The Prize Of Disobedience
2010 by Samuel Ngomba Njumbe
This is a story which depicts life in some of African/Cameroonian communities. In the past our grandparents used such tales to shape the behaviour of their descendants. I hope you like it
She was a single mother of five. She was middle-aged. She lived in a small village called Bova. She was a widow. She had lost her husband to one of those complicated illnesses many years ago. Mojoko was a very hardworking woman. The light of day met her thrice a week on the path to her farms many kilometres away from the village. She returned home ten hours later when the sun was already waving goodbye from the Western backdrop to prepare supper for her children. Usually during week days she allowed the children to come with her to the farm because it wasn’t too far away from the village. This made them very happy. Saturday was reserved for the farm at Hut One, up the slopes of Mount Fako. The children knew this farm was out of bounds for them because of its farness and another reason their mother had withheld from them. They abided to her instructions except for her second son, Liombe who made it a point to fight with his mother over the issue every Friday night as she prepared the food to take along with her to the farm.
‘I know why you want to come to that farm. It’s because you’ve heard there are many fruits trees and you want to climb and jump from one to the other like a monkey. Greedy boy! I have told you to be content with the few I bring back. So stop nagging like a little baby!’ Mojoko scolded. ‘Beside, how many times do I have to tell you that children are not allowed to go to that bush? That a bad thing will happen if anyone dares.’
‘You only say that just to scare us Mama. Why does the bad thing not catch you? Is it only waiting for me?’
Irritated Mojoko, kept her attention on the food she
‘Mama please, I only want to come and help you to till the soil,” he continued, feigning concern.
‘No my son, it is not prudent. There is a law in that farm and children easily fall pray to it so I am not about to let my own son go there. End of discussion.’
‘Mama, I am no longer a child. I am fifteen.’
‘I don’t care if you are older than your grandfather or Noah for that matter. You can be ninety of nine hundred for all I care but you are not coming with me. And if you don’t stop nagging me I’ll end up treating you like a kid in front of your siblings.’
“This scenario repeated itself every other Friday night but Mojoko stood her grounds. Though she acknowledged her son had come of age she believed he was still too careless and irresponsible to shoulder the challenges and responsibilities of a grown-up. His father would certainly have been less strident with him but she couldn’t permit herself the luxury of pampering him. Her intention was to help him forge an iron character, and that had to begin with obedience and complete regard for elders.
One fateful Saturday morning, as she was preparing to leave for the farm, Liombe sneaked out of the house in the semi-darkness and went ahead of her. He sauntered along the path leading into the forest, found a good place and crouched low in the wet grass, ignoring the mosquito bites, and waited for his mother come by. Overhead the birds had begun announcing the birth of a new day. The Eastern horizon confirmed their prediction. The first rays of the sun reached out like gigantic fingers and touched the sky, tinting it into a complex muddy purplish red. A summer bird chanted happily in the distance, an indication it was going to be a sunny day. It raised his spirit even more. He despised the rainy season with its cold chilly weather and his mother’s continuous screams for them to stay indoors. More significantly, the chilly weather prevented him from going out in the night to dance mbolo-mbolo with the other teenagers; sweet occasions to fondle the barely ripe breasts of the shy girls who had just started developing breasts.
He was hiding in the bushes waiting for his mother to leave the house. She eventually did. He watched her pass by the spot where he was hiding, waited a full minute, then emerged from the thick shrub and followed suit. Obliviously of her secret pursuer, Mojoko climbed the slopes warily; occasionally humming a meaningless tune to fill the emptiness. When the gradient became too steep she stopped humming and her breath came out in sporadic gasps. On several occasions she stopped to catch her breath, stretched her weary bones and continued walking. Liombe followed, cleverly maintaining a respectable distance from his target. He was careful not to come too close so as to draw her attention nor lag too far behind to lose her track. Whenever she stopped to look over her shoulders he docked into the bushes, waited until she resumed her climbing. Despite the fact that he had to keep a safe distance from his mother, common sense directed him not to lag behind too far. With these forest path she could make a sharp turn and disappear under thick bush and he wasn’t about to find out what it felt like to be in that thick forest alone. God forbid awful things!
It seemed to Liombe like a century had passed before his mother left the main path. Cutlass in hand, she’d paused briefly; scrutinised her surroundings before taking the dirty path that led directly to her farm. By this time Liombe was exhausted and famished. He was beginning to regret his foolishness in following her when something struck him as unusual. He stopped dead. A sudden eerie silence, punctuated only by the chants of birds made his body creep. His mother had stopped walking all of a sudden. Had she heard his footsteps or was she simply observing something or someone? He suspected the latter. He made a quick decision. He’d wait for a minute or two until he heard her footsteps.
