Essay/The Invisible Tragedy
Monday May 23, 2011
By Cherno Baba Jallow
From where I stood, I tried comprehending the images flickering far, far away. I looked up pensively, my eyes weary from the intensity of my elongated gaze. My mind was a vacancy. I felt nothing discernible beyond the distant horizons. How could I? Treading the bush path into town was riddled with difficulty. The amalgam of weather and incertitude proved an immense obstacle. In my immediate vicinity, a few yards ahead of me, strong winds collected eddies of dusts and particles. They swirled well into the infinite distance. My ability to see was hijacked. And the low-hanging clouds, darkened by the imminence of rains, didn't help matters either.
I remained adamant, unyielding to the natural obstacles strewn along my pathway: the commingling trees and their sprawling branches; the fresh stubble, an indication that someone had been chopping trees and defoliating leaves here recently. Or may be as recently as a week ago. The recentness of the fellings suggested something along those lines. A glint of anger raced through me. Deforestation was still an ongoing issue in the town of Samakoi, even after the much-feared central government had decreed against lumbering the lush vegetation and had hung some citizens as an act of deterrence.
I labored my way out of the thicket of trees like a drunk staggering headlong into a crowd down the narrow alley. I paced over poodles of water, bobbing between the trees and wrapping my arms around the rain-pelted trunks. The ground beneath me was wet and slippery from the just-ended rain blast. The swooshing sound of my movement forced a hallowing noise over the silence of the night. A flock of birds suddenly winged out, fluttering into different directions. They had been cloistered atop, resting in the lull of nocturnal harmony. Even the easterly winds and the sporadic drizzles and the faint roars of thunders in the dissipating clouds had failed to disrupt their solitude. So I became the unwanted guest, the invader of privacy and respite. I wondered how the birds must have felt about my sudden encroachment, dislocating them from their restful stay in those rain-drenched leaves.
It was my wish to reach Samakoi, now just within an earshot of me. I had now emerged from forested captivity, free from the sprawling, ramrod-straight trees and stubs of tall grasses, impediments to a fuller visualization of what lied ahead. But like the evolving, kaleidoscopic glints of light, outlines of the town gradually shaped up before me. Even though nightfall had just begun, I could still see the frames of humans, thousands of them, men, women and children, all huddled together, encircling the open field at the outskirts of town. Theirs wasn't the gathering of merry-making and elation, the festiveness of inter-village nightly galas, something you recall about African villages during a full moon. This one was different. It was like a marketplace at mid-morning, during the height of transactional bargaining. The crowd was a noisy lot. At first, the cacophony of voices forced me into some kind of mental immobility. When clarity arrived, I suspected something strange was happening in Samakoi. This was unusual for a town known for its scarcity of public commotions. Samakoi was generally a quiet place, but it was quietness instilled by fear: of guns, soldiers, judges, hyenas, chimpanzees, grasshoppers and evil spirits. Samakoi had no tvs or radios. Except for the thud of cars, no sound was allowed in the town. The entire population had been literally muzzled, the hopeless prisoners of enforced reticence.
But why were they screaming and shouting? Why the wailings? I couldn't tell. No matter how much I tried to reach the town, I just couldn't get there. Each time I thought I had gotten close, it stretched further away. Samakoi was still visible from the distance but my physical presence there was far from possible. I sauntered down the pathway on the east. Coming from the forest, it was usually the shortest route to the town. Yet, my destination point kept multiplying. I thought some primal force was restricting my movement, keeping me at bay. I stared into oblivion, trying to make sense of my predicament. Suddenly, voices from the distant crowd came wafting through the air. From the chorus, I made out that the town's Monkey had died. From a short, famished infant, he had developed into an over-fed, bullying adult. He had grown huge, his cheeks a sprawling city. His feet and hands had taken on elephantine sizes, atypical of members of the primate family. His outgrowth had given him features bordering on the purely human. He had a steady, upward erectitude. He would tip-toe around town. He could laugh like humans. Once upon a time, many moons ago, he had been friendly to the people, particularly to the little kids. But over the last few years, the townsfolk had noticed something strange about the Monkey: He kept away from the people, out of public sight. Some said he had taken up residence in the wilds, just beyond the hilltops. Others believed he had joined a new tribe somewhere in the furthest parts of the area.
It turned out that the Monkey had gone nowhere. He had remained in town all the while. He just wasn't seen anymore, not because he now had a new hide-out. It was because he had turned into something else. He had changed into a strange creature of indecipherable characteristics. He was everywhere: inside homes, up on the trees, on the roads. This invisible creature had turned into an eager-beaver poaching machine. Two boys had been killed recently as they walked back from school. Invisible hands just snatched them up in broad daylight, and in front of their fellow classmates. The boys just vanished into the air, and within a split-second, came tumbling down to earth, heads crushed, necks broken, eyes gouged and blood gushing from their noses and ears. Samakoi residents had gathered at the scene. Their voices filled with terror. I could hear them from afar, describing, in macabre details, the carnage before their own eyes. They argued amongst themselves. They wondered if demons had descended on the town. They asked if they had been a cursed people. Some in the crowd yelled that many residents had gone missing and their dead bodies had been discovered floating in the rivers and hanging on roof-tops. Samakoi had become soaked in the blood of its own people. It had become an open mortuary. It had become the land of the dead.
The strong winds brought the tidings of calamity. At the receiving end, I remained immobilized, a captive of happenings I could only hear, but couldn't see.
Cherno Baba Jallow is an executive member of the Basse Association, Inc. He lives in Southfield, Michigan, USA.