Sibanda is the author of Notes, Themes, Things And Other Things, The Gushungo Way, Sleeping Rivers, Love O’clock, The Dead Must Be Sobbing, Football of Fools, Cutting-edge Cache, Of the Saliva and the Tongue, When Inspiration Sings In Silence, The Way Forward, Sometimes Seasons Come With Unseasonal Harvests, As If They Minded:The Loudness Of Whispers, This Cannot Be Happening :Speaking Truth To Power, The Dangers Of Child Marriages:Billions Of Dollars Lost In Earnings And Human Capital, The Ndaba Jamela and Collections and Poetry Pharmacy. Sibanda's work has received Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. Some of his work has been translated into Serbian.
If Mrs. Vithikazi Nhlaba had never considered herself a jealous wife, she certainly made herself one after darting into the Human Resources Manager’s office only–Good Heavens—to find Miss Simo Mahlangu, the usually calm and shy company secretary, sniggering and posturing below the very nose of Mr. Sinothi Nhlaba.
Long ago when Mrs. Nhlaba was a young wife, and had verbal bouts and tiffs with her husband over his lateness, her rustic aunt once said to her, “Don’t raise eyebrows yet.
Hold your peace. You’re a woman who works hard like an ant bear.
He can’t afford to lose you if he has an ounce of brains in his head. Not maggots or termites. By the same token, you can’t seek to kill a snake whilst it’s still in its hole, lest there’s no snake at all in the first place. Call to mind, our wise elders advised us against holding the flying ant by its head lest it flies off!” They also said: “what What is horny cannot be hidden (forever). The truth will come out.”
Mrs. Vithikazi Nhlaba respected her aunt, but her head was inundated with countless ideas and unanswered questions. Did her aunt board the bus all the way from EMaguswini to preach such an impossible gospel? Today, I’m traveling to Bulawayo to tell Vithikazi to be subservient to her husband. I might be rural, old and uneducated but I know how to handle wayward men. Did she ever give thought to what she was saying? For starters, was it humanly possible and easy not to be suspicious when one partner’s concentration had clearly been swayed away? How could her aunt advise her to hold her peace in the face of such a shift? Was that shift not as bad as an act of betrayal? So she was expected to swallow up such nonsense unquestioningly because she worked like an ant bear? What if indeed he had maggots or termites for brains?
If her aunt put herself in her shoes for just a few days would she stand his strange behavior? After all, was she not her maternal aunt? Don’t raise eyebrows.
Hold your peace. How can peace be held when wars of disquiet are being waged against one? Was her husband not slipping away from her bit by bit? How could she not raise eyebrows when he was coming home late every night? And as if that were not enough headache on its own, without an explanation or word of greeting he would slump on the couch and sleep soundly? Was his seemingly blissful snoring from the living room not her series of nightmares? Did her aunt have any idea how emotionally disconcerting the whole experience was? How could the unenviable journey of wondering where her husband had been and what he had he been up to be an easy or peaceful one?
Hold your peace? Really? What peace? Did her aunt know that she was worried to death about his safety and well-being? For example, what if street thugs pounced on him at night, how would she live with herself and her self-denial? What if he had found omakhwapheni with whom he was spending the better part of the night, and were as usual, feeding him with food spiced with shovels and shovels of their zwanamina in a bid to crown him their toyboy? Hold your peace? Still? Queries and thoughts assailed her mind, her peace, her days and nights. Maybe she was paranoid. Maybe she wanted to be practical. Was it her little cock-eyed illusions and delusions that the man she loved dearly was coming home late night in night out?
When her aunt, who to her best knowledge had been single since time immemorial, finally left for EMaguswini after a week’s stay, Mrs. Nhlaba decided to seek further advice and guidance from a number of diverse spiritual sources. “Do you know what kind of things dogs eat?” the man in a stuffy and small hut with an herbal air to it asked. “I’m looking for a solution to my husband’s truancy. Now I’m wondering: what have dogs and what they eat have to do with this problem?” queried Mrs. Nhlaba, trying to suppress a strong wave of impatience. “Everything. You and I know that it has absolutely everything to do with those domestic animals. Madam. Men are...” “Oh no, not that antiquated stereotypical stuff about men and dogs! “She found herself interjecting. “But this is a fact of life, even our elders acknowledged that correlation, that comparison.” “Please, not all men are like that. For example, I’ve friends, relatives and neighbors whose husbands and boyfriends are consistently loving, faithful and well-behaved. Stop making dangerous comparisons, outmoded assumptions and conclusions.” “I thought we’re talking specifically about your husband’s actions, not about the lifestyles and behaviors of your friends, relatives or neighbors. I receive and attend to a lot of people from different walks of life every day. I know what I’m talking about. The last time I checked how most of men behaved, the results were the same. Men are...” The man wearing some awe-inspiring traditional regalia was in the process of defending his theory in a defiant, bold and boastful fashion when Mrs. Nhlaba interrupted him.
