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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cock Liberation.

The family lived in a clearing in the middle of the forest-a great yawning void of trees in the middle of which the creepers hang like excrescence. The stout father was an active military government official, having cut a deal with the fragile administration and promoted into a Major in this rebel dominated mountainous region. There were two main rebel groups-one from his clan-which never bothered nor touched his family, and the other, a rival group, which was his main worry, as their threats were real. Everybody knew everyone else, knew where they lived, and how. That meant a mutual agreement but didn’t stop an occasional attack, which the forest provided the perfect cover for their retreat.

His other trouble was his son who fought alongside the rebels. This pitted him against his superiors for that established him to the rebellion they were trying to crush. His initial shock instalment had been when the young school drop out, barely in his teens, abused drugs, openly smoked marijuana and chewed khat, dragged the family’s name into a shameful nightmare. The mother, as most mothers did, sympathised with his son, and, when he showed up, she would try to persuade him to turn to better ways. But it wasn’t that easy to go on her knees begging her resistant son who had an example of Don Quixote and steer him.

He had been in with the rebels all week and when he came home that mid-morning blowing his tambourine and marching, his rifle in his shoulder, as though he was a one-man detachment, he appeared haggard to the point of vanishing. His unkempt appearance told his mother that the rumours doing round were true—he was losing his head. His red eyes and stupefying stench revealed to her what substances were responsible. ‘Where have you been?’ she asked, looking at his weary and drained face.

‘Oh, chasing dem crazy baldheads and wetin di time fi St. Peter to open di Zion Gyates.’ He waved at his worn out tambourine.
‘You are doing right son… someone must chase them.’
‘Yes Ma. Di devil a bi strong en no pushover ting. But me ‘ave me tambourina wetin on di Judgment Time.’
‘Waiting for the battle of Armageddon, huh?’ she joked.
‘Is no gwan a be too much of a battle when Jah a guo wave dat Judgment Sword. People dem gwan a ‘ave a hell of time tryin to enter into Holy Mount Zion if di gyates a go no open.’

The mother realized that he was swimming in cloud nine. With the hallucinations, she wasn’t sure whether he was permanently losing his head or he was temporarily out of order under the influence of ganja. It reminded her once, after he had smoked the ‘spliff’, he had run madly in the courtyard, ducking and taking cover, thinking that the clouds were just about to fall on him. And there was laughter later on when he realized that the sun was trying to find gaps in the clouds and seemed to be playing hide and seek with the earth in the effort, therefore producing the effect that they were falling down on him like a pack of dominos.

‘You hungry? There’s bread and coffee.’ The mother invited.
‘Nuh Madder, me and St. Peter stopped taking coffee long time. You’ve no idea how he suffers from this bread and coffee ritual. Caffeine upsets his stomach and the bread makes him fat because he eats too much of it.’ She smiled at him, there was affection between them, for this St. Peter sycophant had the qualities she would like in a daughter but deplored in a son.

‘Cock stew then?’
‘Yes I, that’s exactly St. Peter’s favourite. But make sure it crowed three times before you slaughter for him.’ He lit a cigar, began to smoke it with a self-conscious, and satisfied air, as if he had summed up the world in a phrase.
‘Didja knuo wen I’m in Holy Mount Zion…efery crack of duon me and St. Peter a go siddon by de gyate and smoke a spliff?’
‘Oh, yeah?’ cried the mother, but curiously looking out for the telltale signs of his cracking and stealing glances at him from across—for signs of lunacy or drunkenness. To appear astonished at her son’s speech was ingeniously part of her motherly amiability.

‘We get good times up dere smoking weed. We siddon dere chewing and smoking chalice and den St. Peter would a guo off a likkle sleep and tell me seh to wiek him up at cockcrow to open de gyates fi Judgment. St. Peter has yo niem in de book. I done seen it. It seh, “never lived such a kind woman”, and I seh… I knuo her. She got di siem niem as I en I. Dat’s me madda…’
‘How many times will you tell me that?’
‘Me niem is not in dat Book. Don’t have to ‘ave me niem. I done gwan died and gwan to heaven. But he don’t ‘ave Pop’s niem.’

‘You smoke too much.’

