pitying didn’t help.

He was hurt, alone in a dark street, and misses his child’s sweet voice.

“Daa-dyy! Daa-dyy!” and ran into Ram’s wide opened arms; in warm embrace, kissed his child on the forehead then touched the tiny beaming nose and kissed it too, and …

‘Ram!’ a loud urgent voice interrupted. He heard dampened footsteps rapping out a fast tempo and he looked up; ‘yye-e!’ he cleared his throat and swallowed. ‘Is that you, Tamata?’

The moon started shinning through thin clouds, casting a dull glow and weak shadows. Tamata saw Ram sprawled on the ground. He slowed down and approached Ram anxiously, then froze at the sight of blood.

Earlier, Tamata had asked Ram to accompany him to a fundraiser at a certain night club. Ram didn’t like the idea but he didn’t want to upset his good friend. After making Tamata promised that they’d be there for only two hours, they took a shortcut through the dark street.

Tamata squatted in front and studied Ram’s face worryingly; his laboured breathing, thundering into Ram’s ears and the smell of thick fresh sweat mercilessly harassing his nostrils.

Ram sustained a broken nose where the bone and cartilage meet on the bridge of his nose; the resulting bend skewed the lower part of his nose leftward.

Ram looked different. When more light revealed swelling and blackening eyes, Tamata realized how bad Ram’s face had changed.

Tamata slipped into a long worried silence. After what seemed like eternity, Tamata expressed his utmost regret and disgust, and started cursing.

A slight breeze started blowing and cold diffused across Ram’s face. Litter nearby moved. Oblivious to Tamata’s talk, Ram watched litter shuffle and scrap, then, one by one rolled, and somersaulted lazily into the dark.

His thoughts had rolled away too: watching his son sleeping on his little bed as his bosom heaved up and down in a pleasant rhythm.

Then Ram’s cheeks shivered mildly. He rubbed his hands and gently pressed them against his cold face. It felt good. He moved his legs from side to side, and rotated his ankles in a circular motion.

“…two determined thugs wielding iron rods chased me down the street, but gave up when I out ran them.” Ram heard Tamata finished.

Ram struggled to get up. Tamata held out his hands, but Ram pushed them away, and almost tumbled forward. He regained his balance and stepped forward, and began walking slowly up the street whence they came.

Tamata followed from behind, silently pondering. What must I do to appease my friend? Maybe I’ll take him to the hospital. Maybe I’ll pay his taxi fare.

They reached the main street and Ram stole a quick glance.

There was much light. It was swarming with people. Cars with loud music filed past, bumpers end-to-end. Horns honking impatiently shrieked louder. And indiscernible voices of loud talking drunkards on the sidewalk further fuelled his anxiety.

This unpleasant cacophony didn’t help. Ram set off immediately in the direction of his home; robbed, bloodied and cold.

Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey Febi

Oh, it’s the songs they sing

By Jeffrey Mane Febi

“We see; you’ve come with the flower of the mountain; that blossoms a pleasant red and dances in the wind while the stars look on. We see; you’ve adorned yourself with this flower and come with a determined purpose; and our attention you’ve courted. But before you tell us the reasons, let us show you where you’ll rest your head. Let us bring you firewood. Let us fetch you water. And let you rest for a while. For the night will be querulous and wearisome”, so sang the welcoming villagers.

“Oh so you’ve seen! Well, we cannot hide it, can we? The wind had spoken about it long before. And the earth has brought forth the dancer on the mountain. We came here for a purpose! We will tell when we’ve rested. We will tell when we’ve drank! We will tell when we’re fed. But for now we say thank you that this place may welcome us too”, sang the visitors in reply.

It was a pleasant surprise for Oromo, the tired and weary traveler, who stood and watched his fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters; all singing together in unison; chorusing a sound that captured his ignorant spirit. Not a word he uttered, not even a sigh. Mouth half open, he gazed blankly with his mind’s eye and listened attentively, trying to capture the lyrics; those words that were trampling all over his heart.