“Look, man, this is the 20th century. Rise from the dead and start to live again. Get a life and wake up. I can clearly see that your view of the modern world is retrogressive. It’s reeling under a sick, old, parochial and patriarchal ego. You need help because you’re a patient languishing from a terrible chronic ignorance. Let me tell you this for free: you’ve another thingk coming if you’re entertaining any single idea of ever convincing me that men are nothing else but dogs in disguise. You know what that’s called? It’s a lame, lousy and loud excuse for lacking true manly qualities. Last week I wasted my precious money and time funding the trip of my pastoral aunt from EMaguswini all the way to Bulawayo, hoping she would help me deal with my man’s delinquency in a mature, fresh and fair manner. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Upon arriving, guess what, she categorically told me not to raise eyebrows, but to hold my peace. What audacity. What impetuosity. As if that were not enough joke, you’ve seen it fit to waste my cash and time. I’ve just paid a consultation fee here only to hear you harp on a silly and archaic connection between men and dogs. How does that solve my problem?”
She questioned rhetorically as she stormed out of the circular mud-walled, grass-thatched room, whose herbal odor had given her nostrils something to contend with. The traditionalist was startled by Mrs. Nhlaba’s unceremonious departure.
Undeterred, she sought the services of fortunetellers and traditional doctors like she was possessed, like they held the key to her happiness. It was as if they held the epicenter of her life and future in their concoctions, in their invocations, in their pronouncements and in their rituals, and even on their horizons and crystal balls. “What’s your husband’s favorite food?” asked one female herbalist. “He relishes isitshwala with okra or isitshwala with beef stew.” “Great! Then I’ve a panacea to your quagmire.” “What are you going to do?” “Actually, the remedy lies with what you’ll have to do.” “Really?” “Yes. You should claim your husband back with your hands.” “How, doctor? Follow him like a shadow, and then drag him back home?” “No. It’s simpler than that. Your urine, saliva and lizards’ tails will do the trick.” “You just need to follow the short procedures and prescriptions, and the man will rush back and fall at your feet, begging for forgiveness and love. The die will be cast. Don’t you want to be her irresistible queen again?” “Yes, I do. Mmm ...but my bodily excretions like urine and all … ngeke bantu! Honestly, my belief system, my conscience...both don’t allow me to...” “Madam, this is not about your religion. This is about finding a solution to your problem.” She left in a huff.
One day one confident and flamboyant prophet gave her what he called his never-failing anointed seawater, and vowed that in the next two days, Sinothi Nhlaba would be back in her warm arms as soon as he had knocked off from work. It was not to be. In essence in the following two days, Mr. Nhlaba bettered his past record of lateness by arriving home after 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. respectively. Mrs. Nhlaba’s anxiety reached boiling points. She would dig into Mr. Nhlaba’s pockets and briefcase with the hope of stumbling on some evidence to link it with his sluggishness to be home. There was no mark of feminine touch on his face, no sign of lipstick, except for his lazy eyes that rolled in their sockets each time he arrived.
It soon turned out that Mr. Nhlaba’s unpunctuality was none other than the crazy result of his newly-found love—BEER. However, that day when she caught sight of Miss Mahlangu seeking to draw the attention of her husband like a magnet would a drawing pin, her aunt’s words speared through her head before disappearing into obsoleteness. She concluded that Miss Mahlangu’s intentions were far from being venial. She was a ‘devious temptress’ playing her devilish cards in a dangerous fashion. Nothing more, nothing less.