As certain as the grass is green that she would be moving in the next few seconds he crossed his fingers and waited. A minute passed. Then two but there was still no sound. Had something happened to her? Had she fallen in a ditch or been bitten by a snake? The possibility of her being hurt increased his heartbeat. In a flash her warnings about the menace lurking in that forest invaded his mind like a pungent smell. Fear seized him. His stomach muscles began wrapping themselves around each other, forming a taut painful knot. It felt as if he’d swallowed a pack of needles.
Where was she?
He was about to get up when a shadow darted from the nearby bush, crossed the path and disappeared on the other side. That did it. Unable to contain his fear anymore he bolted out of his hiding place and scrambled up the path, running and panting like a frightened goat.
‘Mama, mama,’ he screamed. Something was coming behind him. Why had he not listened to his mother’s warnings? Another shadow appeared in front of him at that instant and he was going to push another tremendous cry when a hand surged out from behind a young guava tree and fiercely grabbed his arm. Fear paralysed him. Alas, he was going to die! He began struggling to break free then stopped short as he realised who it was.
“What in the name of your ancestors are you doing here?” Mojoko hissed, giving him a respectable spank. “Do you want to kill me? Do you want to kill me?” she repeated the question twice.
With consciousness came the sudden realisation of his
inadequacy but like every stubborn child Liombe tried to disguise it
with humour. His pulled his arm roughly from his mother’s grip
and tried to make light of his reaction. “Mama, you exaggerate
a lot. I knew all along you were hiding behind that shrub and I was
giving you ample reason to come out.”
“Shut up, stupid boy. Who do you think you are fooling?” Mojoko was livid. “Your stubbornness will lead you into trouble one these days. Wait until we get back home and you’ll see how all of this ends.”
Liombe shrugged his shoulders as if to say big deal, I have been through worse.
His mother’s anger had not subsided. “I warned you about coming to this bush but since you’re here I guess I’d as well tell you why it’s prohibited for children. There is a law against anybody defecating in this forest. Of course you want to know who decreed it and you probably don’t believe it. I won’t tell you who or try to convince you of its authenticity. All you need to know is that something terrible will happen to you if you dare pass out waste here. Mark my words. I have never ever been this serious in my life.
“So you won’t eat anything while we are
here, not even a crumb of bread. You won’t drink even water.
Today I’m not going to till the soil as I’d intended.
I’ll just harvest some cocoyam and we’ll get a quick
start back to the village. You hear me.”
Liombe nodded without conviction. This earned him a hard knock on the head. He flinched in agony. “It was stubbornness that made the fly follow the corpse to the grave. You are smart enough to deduce what happened to the sorry fly.”
Still rubbing the spot where his mother’s knuckles had made contact Liombe apologised to his mother. He went ahead to add that Mojoko could go ahead and till the soil. “Mama, I’m not going to a nuisance, I promise.” He said.
Mojoko did not believe in this sort of spontaneous metamorphosis but he seemed sincere. So she made him promise three times he wasn’t going to try anything mischievous. The promise was rather solemn but it reassured his mother, who without much ado, dropped her basket, retrieved her hoe and went straight to work. Every two minutes or so she raised her head from her tilling to observe her son and each time she noticed he too was busy with his cutlass. How she wished he could remain this well-mannered all the time. His attitude was beginning to wear her down. Like for all children puberty had stepped in and transformed him physically as well as mentally. Incidentally the appearance of pubic hair and other secondary characteristics misled him into believing he was already a grown man, whereas his comportment was suggestive a twelve-year old. If her husband were still alive he would have handled the situation much better. But she was just a woman trying to raise a man. Every mother could testify to the complexity of this task.
Without her knowledge Liombe too was keeping a close eye on her. He watched her from the corner of his eyes, avoided eye contact in order not to raise his mother’s suspicion. He waited patiently for the moment when his mother finally dropped her guard. She would be wholly engulfed in her farm work she won’t notice he had moved. He’d noticed the fruit trees had borne richly and every minute that passed they seemed to beckon to him to come over and have a feast.
