STORY OF THE WEEK
The adventures of Alkatan – 11
By Baba Galleh Jallow
Alkatan arrived at Nyabiti Kunda just as promised, before the sun got hot. He walked through the large village and entered the chief’s compound. He found Chief Hulibot seated on his royal chair, flanked by two groups of men, some sitting down, some standing.
The environment in the courtyard was solemn, as if they were expecting something big to happen that day. The chief was a big tall man and wore his traditional red chiefly dress. On his shirt shone pieces of mirror surrounded by an assortment of jujus, some in white cloth, some in red, some in animal skins from which protrude the tips of small and large horns. On his neck hung a row of three large jujus and in his right hand he held the royal staff. His face was round and youthful looking and he had a small beard that surrounded his cheeks from ear to ear, slightly protruding at the chin. He would have been handsome were it not for his large, red eyes and the menacing look they bore. When Chief Hulibot looked directly at you, it was as if he was not looking at you at all. It was as if his eyes were not there at all. It was the strange absence in Chief Hulibot’s eyes that made him look so fearsome. And when he spoke, his voice was loud and shrill, as if it had an invisible knife that cut into the ears of those who heard him.
“So you are Ali Katani,” the chief said after the exchange of greetings with the little old man standing several feet away from the royal chair.
“No, seyfo. I am not Ali Katani. I am Alkatan,” Alkatan responded, a note of characteristic defiance in his tone.
‘Eh, are Ali Katani and Alkatan not the same?” the chief authoritatively queried.
“No, seyfo,” Alkatan said. “They are not the same. My name is Alkatan, no Ali Katani.”
“Aha,” the chief said. “Anyway, that has no head. Let me start by telling you that you are lucky that you came to answer to my summons. But next time when I say you must come immediately you must come immediately or it will not be good for you. Sometimes I summon people and they refuse to come and then they end up crying and begging me to forgive them.” The chief glared down at Alkatan as he spoke.
“Aha, seyfo,” Alkatan said. “Then I think I am lucky because I did not refuse to come. I have come in order to hear your reason for asking me to come seyfo. Now, seyfo, can you tell me that?”
“Yes I will tell you that. Don’t be hasty,” the chief said. “But first let me tell you who the people are that you found here. These people who are here. But before that, I know you hear my name as Afang Hulibot but you should know that my real name is Afang Sohorro. If you don’t know me you have heard my name. I am the owner of this village and this land.”
“So have I heard seyfo,” Alkatan interjected.
“Listen!” the chief snapped. “I also want you to know that when people come here they are treated the way they are. If they are good they are treated in a good way; if they are bad they are treated in a bad way. If they deserve to sit they will be given a seat; if they don’t deserve to sit they will not be given a seat and they are left to stand; just like you are standing. Hope you hear my words?”
“Yes I hear your words, seyfo,” Alkatan responded. “Standing does not bother me at all.”
“Yes, that’s good,” Chief Hulibot said. “Now you see these people seated to my right, these are my councilors. They all have voices in the land and some of them have three to four wives. They please me well because they never say or do what I don’t like. They are my hands, my feet and my eyes. Whoever comes here must honor them.
“And those young men standing to my right, those are my muscle men,” the chief continued. “They tie whoever I tell them to tie and they beat whoever I tell them to beat. Then they throw you into my house of cruelty, my bungjawo, over there and lock you up. In that small house you see over there are at least one hundred rats that are kept hungry when a bad person is coming here. I have kept them hungry for three days before sending for you and they are still hungry because they have not been fed. If anyone is thrown in there, they will say words different from the words they said before they went in there.” The chief paused as Alkatan regarded the small round hut that stood just a few feet behind the muscle men, then he continued.
“And you see that man sitting on the ground in front of my muscle men? That is Paanoh, my sorcerer. When people try to fight me, Paanoh deals with them without his hand touching them. I saw with my own eyes Paanoh change a man into a monkey right here. That man came and tried to sprinkle some powder on my seat and then when he was caught, he dared to say that he was not finished with me yet. Paanoh turned him into a monkey before everyone’s eyes. And when anyone is about to come here, Paanoh tells me what his intentions are. And as for you Alkatan, Paanoh has told me that your intentions are bad.”
“Ah,” Alkatan said. “That’s what Paanoh told you. Well, my intentions are always a reflection of the person to whom I come, seyfo.” Chief Hulibot was taken aback by Alkatan’s response and pounded his royal staff on the ground, making the muscle men look menacingly at Alkatan.