As for Miss Mahlangu, she was comfortable and free in her garments. She was of the opinion that a number of rank marshals, drivers and touts were simply nosey, overzealous and judgmental. They had no business in heckling and harassing women over what ladies sported. Did those men have expertise in fashion? They did not look like persons of good taste, either. Far, far from being connoisseurs, at all. Personal hygiene was what they should have been minding. They fooled around as if they had great sensitivity to beauty, civility and culture. What rudeness! Most of them were total strangers to women on the streets. Women doing their business, minding their business. How dare those total strangers to cross a line, to go beyond accepted limits or standards of behavior. She vowed to put them in their proper place. “Do you know what kind of things dogs eat?” the man in a stuffy and small hut with an herbal air to it asked.
“I’m looking for a solution to my husband’s truancy. Now I’m wondering: what have dogs and what they eat have to do with this problem?” queried Mrs. Nhlaba, trying to suppress a strong wave of impatience. “Everything. You and I know that it has absolutely everything to do with those domestic animals. Madam. Men are...” “Oh no, not that antiquated stereotypical stuff about men and dogs! “She found herself interjecting. “But this is a fact of life, even our elders acknowledged that correlation, that comparison.” “Please, not all men are like that. For example, I’ve friends, relatives and neighbors whose husbands and boyfriends are consistently loving, faithful and well-behaved. Stop making dangerous comparisons, outmoded assumptions and conclusions.”
“I thought we’re talking specifically about your husband’s actions, not about the lifestyles and behaviors of your friends, relatives or neighbors. I receive and attend to a lot of people from different walks of life every day. I know what I’m talking about. The last time I checked how most of men behaved, the results were the same. Men are...”The man wearing some Egodini Emergency Taxi Terminus, or at any other part of an African city who had gone to the extent of tearing off skimpy dresses worn by ‘fashion-conscious’ ladies were a mere joke, not a deterrent. According to her, whether those ladies left little to imagination was no big deal. She claimed to be her own master when it came to choosing what clothes to wear. She was no stranger to insults hurled at her on the streets.
One Monday morning when she was alighting from a city cab, a tipsy emergency taxi tout had remarked, “You’re like a twin cab limousine cruising to a palace, girl. Submarine maybe. A loaded bazooka doesn’t come any close to this. A top jet-fighter! Yeah!! I’ve not been to any airport in the world, but I think you fly beyond the furthest clouds, you cruise at 130 000 feet... whatever! Assets, is your middle name. If you were sweets, you would be a packet of chocolate. If you were a TV set, you would be that big plasma; I mean a big flat screen. If you were music, you would be an LP, not a 7-single disc. No! And if you were a bed, you would not be a double one. You would be a queen bed! I want to crown you my beautiful big bumblebee baby. My beautiful queen. Tell me, how do I become the king caretaker of that beautiful wealth eh? Please make me rich!”
That morning she decided to cough out her anger on the man. “Nx! Who are you talking to, hopeless, mannerless drunkard?” “Obvious, to you big beautiful queen. How can you ask whether the goat is female or male when its back is facing you, baby?” “Get the hell out of my sight. You must be a mentally sick dirty daydreamer. A walking dead thing. I’m not you type. Ok? Fuck off, maan! A piece of discarded, smelly and tattered cloth!”
“Take it easy. Easy. You’re right 101 percent. I’m sick. I have amatheketheke in my veins, in my body. Once I remove them, and get umvunsankunzi from ikhehla from edladleni, I swear I will be grand and back for you. Shame. There will be thunder without rain! Hehehehe, I’m Mr. Mkhonto, for your own information. That’s my nickname. I can sense a beautiful lady from a distance. Suppose you’re on the fiftieth floor, coming down in an elevator for queens and beauties and I’m on the first floor, I can tell with my eyes closed that you’re landing down, girl. That’s me! My heart’s hooter is blowing and going: LOVE HELP ME, LOVE HOLD ONTO ME, LOVE FLY WITH MEEE PLEASEEEE!!! I can feel your presence like a good computer detecting a WIFI router. That’s me! In fact, I’ve a special love wireless extender in my body that makes me see you from afar! There’s a good connection between you and me. Listen to your heart now. Love has no type, no class, no size because it is blind. Do you catch me there? I think you were born for me, and that you’re my kind of cow, you know. Don’t say I am a piece of tattered cloth. I am helpful. I help drivers and commuters. I am connected.
