The weather was calm and clement. It was ten o'clock in a formidably dark night. At first, Nimbus clouds had seemed to presage a heavy downpour, but with time, the wind had veered, then stopped, leaving the swarthy clouds to hover about in the night sky no longer carrying their menace and threat to cause a flood. Everything was just turning fine for our mission! Armed with a club and a lethal metal bar, I arrived at the strategic point allocated for us to await an ambush. The place rested in abysmal silence, and as I stood at the middle of the spot scanning and listening carefully for any indication of human presence, nothing moved. Then feebly, from the soot-dark bushes nearby, a secret code rhythm was tapped gently against a club. I did the same with mine and proceeded towards the direction. A group of young men lay on grass hiding so securely.
I sauntered stealthily between the still bodies, cautious not to stumble upon the pernicious swords, hatchets and spears sprawled on the ground. A man whispered to me that I should be careful not to step on his poisoned arrows; sending a chill down my spine. It suddenly dawned on me that some chaps were planning mischief. By the look on their seemingly cold-blooded faces, I knew that some were vehement to shed blood, which was not in our plan. The whole operation was just about arresting a group of cattle rustlers who had, in a few days past, attempted to drive away some cattle in our village, but had failed when the people had raised the alarm. Now, word had arrived that they were returning. I began to wish I had stayed in my bed, the thought of possibly participating in a massacre was too much for me, but then, no one would have allowed me to go back.
Whispers were circulated and soon we were creeping slowly to encircle our commander for some last-minute instructions. We were to be mobilized into four vantage positions surrounding the field, then set up a "base" in the middle whereby some would remain for immediate reinforcement to any of the four corners; whichever the foe attacked first. Four people were to be maintained at every corner.
"Under no circumstance should anyone flash a torch before the enemy arrives, pass this around", our commander whispered, then waited as the same message was relayed to our colleagues lurking behind us. He was clad in a black heavy jacket over dark-green trousers tucked into some old gumboots. Like most other bullies, he was heavily built; his head towered above that of everyone around him. He might also have been the oldest chap there being in his late twenties. When the rustling faded out, his mango head inclined forward to issue yet another order. "For cases of identity, we shall only use our code rhythm, nothing else". The message was also passed over in the same manner and before we dispersed it was resolved that we all assemble at our "base" at three o'clock in the morning. A torch would be flashed as a signal to fall in.
I was assigned to command the eastern corner and I picked three other chaps and tardily set out to our position. We ascertained that the thieves had not already hidden themselves under a suitably dark shadow of a huge Oak, then went forward and lay at the foot of the tree glad to hold such a superb ground offering a natural bulwark and a black camouflage. It was hard for us to command a good view on to our eastern side because of a nearby escarpment rising so high such that no figure would have been silhouetted if the foe had used that side. But other directions were conveniently against the sky's background.
Mungiki, commonly called BB (big brother), was the worst fiend in our group. He proudly gave me his sword to feel the edge. I touched it with my fingers and my blood froze, then my skin felt as though thorns were picking every part of it from the inside. It was too sharp. I asked him why he had to whet it that much and he chuckled before telling me of his intention to perform a rare routine on the culprits to ensure the termination of such breeds in the community. He had a bottle of disinfectants and I was tempted to laugh, but I shuddered instead.
"Should we just attack the moment we spot them?” a young lad was already beginning to quail. He now looked too young to have been involved in all this, but I knew that no one had forced him to come.
"I think we should just glare our torches and command them to drop their weapons", I suggested.
"You must be crazy", BB interjected. Those hooligans are coming with weapons and the moment they see a torch-light they won't hesitate to shoot at it".
"I have an opinion", I pointed out, "how about crouching then raising our torches high in our hands so that when they shoot, they miss us?" No one seemed to loathe the idea.
A chap thought he heard some footsteps and we all fell still and strained to hear. Someone appeared silhouetted against the Northern sky, cleared his throat aloud and began to move towards us. "Must be some old man", a chap observed in whispers. When I tapped the rhythm on my club, the man stood rooted to the spot, then began to retreat his steps slowly. BB poised an arrow ready to shoot, but another chap stopped him saying he could recognize the man. The chap stood up and moved towards the man who had by now raised his walking stick high into the sky ready to strike anything moving towards him. Soon they were murmuring together before coming towards us. It must have been some chemistry to do with blood because the man was the father of the chap who had recognized him. He applauded our efforts and said that he had just come to check on how we were getting along. He then advised us to arrest the thieves but to do nothing with them but to raise alarm and wait for them, the old men, to come. After seeing that all was set, he left.
Our eyes by now had gotten accustomed to the darkness. My blue Denim trousers were beginning to appear lighter in colour and my group had urged me to retreat further into the bushes to avoid betraying them. They were all in black or red clothes and were hardly visible even from a close range. I moved to the tree and sat on its exposed roots resting my back against the trunk. The rest began to lie on the ground together and chatted in murmurs, at times I could get a gist of what they were talking about. They had by now forgotten all about the mission and were discussing the universal topic among men - girls.
