STORY OF THE WEEK
The adventures of Alkatan – 5
By Baba Galleh Jallow
While Kiyanka told his story, Alkatan and the councilors listened in silence. There were occasional groans and moans here and there from some councilors, but otherwise they were all silent, except Afang Jelkat, the Alkalo’s tax collector who frequently exclaimed eh, this is strange! One of the councilors had to tap him on the back and say hey Jelkat, listen, before Afang Jelkat also fell silent, just letting out a groan and a moan once in a while, muttering to himself and changing sitting positions every now and then. When he finished his story and made his plea to Alkatan, Kiyanka slumped in his royal chair and held his head in his hands.
Alkatan remained quiet for a moment and then said, “But Alkali, the old man who came to you, did you see him again this morning?”
“No,” Kiyanka snapped, lifting his head. “I even called Nyaka here this morning and asked him where the old man was but he insisted it was you. But I know it was not you Alkatan. You are not the one who came here yesterday and also came to wake me up in my dream. I fully recognized him when he was telling me Alkalo, wake up, it’s time. It was not you.”
“And did you do what the old man asked you to do Alkali?” Alkatan pursued.
“Very early this morning!” Kiyanka exclaimed. “I have asked Nyaka and everyone else to go collect their goats, both this year’s and last year’s. Let them take all their goats. Eh, how can I prefer their goats to my cows? If taking their goats will mean my cows will die, let them have their goats, I don’t want them. Because this thing that happened should not happen again!”
“Of course you can’t prefer their goats to your cows and they can’t prefer your cows to their goats Alkali,” Alkatan said, looking Kiyanka straight in the face. “But you decided to take their goats and add them to your cows. So it is only proper that you prefer your cows to their goats because you own your cows but you can never own their goats.”
“Ha?’ Kiyanka asked, both getting and not quite getting what Alkatan was saying. “But the goats became mine because their owners paid them as taxes to me Alkatan.”
“The goats can never be yours Alkali,” Alkatan said. “Even if they were with you or your family for a thousand years, they could never be yours. Even if you killed and ate the meat of any of the goats, they can never be yours because they are not given to you willingly. The people gave you their goats because they had to, Alkali. When Nyaka refused to give you his only goat, you sent Afang Jelkat and his men to go and forcefully take the goat from him. So it is good that you gave the goats back to their owners. But tell me Alkali, will you be asking them to pay their goats as taxes again next year?”
“Never!” exclaimed Kiyanka. “A goat? I will never touch a goat ever again! After everyone takes their goats, I have asked that the rest of my goats be taken to Nyabiti Kunda and given to my uncle Afang Hulibot. He is the chief there and he can add them to his goats. But for me, I’m done with goats!”
“Aha,” Alkatan said. “You have done well. But now Alkali, what are you going to do with the thirty dead cows?”
“Eh, what else can I do with them but give them to the people?” Kiyanka replied, spreading his hands and staring at Alkatan. “I have asked that each of the thirty clans in Tonya Kunda be given a cow. That’s what my father said. They are distributing the cows right now. And you know Alkatan, yesterday the old man told me this would happen but I thought he was mad. What a strange thing!”
“Eh, Alkali,” Alkatan said. “If you think of it, it is not really strange. When you take what is not yours you give what is not yours. Since the cows are dead they are no longer yours. You have to give them to the people, and the dogs and vultures will also have their share when the entrails are discarded. But if you say they are yours while they are alive, why don’t you say they are yours when they are dead, Alkali? If you can answer that question you will understand how the thing that happened, happened, Alkali.”
Kiyanka groaned at Alkatan’s remark, again both getting it and not quite getting it. But he knew whatever Alkatan was saying was no joke, for the old man had warned him yesterday and he had just killed his own cows without knowing how.
“Thank you Alkatan,” a subdued Kiyanka said. “You have helped me a lot to understand. Now we can release you.”
“Aha,” Alkatan said as he rose from his chair and took his leave of the Alkalo and his councilors and headed back to his hut on the outskirts of Tonya Kunda. The word around Tonya Kunda that day was that on Alkatan’s advice the Alkalo had killed thirty of his cows and given them as charity to the thirty clans of the village and that he had also stopped asking people to pay their goats as taxes. It was only later that word of Kiyanka’s strange dream entered the village’s conversation but many dismissed it as mere rumour.
Meanwhile, Alkatan’s popularity grew in Tonya Kunda. Day after day people flocked to his hut to express their gratitude and share stories of their encounters with the Alkalo and Afang Jelkat, his tax collector. It was not long before a girl in tears came to Alkatan with a story that led to his confrontation with another prominent figure in Tonya Kunda – Imam Sukurr, the outspoken imam of the Boraba clan whose sermons were always full of fiery predictions of who exactly was going to hell when they died.