The little boy sat by the overflowing dumpster, wailing.
His shrill, small voice, a croaky nuisance adding to the chattering from the market women hawking their goods. He sat slouched against the dumpster amidst the nauseating odors, already used to them. He opened his small dry mouth, lips cracked from the harmattan wind, his tears leaving clean trails on his grime-covered face. A small form overlooked by passers-by, clad in dirty rags, disheveled and tortured by tumultuous pangs of hunger.
His eyes trailed after the buyers who went by with aromas of food tailing them. He blinked tears from his eyes and huddled his knees to himself. His stomach churned in revolt and he squirmed, suffering. A child laughed, a bright warm giggle that caught his attention. The boy was not much older than he was; a fat kid wearing the best clothes. The boy’s black shoes gleamed a catchy silver in the afternoon sun as he bubbled cheerily about his mother, holding on to her skirt.
A tear escaped and trickled down the starving child's cheek. Dreadful memories from a silent night blurred his vision. Memories of his mother passing away in his arms, on a quiet night in the still moonlight, in a dilapidated building. Since then he had been alone, left to fend for himself and live off the scraps of the local dogs. He let his eyes roam to the talkative women in their stalls, basking in dusty kiosks, attending to bargaining buyers.
He gulped and he wished someone would toss him a morsel. The old woman that sold fried fish under the baobab tree had not come today. She usually gave him a stick of fish.
In one of the farthest stalls, a mocking laughter rung out. He knew the voice too well, He cringed with disgust. She was called Mama Vera. A robust pugnacious woman, infamous for her uncouth demeanor. She was abusing another customer again, beating her heavy chest loudly and gesticulating as she rained a tirade of curses. The poor victim was a much younger and smaller woman, visibly intimidated by the manly excuse for a woman.
"Foolish woman! Do you know how much we buy a cup of Garri these days!" Mama Vera screamed, face flushed, eyes beady and veins on her forehead protruding, making her resemble a demonic depiction. Everyone around her cowered. The neighboring market women whispered and muttered, cautious not to draw her attention.
"Get out of my shop!" She screamed as she flung an arm to point the way, simultaneously shaving a small sack of Garri and causing it to tilt slowly but surely. The starving child focused on the food stuff while the woman went on in her fury. The content of the sack began to spill, a small trickle of Garri began pouring to the ground.
His heart lurched in joy! Quickly he scampered to his feet and rushed to it, ducking low amidst the growing crowd that had begun to surface, witnessing Mama Vera's scene. He got to the pouring sack which had formed a small heap of Garri on the ground below. He squatted over it, teary with joy and helped himself to handfuls, stuffing gritty flakes into his mouth...
"THIEF O! THIEF O!" A provocative scream rended the air frightening him and making him jump back in shock and into the waiting arms of Mama Vera. Her grip closed around the scruff of his shirt like a vice and her other iron hand yanked him into the air.
"I WILL KILL YOU TODAY!" She spat into his face as her blinding slap met with his face eliciting a shrill yelp from him and stream of tears begun to stream from his eyes. Her powerful hands tousled him before slamming him down hard on the stony ground and heavy slaps rained on him at shocking speeds, leaving him in a state of pain and shock but he could see all that was happening around him. The scowling faces that begun to gather all around him and those talkative lips that rained derogatory remarks on him, unaware of what was coming next, frightened and dismayed, his face swollen in different areas.
Mama Vera handed him over to the local ruffians. School dropouts and jobless youth that dominated the market as vigilantes, extorting from the market women on a daily basis, weapons for hire. No sooner than later, the child was being dragged in the dusty roads, his wails had now turn into full-blown screams, begging for mercy. The ruffians ripped off his rags and splayed him naked in the street. The market women had left the stalls to bear witness to the evil that happening, excited to be a part of an unusual event. Passers by also gathered too, sympathetic faces and apathetic faces alike watched on silently.
The starving child trembled in fear, weak and exhausted from the commotion, grimacing in pain. The ruffian leader fetched an old tire and slung it over the child's head. Realization hit the little boy like a sledgehammer, he had witnessed one of these events before. He had been much younger, cowering behind his mother when the community burned a man for stealing money publicly.
Impulsively, he started screaming, shuddering in horror of what was about to happen to him. The ruffians flogged him with their whips in their bid to shut him up. The first lash tore across his back, leaving a burning trail and causing him to empty his bladder, his urine caked the earth under him and he writhed and squirmed in it, reacting to the burning pain. More lashes racked all over him, bruising him, leaving blisters on him and causing him to scream even louder. Somewhere in the crowd, he could still hear Mama Vera taunting the ruffians, urging them to finish him up! "That is how he has been stealing my goods, Kill HIM!"
Then acrid streams doused him, its fumes dispersing in the air. The child knew the smell well and he had seen what it could do to human flesh and now it covered him from head to toe. His worst nightmare happening right before his eyes. He said a little prayer in his head and he screamed again. A ruffian gagged him and then the crowd backed from the writhing child as the leader flicked on a lighter. The child watched, dazed as the young man approached him with his death sentence, wishing he could turn into thin air...
Then a familiar but jarring siren invaded the atmosphere. As quickly as the bustling crowds had gathered, they began to disperse, fleeing in all directions. The ruffians raced from the scene and so did Mama Vera, abandoning the goods she had been crooning about. The starving child laid there, bundled, sore and bruised, but utterly grateful, knowing he had escaped the clutches of death by a strand...
Most children like the one in this story are not as lucky. In fact, the incident this story is based on, ended tragically as the child caught for stealing a cup of Garri died in the hands of jungle Justice, a fate meted out to him by an angry mob. I read and saw the gruesome pictures but i was not emotionally strong to handle writing that. It is heart rendering to confirm that these incidents are real and still happen in most African countries.
Sometimes, the police interferes and manages to rescue victims from the mobs and some other times, abandoned and starving children, men and women are burnt in public like common animals. Jungle justice is also accepted in some cultures, being eminent in most primitive norms.
Sadly, the victims of this justice are usually homeless children, men and women alike, distraught and displaced with no skill or family near by and are sometimes refugees from neighboring countries. This piece is aimed at creating awareness AND TO provoke adequate measures that will curb these occurrences.
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Blurb of Letting Go:
Secondary School was a hard time for most of us if not all of us and it was no different for Edima. And from that hell of taunts, self doubt and low esteem, Edima emerged a fiery character filled with loath and self-appraisal until she meets a face from her past; one of the boys that made Secondary School a living hell for her...
One my recents, a romantic story with a tang of action, politics and grudges. I'm positive you would enjoy this read.
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