The Nile water that year, having experienced one of those flooding that occurs once every twenty or thirty years from tears of sorrow since its creation, something which became legendary—something for fathers to talk to their sons about. Water from tears covered most of the land lying between the rivers of sorrows as well as the edge of the well stood land, where good houses stood with joy, and the good field became like island amidst the water. We sailed with small canoe in that new water when we had to see one another. Some time we see canoe sailing the water alone with strange air hissing out of it as if somebody shouting. There could be somebody inside—unseen; I thought. Maybe our world is changing, from a human world into a spiritual world.
The vulture stood there for hours waiting for the child to die so that it might take it share of service. Akur’s father died four days ago after a persistent starvation from hunger which struck our people, the people of southern Sudan after a long spell of flood which followed by drought after a long civil war. Akur’s mother had just put her on the hill before slopping down the valley where she wanted to die in the cool shade. Many other vultures followed her and started eating her before her scanty blood clotted in her veins. The environment was so strange. The blowing wind was quite strong and strange, passing through my clothes making some rare noise. I turned to see the nearby tree, it was giving out some sound from the wind, and it sounded like a human voice. This is ghost, my heart told me. “Deng,” a voice called me. I jumped and turned to another direction, to see if there is somebody, but there was nobody, none has called my name; it was just the wind.
“You are waiting for her?” unexpected words came out of my mouth, addressing the vulture. With the influence of the wind on the vulture, I saw the vulture nod it head.
“Yes?” I uttered something to question the nodding.
“So that is why you didn’t follow the rest down where they are taking care of her mother in the cool shade? Yes that is it… yes.” My voice was an acceptance, addressing the whole thing to myself, not the vulture now.
Minutes passed, the vulture was three meters behind Akur; watching. It was just pulling it legs up one by one with the urge of moving forward before placing it back on the same spot, on that dry ground which was made up of the dry grasses and some scanty leaves which are on their rotting stage and has got holes in them from termites, they should have finish the process of rotting, only lack of moisture had let them down. Akur’s buttock was clearly muscles less in the vulture’s eyes, only skin is covering the small fragile bones, which it thought would break with its beak once it wait up to that time of taking it share.
When the vulture drew it attention down the slope where Akur’s mother is being taken care of, it hears the tearing of the flesh, they produces different sounds. The sound coming from the flesh being torn from the muscles of the thighs is different from that being torn from the muscles of the chest, tearing of the skin of the breast have different sound from the skin of the head, poking of the eyes produces different sound from that of the nose or the ear. And too, when the eye ball is being swallowed it produce different bowel sound from the swallowing of the pinna of the ear, those sounds amazed the vulture. The vulture could not explain why. So it’s concentrated on hearing the noise of it fellow vultures instead of hearing the sound of the tearing flesh. Though to the vulture’s ears, its sound like other animals other than the fellow vultures have too, join in to take care of Akur’s mother. There was occasional murmuring of the dogs or hyena, their breaking of the bones before they get the fat and the marrow makes different sound; sound of breaking of flat bones are different from that of thick bones, the one of long bones are different from that of short bones, the one of the curved bones are different from the straight bones. The sound of the blind crawling insect falling on the dry leaves after they have filled their stomach with the succulent flesh or blood were also being heard. Sound of passing wind, too was being heard passing through the holes left by the flesh which have already been taken care of.
Then the waiting vulture knew the service is being done down the slope. It’s shifted an inch or two toward Akur almost facing the side where her ribs and part of the abdomen are protruding. The ribs look fragile and breakable, that give it a reason for waiting for more times. And too, Akur’s abdomen was still contracting and relaxing in it clear visual acuity, showing that there is still sign of life in her, so for it, it have to wait until she is cold and lifeless before it’s take it share of service.
I imagined the thousand who have just died in Bahr-el-Ghazal of this famine. Children licking their fingers for lunch, sometime chew. The breastfeeding children lick sweat from the back of their nearly dying mothers until the skin bleed. They get disappointed when their mother past out, and keep on suckling the lifeless breast in the grave until a vulture grab the piece from their hands. Everything in the world was seemed to be so minuet.
“Vulture” I shouted at it, the vulture wasn’t taking note of anything; but I could still see it nod with the wind.
“Are you a human or a catastrophe?” The vulture was silent just watching at Akur.