With time, their murmuring died out. One chap was already fast asleep. The remaining two stood up as though in accord, stretched themselves, then walked to some bushes nearby to pee before returning to resume their positions. I knew that nothing would have stopped them from taking their forty winks. Luckily, I was still sure of remaining vigilant for the next few hours and I let them sleep, hoping that by the time I shall also be in their present state, they shall be awake. I now began to scrutinize everything more sharply knowing that I had remained the only one to keep watch.
I had often heard that past mid-night are the coldest hours on earth, and I was now experiencing it. Still seated in the same position, I had begun to draw my knees next to my chin, cuddling myself to prevent any heat escaping. Another chap had awoken shivering and complaining that it was time we went to the base, saying "we'll freeze here". When I told him that we should wait for the signal, he remonstrated. He said the guys at the base must have all been dead asleep by now.
"Alright, let's wait a bit more", I assured him. But he retreated to resume his position and, determined to stop him from getting away with it, I racked my brains for a ruse to apply. My eyes roamed the scene ahead of me and I fancied I saw a figure move. I looked again, but saw nothing of the sort. I must have seen the ghost of Karbatulla, I thought, but this gave me some idea. I moved towards the sleeping lacklusters and gently patted one on the shoulder. He opened his eyes and turned abruptly to face me, an agitated, surprised and shocked expression on his face. He sobered immediately he remembered where he was!
"They are coming. Look out there! Tell the rest". The guy gazed in the direction I was gesturing and panicked as he shook the rest who awoke in jolts and clutched their weapons. I wanted to tell them that it was just a trick but then we all saw them!
Courage deserted me, my grip weakened on my club and we just faced each other seeming to be at loose ends. Dark figures were advancing slowly towards our position, half crouching. We retreated further into the thicket. I whispered to my trembling colleagues that we had better hide and let them pass towards the base before raising alarm. They nodded their heads; too shaken to talk.
As they unwarily passed close to our hiding place, we were all tense and as still as stones. I could hear our heart beats thudding rapidly and could not help worrying that one of the raiders could possibly hear them! They were very close. I counted their number and my blood ran cold, ten seemed a delicate number to tackle. A few had quivers across their shoulders while the rest had a concoction of swords, spears and clubs.
"Who will shout?" BB reminded us that our mission had began. I told him to do it, but not before the others had held their torches ready to glare. They were fast approaching the base and we had no more time left but to immediately warn our colleagues before it was too late. I signaled BB to shout.
"Kakooobok! Olibore! Olibore!” his voice shattered the tranquility of the hitherto silent night. Immediately, our torches went on to illuminate the frightful thieves. They stared back at us in horror. "Drop your weapons!" I ordered, and immediately a number of them let theirs drop. A few were stubborn. One of them boldly arranged his bow and an arrow ready to shoot but hesitated when I bawled again that he was dead. More torch-lights began to arrive on the scene and I was beginning to feel triumphantly relieved. "Now, leave your weapons and move aside!" my voice rang with confidence as I felt ravished to be for once the hero I had always admired in the movies.
Other groups began to advance rowdily towards the culprits and I knew that things would soon be out of control. Our commander ordered them to remove their clothes and as I tried to intervene, I was reprimanded harshly. "Pastor! We no longer need cowards here; you might as well go now". I felt utterly dismayed, but then saw no point in chewing the fat. By now, we had all encircled the thieves and most guys had rushed to grab for themselves the weapons that had been dropped. They had been complying well and I was now wishing that the old men would arrive in time to save them from our crazy commander, the not-any-better BB, and the rest of the belligerent horde who were just ready to be let into anything.
"You are still clothed", BB chuckled devilishly.
"Will you kill us if we do all that you ask?" It was a clearly shaken and pleading voice from one culprit. BB laughed. "We don't know", he cackled, "but to be frank, we have never tried this on anyone else". Others laughed. I guessed they did not even know what he meant. It must have just been the mere excitement of at last being in action after lying motionless for almost six hours out in the chilly night.
For some time, the thieves were defiant to part with their clothes. I heard a twang of a bow - a thud on a soft target – then, and a groan. Silence reigned. Save for the painful gasps and moans emanating from someone within the group of the frenzied thieves. "I am dying", the thief groaned. His colleagues cleared a space around him. He began to writhe on grass. Then, like a bull being slaughtered, his groans suddenly became so loud, the echoes hauntingly being reflected by the nearby escarpment.
Fearfully, we began to vacate the scene. But had hardly set out when some boots tramped the ground rapidly coming towards our direction. "Nobody moves!" A voice commanded. But the next minute I was gone, madly whizzing along the road towards home. The thought of having participated in a murder propelled my feet. I knew that a life sentence awaited me. The thief was now irrevocably dead. My ambitions died with him. Instead of becoming the pilot I had worked so hard to be, circumstances had suddenly changed and I was now destined to sit for the rest of my life behind bars; watching the TV. Thanks to the upheavals in our prisons.
Within no time, I was in my cottage. I quickly groped for a fifty shilling note, my new ID card and a diary within the pockets of my other clothes. I then began my journey. I did not care where I was heading. I knew that the hands of the law are long, but I was just going to try my luck. If they find me and ask why I had tried to escape, I'll tell them that it was not my fault, but that I had just ran mad like a March hare, and that, at last, I was back to normal.