You don’t know that if you become my queen you will have free rides every day because I know all the kombi drivers here. You will have fresh eggs, cheese, steak, macimbi, pies, pizza, ox-tails and tongues of fat cattle, legs and wings of proper chickens from the rural areas and all the choice meat you can dream and think of every day. Not the tasteless chicks you see around here. Maybe you talk like a high class official yet you chew vegetables every day like a rabbit. That will be a thing of the past. I know all the butcher men in the city centre. Let’s not talk about my job. Let us talk about our future. Let me oil my engine... Sting. Sting. You will see. Boom! Explosions. Boom! Explosions. Mngci. Mngci...”
Her claim as a fighter for her rights, though not completely immune from street obscenities-- coupled with her dress code was a bold statement about yearning for a certain feminine freedom, dignity and expression. Of course, many a careless and salivating man had used her skimpy dress code as a scapegoat to feel the immensity, elasticity and gentleness of her ample backside. No surprise, then, that she had hurled some unscrupulous men to the courts of law or rained scorching slaps and fists upon them.
When Mrs. Nhlaba unceremoniously walked into her husband’s office, to her shock and surprise, Miss Mahlangu was strategically bent over a small cabinet file, her sky-blue mini-dress revealing a filmy multicolored undergarment that left little to the imagination. Mr. Nhlaba considered himself as being physiologically normal. No matter how he tried to look away from Miss Mahlangu’s backside, he found his rather dizzy glances falling on her, the whole sight playing a game of electricity with his unsuspecting hormones. His body was interiorly battling with a certain tempting chemistry he loved to hate. In SiNdebele, they say eyes are so insatiable they cannot be served with enough food, meaning that even if one told himself to look away from something or someone, more often than not, curious eyes tend to be stubborn and misleading. As hard as he tried to look away, his gaze riveted to Miss Mahlangu when Mrs. Nhlaba lurked about like a cornered snake. Mr. Nhlaba’s wife was not prone to being at the centre of various office imbroglios, but she felt obliged to act on what she considered to be her husband’s secretary seductive ploy and antics. She had to nip such wayward behavior in the bud, or else she would remain holding to a little feather when the bird had slipped through her clasped hands. The way her husband’s eyes seemed to feast on Miss Mahlangu backside made Mrs. Nhlaba insecure and suspicious.
Mrs. Nhlaba used to have a big frame when she was a child. In her twenties, because of the constant hype about the beauty of a slender body promoted and propounded by glossy magazine lifestyle editors and several local and international tabloids, she jumped into a dieting regime. Her daily gym sessions worked wonders as she shed kilos and kilos over a period of six months until she was a lean young beauty. She met her husband Sinothi at the Luveve Gym Trim Centre, who would later shower praises upon her. Then when they started dating, he called her his SSPP, an acronym for Sweet Slender Portable Possession. “What the heck do you think you’re doing, Simo?” “I’m doing my work?” “Naked?” “Your eyes must be deceiving you!” “Don’t be silly, what are you trying to achieve?” “To meet today’s aims and objectives in the most efficient and effective way.” “Do those aims include showing off your extra-large bums right under the nose of my husband?” “I’m doing my work, please respect that.” “Nonsense! Mannerless slut, get your damn lazy ass off this office!” “Have you forgotten that l work here, and that l don’t report to you? Please don’t push me too far!” Mr. Nhlaba who had been following the heated exchange of words between the two ladies with interest, suddenly found himself saying, “Please Simo, excuse us.” Though his voice had authority, it was devoid of any tinge of harshness or anger. His wife continued to stand in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest.
Miss Mahlangu looked at him with exaggerated disbelief. She took a cursory look at Mrs. Nhlaba before forcing out a little unhurried cough. As if she were pausing and pondering, she strolled in a wearisome-couldn’t-care-less attitude towards her handbag which rested on a small three-legged wooden circular table. She picked it up and then made a leisurely turn. All that acting and dilly-dallying seemed like ages in the eyes and mind of Mrs. Nhlaba. In fact, her blood pressure rose. Her heart seemed to be on the verge of bursting. For a while she was inarticulate with rage. As the drama unfolded, she turned her body into some kind of blockade. She told herself that she would discipline Simo in a way she would not forget for the rest of her life. How could she have the nerve to cat-walk in her husband’s august office!