‘I ya gwan save money and buy me a new tambourina so St. Peter a go hia me loud when dem time to open di gates come.’ He stopped suddenly, listened, and stood urgently, ‘Hia dat? Dat’s di hellhounds, I must chase dem outta here.’ He shot up in haste as if stung by a bee after craning his trained ear and recognizing a pregnant silence like that which saturates a church after a service, and cursed madly, ‘Gwa-on! Git outta here! G-g-go sergeant! Get out!’


He cocked his gun and dashed out but saw his father who had also heard the sounds of mortars in the distant, and had rushed from his hideout. They cocked their ears professionally to listen to the nosy noise but only a soft air fanned the clouds apart arresting and impeding the glory of the sun’s rays from the hide-and-seek game it was playing with the earth. Save for the huge red cock that was still shushing the cackles of the scared hens and seeing the sound was far off; they both turned back into the direction of the house.

Never shaking hands, they offered each other that indifferent look a dog gives another when they meet in the street, for the first time. But the boy being the lesser dog trudged lamely behind, his heart, as they say, sunk in his boots, and he glanced drowsily here and there with an invariable vigilance of a stray dog that is kicked on occasion. The father not merely disliked seeing his dog of a son, but painfully struggled to forget his existence—unless complied to do so like now. He forced a cold smile and asked, ‘You look as if you’d been hit by a thunderbolt.’

The son agreed, ‘Yes, Iyah, I feel rather like it. Dey was a black cloud looming up, but it seems like it a go passover.’ He still trailed feebly behind the father. There was a sort of curiosity in his father’s eye that he did not like. He didn’t know whether the reports had reached him, or the mother had told him that he was ‘queer’ only, or downright drunk; but he knew the father meant to have a good look at him. He watched him stealing glances with a sly smile, which, as they got near the door, his father had the chance to throw his eyes in a direct range, took effect, and reflected in his very balding head.

‘You look drunk and stoned.’ He summarized after searching his blood-shot eyes with such torrid scrutiny that he was only too glad to escape from his father’s stare as soon as decency permitted. And all the time the dual—working of his ‘alert’ mind distracted him almost to the point of insanity. He had to constantly watch himself, his secret self, to keep his head up, behind the weed-clouded mind. He felt like a madman, and it was intolerable, because he was aware of it.

‘Don’t you want to greet your father?’ the mother reminded, when he resumed his breakfast.
‘I wanted to, but me broda man don’t.’ He threw him a look you only reserve for a cockroach crawling up your collar to lend credence to his cold feelings and went on with his chewing.
‘Does it curd your blood to say I’m your father? What is the fool doing here anyway? Every time he comes round here, he brings nothing but trouble. What is it this time?’ The father prodded in a sarcastic tone, distempered as if the boy had been the messenger of wet news.

‘No troubl soul broda, in ya dis ya time...’ the now almost sober boy shrugged his cold shoulder but never looked up. His teeth tore through the cock’s thigh. ‘Was jus’ in di hood and thought I’d stop by for a minute.’
‘Was in di hood o-right, Wariah. You are telling the truth there. You were in the neighbourhood since it’s my payday. And to confess you are hard up, that you need a little cash-obviously to replenish your diminishing ganja stock, huh?’
‘Well, sire.. since you put it that way…let me ‘ave a few dalla-dalla bill yo.’ He said amid his tongue relishing the stew.
‘That’s just so-o you!’

‘So wot?’
What, what?’
‘I’m wetin fi yo to tell me say yo usual song en dance.’
‘What song and dance?’
‘Dat I mus’ leave yo ghetto rait a nou en so on.’
‘Today, I’m not going to ask you to leave this house. If I were you, I would fly immediately.’ Then he made a threat, more to his wife, ‘If the rogue will still be around here when I get back, the curses he shall have, the tortures he shall feel, will break the back of a man and the heart of a monster.’ He disappeared out, into his hideout behind the house, where he kept things secret, and still leaving the pair in utter suspense.

‘Son, you have no idea what your father is capable of doing. Just yesterday, he swore to avenge himself of your disobedience.’ The mother hushed him in a serious tone and at the same time lay on a disturbing look on her face that was dramatically disconcerting even to him, for he straightened up and held his gun ready to defend himself.