His chance finally came. Like with most devoted people Mojoko lost the notion of time and place and became completely buried in her work. The gigantic cocoyam leaves quickly blocked her view. Liombe seized the opportunity and tiptoed to the forbidden fruits. He climbed the nearest mango tree and began plucking off the fruits. Occasionally he bit into a succulent mango, sucked the juice and made appreciative noises. Mama is selfish, how could she try to stop me from discovering these?
An hour passed. He had already explored most of the tress and harvested a good quantity of various fruits. He had also eaten the double. Carefully he stashed his harvest under a shallow bush and lay under a large tree for a short nap. Sleep came quickly but left him even quicker. He was awoken by a biting sensation in his stomach a few minutes later. He placed a hand gingerly on the protrusion, perplexed at the swishing sounds emanated from it. At first he tried to ignore it. It was normal. The stomach often developed a mouth after the consumption of a heavy quantity of fruits, he thought. Keep on talking shy, but let me sleep I beg you.
The pain in his stomach did not subside; instead it became more intense by the minute. It felt like a barbecue was taking place within his intestines. He remembered what his mother had often told him to do when he had a stomach-ache; lie on your stomach. When this did not yield any positive results he pulled out a bottle of water from his mother’s basket and took a long sip. By the time he put down the bottle it became crystal clear that the only solution was immediate evacuation. To put it very bluntly; he needed to go to the toilet. A disturbing thought came to his mind and in panic he yelled for his mother.
Mojoko thought for a moment she had imagined the cry. She stopped tilling, raised her bulk and listened. She heard her son’s voice clearly the second time and she knew exactly what had happened. She dropped her farming kit and ran to where he lay.
“What is the matter son?” She asked, alarmed. A sound of distress escaped her throat as she dropped on one knee beside him. “What is the matter Liombe? What did you eat?”
Unable to speak, he pointed a finger at the brush where he’s hidden the bag of fruits he’d gathered. “Mama I need to go to the toilet.”
Mojoko gasped, “You cannot go to the toilet here! My ancestors help me. What have you done, my son? You can’t go to the toilet in this forest. Oh I’m dead.”
Mojoko left his side immediately. She ran about wildly gathering her belongings and throwing them into her basket. She returned to where to boy lay, seized him by the arm and tried to pull him to his feet. “Mama I can’t walk. I’ll defecate on myself. I really need to…”
“Shut up, you won’t. You have to hold it down until we get to the house, or at least away from this bush.” As Mojoko spoke these words she burst into tears. She tugged at his sleeve and forced him to his feet. “Get up my son, we must get going now or abomination will happen.” She pleaded in a shaky voice.
Wedged on one arm by his mother the youngster took a
few tentative steps, his thighs tightly pressed against each other.
They managed to get as far as the entrance of her farm before hell
broke loose. Releasing his mother’s arm Liombe ran to the
nearby bush, stooped low and exploded like a grenade. From where he
stooped he could hear his mother’s irritating wail. Why is she
getting all worked up about me passing out faeces? Ignoring his
mother’s melodrama he concentrated on his business, secretly
dreading the worst. Somehow he had expected something terrible to
happen; an invisible hand carrying a knife appearing from nowhere or
a wild beast with three heads surging out of the forest and seizing
him from behind; but nothing happened. Mothers and their fussing! He
chuckled at his own wit.
His business over he grabbed some dried plantain leaves from the nearby bush tried to wipe his backside but something stopped him cold. His hand had touched something wet. His heart missed several beats. What is the mass this has gathered around my anus? He didn’t even try to imagine what it was. Panicked he tried to stand but he couldn’t. Something was holding him down and tightly too. He began to struggle frantically but a sharp pain in his abdomen discouraged a forceful approach. He was trapped and it was impossible for him to break free from the invisible force that had gripped him. Out of necessity rather than curiosity he looked down to see who his captor was and all the blood left his body. The sight was so appalling it took him one long minute to register the horror of his doom. What he saw were his intestines wrapped around the shrubs and small tree roots and trunks around the spot that had served as his john.
A deafening scream escaped his throat. It came out so loud and clear all the animals of the forest stood still; their bestial instincts detecting the eminence of a great tragedy. Even the birds which normally flutter away at the slightest disturbance seemed trapped by the horror in his voice. Mojoko heard the cry. She knew what it meant but she was too paralysed with fear to move. The sacrilege had been a myth to her and never had it crossed her wildest nightmares that it would affect her own someday. How could her own son become a victim of the evil laws of their ancestors?
If only he had heed my voice. If only he hadn’t been so recalcitrant. If only she could turn back the hands of the clock or even take his place.