“Vithikazi! Vithikazi! Stop causing a scene here!” bellowed Mr. Nhlaba. He rose unsteadily from his comfortable rocking arm-chair. Like a concerned fireman trying to put out a raging fire, he raced towards the two ladies. They stood there glowering at each other like two world heavyweight boxers sizing up each other before a crucial match. He wedged himself in between them. Mrs. Nhlaba tried to get around him and attempted to land a scathing punch on the oval face of Miss Mahlangu. But her husband took hold of her arm, and pushed her away.
“So you are protecting your girl with oversized bums, eh?” “So, this war is about my big backside? Shame on you jealous old woman. Why don’t you get your little twin tennis balls surgically boosted? Surgeons can add some flesh!” Miss Mahlangu retorted. “Shut up, big bitch with gigantic bums!” Vithikazi snapped. “l thought Bible-carrying grandmamas don’t stoop so low as to use such vulgarities!” “Sinothi l`III’ll skin your idiotic lady of the night today!” Vithikazi tried pushing her husband out of her way, to no avail. As Vithikazi was busy seething with anger—Miss Mahlangu sauntered away, for an early lunch break, putting the whole ordeal behind herself. For now.
Glossary Amatheketheke: bodily impurities. Edladleni: a slang term for home or the village. Ikhehla: an old man. Isitshwala: a stiff dumpling made from corn or grain. Maan: a bastardized word used to emphasis something. Mkhonto: a spear. Mngci: a way of swearing. Macimbi: mopani worms (considered a delicacy in Zimbabwe and South Africa). Ngeke bantu: No ways, people. Nx!: an expression of disgust or disapproval. Omakhwapheni: literally meaning “those who hide under the armpits”, these are side chicks or secret lovers. Umvunsankunzi: literally meaning “that which wakes up the bull”, this refers to an aphrodisiac, usually a traditional herbal concoction. Zwanamina: literally meaning “taste me”, these are man-stupefying concoctions.
The Hen And The Cock
Once upon a time in a mineral-rich and landlocked country called Kudala lived a hen and a cock. They were the proud and progressive creators and owners of three shiny grass-thatched round mud huts that mesmerized and magnetized every passer-by as a spectacular sight. The couple had a truly beautiful home that was the envy of many a bird in a thick forest beyond a winding stream whose water always whispered and cascaded downwards with a rare musical calmness. Some few years ago the two had bumped into each other at the stream in a wintry evening. Hen was heading homeward after fetching firewood whilst Cock was dejectedly bathing at the stream, as if trying to drown and wash away his sorrows and bad luck after a futile hunting adventure. Upon catching sight of Cock, Hen had attempted to eschew him or at best pass by silently and surreptitiously without him noticing her. However, Cock had other ideas. He greeted her in an ear-splitting voice that startled her with a mixture of trepidation and bewilderment.
“How is your evening panning out?” She found herself asking him. She was somehow surprised at her own words. Was there a ventriloquist somewhere? How could she ask a stranger such a question? Where is the boldness and suddenness stemming from? She wondered.
“l ….l think things will look up for me. After all, my….my evening is still a virgin”. He responded with a stammer that seemed to betray his vain attempt at self- consolation and exaggerated steadiness. Deep in his heart, he was not convinced with his words. In fact, he was disappointed in himself and his response. How could he say things would look up when the entire world appeared as if it were on the verge of collapsing on him? Had his whole day not been anything else but a nightmare in the forest? While he was busy crucifying himself for what he saw as inappropriate wording, her parting words melted his state of dejection and self-accusation. “Since your evening is still a little virgin, I`m sure by the time you are done with whatever you’re doing, it would have lost its virginity many, many times!” He could not help but laugh hysterically. Hen’s words were like a smart doctor’s apt prescription for a dying patient. They magically injected a certain new lease of life into him-a heightened desire, an obligation and inspiration of being in charge of oneself, of being more than a hunter of food, but a humble seeker of committed companionship and life-long happiness. They left a pool of dazzling and invigorating thoughts that flooded his mind. A few days later the two birds met and chit-chatted .Before long they were hitting it out as the greatest of friends. After going through the necessary cultural formalities, the two love-birds lived as husband and wife. It was not long before they populated their yard with ten chicks. Hen`s motherly love was amazing and unquestionable. She always tried by all means to protect her hatchlings -coddling, cuddling and guiding them until they grew into little chicks that dogged her wherever she went. She kept an eagle eye on anything that came closer than necessary to her little darlings.