‘Did you betray him to the general?’ the mother looked worried. ‘Did you rat on your father?’ He seemed not to be listening because at that time, he wiped the corner of his lips the tip of his index finger and stood up suddenly. ‘St. Peter a go say, thou shalt eat thy bread in de sweat of thy brow. But, Lo and behold, it a go be tasteless to a bway who always has bread which does not taste of his own sweat.’

‘What are you doing?’ the mother asked, when he stopped chewing the cock’s breast.
‘Ma, chicken merry, hawk de near. Wen finger of destiny a guo point a man in di middle of him briekfast, it a go make him thoughtful. I tink he go done finish me off. I’ll die on me feet than live on me knees.’
‘Your father needs a little respect from you. You are his eldest and only son. Honour him so that your days may…’
‘There you go Muddah. No way!’

‘No wyie!’ he swore once again to his vow that it were better to be dead with blood drained away than to be alive with it rotting in his veins. Besides, he was neither going to honour his father on the pretence that, ‘thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee’, nor upon much less lower needs of some father measuring the amount of the very oxygen that he breathed in that house.

A silent pregnancy of tranquillity lasting for a few seconds, reigned in the room. Yet the stillness was like the calm in the air—between the heaves of a storm—a strange kind of peace, which made the silence before lightning so different from all other silence. And when the father came back holding his gun, it was obvious that indeed he was brooking for a row.

‘Now, tell you what bway, I want you to leave this house this INSTANT!’ The father hissed, cocking his gun. The mother, tired of tying to calm them down, held her peace, as she knew, though her husband was unwavering and adamant, was sensible enough not to shoot at his son- in spite of his rebellion.

‘Wat ting be wrong wit yo dis morning? Don’t anyting set rait wit yo? Gwan on back in dere en go to bed…get up on de adda side.’ The boy suggested with a chuckle, but stopped tittering, and coughed embarrassingly, when he realized the seriousness that his father’s unmoving and stern face meant with his index finger on the trigger. ‘Funny ting,’ he waved his hand, ‘I defend yo name in de forest wen dere’s susu-susu from dem chatty-chatty mouts…en rait a nou yo wan go shoot me fi dat!’ and from his tone, he might have been discussing the quickest way to get to town. The father started counting. ‘Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five…’

‘Momma tinks is a good ting if I come back home.’ The boy rumbled on, waiting for the mother to substantiate his defence.
‘Who cares what anybody else says? I am the boss…you understand? I’m the boss around here. I make the only rulings that stand. Now, move ya sorry ass outta me house!’
‘Come on ol’ man!’
‘I asked you…did you understand?’
‘Yeah I overstand.’
‘What?’
‘Yes I.’

He made to go, dragging his feet towards the door, but suddenly looked up, like he had forgotten something. ‘Can I aks yo a question?’
‘Are you leaving or what?’
‘Why didn’t you ever show me love?’
‘Loved you? Says who? What law states that I have to love you? Under whose declaration must I like you? Talking about liking somebody… Get you ass here bway when I am talking to you.’ But the boy moved further away, just near the door. ‘Come here and straighten up, you blistering barnacle! I asked you a question…what law declares that?’
‘No natural ass-law.’

‘Well, alright then! Didn’t you eat everyday?’ There was a pause from both. ‘Answer me when I talk to you! Don’t you eat everyday when you pop in here from your devil-knows-where outpost?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Wariah, as long as you in this house, you put that ‘sire’ on the end of it when you talk to me!’
‘Yes I’ he saluted.
‘Don’t you gobble at my prize cocks?’
‘Yes I’ he saluted once again, obviously his hallucinations were coming back.
‘Didn’t you have a roof over your head?’
‘Yes I!’ he saluted.
‘Got clothes on your skin?’
‘Yes I!’ he saluted.
‘What do you think that is?’
‘Cause of yo.’
‘Ah damn! ‘cause of me? But what do you think that is?’
‘…cause you loved me.’ He didn’t even believe that himself.

‘Loved you? I break my butt…putting up with the rebels like you everyday… ‘cause I love you? You are the shortest three-inch fool I ever knew.’ He paused to swallow his accumulating saliva, which was choking him as he explained to him his responsibilities like a physics professor defining quantum theorem to a class of mutes.

