Melodies of the new Africa

John Otim

Excerpts from Strongman, a forthcoming novel by John Otim t

There was about the evening something noblesse. As though the universe was about to blow up. The canopy was ablaze. From the Mountains to the east came whispers of winds laden with fragrance. Everything about the place made for a fairyland. It was wonderful just to be around.

The sun was going down, darkness was coming on fast. Dews were beginning to form. Birds of the night were on the prowl. This was his last evening in town. He wanted it to be special. He planned to do something only he would know about and only he would be there, the sole participant. Tomorrow he would be gone.

The hour drew near. He did not know this. But there were people watching him. There were people monitoring his every move. They were planning for him. It would be their last chance to get him. If they missed him, he would be out of their reach, perhaps till kingdom come.

“We shall get him” the leader was confident this time. “And when we get him, we shall deal with him! We shall teach him a lesson he will not forget!” It was Strongman language. The Strongman was always teaching a lesson. It was in his psychology. The Strongman was a sadist.

Sparrow birds were singing. Dawn was breaking. Still breaking. He dozed his brothers. Down the lane he slipped away. Swift as sparrows he flew. Oft after him they went. He was the wind. They were the shadows. Up and away he sped. On and on he flew. It was Africa unbound. He did not know it. But the thing was inside him and within him it resided. Of his quests there were no limits.

Up and away he soared. His feet, wings of lightning, his spirits, a roaring mission to Mars. Now his every step they followed, keeping discreetly behind. Malice alone drove them. But on and on he flew. He was a man with a mission.

I listened to the wind come howl telling me I have to hurry

I listened to the robin’s song telling me not to worry

On and on he flew. The howling winds gave him succor. He listened to the robin’s song. It gave him heart. On and on he flew. On and on he flew. Till at last a voice inside of him told him. This is it. He glanced around for a spot to land. All around him, the wind roared, filled with fragrance. He pulled the brakes. His pace slackened to a trot.

It was a puzzle to them that pursued him. Why, would he slow down in the middle of nowhere? They were prepared for a long chase. If they had to reach the end of the world and go beyond, they would. It was not the first time they would go for him. They tried before and failed.

Now as they laid hands on him, they could not believe their luck. Their glee knew no bounds. But the kid was tougher than anything they imagined. His mouth ran like the rushing waters of Nile. His words stung like the poisoned arrows of Bushmen. These men were used to victims howling and begging for mercy. Then they would feel their raw power.

They pinned him to the ground and punched him. They propped him up again and punched him. They threw him down again and soaked him in the mud. “Drink this! It is our offer to you. Drink it so that in the end you shall remember us! Drink it!” But the kid did not budge.

Look what we got! “Mister, you are a sight! What happened to you?” they mocked him and punched him some more. “Take that! You think you are tough!”. Puff! Puff! "Take some more!" Puff!

But the kid, his eyes were dry like the Kalahari, and his mouth kept jetting, he knew not a conquer in the world. Nothing could touch the spirit that inside him surged. While they still held him, he heard in the distance melodies of the new Africa. It rose from the Cape and welled up till the grounds and the grass and the rocks echoed with the sound of music. Sweet melody. It flew over the Limpopo. It sailed over the Great Zimbabwe. It leaped over the Mountains of the Moon and filled the valleys of the rift.

And now his face shone. His eyes, a million stars. It was a transfiguration. When they perceived this in him, mortal fear gripped them, they lost heart, and abruptly let go of him. They fled as fast as their feet could carry them.