On the Heels of the Hill

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Chapter 21: The Herdsboys

The skies and the air cleared. The aroma of fried nsenene was now flying everywhere. It was too much that it covered the stench of tobacco that was in almost everyone’s compound; the compounds of those that hosted nsenene pickers during the rain. Slowly by slowly women got out of the grass thatched houses and others from Nalongo’s newly iron sheet thatched house. Puffs of smoke from different people made up small white clouds as it soared up into the chilly air. These women, almost everybody with a lesso around the waist, had tied their heaps of nsenene on the ends of their lessos. Others without lessos had buveras, and tins of nsenene and so on. Rwameiru came to Nalongo’s door with feet full of mud that he had been wadding in since the rains started. He had been picking nsenene in Mumpe’s banana plantations when Mumpe caught him breaking banana leaves. Mumpe wanted to punish Rwameiru for destroying his banana plants but he just let the young boy go with it. He stood there looking at the small boy whose dentures were out in the open showing a big grin. He asked her to go inform a list of people including Nalongo, Kabahima, Muriisa, and so on to attend the court hearing. Rwameiru had started on the list and he came to Nalongo’s house when the rain completely died out. The rains were over but Rwameiru was still dripping, with his transparent kavera of live nsenene being suffocated in his hands. He was welcomed by flesh tearing eyes of the women and somehow drunk men that had taken shelter in Nalongo’s house. The boy was getting uncomfortable when Nalongo appeared from one of the rooms in the house with a basket of boiled potatoes that she was serving her uninvited guests. She came straight to the door and asked Rwameiru what the matter was.

It was almost five o’clock and the old women needed to run back home and prepare suppers for their husbands who had been working in farms elsewhere, and more so give them omwaka. However, the men decided to stick around and take one more or two drinks before they could go back home. This village had a nervous system of its own and news travelled so fast. Many men had learned about where the beer was and most of them were floating in Nalongo’s muddy compound and Milton felt like they needed to transfer all the beer to Nalongo’s compound, which was done so there was enough space for all the men. Some women who wanted to stick around were just given a cup or two of beer so they could go and leave the men alone. Nalongo also excused herself and ran down the village to attend the court hearing. Nalongo had been notified by the chairman Local Council 1 through Rwameiru to go attend the hearing. She let the men feel comfortable drinking beer in her compound. She went back to the kitchen and reminded Ruth to keep a look on the baby that was asleep again.

“Ruth, make sure you keep your poultry around home. The baby is sleeping. Make sure you pick him when he wakes.” She too left behind the instructions of what the children were going to prepare for supper and how they were never to miss their routine chores. She then disappeared behind the kitchen to avoid being held down by all that craved her attention.

Brian, Ruth, Darius and Ronah each had responsibilities at the time of the evening, just like most children in the Village. Brian and Ronah had to un-tether their four cows and go to graze them. They headed for the tip of Buzina so they could hit a number of birds with one stone. Darius had to do the same for the goats and sheep, and he also set for the lower heels of the hill in the valley where the goats loved to graze most. The boys loved grazing their cattle on the upper heels of the Buzina as they rod fresh banana stems on the steep slopes of Buzina, others played football made of banana fibers, old clothes and polythene bags.

The forest at the top of Buzina had been stripped naked by the fire. The rains had put off the fire completely leaving naked soot blackened trees standing in shame. It gave everyone the inside view of the once might forest showing all the burnt trees. The floor of the forest was also seen as the steepest side of the hill with big rocks protruding from the steep ground. From the boys’ pitch, it was very easy for everyone to look through the forest and see what the neighbouring villages down yonder that side of the hill looked like.

Darius so much loved grazing cattle and sheep on the higher parts of Buzina and that’s what he had done since he was still breastfeeding. He had loved riding those fresh banana stems, playing football and always not paying attention to his animals which had always slopped down and feasted on people’s crops. He had been punished by grazing the goats in the valley where he would never have to ride the fresh banana stems and where his attention was required most since goats don’t graze like cows. If he ever let a goat feed on anyone’s crops, he would have to answer with wailing for help as his buttocks were itching with fire.

Nalongo had brought up her children with an iron hand, but she always had shared great moments with them. They did fear her so much, but mostly they learnt their responsibilities, and manners.

Ruth was to also release the chicken, ducks and turkeys that Nalongo had tied behind her kitchen in the morning. She had to make sure they didn’t eat any bean or maize leaves and not come close to any one’s millet gardens that all surrounded their home. Nalongo had had trouble with her neighbor because of her poultry. Rooza had told her, “It doesn’t mean that if you have every type of birds you can feed them on my crops.” It was a feeling of jealous and envy because no one else had as much poultry as Nalongo. Ruth was joined by Nadia who had gone home to open for their chicken that had been locked inside an old rabbit house by their hut. Everyone had crops; beans, ground nuts and other sprouting crops that the chicken loved feeding on. Some families had completely forgotten how chicken looked like because they had for long hated fist fights with neighbors. But Nalongo had not given up keeping. She had always tied them up until her children came back from school to watch them. Nadia and Ruth resumed picking nsenene as they watched over their poultry close to Nalongo’s home, which was the last home to the peak of Buzina. A number of children were already running here and there catching nsenene, sometimes clashing with Nalongo’s fighter turkey which fought them. Nadia and Ruth had to keep protecting the children, sometimes scare them off to get nsenene from them, as well as protecting other passersby from the dangerous fighter bird.

While in the fields, Nelson brought their cattle as well and joined it with Brian’s and others on the hill so they would manage them together. The same went for Darius and everyone resumed picking nsenene until darkness started creeping in. The men drinking in Nalongo’s compound started leaving one by one mostly because the beer was finished and they couldn’t keep there talking and dancing around like weaver birds. Some of them, the responsible ones had left way earlier to attend the court hearing. Only those that could die on the straw had stayed behind, but now that the straws had nothing running in them, they had to leave, leaving Nalongo’s compound all muddy, like a home after a night of a dance party.

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