‘It’s my responsibility! Do you copy that Waryah? Man must live and take care of his own. You want to stay in this house. Imbibe my food with your filthy fillanges… ‘cause you’re my son—my own flesh and blood. Not ‘cause I love you! ‘Cause it’s my duty to take care of you. I owe a responsibility to you! Get this into your ganja head before you go far in the wrong direction. It’s not because I’ve to love your sorry ass.’ He breathed deeply, letting out puffs of tired air as if his responsibilities had been vaster than the universe after the Big Bang.

‘The General doesn’t give me a salary on payday ‘cause he loves me. He gives me ‘cause he owes me. You owe me respect ‘cause we gave you your life—me and your mamma figured that out before you were born. And loving your sorry ass wasn’t part of that negotiation. Don’t go cracking around with foolishness worrying if somebody loves you or not, like a fly that has no one to counsel and follows the corpse into the grave. You understand what I’m saying bway?’
‘Yes I!’ he saluted.
‘Then piss off you traitor…’
‘Yes I! He saluted, and as an afterthought, shouted, ‘Fall out, sergeant!’

The father shook his head, looking at his wife, for approval. None was forthcoming. She just stood arrested with fear and respect and for a few moments, she remained in an awkward stillness, looking down. And so, he went on unheedingly, ‘I don’t know what will stop this idiot walking around here smelling his piss…thinking he’s grown.’

‘He’s just growing up. He’s just busting at the seams trying to fill up your shoes.’ but her argument was so lame. She knew it herself.

She knew it was pointless pleading her case. There was enough evidence that his son was turning out to be a rogue. If only he could give his father a little respect. If only he never took those drugs. If only! If only! But what did his villainous boy do except wore dirty deeds, which spread out to dry like maize in the sun, for every passing cock and hen to peck at. A son unlooked for, like the devil at prayers, brought nothing but poisoned every goodwill in the homestead. His drinking, his smoking, and his chewing all day and night long, made food for the gossipy women in the neighbourhood to activate their insidious rumour mills that when the ‘straight’ sons of men were busy snoring, his idiotic son and other fools were making noise and struggling with the morning cock for the world’s ear.

‘If only I could get away from you, and from all dis life! If only I could ‘ave de wings of a dove en fly awiey to St. Peter?’ he cried to his mother.
‘And leave me?’
‘Yes I, you, en all dem naughty sons of men. But I cyaan. I am happy with the rebels in the jungle. I escape from dis artificial world into a paradise of independence, liberty and freedom. But de moment de money runs short, it comes back to dis ol’ man made out of bones, dis mean Prince of Darkness.’

The father never uttered any word. He was done with this rogue as far as he was concerned. The cock outside had refreshed his shooing at the hens who were cackling at the fresh sounds of gunshots and mortars. The cock inclined his ear, rounding the hens, and crowing furiously into the mid-morning thin clouds, floating about in fantastic shapes, joining and taking body and substance, then emerging as heavy clouds heaped up, which would condense and pour forth their rain.

For the son, however, it hadn’t taken long to lose his respect for his father. He actually realised it only the previous day how his father was the biggest coward in history of the clan when he heard from the fellow rebels of how he had cut a deal to save his neck from the general, offering to inform for him and so shamelessly, in front of everybody! That’s why he couldn’t respect him anymore because a father who was an informer and a coward was betraying his own people. He wanted so badly to spit in his face for betraying the People’s Army.

And now, to top it all off, he, a voluntary and self-declared traitor, dared to accuse him, innocent and devoted to the cause, of betraying and informing on him? Didn’t he see how absurd that was? What had happened to his father? What had gotten into him? Was he actually the same person he had known all his life?

‘I asked you to leave my house. Go and lose your head elsewhere! The drugs you take messes up your brains. God knows what stuff they give you out there. God knows what oaths the general offers to you.’ The father ordered him.

‘Yo got to overstand dat ganja neva mash dem brains, it a guo reveal yo to yo-self en it only helps man overstand his own self better and face all dem bad tings dormant inside him! Furthermore, about me being a rebel, dat is de way I cyan survive en save me self in de bush and clean di mess yo sorry ass has made!’

‘You go round crowing that I cut a deal with the government to get a promotion? I don’t know why I haven’t shot you point-blank. Do you know what that did to our relationship? I can no longer call you my son, but a traitor who sings his heart out at the sight of ganja.’

