“Whom the gods choose to destroy, they first make mad.”—Unknown
All I wanted was to gaze at his rugged face, to hear his melancholic cry again even if it were for a short while. I was still adamant to admit that the one I called my own had departed from me and into the darkness, never to return. On bent knees I wept. I remembered the fondness we shared as brothers, the understanding…
A prod in my side woke me from sleep.
“Papa, they want to kill your friend!” our daughter said, panting.
“Who?” my head snapped up.
“That mad man at the market square.”
Without thought, I flung the furry covers to my wife’s side, sprang to my feet and grabbed my cutlass. Noting my abrupt awakening and movement, she pointed with surprise to the weapon. “Where are you going with that?”
I didn’t answer; rather, I said our little one: “Stay here with your mother.”
I could hear my wife’s voice as I left our hut. It grew louder, calling out to me to stop. But it soon faded away as I ran towards the square.
There was no point counting on a kind deity to help us anymore. It was clear that not even the many sacrifices I made to the gods of our ancestors would be able to save my bloodline. It could be me or some other member of my own family who would be the next to face the inevitable—the curse I’d hidden from them all along. I felt my heart pounding into my chest. My feet, in quick strides, barely made contact with the grasses and sand underneath. The same questions arose again: why would the gods choose to punish us this way? Haven’t they had their fill already? What joy would they have if we—
“Stone him! Stone him!” a man shouted.
“No!” another interrupted. “Let’s flog the hell out him and then burn him alive!”
“Yes!” the rest of the mob echoed. Then they chorused, “Burn him! Burn him! Burn him!”
My eyes darted in all directions for their target while a few of them began to gather sticks, stones, ropes and oil. I pushed my way through the noisy crowd to take position right in the heart of the chaos.
The mad man was in the offence. He barked at me, exhibiting a set of yellow teeth, long fingernails peeking out like that a wild beast. He kicked up dust and clawed at the air as if he were fighting an invisible opponent. He tugged at his bushy locks, beard and ragged shorts. As he started out fiercely towards me, I stood my ground. But had no good reason to grip my cutlass firmly in case if he attacked.
Closer, I could see swollen spots and rusty hues of congealed blood on his body.
“Hold it…hold it there.” I gestured slowly, my voice barely audible.
At handbreadth he stopped, canted his head. Bloodshot eyes peered at me. He laughed nervously but it soon toned down to the whimpers of a frightened dog. He muttered a few words only the gods could tell and slumped to the ground in tears.
The mob took over again.
From all sides, stones and sticks barrelled in his direction, drawing loud cries from him.
“Stop it! Stop it!” I yelled.
“Step away from that devil!” the men with stones and fat sticks countered.
“Please, don’t…” I tried to catch my breath. “Don’t harm him anymore than you have already.”
A woman in the crowd spoke up harshly, “And who are you to decide for us?”
A few more added cynically, “Look, he’s just a stranger!”
In the crowd, another group seemed to disagree. “His fathers used to live up there in the hills.”
Their argument was about to split them up into groups when a man in brown singlet and plaid wrapper cut in. “Silence! Silence everybody!”
He came up to me with a sarcastic smile. “An ant doesn’t sting the buttocks in the same spot twice. It’s either that such bottom belongs to a fool or it’s a forewarning of evil about to befall its owner. So many nights have passed without an answer as to the destruction in our barns and farms. But the gods be praised…early this morning, one of us spotted this walking dead”—he stabbed a finger in the mad man’s direction—“in one of our animal farms. Next to him on the grass was a dead goat! He was feasting on its blood!”
The mob chanted, “Chupu nwoke furu-efu! Chupu nwoke isi mgbaka!”*
I tried to contain my anger. “I’ll pay. I’ll pay whatever is the price!”
“That’s really unfortunate,” he replied.
I knew what the law said about such show of public disrespect.
“One thing is certain.” He looked back at the anxious mob. They weren’t prepared to back down. “The law says that such a person will be treated according to the desire of the people.”
“Gbam!”* one of the men quickly approved. As he raised his stick to beat the weeping man, I tore it away from him and scraped his arm with my cutlass. He rolled over and cried out in pain, blood pouring out.
“He—he hurt me. He wants to cut off my hand.”
Jaws dropped. Eyes widened. The faces before me held different expressions from shock to anger.
In defiance, I waved the cutlass before the mob. “Step any closer near my brother and I’ll use this again. I swear I’ll take some of you down with me even if I don’t succeed killing you all.”
pic credit: aglomot.com
*(Translation: Igbo to English)
“Chupu nwoke furu-efu! Chupu nwoke isi mgbaka!” means “Send away the useless man! Send away the mad man!”
“Gbam!” means “Yes!”