One day Eagle kept surveillance over Hen and her carefree chicks. He was spoiling for a blitz that would leave Hen flighty and her chicks in complete maze. The following day, his star shone and he pounced upon one chick. Nine chicks were left. Two days down the line, Eagle was at it again. He snapped up another chick. Cock and Hen were fidgety, furious and grief-stricken. How could such tragic losses come in thick and fast? They then mapped out a strategy to counter Eagle’s predatory tendencies. A week elapsed without an unfortunate incident being recorded. There was neither the disappearance nor devouring of a little chick. Time tore on. It looked like alarm bells were no longer ringing as loudly as before. However, as the dust was slowly settling down misfortune crept in again. This was after Eagle had zoomed about majestically in the firmament before whizzing down and scooping up a dazed and fleeing chick. It was a tremulous and disconcerting experience for the chicks. All Hen and Cock could do was to helplessly watch Eagle scurry away, soar and disappear into the vastness of the sky with their dear blood and flesh.
Both were dumbfounded and mournful. What would it take to provide an all-out security for their beloved chicks? They could not bear to imagine another possible loss of their loved chick to insatiable Eagle within the twinkling of an eye. Their hearts were worried and bleeding. It was clear that as long as Eagle loitered about, danger also lurked. They restrategised. The bird of prey tried to swoop on the chicks with ease and speed but each attempt seemed to fizzle out into an exercise in futility. Then there was a disturbing turn of events which took center stage. Weather variations resulted in a long spell of drought. Cock as family head had to dutifully go hunting on a daily basis. Cock sought to fetch and prey on grasshoppers. In essence, he looked for anything edible, ranging from fruits and nuts to cockroaches. He hunted with great determination and diligence. He had to stave off starvation. However, more often than not, his hunting sprees did not bear fruit. Cock looked back fondly to a time of abundance and great joy – a time where the forest was no stranger to a lion’s roar, a donkey’s bray, an elephant’s trumpet, a snake’s hiss, a duck’s quack, a dog’s bark, a cat’s meow, a pig’s grunt, a buffalo’s bellow, a cock’s crow, a hen’s cluck, a frog’s croak, a bird’s chirp, a cow’s moo and indeed, the unpretentious bleating of sheep. How he wished he could relive those yesteryears of boom, not doom. It was as if that famine had suddenly turned the jungle into an uncharacteristic graveyard of stillness and dullness.
At home, Hen paced about in the yard, looking for bits and pieces to feed her chicks. The little ones darted about, competing for food and their mother’s attention. Jealously she rendered maximum fortification and guidance. She played the role of protector and provider with a measure of distinction. She would tour the yard with her chicks until fatigue got the better of them. They would while away time under a thickly-branched orange tree. Her beak agape, she gasped and craned her neck, rarely dozing off, but on other stupid days she succumbed to one or two stubborn naps in the process. Waking up with a little fright and wonder, she would count her blessings upon discovering that her remaining eight chicks were still intact.
She could not elude one thing. Loneliness took its toll on her as Cock was wont to leave for the forest at dawn and arrive at home at dusk. It was a routine. One day neighbor Cock paid Hen a surprise and flying visit. Hen gave him a cold shoulder by virtue of the fact that her husband had categorically and strongly advised her to keep him at an arm’s length. “If l had a choice, he wouldn’t have been our neighbor. Dear partner, don’t fall for his silly traps that could come in the form of kindness or smiles, or indeed, understanding or friendly visits, because, one thing for sure, he always has ulterior motives. Under no circumstance should you entertain his overtures. Simply give him your back. Please keep him at bay. What he deserves is as wide a berth as the North Pole and the South Pole because he is cunning, envious, thievish and dangerous. In the same vein, to have an affinity with such a character is tantamount to having a relationship with a vicious blood-sucking mole or a snake in the grass”, he had warned.
Each time Hen’s eyes slapped on Neighbor Cock, she bolted away and never looked back. However, Neighbor Cock, being of persistent and persuasive nature, gave chase. Such was Neighbor Cock, not despairing easily. It looked like his was a wild goose chase as each time Neighbor Cock heaved in sight, Hen remembered the words of her husband: He is as sweet-tongued as a conman who can hoodwink one into offloading one’s precious savings to him. He is so dangerous that he can sweet-talk any bird into selling its one and only pair of wings. Hence have absolutely nothing to do with such a charlatan and a mole because he can use any bait under the sun to achieve his evil aims and objectives. Beware.