The mother tried to defend her son. “He might have said something unintentionally –in front of someone he trusted by mistake –or somebody could have overheard him…’

‘I no seh anyting intentionally or not, me fadder’s working wit dem govermient is no secret at all. What troubl me ‘bout his suspicions is not his speakin’ up about dem or even dat he speak up so ruff, en he’s now bang belly wey tryin’ to mek up for by disowning me, but dat he can tink something laik dat at all! If me own fadder is able of tinking someting like dat about me for even once, den dere’s really no point in me stayin’ togeder.’

‘That’s the point. You have blown my cover and before any rebels attack us, you have to be gone.’ The father concluded.

The son stood dejected and stared dully into the entrance where the cock was busying himself shooing the chicken and crowing into the heavy dark clouds, echoing the legendary mountain Red Cock in the upper regions, itching to bring forth hail. He was wary for when the red bird of the mountain ruffled his feathers, there were hailstorms and lightening below and according to legend, his crow was believed to be the cause of the low blinding flashes from his thunderous wings!

He tried to push his luck for one last time. ‘I am a fool, I kno—to say anyting to yo. I always spoil everyting so stupidly. What am I gwan a do widout me modder? I cyaan stand me-self. How foolish am I?’ He cried, like a woman who had remembered too late that she had milk in the cooker.

‘I see you are putting your worries into petitions—how encouraging! But it’s a little too late to feel sorry for yourself!’
‘Do you remember whad yo a guo tell me under de Mugumo tree at de riverbank, during me initiation? Dat I’m a man en cyan stand alone?’

‘Don’t drag those Mugumos into this; it won’t do you any good. You’ve hurt me too much to talk your way out of it by manipulating our memories of the past. Besides, I asked you to do something….’ He became insistent.
‘Yo serious I gat ta leave?’
‘Exactly!’

The son became apologetic. ‘I’m sorry. Efery time I open me mout, unlike dat fairy tale, frogs jump out.’ But it was no use. The father had decided. The mother was greatly troubled for her good womb that had borne a bad son. One sorrow never came but brought another, which stood as its offspring.

Realizing that he had no other way, he shoved his tambourine in his left shoulder, held his gun on his right hand and crossed the floor towards his bedroom with the same self-assurance Hannibal put on while traversing the Alps. But his father impeded his voyage by standing in the middle of the doorway. They eyed each other for a bit before the old man finally shut the door with a precise little slam.

“Well, I go take me stuff in dere.’ He began.
‘Say what? Where is that ‘Sir?’
‘I need me stuff in dere.’
‘You need your stuff? In my house? Built and taken care of? For twenty years. If you need anything in here and I am in your way, you say excuse me sir. Like your mama taught you.’
‘Come on ‘Ol Man…I a go in there.’ And he made to contrive his way past the father, but was grabbed by his legs and pushed back violently. He began shouting curses but they never worked.

‘I have me fair share here too.’
‘You mean used to!’ he advanced again. ‘You will get in there over my dead body.’
‘You tink I afraid fi you?’
‘No sir? no excuse me sir? In my own house? Think am your doormat? To just walk on top? The father kept repeating, as if he had not heard enough.
‘Say wot yo go say.’
‘What impudence! You have no character!’
‘Please son, indulge your father. Just say excuse me.’ the mother admonished politely. But he never bothered to respond and behaved as if he never heard it.

‘Excuse yo! Yo mean no ting around here anymore! Is dat wot yo want to hear?’

‘Oh, I see…I don’t count here any longer.’ It finally dawned on the old man. ‘You won’t say “excuse me” to your ol’ Man. Suddenly after imbibing my food and grown up that your Ol’ Man is no man around here anymore, huh? Around here in his own house he built with the sweat of his brow. You have grown horns to the point where you are taking over? Taking over my house? Is that right? To wear my pants and go in there and stretch out on my bed? You won’t say excuse me ‘cause I am no ting around here anymore? Is that right?

‘Dat’s right. Yo talk a lot of bull. Nou, ol’ man, why not git ya sorry ass outta me wyei?’

