Chapter 2: The Whimpering Souls
I Ngao, son of Wepesi, grew up like any other northern Kenyan child. My life was pegged around animals because they are the source of livelihood. I remember instances where a few animals would stray. Myself and the other herders would not rest until the animals were found. We helped each other in our escapades and formed a brotherhood as a result. We cried together, laughed together and even trekked entire nights together in search of lost animals. I vividly recall my father telling me that I was the cornerstone of the family. This was because, I was the only boy in the family. I hear my elder sister Hala Hala was born when my mum was going to fetch water. Mum was young and did not know when the child was due – she delivered by herself on her way back from fetching water. Our second born, Chausiku was born at night, just before my folks went to bed… This story of my siblings and the circumstances under which they were born was repeated to me many a times both by my uncles and my dad to the point that I knew my eight sisters were my responsibility even though I was the youngest! This made me tough and responsible from an early age such that my fellow herders valued my opinion even though others were older than me. By the look of things, I was their leader.
One hot afternoon, ‘my team’ and I ventured deep into the unknown wilderness of northern Kenya. We had been cautioned severally against going that far. They say there is a big mountain with a cave on its slopes. The cave has souls that cry and lure victims inside. Once inside, the victims are mesmerized by what they see. They are then engaged in a conversation with the souls and eventually they got confused, stranded and cannot trace their way back. They wander inside the cave, starve and die. They then join the whimpering souls in the after life and the cycle is repeated all over again! The rain had been expected three months ago, but by the look of things, it seemed like they had failed. Our animals needed pasture. We had no choice but to traverse the plains and within no time we ended up near the big mountain. The sun was tormenting here. We needed water for both the animals and ourselves. Our bodies were now very low in energy and the thirst made the situation worse. Apiko, the herder who rushes carelessly with his flock whenever pasture is scarce passed out from exhaustion. We decided to carry him and sought refuge at the slopes of the mountain, hoping that he will recover because there was a refreshing breeze and the shade was relaxing. We sat to catch our breath watching from afar as our animals devoured the little pasture that was available.
“Set us free brothers! Please, set us free…” A voice was wailing and beckoning for our help. At first, I thought Kadidi was unleashing his usual pranks on us. But the voice persisted until it was joined by other voices and the wailing was much louder now. I decided to venture in but first, I asked the team if they were ready to join me and see what this mysterious cave had in store. No one was brave enough to accompany me. They only cautioned me against going in saying everything that is unfolding, is exactly as what our elders had warned us against. I said to myself, ‘today will make a very important day in my life because I am about to do what others have been afraid to do.’ Without much ado, I went inside the cave armed with my ‘herding stick’ – an AK47 assault rifle!
Once inside, the voices stopped wailing. All that was there was stark darkness. I was a bit tensed by the silence and darkness but I decided to move a bit more inside. With my fingers on the trigger ready to fire, my rifle was now raised and aiming straight into the darkness. Suddenly, a weak female voice said to me, “son, please stop stepping on me!” I stepped back and that is when I started to see more than a dozen eyes staring at me. I was afraid and for a moment I was motionless even though I wanted to run. “Is this the reward I am getting for disobedience?” I asked myself. “Why are they all staring at me without blinking. I should now track back or start saying my final prayers,” I thought to myself. But while I was lost in contemplation, they brought me to my senses by first thanking me for heeding their call. Then they said that a long time ago, they were youthful and naïve like me, full of life. It was the same season and they had ventured further into the desert in search of pasture for their animals. They then came across the cave. They had been walking since dawn, so they decided to catch their breath before they could proceed. Because they were worn out, they all fell asleep only to be woken up by armed cattle rustlers from the neighbouring community. They were tall, mean looking and they were here for business! They refused to listen to any pleas for mercy. They took all the animals and forced them to go inside the cave where they were massacred. Since then, their souls had been trapped. They are still thirsty and tired having fallen asleep out of exhaustion and without quenching their thirsts. But legend has it that they wandered and starved together with their animals in the desert only for their souls to seek refuge in the cave.
They then told me that the ‘freedom’ they had been yearning for is to have a fat bull slaughtered and it’s blood poured on the same ground that drunk their blood. I told them how sorry I was for their predicament and clarified to them that none of the animals I was herding were mine. They all belong to my father while the others had their respective owners. The voices pleaded with me in unison saying I was their only hope. They continued by saying that getting inside the cave against the will of the elders showed that I had the intent to help my ancestors; therefore, I should just do one more ‘wrong’ and ‘release’ more than a dozen souls trapped for generations.