The image came back and covered my face again, and in it I saw Muraheleen horsemen backed by the Sudan government, scoured in the marketplaces, moved from door to door through our families. Small girls dissected before being ravish to death. Boy child is thrown up and shot like a tin can, lucky one the head is smash on any available log. Men were slept with in front of their women before they swallow “Arab pill,” one bullet, which comes out from the back of their head. Any available human skin, a knife or a bullet must enter through. Leaving us with smoke on our houses, food stuffs that they cannot carry with them, cattle and any animal which cannot go with them were left dead. I palpated ‘Mountains’ in that image, ‘mountains’ sprung out in Nazareth quarter, in the Marial Bai/Marial Ajith areas, fence with human spirit. Then the image suddenly turned into spirit, human spirit hovering; wondering around that place.
“Deng” another voice called; this time, it like it has come from Akur. ‘Akur, are you spirit?’ I asked her from my heart. Before I continued with my thought the voice echoed out. “Which other planet can we go where a human race might have mercy to each other?”
I opened my mouth, my jaws shaking with fear. “Who are the ‘we’?” I asked aloud. Suddenly I grew annoyed, and regretted for having spoken to the spirit? And suddenly the image turned into human bodies, dead bodies; uncountable. Other bodies which could not be buried were floating in Jur River. The flammable one was set on fire, giving out strange dark smoke. I saw dogs within the villages coming out of the smoke, and grew fat in a week time; vultures came out of the smoke cleaning their beaks on the grass slowly putting no rush on any act knowing that the food have come to stay; and wild pigs too came out of the smoke, came home to stay where there is no shortage of food. The smoke twisted higher and higher, forming in my mine a day, a week, a month, a year; and then it later on formed two years, after the two years drought caused severe famine!
“Vulture, are you the Catastrophe or the human being?”
In that year, death took children along the road side. Some in the bush while hunting for the wild fruit, in most cases it start by their parents. I looked at that Vulture standing behind Akur with confident waiting patiently for her to die so that it takes its share. Akur remained mainly the head, at the chest the ribs are seen forming curves from lack of muscles to cover it, her face and hand are on the ground with lack of energy; the helpless knees have passed up her body, too weak to support her. I imagined other children, just like her has been put down to die on the road, road between Tonj and Mapel, between Gogarial East and West, between Aweil and Akon, road going from Wau to Rajaf; death touched boys and girls, helpless children crying for help.
I imagined one particular boy; death took his father first, then his mother. He stumbled on weakly to finish their quest. The teenage boy sits on the red gravel in the middle of the path, throwing the pebbles up wondering whether they can turn into food; his wasted body a confusion of sharp angles, bent knees and elbows, bowed head in his hand, as tears flow silently down his cheeks. He is naked except for a dirty brown shirt that reaches his thighs. "I am hungry.” I heard him saying before he passed out. Before he left home in search of food his mother was not talking; before she fell down and died. He sat there for some time waiting if someone might come across and bury her, but no one has appeared, everybody in the village was bed ridden, clearly dying of the hunger.
“Deng,” a voice called again, it sounded real this time. I turned and saw Akoth.
“Vulture and a child!” I pointed to him.
“You are surprise?” He said. “Over the past month, when this long—forewarned famine struck us, skeletal children have been dying in front of helpless aid workers, with old people begging for a few grains of corn—food that too often is not reaching them, the afflicted fast enough.”
I stared at him, then at the vulture and Akur without a word.
“And no one knows how many have died already because no one is tallying the numbers. Certainly hundreds and probably thousands have already died.” Said Akoth. “In this province, death has become so common that people have forgotten how to weep—Deng. Some time when they hear the news that somebody has died, they just stretched their legs, or they yond or one can just turned their back to the other, emotion is too much, no one knows how to express it, and death has become almost a better solution to this seemingly no solution’s problem; all it could take is to keep quiet and listen to the noise made from inside the heart.” I was hearing him faintly, and didn’t know what to say.
“We are dying,” the sound of those women came back to my ears. Their words burn with truth. On the parched patch of ground, thousands of people had gathered, camped in the shade of scattered trees, hoping for a share of a U.N. food drop—rations planned for thousands of people. The airdrops were delayed. There is no food and little water; the people kept on living on leaves, sipping from puddles. Before I finished my thought, I heard Akoth speaking again. “Could it have been known by anyone that, this would happen? That a vulture would stand and wait for a child to die?”
I just glance at Akoth and ignored him. I wanted to concentrate on the news that I heard from one of my friends who work for the UN. He told me that the fleet of transport planes that drop food sacks from the sky was grounded for several days at its base in northern Kenya because cracks had appeared on the skins of the heavily worked aircraft. That news kept on sounding in my mind and I didn’t know what to do with it. I found out that the news was of no use to me, I dropped it and glace back at Akur, perhaps looking at her was better. What should I do with her? I felt unprepared question asking itself within my heart. And I felt like I should run and pick her, but some voice was urging me not to do so, or not to bother at all. Before I could finish my internal fight, Akoth asked me a question.
