The Chronicle Gambia

To Puzzle The Birds Into Silence – Part 2

If you haven’t read To Puzzle The Birds Into Silence – Part 1, please do so first, or you might find yourself lost and wondering…

Mbana woke up, she quickly threw off her sleeping clothes, splashed warm water on her face and stretched an arm to pick one from her collection of chewing sticks arranged symmetrically on the bronze counter attached to the wall. The golden eye of the wildcat which was engraved onto the side of the counter reflected the young streaks of sunlight flooding the room from the high window and glinted – a wink of approval at her choice of chewing stick. She let the stick sit in the damp of her tongue before biting into it. Her mouth filled with the bittersweet taste of the stick’s potence – a tanginess which soon melted away, leaving an undefined taste with a sugary undertone which reminded Mbana of the pink insides of the juicy guachis which littered the ground beneath their trees during a certain time of the year and filled the air with their wonderful smell. It wasn’t the same taste, but it reminded her of them. She rubbed the frayed moist edge of the stick over her teeth and then let it hang between them, freeing her hands to put on her clothes – grey woolen shorts, big enough to allow unrestrained movement but tight just above the knees to keep out unwelcome eyes in case there was climbing to do; white woolen shirt, the eyes of the wild cat painted on the front glowed a bright red instead; and finally the wrapper, an inconvenience she had to put up with as far as she was within eyesight of her grandmother – everyone else had given up on trying to make her do things she didn’t agree to.

She grabbed her pouch and headed out of her room. She hoped she wasn’t too late and would find something to eat in the kitchen. The Festival of the Shifting Winds had just ended and that would mean food will be slightly scarce for a couple of days. The Shifting Winds marked the time of the year when the hot, rainy season gave way  to the dry, cold season, when the wind blew too hard and filled one’s eyes with brittle dust. It was marked by great festivity. 

It was tradition that the people of the two Settlements closest to them came to celebrate the festival in Gnaik, the largest of the three Settlements. While the guests travelled the 4 – 5 day journey to Gnaik, the people of Gnaik were thrown into a frenzy of preparation for the festival – a great constituent of which was food and food-related activities – such that after the festival ends and the guests depart in pomp and splendor, it takes the bakers and butchers and orchard keepers, the beekeepers and millers and fisher folk, the farmers and grain-keepers and milk and cheesers some time to recover and resume their routine.

She found some porridge at the bottom of the big calabash and two mangoes in another. Apparently, everyone had eaten already except Njork, who was also rummaging around the kitchen. Njork was her grouchy younger brother who was within the clasp of puberty and had a funny voice, a spurt of height and gross unruliness to show for it. She quickly downed the porridge, stashed the mangoes away in her pouch and dashed out of the house, narrowly escaping her mother who had just emerged out of a shadowy corner looking like a hundred errands. She was going to see Kaula. 

She walked half the way and ran the other half. She found Kaula’s father in the yard carving another one of his flutes. She greeted him and managed to steal away before his long string of pleasantries. Perhaps if she didn’t, she would’ve known that Kaula wasn’t home and hadn’t been seen the whole morning, that perhaps she hadn’t come home last night. She barged into the room and found it empty. She stepped outside and asked Kaula’s father, then she ran off to find her. She went to all the obvious places first, the Weaving House, the Herbalist’s, the Great Tree, the Jeweller’s and the Dye Maker’s. Then she went to their spot on the river bank, then she walked into the compounds and asked for her, then she ran in between the trees and screamed her name, then she ran back to her house – maybe Kaula had gone there. Exasperated and worried, she sat outside her hut and rested her chin on her palms. A weight had lodged itself in her throat and threatened to push hot tears out of her eyes. She blinked away the tears every time they gathered and she waited. Kaula never came.

She was nowhere to be found in the evening. Her family also went searching for her but of course, if Mbana couldn’t find her, they didn’t stand a chance. When night came, Mbana lay on a hammock and looked at the stars. She imagined that every star was an eye, a big invincible eye. She willed each eye to look for Kaula and everytime a star twinkled, she imagined it was because it had seen Kaula and she was just fine. 