One day Neighbor Cock, acting like a parent having a correlative duty of support, brought Hen and her chicks some grain of millet. Even if Hen ran away, looked away –with zeal and zest the hungry chicks helped themselves to the food Neighbor Cock had left behind. They did not care whether it was a little loot ransacked from someone else`s granary or field. All they wanted was food, nothing else. After Neighbor Cock had disappeared, Hen, too, partook of the millet food. After all, she too was starved of food, and she too relished such a meal. Hen pleaded with the chicks never to divulge to Cock about Neighbor Cock’s frequent visits, let alone his spirit of generosity, not monstrosity.
On the second day, Hen saw no point in running away upon seeing Neighbor Cock. As the days tore on Neighbor Cock decoyed her to sit next to him and before long they were chatting about many issues, including the devastating drought. He handed over some goodies to Hen, who in turn, shared them with her grateful chicks. Like a blind sycophant, Neighbor Cock used every opportunity available to shower praises upon Hen for being in the thick of things to ward off hunger, disease and misery; something typical of a truly loving mother to her chicks. He even patted her on her back for a job well done! Neighbor Cock managed to endear himself to the chicks by virtue of his fatherly cheerfulness, generosity, humorousness, charm and diplomacy. “He is not harmful but wonderful. What a friendly, jocose and kind neighbor we have, mum,’’ remarked one enraptured chick to Hen one morning as Neighbor Cock was disappearing into the thickness of the forest after giving them a dozen of lean grasshoppers. For Hen, the chick’s statement was an assurance that her husband would not be posted on what transpired behind his back. She reiterated that as long as their father did not glean any information about Neighbor Cock’s compassion towards them, starvation would be a thing of the past. One Monday afternoon Hen weaved her way with verve to Neighbor Cock’s homestead at the invitation of the latter. She was convinced that their neighbor was an enthralling and caring man whose corns they could not afford to tread upon. In fact, his exuberant voice was music that had grown on her. That day she brought her chicks a small bag of tasty groundnuts. They feasted on them happily. The following morning Neighbor Cock made his way to their homestead and they spent the better part of the day playing a chase-and-catch game with Hen. They ran, laughed, joked and tucked into a delicacy together like they had known each other for ages. She found Neighbor Cock vivacious, their time spent together delicious.
Neighbor Cock had bid them farewell after a day well-spent when he inadvertently stepped on an ashen chick that was sleepy. “ Haaa this is so painful that it cannot go unreported. I’ll definitely tell my father”. All Hell broke loose as in cold blood; Neighbor Cock strangled that gray chick to death with a startling suddenness that left Hen shell-shocked. He slammed the behavior of the little chick, whose innocent body lay cold, inanimate and silent. Hen was inarticulate with fury, profound melancholy and forlornness. She was silently wondering: What monstrosity is this? What brutality is this? Where is the conscience of Neighbor Cock in this act of madness and vileness? All along were his smiles and kind gestures a mere gimmick? A death trap? Why didn’t l see all this coming? Why did l allow a heartless snake to sneak into my life? Why have l allowed myself to be an accomplice in the blood-curdling killing of my dear chick? How am l going to live with this guilt? I rue the day l yielded to his stratagem. Why did l do such a foolish thing? Why?
“This chick died at the venom of a waylaying snake. Cock should never ever get wind of anything else other than this version. Am l making myself clear?” Neighbor Cock roared rhetorically beyond remorse. Hen’s gait lacked elegance as she staggered, carrying the lifeless body of her chick. She faltered clumsily as she entered the biggest of their three huts which was used as a bedroom. A cloud of sorrow and petrification enveloped her, galvanizing her into studying and caressing the motionless body of the chick. She was sobbing uncontrollably when Cock strode into the room. He was told that their chick was lifeless owing to a certain merciless snake’s wicked deed. Needless to say Cock was crestfallen and confused. After that tragic incident Neighbor Cock vowed never to set foot on the yard of Hen and Cock.