“Is she important?”
“I don’t know, I surely don’t know.” I whispered my answer making sure that Akoth shouldn’t hear, “what I know is she is dying and the vulture is waiting for her to die.”
“The people had no option but to sit with their hunger, waiting for the food to come or just for whatever comes their ways,” said Akoth. I didn’t answer him because I didn’t know whether he was again asking a question, or making a statement.
When I was coming before I met Akur, I banged into houses whose family members were severely suffering; I dismissed them and went my way. A random stop at a tukul, a round reed-and-mud hut, reveals the drawn family of a woman. She has lost two children this month. Her 3-year-old daughter, listless with a swollen stomach, whimpers as flies alight on a huge open sore on the back of her head. And I had dismissed that too. But now, here it’s not flies but vulture standing behind this little wasted girl, waiting to tear her flesh just like what the other vultures are doing down the slope on her mother.
I stood there watching at them, before I heard Akoth talking; “What has happened to the helping hands?”
What was he saying this time round, was he asking question? And I thought it wasn’t right for him to ask such a question or any question at all. The helping hand did what they can until they got ‘Compassion fatigue’, African problem are wide, just like its continent. And for the first time, my friend in the UN said military helicopters were being used to distribute food in famine—stricken Sudan, where recent rains have washed out many roads and rails tract but brought no relief to starving villagers in the south.
“Time is silent……” Akoth murmured.
I looked at him and kept quiet.
“The big hands are caught in a difficult policy dilemma in Sudan,” he said as if he is addressing his issue to no one. “We are wracked for years in war, by the government. And now the government, in the name of keeping this country united and imposing order, has used this, denial of food and relief for its own political purposes. And our rebels have been no less harsh though have had fewer occasions. Am sure the government is being favored by the big hands of the West and USA for strategic services rendered and for its pro-Western proclivities, that is why they have muted their public criticism of the food.” He looked at me in demand for my attention, but I couldn’t say anything on what he was saying, because I have no idea on whatever things he was talking about. I remained there silent, listening to him.
“And Deng, we know they cried out.” Akoth continued. “Each mouth, that died went into air and reached the soul of the world. They were heard from the other side of the wall. It impossible to imagine these sounds, their screams; sound of their cry, cry of the dying one... how loud do the innocent cry, innocent children who were trapped in the middle of the circumstances! Forgive me, you who died of this hunger. Forgive me for this blasphemy, of choosing philosophy over the brutalism of fact.”
I was confused with his words, I looked at his face, there was clear sign of anger before it could turned into tears. My heart went silent… tears flowing willingly from my eyes too, why is he doing all this? Before long, he started saying things, which in my ears sound like a song.
Small act of love,
Can be practice
But we deny it
For so long…..
Yet they cry,
How loud are their voices?
The voice of the innocence
Their voices go up high with grief to the sky
Until it come down and land on the wall
Yet to bounced and produce an echo
Which wander far to another planet
And come back faint in vain;
Yearning to be heard
When will their tears count?
Is real wealth of human race…
These are inestimable gifts,
But why should they not be granted, the innocent?
His tears were endless; I wanted to console him, before the woman that I came through her home came back to my mind. The words she said. That she could not go to the clinic, for fear that the rest of her children might die, kept on repeating itself. It was clear from her demeanor that she has already written off the other child, the 3-year-old with the wound at the back of her head. Her hopes focus on two remaining, older children, who seem more likely to survive. Though she was not sure if she will reach the next month, because her death was seen clearly hovering in front of her door, waiting to open it hand and grab her to be taken for the final journey; before reaching the next month, when whatever food crops that have been planted can be harvested. She said leaves alone had made their tongues heavy and tasteless and it doesn’t give them any meaningful energy to help them walk or do some other meaningful works.
She told me that when food is limited, weaker members of society are the first to die. “Women are making incredible choices now. . . .” she said. “They chose carefully on whom to die so that the little food is shared amongst the stronger people who may survive the hunger. Deaths of certain children, certain individuals, were accepted by their mothers or family members.” I stared at her “Choosing of individuals to die are not choices, they are doing best with no choices. They are act of love, rescuing the soul from suffering inside the flesh.”
I couldn’t speak to her any word as she continues telling me that to some extent, that same cold calculus has spread to the aid community. Relief workers know they have a disaster on their hands. Their activities are now aimed not at saving everyone but at saving as many as possible. So they had to make a choice in order to save. “It's too late.” She said, some could say. “People are dying.” Some admit.