But it ended so soon; and ushered to a sitting spot, Oromo could not but wonder at those echoing words of the songs. He has missed a lot, he realised. Even the younger ones knew the songs; they knew these songs are usually sung only on such occasions. How could he have not known this kind of singsing existed? Did they do this just for him? People at home sing for different occasions; but this? Welcoming a visitor with a song, and then the visitor responds in song too, it was totally new to him. He glimpsed the world of his grandfathers that day and it found a place deep in his heart.

He was shamed by the younger ones; those cheeky companions. They knew things he did not know and his heart despite the fatigue, yearned for this precious knowledge and more. In these forgotten lands, where the government’s presence continued to remain on the distant horizon; the traditional treasures were truly valuable. And row upon row of dusty shelves and more rows had yet to see the light of day.

The darkness gradually set in and the fire’s glow became brighter. With every additional piece of wood shoved into the heart of fire, the hotter it became. Oromo turned and noticed the house was full; every inch of space taken up by inquisitive souls. Souls that had gathered with wide open
ears and welcoming hearts to listen and learn of things they did not know about.

Then a drop of sweat slid down over his eye lashes and he knew the place would get even hotter, but no one would feel it except him, for they were used to such gatherings.  People had been steadily filling up the house for the last hour or so. Fatigue and the soothing words of the songs had rendered him oblivious to his surroundings, lost in reverie, letting them take him where they would in this enchanted world.

It wasn’t long before a new song started. Abruptly; his heart woke from its hibernation and he prepared to savour whatever the night offered. He knew his educated mind needed this precious knowledge in order to be complete. He knew he had to learn fast to blend in. He knew that this was to be his first time to be in such a singsing. He knew it wasn’t an opportunity to be missed.

The hosts started singing praise for the flower of the mountain; detailing the adventures of many a dream that had failed to return with the flower. Many dreams had soared to the top of the mountain, only to find the flower unwilling to return with them. Many had waited for the moment; the time they would meet the flower. And how happy they were when it had happened. But the question is why?  Why come now?

Then Oromo tuned his ears to hear his tribesmen reply. It didn’t come! He grew anxious! Why didn’t they respond quickly; he couldn’t wait. His heart was pounding; he wanted to know what the answer would be. And they’d sing it to their host. As whispers continued, presumably discussing the response to the question, the wait seemed long and he steadily grew uneasy. And the heat that he had forgotten began to take its toll. “Water!” he whispered hoarsely to his closest companion. “Please hurry!” He gulped the water from a plastic container with determined haste. Then his throat closed suddenly on him. He coughed abruptly towards the fire and water from his mouth and throat went scurrying into the flames.

Then a voice; a familiar voice! High pitched and with authority; pierced the dimly lit and smoky interior. The thick lazy smoke hovering just above their heads seems to part as if to make way. The voice reminded him of his childhood. Those yesterday’s when he used to hunt lizards and insects with his tiny bow and arrows; those days when his papa would challenge him to a playful wrestle. Oh the unmistakably commanding, yet adorable voice of his mama. The one and only woman who best knew her son.

It echoed into the night while others waited for their turn to join in. Oromo too waited. He wanted to know when the others would join in the song. Then all his companions, old and young alike, joined in the chorus.

But his father’s voice, raised up from the dust ridden depths of his heart, was a mere whisper, drowning rapidly into the abyss of the chilly night outside.

“…so with your great voice, you’ve asked why! We have walked over hills and rivers. We have brought the flower of the mountain. To you now we present it! So tell the others about this. Tell the others about this”.

And on the two groups discussed; disputed each with other; then compromised on certain things; all in song, poetic songs only. And Oromo in his bewildering excitement, listening hard to learn as fast and as much as he could, dozed off into the wind and was carried to the mountain of the red flower.

When first light appeared and the sharpening orchestra of early dawn had begun the members of the two groups, having exhausted themselves, succumbed to their harassed bladders. It was time to depart for the next village. Pots of kaukau were brought in and served quickly. They must make haste in order to cross two fast flowing rivers and clamber over an ugly hill before the clouds started roaring and the rain began pouring.

 

Crocodile Prize winning entry – Short Story Award

A song for camels

Jeffrey Febi

 

 

There was an abrupt scream. And Mihi stopped in his track. He turned slowly with his heavy load and there was no one in sight.

