If timing was an art, then Hanna Bankuku was the most art-less person that ever lived; always arriving either too late or too early. To start with, she had been born an immature child, which was her first early arrival, and arguably the most unfortunate. Her life was a series of either too early or too late. That day, when she had entered the village, it was no different. Coming in at a time when the focus was Mr. Mbale’s twins; which was then an unheard of phenomenon (bearing twins); it could be argued that she had come too early. Perhaps if she had waited for a week or two, she would not have upset him, and consequently, upset the cosmos. She had become the butt of village gossip for a while and then faded out to give way to the incessant Mr. Mbale, or commonly called, the village newspaper, but not without inducing in him a vile dislike which was clothed as holy anger by his wife. When she had first arrived in a blue suit alien to the villagers, she had excited many a people and been hosted by many more, treated to the famous village delicacy – Mukutho, which was like Muthokoi* but with a tinge of jealousy and a pinch whole bucket load of village curiosity.
The villagers of Tirakosta were a jealous people. They looked onto outsiders as if they brought with them a superior culture. A way of living that no ordinary born Tirakost-an could ever achieve. As such, they bathed them with gifts which comprised of green bananas, sweet potatoes, yams and sometimes peanuts, until they became convinced that somehow, they had assimilated the stranger into their inferior way of life, at least where food was concerned, then and only then, could they be satisfied. Otherwise, their jealousy only grew insurmountable.
Their curiosity knew no bounds. It was not uncommon to find two or three kids together with their father and sometimes mother, hanging by a window eavesdropping on conversations that had nothing to do with them. In fact, if ever there was an activity that they could not forfeit, this was it. It brought people together; bonding them way better than anything could ever be conceived to do. There is something about gossip; something innately addictive, something intimately binding to the partakers, but binding only loosely enough for them to understand the round nature of it, to loathe that it should come back to them, to want to stop, but to be unable.
At Tirakosta, if you have not gossiped, you were a sad person. There was nothing interesting about you, which was funny because here, the people prided themselves in their very dark skin, chipped legs and assortment of features. Their dark skin very dark skin and chipped legs were the only things, other than their love for gossip that identified them as members of the same village. In a family, a boy would be too tall, with eyes bigger than the ears; a girl would be plump with long fingers and a limping gait; the mother would be tall but with legs longer than arms or two mouths; the father would be what our world calls normal, which there, was an abnormality. They would be united by the pigmentation of their skin and the chipping of their legs. The only exception to the rule was once when it was rumored that there was born a child with changing features. Today, she would have legs longer than the upper body, tomorrow she would be a whole block, with only eyes, mouth, and ears, but even then, her skin remained as dark as ebony, true to the village spirit.
With such a wealth of differences so, it would have been out of the ordinary if no one found something worth mentioning about you. Otherwise said, you were an outcast, a reject. You were to tie yourself to a stone or a big tree stump in the forest and leave yourself there to starve, die and rot; and maybe then, the gracious people of Tirakosta would find something of you on their lips and you would rest a hero. You would die an honorable death, bestowed on it all honor which you lacked in your many days alive.
Of course, all this was inherently dependent on one Mr. Mbale. He was the stick that set the fire aflame. There was never a story which he did not originate. For him, this was a gift. One he did not choose, but one that chose him. He had done it long enough to know when to exaggerate, and when to leave out details; when to kill a story and when to change the subject. Often enough, more often than you can imagine, he began stories about himself, being quite the person who took delight in being on other people’s lips. No one knew how he managed to do this so flawlessly. No one cared to inquire. The whole village was so happy with his job that if he were to die, there would be left a dent so deep you could plant bananas in it. He provided for the villagers a basic need as far as they were concerned.
When the story was told about Hanna Bankuku, no one doubted its validity or origin. Everyone was content to know that she was a three-legged, light-skinned creature who had no right to be called Acrostian; for that is what they were; the last remaining race of the Acrostians, a people from the central parts of Africa, who were peaceful in nature and private by design, except amidst themselves. She was said to possess the chipped legs that were categorically theirs, but nothing else that could identify her as one of them, not even her love for gossip.
In truth, she was every bit one of them, born and raised in the village for her early years, and grown up in a secluded establishment of her own making by a river about twenty miles east of Tirakosta. Her mother, ashamed of the creature she had created, abandoned her in an underground cave one day when she was twelve, under the guise of playing their version of hide and seek, which went on for three days until she realized that she had been duped. By the village’s standards, she was quite the beauty. Despite her misfortune regarding her skin color, which would not even be considered light in Kenya today, everything else was as it should be, of their people. The people were too prejudiced to see. Or more precisely, Mr. Mbale, was too prejudiced.
When Hanna came into the village, she had only with her the blue suit that she had on, a makeshift bag made out of leaves and a fork-shaped stick which she supported herself with. In her bag were a bunch of wild fruits that have long ceased to exist, two small sticks that she used as needles, thread, woven together from sisal and a piece of material made from the skin of a rabbit. No one saw her enter except two kids who were playing by a ridge near the forest from which she emerged. These two boys, excited at having finally discovered something that would interest anyone, ran to Mr. Mbale to recount the whole story, in the hope that they would be mentioned therein and change their fates, thus avoiding the death-by-starvation-to-gain-honor, death sentence. Mr. Mbale, having heard their account, dismissed them as hooligans, threatening to beat them to death if they uttered a word of it to anyone else.
Kutu and Kombi left his house bereft, swearing each within them to find justice at one point or another, but barely saying anything to each other on their way home. There are moments that define a person. Rarely, are these moments desirable, or anything, if we had known of beforehand, that we would choose for ourselves. Yet, when they have come to pass, they leave an imprint on us, sometimes in the form of a scar, which lives with us for the rest of our lives. Sometimes, they change the way in which we see life or people, they mold our attitudes and set us on a different tangent. Unbeknownst to either Kutu or Kombi, this was one such moment.
To be continued…
*Muthokoi – A very popular dish among the Kamba tribe, which is a cooked mixture of dry de-husked maize and beans.