The Race Against Light
Being a night runner was of no much concern to anybody in my village, but when a meeting was held with your name then it was obvious your talent was getting out of hand. You had to be tamed. Not even your fellow night runners could spare you, not when you were obviously diminishing their chances of flourishing. Kawuor, my small village had never seen this kind of surge in juok in a decade.
We had lived with these families for years, the night runners are marked people, but they are part of the community. They pride themselves in not hurting people. They are not like thieves who steal from you or bring you harm, they just perform their mastered art and leave you in peace, you’ll hear them say that. And they were known, feared but not respected. You would hear a woman selling her cereals in the market whisper to her fellows “Look at him,” pointing to Obuya, one of the most popular night runners “I wonder how those small eyes can see in the dark.” She says. Some of Obuya’s friends call him Nyapaka because of his small round eyes. They say he can see in the dark better than day time.
Obuya is famous for jumping into people’s homesteads, throwing pebbles on the roof, at times a few pebbles, but when his grandfather’s spirits visit him, he can throw handfuls of them, then releases cattle from their cowshed or from where they are tied before running out of the homestead. He is in his late forties, and rumor has it that his speed doesn’t match his age, meet him at night and you would start believing that quote of age is just but a number. His talent, whether by coincidence or not, seems to have been extended to his son Joel, who is leading his school in the Zonal Competitions 200 meters sprint. Obuyas Got Talent. Teachers love him; like father like son.
But in the hierarchy of this night talent, Obuya would find himself at the bottom of the food chain. There are more worthy competitors. Ambrose would give him a run for his money if stakes were to be placed. Ambrose is said to be riding on a hippopotamus as his horse, and he would ride along the shore of the lake leading ‘his hippo’ to the nearby shambas. He was he most feared, many believed an altercation with him would only qualify your shamba for hippo grazing.
A few fishermen had spotted him under moonlight as they went about their lake business. And questions would arise about how he leads the hippo. Does he tie it with a rope and lead it like you would lead your bull to a grazing field? Or maybe he ties it with a lead line like a horse and rides on it? Maybe now that we are talking about matters of extraordinary talents, one can’t write off the idea that this guy could even be leading the hippo by the tail. Ambrose was a short man with a bald that cuts across from his forehead to the back of his head. To make it even better, he kept his hair long. His peers called him Ogolla Nyundo. Visit him at his home, and you would think he is expecting a chama when you find him eating. He married a woman with an appetite for kitchen, and Ogolla Nyundo can spend the whole day filling his stomach for the night ride.
Ngosi Nyeusi topped the chart. He was a wild cat, known for pitipiti, that is not your common race, it’ a race against light; Drkness is the friend, light is the enemy. His was to scare you to your maximum. He had one mission every time he came to your compound; to make you shit in your pants. In the marketplace there was a joke going round that the biggest beneficiary of Ngosi Nyeusi’s theatrics was Nikodemo, the local carpenter who had to be called on a weekly basis to repair broken or loosened doors kicked by Ngosi Nyeusi. He had a formula of attack just for you not to mistake him with a thief. Most homesteads in Kawuor were accessible then, with the fences made from ojuok (eurphobia), it’s a walk in the park. These were not fences made to provide any security, they were just there to mark boundaries, and to hide a few in-house things that not every passer-by was allowed to see, like someone bathing. Bathrooms were made from maize stalks, and if you had a keen eye while passing by any homestead, you could read through the cracks. No gate was needed, only a wide space between the fence to indicate an entry point into the homestead.
Ngosi would storm into any homestead, but walk with a cat’s pace, steady not to announce his presence until he has given his trademark introduction. He would run a stick or rod against the iron sheet at a lightening speed. If you were inside the house, this makes you catch some cold before thunder strikes. The next move would be for him to run some few meters from the house, create space for acceleration and come with full speed for the door. By the time he was running the stick on the roof, he had already confirmed the door was closed, this he has to confirm to avoid accidents of kicking on an open door.
In some cases, the villagers said Ngosi came to run with a calabash. He would milk one of the cows, drink the warm milk from the calabash before starting his theatrics. How he was able to tame a cow unknown to him, milk it and drink all its milk without the cow mowing or the owner hearing still remains a mystery.
So word had it that there used to be a meeting once in a while when these night runners would meet to discuss rules of the game. To them, this was a serious activity that needed them to agree on territories and time. They would also discuss some of the challenges at work, like Kowino’s home which is one of the best spots for their work but it seems like Mzee Owino sleeps too late at 3! That’s dawn!. Ambrose would say that if he starts his work at Kowino, he gets the energy to raid all the other homesteads. Issues also come up of Obuya not keeping his lane. He had been given the territory that borders the shore of the lake, but he seems to be raiding beyond his space. Ngosi complains he almost had a tragic accident bumping into Ambrose with his Hippo the previous week near River Ogembo which is his territory.
