At about four hours of the clock, in the afternoon, while they were having their most important meal of the day, the one that served them as both their lunch and their dinner, they heard a sound. A unique sound, emanating from somewhere not so far away from where they presently were, in the traditionally resplendent room that was their grandmother’s kitchen.
For as long as they had lived, they had sat in the same room, on a scarce specie of carefully selected, handpicked, cut, and laid down elephant grass, or papyrus obtained from a swamp in the valley at the foothills of their farm.
They sat in the vast main area, between a fireplace made of three cooking stones, and the entrance into an enclosure of a mud and wattle, circular shack which was roofed with a thick and impenetrable – by rain – dried grass thatch which had also been equally, and carefully put together by the skillful hands of generous village fellows who had taken it upon themselves to help out just as much as they themselves had been helped to put up their own similar homes. Light entered, and smoke emitted through the entrance, on one end, and the small opening that was a window thoughtfully placed right above the all important fireplace.
It was from that kitchen that they learned and learnt a lot; from the proverbs, folk tales, riddles, songs and more that were handed down from their cultivated grandparents, to them, their most precious, and most treasured grandchildren. They had, also, been fed on a variety of foods which, they had been told, would help them go through the nascent stages of their lives without succumbing to simple, preventable illnesses, and, importantly, with all the strength that they would ever require.
Eating was a sacred ritual. They were never allowed to talk while eating. It was considered bad manners. They were not even allowed to giggle, however mutedly. That would even be worse. Whatever was done was done stealthily, and in silence too; lest the ever watchful eyes of their grandmother, who looked over and above them like the mother bird that she was, caught them, and embarked on a process of an unfathomable and avoidable reprimand.
Their grandfather, surprisingly, always kept calm and collected whenever he ate – hurriedly. His sight was invariably kept on his lit smoking pipe. They were never sure whether he never liked it when his tobacco went to waste, or, rather, he never fancied the eyes of another on him.
However, in the blink of an eye, it all changed. The tranquility they were accustomed to was gone. They became troubled. They forgot about their well earned manners for more than quite a moment. Even their presumably strong grandmother shuddered. It was not only surprisingly comforting but scary too seeing the startled human being in her escape. It was an unusual experience.
Whatever produced the sound was quickly approaching, and getting overly loud. For people who were surrounded by a thick banana plantation – which was getting darker by the hour, and an even thicker forest around it, and several hills between their homestead and their nearest neighbor, getting used to their loneliness came easily. Seeing that they did not expect any visitors, and that none had called in ages, such a sound only meant one thing; unexpected trouble.
For all their time above the earth surface, they had lived under an endless spell of fear. The road that ended up in their compound went past an extravagantly branched out tree, the same tree that, more than half a century before, their grandfather had climbed in the quest for refuge whenever attacked by roaming wild animals, specifically buffalos and lions. Anything that went past that tree was still believed to be of a dangerous nature.
The road also went past the home of a renowned wicked woman who never interacted with anyone, who was never seen in public, who was rumored to be a witch. Everything that went past her was presumed to bring with it a fair share of her impression.
They, of course, grew increasingly frightened for they were ignorant of what was approached. They did not know what in the world it was that had interrupted their ordinary was of life. A strong light was noticed piercing the trees, and the plantains as it glimmered more. It was pleasing to watch especially because it was not made by one, but a convoy of several vehicles which moved in a file and chased after one another like uninterrupted fireflies. Their light, when collected, excelled any that they had even seen before just the way the golden sun excelled the silver moon. It was outstanding. It was incomparable.
The fear for their lives, being too much, moved them to hurriedly hide behind their houses’ walls from where they could peek, and determine whether to stay there for fear of being hurt, or reveal themselves to embrace a familiar face – if any.
When the vehicles parked and stopped running their engines, a couple of men and women, bearing parcels, and calling out their names emerged. It took a while for the hiding to remember some of those voices, to appreciate the now grown figures, to leave their positions, and to welcome, and to entertain their uninvited and unexpected relations, whom they had not seen in ages.