A Mother’s Blessing
by Gary Clifton
“Mkosi, stop that dog barking, or it’s off with his head and into the cooking pot.” Mother raised herself on an elbow from the floor of the family hut.
Mkosi dragged himself from his sleeping pallet. His huge mongrel, Gamba, was invaluable at warning his family of unwanted strangers outside the door. Perhaps a panther or hyena or a two-legged enemy was lurking about.
He tied his monkey-skin belt and loincloth around his slender waist, then stuffed his long, curved double-edged dagger into a belt loop. Gripping his javelin, he stepped outside into sweltering equatorial heat. A hint of dawn showed in the east. He saw no unwelcome strangers in the dim light.
Mkosi tried to pin Gamba inside the hut, but the dog escaped despite the effort.
“Hunt you shall, old friend,” Mkosi chuckled.
His entire clan, now reduced to his immediate family, were the tiny remnant of the Mijikendra Bantu tribe, a distant branch of the many Bantu tribes that inhabited vast areas of Africa. The family hunkered in hiding in a hut at the edge of the great rain forest, two miles south of the massive Congo River.
The bloodbath had started when a Galla Bantu was murdered and the Gallas declared the Mijikendra had not shown enough remorse.
The only survivors were ancient old toothless grandfather Mbani, his mother Juba, his brother Chata, 9, and his beautiful sister, Kenju, 15. Mkosi’s mother had told him he was 14.
Mother had heaped great shame on Mkosi after a band of Galla Bantus attacked them three months earlier, killed Mkosi’s father, and made off with Mkosi’s younger sister. “You are a coward, away hunting and did nothing to help your family, you foolish child,” she’d chided repeatedly.
But he could provide food. He started off at a trot, knowing he could reach the Congo River well before full sunrise. He grabbed a handful of wild berries for breakfast.
* * *
Mkosi had been gone only minutes when the two intruders kicked down the door. Mother Juba recognized immediately from their dialect: the pair were Gallas, dressed in Belgian clothes, who had traveled by land up from Kinshasa looking to rape, pillage, and kill.
“We’ve come for the bitch,” the bigger, powerfully built leader snarled, pointing at the fertile Kenju. “She’ll bring a fine price at the slave market... After we’ve finished with her.”
His companion, a skinny man in his twenties in a dirty yellow shirt, smirked in the background.
Old Grandfather struggled to the doorway, curved dagger in hand and feebly stabbed at the leader.
Casually, the leader ran his hooked dagger through grandfather’s abdomen.
Yellow Shirt sneered. “You’ve sent a boy to hunt, and our brother is following him. We’ll return his head to you before the sun is high.”
* * *
Mkosi and the dog crawled to spear-distance of the Congo’s bank. Long experience had shown the springbok would soon yield to morning thirst. A buck crept through the willows, warily dipping its nose toward the water.
Mkosi rose and hurled his javelin. At the great distance, the throw was perfect. The dog sprang to its feet and quickly dragged the prey clear of the swift current.
Mkosi, ears attuned to danger since his earliest recollection, heard a twig snap behind him. Had he, in his excitement allowed a panther to slip up behind him? He drew his curved dagger and turned to face death as a Mijikendra warrior should.
* * *
Back at the compound, grandfather’s body lay in the dust, flies gathering. Yellow Shirt had bound the hands of the mother, sister, and little brother. They sat in a row against the outside of the hut, awaiting certain death or worse, compounded by the pending horror of Mkosi’s head being returned by a third intruder.
Sister Kenju, as did all women of the area, went bare-chested. Yellow Shirt could not resist speaking of her fine physique, and had fondled her repeatedly. As he stood over her, he neither heard nor uttered a sound as the javelin penetrated his chest, pinning him upright to the wooden door post.
The leader drew his long, curved dagger and looked about wildly.
Through the trees appeared the slender figure of Mkosi, prodding a squat Bantu warrior ahead of him at knife point. The prisoner’s ears had been sliced off and blood was coursing down onto the springbok he carried on his shoulders. The dog trotted along behind.
The leader thrust wildly at Mkosi with his heavy knife. Mkosi parried the attack, jammed his blade into the man’s navel until it hit backbone, then pulled it free. The leader screamed and fell dead into the dust, a pool of crimson spreading quickly.
Mkosi walked back to the prisoner. Pointing his bloody dagger, he made a curt gesture. The man laid the springbok and himself at Mkosi’s feet, babbling, “Spare me, master warrior. They made me come along. Please, in the name of the gods, mercy.”
Mkosi kicked the man to his feet. “Galla coward, go back... Run back to your murdering companions and tell them that certain death awaits them if they return. The dog will have more for breakfast than your ears. I, Mkosi, welcome the day.”
The mutilated man broke away at a run. Gamba chased him a short distance and ripped a gaping wound in his exposed buttocks.
Mkosi cut the bonds holding his family. “Little brother, we must bury grandfather. I will say the sacred words to guarantee that the gods ferry his spirit across the dark abyss. Then we’ll dress the springbok. Mother and sister, begin preparations to move. The cowards will not venture far enough into the great forest to find us again.”
Mother Juba spoke harshly but smiled at the dog: “Foolish animal, a great warrior like my son Mkosi did not need your help in defeating those ignorant fools.” She patted Mkosi lovingly on the head.
Copyright © 2016 by Gary Clifton