She wept for hours, unable to muster the courage to abandon her son in the forest. Alas, when the shadows became larger the only available option she had was to raise a small hut over his head to protect him from the mountain cold and rain. He had become a child of the forest. For defiling the laws of the land the spirits had possessed him. He was never to see the faces of the people he loved. It was the punishment of any child who turned a deaf ear to the counsel of his parents.
The most difficult part of the drama came when she had to leave. It was already getting dark and visibility down the track was very poor because of the thick surrounding forest. Her heart was broken; she didn’t want to break a leg too on her way home. She’d cried almost all the tears in her lean body yet the tears never stopped. Her supply seemed to be coming from somewhere under her feet.
“Mama, please, don’t leave me here I beg you.” Liombe pleaded when she finally mustered the courage to bid him goodbye. He grabbed her hand and held unto it like it was the source of all life. “I’ll die here if you go away.”
The poor woman was devastated. How could she leave her son in such desolation? How could she, a mother, abandon the fruit of her womb alone in the middle of nowhere? What opinion would her other children have of their mother; one who abandoned her children when in trouble? Would they understand she couldn’t stay with him because she had to come to them? If she didn’t return home after dark wouldn’t they become sick with worry? Pictures of a search party, led by her eldest son, combing the forest in the obscurity of night flooded her mind. She could not allow that to happen. For nothing in the world would she have left her boy in other circumstances but she had bigger responsibilities elsewhere. If only he had listened to her advice he wouldn’t be in such a mess.
She had to leave.
Her mind made up, she faced her son squarely and announced to him as mildly as she could. “I can’t wait any longer, you know that. Your brothers may start coming into this forest to look for us and who knows what could happen to them too? Please, you must understand I hate to leave you here alone but I have no choice. I must go now. You must be a man.”
The man I’ve always thought I was until now. “Oh mama, what will happen to me?” Liombe wept bitterly.
“I don’t know my son but I will go see Chief Moka. He will know what to do. He always knows what to do. But you must stay quiet so as not to attract any wild animals or the spirits. Dry your eyes and stay still, you hear me.”
With this his mother rose, flung her basket over her shoulders and edged away, hesitantly at first but then her stride grew more purposeful. Liombe could hear squishing sound of her feet against the wet evening grass. He heard the sound of her weeping and was filled with immeasurable sadness. His stubbornness had brought so much pain to his mother; his good and loving mother. She’d been their only support since their father passed away. In everything they had always come first, and the only way he had showed appreciation was to bring her shame and grief. He closed his eyes and wept.
When Mojoko reached home her eyes were sore from crying. Sadly she recounted the events of the day to her other children. They were all moved to tears. Chief Moka was sympathetic but solemnly stated he couldn’t go against the wishes of the gods. Liombe had disobeyed the law and defiled the land and he was condemned to stay in the forest for the rest of his life. Anyone who raised an objection against this chastisement was inviting an early grave to himself and his family. Mojoko digested this information and prepared her mind. Chief Moka was a good man. If there was something he could have done, he wouldn’t have hesitated for a second.
The next morning she put together a basket of food and climbed the slopes of the mountain to meet her son. She didn’t upset him more with the details of her conversation with Chief Moka.
“They’re working out something,” she told him simply, which lifted his spirits a little.
For almost one week she woke up early, made a basket and paid him a visit. She held his hand and they talked for hours before she took the path home just before sunset. Liombe had become resigned to his pitiable plight and looked forward to her daily visits like nothing he’d ever wished for. He missed his family, his friends and his home. All the people he knew were miles away, unable to reach out to comfort him in his distress. He knew it was even harder for them than it was for him. Most often when he wept, it was for them. For all the people he had disappointed and hurt.
On the sixth day an eerie silence greeted Mojoko when she arrived at the farm. It was so quiet even the birds seemed to have lost their verve to sing. She understood why as soon as she saw the tiny hurt she had raised over her son’s head. He was still where she’d left him the day before but in a peculiar prostrate position. When she approached him she noticed that his body was still; lifeless. A sound escaped her throat but she swallowed it. The spirits had had mercy on her son. They had ended his misery by taking his life quickly. She sat by his body for long minutes and wept bitterly. It was like someone had ripped her heart off her chest.
Later, she dug a grave and threw his carcass into it. Then she went back to the village to tell the pathetic story of a boy who perished because he refused to heed to the counsel of his poor mother.
Samuel lives and writes in Cameroon, Africa.
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