I stood there in the land of Bahr-el-Ghazal watching at that flat land with dotted lalob trees which has stretched endlessly; I look at it until my eyes made it to meet with the sky. Just some months back after the raid by the Muraheleen, the land was full of water from the flood, and now it empty with miserable withered plants swaying vigorously by those violent winds which come from far. A monstrous north wind carrying sand and dust so thick it turned the sky a dull, weighty crimson blew through Bahr-el-Ghazal. No effort at sealing doors and windows keeps the fine debris from the haboub, as the wind is called, out of one's house, and the storm leaves one with an unpleasant metallic taste in the mouth. When the haboub passes there is a crippling heat, burning the land intensely as if the sun has been drawn closer to the earth.
I glance back at Akur and the vulture. It was, as if the world has just turned upside down. “Love.” I spoke softly; I didn’t know that Akoth would hear me.
“Love?” he spoke aloud.
“Yes,” I said. “This is an act of love not hatred, love make choice. To wait for the young girl to die so that it takes care of is a choice. Just like a mother of many children chose carefully on whom to die. The vulture too has chosen carefully on whom to eat.”
Akoth stared at me until I dissolved in his stare, the direction from which I came I could not tell. I even doubted whether I was standing facing Akur and the vulture or standing there at all, just like a man who doesn’t know what his past and his present look like, a man who woke up out of stupor—confused!
“Could this be a world or hell? Am I going alive to hell? Can such a thing happen?” I heard Akoth talking. I rubbed my eyes forcefully trying to make it see what he was doing, only to see a vulture waiting for a child to die so that it eat.
“This is not love. This is hatred. I feel hatred and must seek revenge” Akoth said.
Yes. I spoke to myself, as if I wanted to agree with Akoth. My adversary is within and I need must confront this vulture now, I thought. And even if, how much would count again? I took a step forward toward the vulture. Even so, there is still in my mind a modicum of sense that is aware of the irony of the situation. I will begin from where the vulture has stopped, perhaps. Yet for it has at least made a choice, while I have chosen nothing. For a while the disk of sun remained motionless just above the eastern horizon, then hurriedly disappeared. The armies of darkness, ever encamped nearby, bounded in and occupied the world in an instant. I must forgive the vulture, I must. Unknowingly I knelt down and started saying thing which I even don’t know—murmuring, blinded by my own tears.
You were warm
When you were here
Where are you now?
I wandered off into the narrow winding paths
My face touched by the cold night breezes
That blow in heavy dew from the tall savannah grasses,
Heavy with the scent of acacia,
New roses’ blossom
The scent of earth that has just been showered by the rain
After the thirst of the days,
The scent of half ripe corn cobs
The scent of lapena flowers
The aroma of lemon trees
The world as usual was silent at that hour of the night
Not with the horror silent of now
There was occasional barking of the dog,
The crowing of a lone cock
That prematurely sensed the arrival of the dawn
And answering crow of another
The silent reigned.
Passing by peoples’ houses at the bend of the paths,
I saw a dim light coming from their small windows,
And sometimes hear their wife giving a cry of pleasure
I felt ashamed at having been privy to something I shouldn’t have been;
It wasn’t right of me to stay awake
Wandering round the world while everyone else is asleep in bed
But it was you I am looking for
You were warm
When you were here
Where are you now?
In any case
I now realized this maxim,
But with my mind only,
For the muscles under my skin are supple and complaint
My heart optimistic
I want to give lavishly,
I want you to flow from my heart again,
To ripen and bear fruit
Though many horizons in my life that must be visited
Before I come into contact with you again
But even if, how many would count again,
Fruit that must be pluck,
White pages in the scrolls of life
Be inscribed with vivid sentences
In a bold hand
For you to be again
People move achingly
Searchingly long journey
Far down under the sea
Up the sky in the moon
Into unknown planet
And come back
Some take refuge in children
Some in marriage
Some in adventures
If you are not here you will not be
Where are you now?
You were warm
When you were here
Come back to your little space
In my heart
And you make the world move on again
Akoth lifted me from where I knelt and was crying, as if I was the one to be rescued from the vulture. ‘This is hatred; Deng you are stupid, love makes choice.’ A voice addressed me as though I was another person within myself and it was like something already said before being repeated. Without knowing, I found myself going toward Akur, the vulture flew away helplessly. Akoth stood there watching at me. I went and knelt down near her, holding her in my hands, not yet decided on what to do with her. Should I go and bury her? It’s like something faintly coming out of her, like she is still breathing, should I try to feed her and I see if she can lives? Without any further thinking, I put her on my chest, her soft neck made her head to fall on my shoulder, her skin which is in contact with my arms was very cold, and I doubted if blood was flowing her veins. Reaching home, I fed her mechanically on the little I had until she lives. By A Web design Company
By A Web design Company