‘I hope you have elsewhere to sleep and something to put in your belly. You have that, huh? You have that?’ he paused for dramatic effect, and it took shape in the son’s withdrawn face, the old man was happy to torment him further. ‘That’s what I thought.’ He smiled triumphantly. ‘That’s what I’m talking about! You hear that, huh? You are just young and foolish—the milk’s hardly dry on your lips—and in your foolishness you think you can live without me.’

‘You don’t know what I have. You filled my tummy with tasteless bread. That’s the sad truth! Don’t worry about what I have. Worry about your own useless life and I will worry about mine. Do not show me the steep and thorny way to virtue, while you took the primrose path of ease.’

‘Fine by me! Absolutely correct! Spent my fifteen years worrying about what you had. Now it’s your turn, see? I’ll tell you what… since you are grown, be a man. And act like one. Listen carefully, turn your behind around and walk out of this house. And when you get out there in the bush, you can forget about fifteen years and your share of the house. See? Because this is my house. Go out there, realize your dreams as a man, and get your own house. You can forget this. Since all this is mine. You go on and get yours. I’m through with worrying for you.’

‘Yo tink yo did any ting for me…wot didja ever give me? Yo never give me any ting except to step on me toes, scared I was better dan yo! Mek me fear yo! Tremble every time yo called me name en every time I go hear your footsteps in the house. Fretting all de time, wot Pop say if I did this? Wot he gwan a say if I did dat? Dat’s all you ever did.’

But the father got worked up and went towards him. He stood his ground. ‘What yo tink yo de do? Give me a beating? Yo can’t beat me any longer! Yo too old. Yo just an old man. ’

He gave him a push on his shoulder; the tambourine snapped from his shoulder, and before he could pick it from the ground, the old man’s experienced hands disarmed him. He was more concerned with the broken tambourine’s handle and he got so much incensed that his breathing seemed to cease as he prepared to retaliate.

‘See? Yo ‘ave broken me tambourina! Yo did it ol’ man! Do yo see dis tambourina? Well, it’s not me tambourina. It’s me broda’s tambourina, en me uncle’s, en dat of all the dead cousins in dis clan. En it has so much strength dat it can blow up dis house by de base, if I jus’ blow it. En let me start with yo, ‘cause I hear yo hellhounds en feel the clenched teeth of all clan in me so dat I can’t breathe easily.’ And he trembled after the pronouncement.

‘Waryah! That’s what you are. You just another crazy waryah and you know it! Get out now! You got the devil in you. Get on away from me!’

‘You jus’ crazy ol’ man. Give me back me gun … instead of talkin’ about di devil in me. Yeah, I go crazy! If yo don’t give me back me gun, I go show yo how crazy-baldhead I am!’
‘Go on fool…get out my house.’
‘Dis a traitor house. Yo coward! Taking money by betraying yo own people to put up such a house! I don’t doubt it but my innocence shall make yo false accusation blush and yo tyranny tremble.’

The father irritated beyond measure cocked his gun ready to shoot. ‘You get your black ass out of my house!’ The boy retreated back to the corner, waving his tambourine along, as the mother came in between them pleading the more. ‘Come on! Commot! I cyan go nowhere. Come on traitor!’ he dared. ‘Me muddah! Stop go protect dis beast! St. Peter! It’s time. Cockcrow St. Peter! Open di gyates. Me ready. Cockcrow St. Peter! Open di gyates. Yo get ready rait a nou.’

And with immense elaboration, he propped himself to bluster the tambourine, now without a mouthpiece nor handle. He put the end of it into his mouth and blew with a majestic strength, like a man who had been waiting some fifteen-odd years for this single moment. No sound came out of the tambourine. He strutted himself and blew again with the same result. A third time he blew, the cock crew, and then there was a weight of impossible description. The humdrum of the cock, the deafening tambourine and an indescribable blast pounded them, left them bare, and exposed them to a frightful realization—they were under fire!

Before he could say ‘cock-crow-St.-Peter’, the fresh round of urgent cackles from the chicken outside confirmed their worst fears; the announcement of the unexpected development that rival clan rebels had surrounded their homestead. It happened so fast that the cock did not have enough time to shoo the hens on this occasion but actually joined them in denouncing this intrusion—and he cackled the loudest.