“Jeh, you want to say that I am bad that’s why your intentions are bad? I have heard a lot of bad things about you Alkatan and I have heard that you are a very crooked man!” said the chief, glaring at Alkatan.
“I have also heard a lot of bad things about you seyfo,” Alkatan retorted. “I have heard that you are a very crooked and cruel seyfo who does cruel things to his people. You see seyfo, a person should always fill tomorrow’s big eyes however small he is.”
“Are you saying such things to me?” Chief Hulibot shouted angrily, springing up from his seat and positioning his royal staff for a strike. “Are you calling me small? I don’t even need to ask the muscle men! I can come over there and severely beat you up myself! Let me hear just one word come out of your mouth!”
“Well it is the ears that dance to the drumming of the mind seyfo,” Alkatan calmly responded. “And it is the deeds that dance to the drumming of the words. If you try to beat me you will beat yourself seyfo.”
Hearing that, Chief Hulibot strode angrily towards Alkatan and swung his royal staff to give him a blow. Alkatan grabbed the staff in mid-air with his right hand and slammed it against Hulibot’s face, breaking his nose and drawing blood. The chief staggered back and shouted at his muscle men.
“What are you waiting for? Strip him, beat him, tie him and lock him up with the hungry rats!”
The muscle men rushed towards Alkatan and the chief but instead of pouncing on Alkatan, they violently fell upon Chief Hulibot and started tearing his shirt away and raining blows on all parts of his body. They slammed him to the ground and tied him up as he shouted and asked if the muscle men had gone mad. Everyone else looked quietly on as the six muscle men hit and kicked and dragged a frantically shouting Chief Hulibot towards the house of cruelty. When the chief called them sons of dogs, the muscle men stopped dragging him and landed more heavy blows on his face, his head and his body. Then they held him by the limbs and dragged and shoved him into the house of cruelty, and they locked the door and left him with the hungry rats. From outside the hut everyone could hear the chief’s muffled screams because some of his teeth were broken by the heavy blows of the angry muscle men.
Once the muscle men returned to standing at their position behind Paanoh the sorcerer, Alkatan picked up the royal staff, walked over and sat on the royal chair. He calmly regarded the silent courtiers and told the councilors that they could now go home. And then he said, looking at the sorcerer and the middle men, “But Paanoh, why did you not turn that man into a monkey when he was saying bad things to me?”
“Forgive me seyfo,” Paanoh said, bending his head. “That’s what I wanted to do but you beat him up yourself. If you want, I can make him a monkey when he comes out.”
“That would not be necessary Paanoh,” Alkatan said. “I think he would have had enough. Now you can go home too.” Paanoh the sorcerer stood up, flung his small goatskin bad over his shoulder and walked away. Alkatan now addressed the muscle men.
“You too can go home now,” he said, waving the royal staff. “When the sun is above our heads, come back and release the man you put in the house of cruelty whether I’m here or not.”
“Yes seyfo; yes seyfo,” the muscle men chorused and dispersed.
Soon, the courtyard was empty. Alkatan dropped the royal staff to the ground, got up from the royal chair and walked out of the chief’s compound. He walked through Nyabiti Kunda and headed home to Tonya Kunda. He mused at the fact that Imam Sukuro’s complaint was not even mentioned by Chief Hulibot. He was certain that he would never again be summoned to Nyabiti Kunda; not by Chief Hulibot anyway.
When he arrived home, Alkatan found a very distraught-looking woman waiting for him outside his hut. The woman told Alkatan that Afang Hadumeh the merchant had tied her sick husband up in his shop and said he wouldn’t release him unless and until the husband pays back interest on a loan. “We have nothing Alkatan but Afang Hadumeh keeps giving us trouble every day. Last month, my husband had to sell our only goat to pay a debt he owed Afang Hadumeh. After that he got sick and could not get money to pay the interest on the debt. This morning he went to tell Afang Hadumeh why he is yet to pay and Afang Hadumeh caught him and tied him up and said he will not untie him until he pays the interest. My husband is sick and we don’t have anything Alkatan. I came to see if you can help us. I have been waiting for you since early morning.” Alkatan groaned and shook his head as he listened to the woman.
“Afang Hadumeh did not do well,” he said. “He should not have tied your husband up. Come, let’s go ask him to untie your husband.” Even without entering his hut, Alkatan turned and walked with the distraught woman towards Afang Hadumeh’s shop – the biggest in the village – near the Tonya Kunda bantaba.
STORY OF THE WEEK