She was running from a body with the head of a crow and talons for feet, she couldn’t move fast enough no matter how fast she ran. When the head cawed, it sounded so close behind her that it startled her and she tripped and fell through a hole. She fell and fell and fell. The queasy feeling in her abdomen overwhelmed her as she rushed forth into the dark depths. She screamed and the air rushing past her stole the scream from her throat and swallowed it. Then there was the bottom, a shining speck; a shining plate; a moon ridged with cruel spikes and she was falling towards them. A second away from impalement, death, gruesome death. She hits the first spike and sits up screaming! It was morning. Kaula was still missing.

She ran the entire way to Kaula’s house this time, her sandaled feet silent and light over the loose earth. The sun hadn’t fully risen yet and it was still grey. As she took the final turn to the house, something vanished around the curve that led away from it, something familiar. It was the sway of the back – Kaula’s back. She ran after it and screamed her name. She took the curve too, and right in front of her, also running, was Kaula. She yelled and ran faster, the Kaula thing picked up speed too. It couldn’t be Kaula but it was Kaula. Kaula would never run away from Mbana, but it was Kaula, fleeing. She made sharp turns and took virgin routes. Mbana kept up, thorny shrubs scratched at her limbs and threatened to trip her. Breathing became painful and just when she thought she couldn’t go any further, she saw Kaula collapse by a boulder close to the river bank. By the time she got there, Kaula was sitting, leaning on the boulder, her face was covered by her palms and streams of tears ran between her fingers. She called her name, but Kaula didn’t respond. She tried to pry her hands away from her face, Kaula violently lashed out, causing her to stumble. Then Kaula spoke. It wasn’t what she said, it was the detachment in her voice, the defeat. “Go away Mbana, or you’ll be dirty too.”

“What are you talking about, where have you been?”

“Go away, you don’t understand”

“Then explain to me”

“I… he… I’m dirty and disgusting and I wish I was dead”

“What happened, Kaula?”

“The fire breathers from Moulas Settlement, I went to find their leader after the show, because I wanted him to teach me how they do it. He tricked me Mbana, it was dark, I should have known. I’m dirty I wish I was dead”

“What did he do?”

“When I went there, he asked the others to leave, I didn’t know what was so funny, then he asked me to come closer. He grabbed my mouth, I couldn’t scream and then… and then he force himself unto me. Mbana you should go, or you’ll be dirty too. I don’t remember much else, I don’t know why… but when I woke up, it was still dark. I was going to kill him, I had to kill him. It had to be me or him. But when I got the spikes we soaked and went to find him, they had already left. I saw their company from the tree tops, they were already far away and it was too late. It had to be him or me”. 

 A long silence followed this, a silence heavy and loud. Kaula sank to her knees, she did not feel the sharp pebbles digging into her knees. She felt neither limb nor tongue. She was a big floating heart with a big, thick veined, muscular hand over it, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing hard, painfully, with every beat. She took Kaula’s head on her lap and laced her hands with hers. Her tears fell and met Kaula’s, they blended into one.

“Kaula, will you live? For me, for us? Will we watch the birds fly home at dusk and dance in the rain? Will your eyes laugh? At me, with me? Will your joy ring through the trees and puzzle the birds into silence? Will you carve and paint, for me, with me? Will you watch dye dry and marvel at beauty?”

“It has to be him or me. If he dies, I will live. I will wash the dirt off with the warmth of his blood.”

“The warmth of his blood will wash off the dirt.”

“He is gone”

“We know where he is gone.”

“He has power in his home.”

“He killed you in your home.”

“You will be dirty.”

“The warmth of his blood will wash off the dirt.”

And so it was planned. And so it was prepared for. And so they would journey, to kill, to save, to wash off the dirt with the warmth of his blood.

To be continued 

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