One rare Sunday evening Cock came home rather early. He was carrying a big brown fruit that looked appetising. “This wild fruit is a beauty. The moment l laid my eyes on it, l knew that it was potentially our windfall. However, we need to be more careful lest it becomes our catastrophic pitfall. We all have one life to live. What l mean is that the suitability of this mouth-watering fruit for consumption is questionable. At face value, it looks harmless, but we would be exhibiting a terrible height of folly if we were to gobble it up without ascertaining whether it is fit for consumption or not. I therefore suggest we give Rat a little piece of that fruit and see what happens. This shouldn’t be interpreted as an act of cowardice and cruelty. Not at all. That move will serve as our control experiment, “giggled Cock in a prematurely victorious fashion.
Rat was appreciative and prayerful. He promptly and hungrily tucked into the piece. Cock and Hen waited for a possible abdominal war to be waged. Thirty suspenseful minutes elapsed. An hour lapsed. Time tore on. Rat did not complain of something amiss in his stomach. All is well that ends well, thought Cock. Three hours later the family could not wait any longer. They enthusiastically consumed the aromatic and delicately-textured fruit. The entire family ate their fill. Hen and Cock chatted, patted and joked with a passion of its own life. Their world was abuzz with laughter, dance, song and humor. They had not celebrated as a family before. Cock felt like a feted hero in his homestead. They even renewed their pledges of loyalty and love to each other in grand style. Dove shot in and expressed her heart-felt grief over the fate of Rat who lay lifeless a few meters from the nearby stream. What! Faces fell with apprehension. They knew what that information meant. Both Hen and Cock individually decided to do something before the effects of the deadly fruit finished with them. What had befallen Rat was surely waiting for them. What a prospect! Cock fidgeted about, whispering a seemingly endless inaudible prayer. After a while, Hen, as if at a confessional, divulged, “l hereby confess that because of my follies and failings l allowed Neighbor Cock to visit me. His persistent, sugar-coated words became my daily food. Words, like swords-can spear one’s heart into divisions. Contrary to what l told you, it was not a snake that killed our chick. Neighbor Cock took the life of our dear chick. He used to give me many irresistible gifts in the form of food. They say one good favor deserves another. I’d be lying if l said l didn’t enjoy many favors. In a you- scratch- my- back- l -scratch -yours gesture I reciprocated those favors. I am sincerely sorry for those iniquities and stupidities; please forgive me before we depart yonder”.
To her surprise, Cock unequivocally and unconditionally agreed to forgive her. “I also transgressed full-time. Your follies and failings cannot exonerate me. For example, one day during my hunting sprees l couldn’t catch a thing, and on my way home l bumped into a little cute hen who said her entire family had perished at the teeth of a vicious dog. She claimed to be lonely and looking. She gave me a flabby grasshopper, and shy of coming home empty-handed, l accepted the offer. Little did l know that she would end up being my chatty and chortling companion. That’s why l was away from dawn to dusk. We embarked on many captivating hunting sprees. As if that were not enough, I also fraternized and gallivanted with several birds of dubious character. I was promiscuous, impetuous and imprudent. In modesty and earnest, I admit in your respectful and respectable wifely presence that such deeds were totally superfluous and iniquitous. I’m truly sorry for plunging our sacred union in mud. Now l know that anyone who is unforgiving is done for. Please forgive me before the world falls on us. Please, please forgive me”. He pleaded nervously. It was as if his middle name was Meekness. As soon as Hen had pronounced, “Forgiven utterly”, Rat entered the room. To their awe, Rat was alive and well. How come! He explained that after partaking of the delicious fruit, he had slumbered in a blissful and inspirational manner like one in a paradise for the privileged few. Meanwhile, Cock angrily and arrogantly dragged Hen to another room to fully elucidate what she had just mentioned about Neighbor Cock’s frequent visits, the nature of their relationship and the circumstances leading to the demise of their chick. “You have some serious explaining to do. If you aren’t the mother of my chicks, then you’ll get away with this comedy of errors l don’t find amusing. If you’re, then you’re doomed”, he threatened. Cock was no longer himself. Rage had captured, blinded and imprisoned him. It was as if he did not have shock absorbers, or if he had them, then they were either dysfunctional or were playing up. Hen’s heart was skidding and pounding with a life of its own. In spite of her obvious fears and confusion, at the back of her mind, she pictured their world hurtling down to Mother Earth. For her, it was a time to gain an insight into who really they were and since they could not undo their past, she saw it as an opportunity to reflect on and learn from their experiences and errors. It had to be the moment of truth…