Ambrose would later apologise and admit that he had to reroute that day because Jaduong Odero, the elder brother of the assistant chief had called out his daughter with insults of her being the daughter of a night runner; he had to teach Odero a lesson. That night he grazed the hippo on all his Potatoes.
There is a problem though. Aloka, a step brother to Obura, who recently joined the group has had what he calls two attempts on his life. He warns the other members of the crew to be careful. There is word going round that the village elder has been organizing some meetings with the affected families. Complaints have been going round that their momentum has been exceeding the allowed limits of expressions. They had to be tamed.
And the trap had been set.
Omollo had been patient for some time. He has lived in the village peacefully his entire life, he has dealt with many night runners but Ngosi Nyeusi’s behavior of milking his cow every night was killing him slowly. He had to teach him a lesson. He had summoned his two sons, one a teenager and his eldest son in his early twenties, if they were to catch Ambrose in the act, they had to do it by the book; they also had to punish him but let him live. In my community, when you catch a night a night runner, he would have to come the following day and apologize with a cow or a goat in hand.
Day was agreed. They knew Ambrose had a habit of coming during the first two days of the week. There were a few preparations made; clubs prepared, a blunt machete just in case things went bad, a flashlight with new Eveready batteries and a cold gear because you wouldn’t know how long you’d have to wait before he makes an appearance.
You would also have to eat cold food. Yes. They say night runners can smell you from far, that they can sniff you out like a dog in the dark if you eat warm food.
The Omollo’s had to prepare their supper during lunch hour, and eat it at 8 o’clock in the evening when it’s ice cold. Fair enough if you are on a mission. The door is also tied with a thread from inside, just to lure the waited guest that the door is locked. Their intention is to let Ngosi do his tricks and finish with his thunder kick on the door. They had already mudded the front door, so that he would slide in case he tried to take off after falling in the house.
The long wait began. Eli, the eldest son was observing from the window, Ronnie was at the furthest corner of the house behind the door, Omollo, his father, had positioned himself behind the granary five meters from the house, anyone would think he was part of the stands holding the mud-built structure. You would think the day was cursed, mosquitoes were on a feast, but movements had to be avoided, Omollo couldn’t slap off a fat mosquito which seemed to be drinking all the blood on his neck. He tried to squeeze it with his neck, but it seemed to have been lucky to make it out in time. There were more important matters to attend to.
It didn’t take long before he heard some movement behind him. Goodness Gracious! Of all his plans, he had not thought this guy could come from behind, and for a moment he even thought of reacting. What if it wasn’t the night runner? He couldn’t see. But he thought he better keep his cool. And there went Ngosi, walking stealthily like a cat past him, naked like the darkness he was walking in, then stopping abruptly two meters from him, just like he had sensed that things were not okay.
Omollo knew the drill. He maintained his cool, and tightened his grip on the club he was holding inside his coat. If this guy made him, he would strike him there. Ngosi takes another step forward towards the open cow shed where Karua the lactating cow is, mumbles a few words as a he jumps around the cow in circles, calabash in his hands. He then pats the cow which gets right up, without any little resent. Omollo swallows his anger, bitter and angry with his cow for taking instructions from a stranger, but he has to wait for things to go as planned.
He knows that after milking the cow, Ngosi will come for the door and that’s where the trap would be waiting for him. “He will cry for his mama today” He tells himself. It's a perfect night, the crescent moon that had been lingering from the sky the other night was nowhere to be seen today. God had blessed the night with the pitch darkness it deserved, if they were to punish this intruder, they would have to do it in the darkness that he thrives in.
Omollo watches impatiently as Ngosi taps the udders of the cow, like he was confirming if they had enough milk to give him a good fill, before pulling them and sending large reserve of warm milk into his calabash, until the calabash is almost full. Ngosi gulps it all. Omollo almost chokes with hunger and anger, whichever came first. That is his milk! He’s sitting there like a lame duck, wondering if there was any difference between this guy and a thief. Ngosi stands, he is done, licks the calabash, ties it on something that he has on his waist, Omollo cannot see it properly, a string perhaps.
“Here we go, Ong’er” Omollo thinks to himself. He really wants to take on this guy now.
Ngosi looks on both sides in a huff,as if trying to confirm no one is watching what he is about to do, he picks a stick from the ground and makes for the house, in a sprint! Stops halfway abruptly! Pauses. Omollo’s heart stops. Ngosi takes a sharp U-turn, heads for the granary, swerves past the granary, flies over the fence into the thick darkness before Omollo can even lift his lips to shout “Hey.” He is gone.
Omollo stands there in the cold feeling stripped of any respect he had for himself, his teeth chattering from the anger and cold. He doesn't even notice his trembling hands getting too weak to hold the grip on the club he had been holding all this time.
This had to stop.
The elders must hear this.