 

His heart jumped! And beat faster. Then his body started shaking in panic. The sudden rush of blood forced out sweat and compelled him to do something.

 

He quickly but carefully lowered his sun-dried coffee beans in a tightly packed, used white 20kg flour bag on the ground and ran downhill calling loudly.

 

“Somolieeeeee! Somolieeeee!” He didn’t hear his quivered voice echoed across the jungle yonder.

 

Somolie, a short and thin but tough guy with really strong arms hanging from broad shoulders that defined his physique, could easily be hidden from his view by tall grasses; but he was not certain.

 

He stopped at a spot where some Kunai grasses have been bent under the weight of something. He stepped forward, carefully, and called out.

 

A desperate voice responded and he moved closer to the edge of a cliff. Then peered over and saw Somolie hanging desperately onto some vines and small branches.

 

Mihi breathed a deep sigh. And for the first time ever saw Somolie’s bald head. It was smooth and shiny, even under the cliff’s shadow. Mihi called down and asked if Somolie was alright. The response was positive.

 

Somolie’s cap was missing and he dreaded the thought of losing it. He looked down and spotted his coffee bag. Fortunately, it had landed on a cluster of wild tiny species of bamboo that were growing there. And realised it was safe where it had landed than himself.

 

Somolie carefully climbed down, then retrieved his coffee bag. He managed to drag his bag back up to where a vine which Mihi threw down had landed.

 

When Somolie and his coffee bag were safely up on the track, they sat down to rest.

 

It wasn’t the first time for such to have occurred. Many others have lost stuff including store goods such as cartons of SP Brown beer to the fast flowing river below. Men, women and children have all had their share of experiences on this steep stretch of Kuipi track; a shortcut over the Kuipi Mountain which constitute one half of a rather unforgiving gorge.

 

It is a major track and its users call it their highway. Upon it tones of garden food, coffee beans, store goods, building materials, and even coffins with corpses have been transported for years – after their only road became impassable to vehicles due to continuing neglect.

 

Mihi broke the silence. “You’re lucky!” And pointed to a spot further down and remarked. “If it had been there; it’s a plummet to certain death”.

 

Somolie agreed with a weary nod as a vivid recollection of a recent fatal fall he had witnessed flashed across his mind.

 

Then he slowly stood up and caressed his bottom. “It hurts”, he groaned. “Something had scratched my bottom”, he continued, then jokingly checked his private parts to ensure their wellbeing. “All intact!” he declared with a grin, and ensured his cap sat well on his head.

 

Mihi let out a stifled laugh. He didn’t want to offend Somolie, but he really wanted to laugh. The sight of Somolie hanging like a bald cuscus was funny. He bowed his head to conceal his beaming face.

 

Then Somolie started laughing. Mihi burst into laughter and they laughed. Somolie managed to explain between laughs that he stepped aside to urinate and lost his balance. Then he threw his coffee bag and jumped after it.

 

After a good long laugh, Somolie shouldered his bag and followed Mihi up the track. They have to reach the top which seem further still before the sun gathers all its strength.

 

As he was slowly climbing, Somolie began to sing a song; with a voice that seemed devoid of shock.

 

They call us camels. They call us white horses.

They call us semi-trailers. They call us many names.

Names of things we don’t know much of.

 

We’re they who walk with the strength of our fathers.

Those bygone men who had tamed angry rivers,

Appeased bellowing clouds and walked with mists.

 

Our coffee beans shall not go to waste!

Our coffee beans shall not go to waste!

O no – no – no; shall not go to waste!

 

Mihi joined and they sang with a certain pride that sent the song speeding downhill on the wings of a determined breeze.

 

Far below, an army of white bags in a long and winding line resembling a herd of camels on a journey came into view. When the song reached them, hearts were touched and moved. Many repeated the chorus and the gorge reverberated with their inspiration.

 

It is their song and they loved it. It inspires strength which they need in order to climb Kuipi; and confidence to walk shamelessly with their loads through villages (whose inhabitants ridicule and call them names) along the road.

 

And they continued singing their hearts out – husbands, wives and their children.

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