The rebels were rough on them—ordered them to come out of the house, lie down on their bellies, and recite their last prayers. The son tried to escape through the rear window, but was met by a ruffian of a soldier, who reminded him not to run from the lizard, as he would probably meet the snake. The mother too, tried to retreat, crawling backwards through the backdoor, as if she was on reverse and couldn’t change gears. The worst was the father who made such a fright at the thought that he was about to meet his maker. For the rebel’s chief was rumoured to have killed more soldiers in one year than the mortar could destroyed in ten.

‘Why are you chickening out, Mr. Man?’ the chief asked. ‘Are you afraid?’
‘I’m not afraid, chief. It’s on-ly, on-ly, I saw you all of a sudden, and it-it made me jump!’ The father’s voice showed that his heart had jumped even more than the rest of him.
‘Are you hiding some people in here?’ one rebel asked.
‘Nope, I am not sir.’ And he looked at the ground, as though he had thoughts to hide.

‘You look very anxious. What are you hiding? Is that your son?’ The captain asked in a succession, looking about to see if any phantom occupants would come out.

‘His mother has told me so many times that he’s my son.’ The father tried to lighten the situation. ‘But I’m not so sure, anymore.’
‘Hear! Hear!’ the other soldiers laughed.
‘Were you in doubt that you asked her?’ the chief went on looking at the boy.
‘Who’s this ol’ man? Is he your father?’
‘Dis is de son of me grandmother.’
The captain laughed some more, went closer to him and patted his head as if he were his dog. ‘You appear a tough mohine that can carry our guns.’

By then the cock was making so much noise –loud enough to awaken the devil from his afternoon siesta. One soldier, bothered by this, made a gesture to his colleague to shoot the damn cackling cock. But the captain had better ideas. ‘Hey bway! Hey bway!’ he ordered the boy. ‘Run and catch the cock for our lunch.’ The boy thought the chief had gone nuts but he comfortably and confidently insisted that he run after the big bird.

The soldiers started to laugh at him. He also joined in the merriment and mirth and started laughing gaily but when he noticed the General’s silence and his father’s scornful glare, his laugh became feeble, then he coughed dryly in the embarrassed silence, and the laughter died falsely as it had started.

‘Go on! Gwan on!’ the chief barked when the boy became hesitant. The mother looked at her favourite cock and then at her son. Her eyes were quick and went fast, like she was afraid there wasn’t time to look, without hardly moving at all. She looked at the Captain, her husband and at all the soldiers at one time. For a moment, she seemed to meditate between silence and speech. Her eyes searched for a smaller alternative cockerel for the soldiers but it wasn’t there and that left her with a little choice as to the fate of her lovely big bird.
‘Do it urgently, son…’ she finally pleaded.

‘Most urgent? I’m dere before me legs.’ He confirmed and started to plot the quickest means to advance the brood. The soldiers were watching the boy, as they would look at a juggler about to execute a trick. And their excited smirks suddenly made him realize he had to run after the big bird after all. The solders expected it of him and he had to do it. He could feel their wills pressing him forward, irresistibly to that ignoble undertaking.

The brood scattered when the boy tiptoed in their direction and did what their ancestors before them had done, and what all their successors after them might—cackle and scuttle wildly in different directions.

‘Chase him! Chase him!’ a soldier called out like a bass-voiced parrot. ‘Gwan, get him!’ and at that moment, the cock seemed to concur with the Ibo proverb: “It is true I do not hear English very well, but when they say ‘Catch Am!’, nobody tells me to take myself off as fast as I can,” for in an instant, the cock increased his pace to a maddening cruise.

He ran as fast as his fat legs could carry him toward the cock, which kept on dodging his steps each time he neared it. ‘Catch Am! Catch Am cock!’ They jeered at him as he rounded the house for the second time, and encouraged by his mind, driving him faster than his legs could push him.

Three confused hens protested by joining in the race for the cock, and ran alongside their beloved big bird. But the cock dodged them too, and looked resolute to his own death-as if saying that it was better he died at once than the hens, by redeeming him, should die forever in big numbers, then increased his speed swiftly as it rounded the house a fifth time, still not giving up.

The cock kept fluttering its wings and moving it’s thick feathers to the ground and began to croon and crow ‘Cock-cock! Cock-a-doodle! Nothing annoyed the boy more than this, for to him, it meant, ‘Bway! You are joking. You won’t catch me.’

He ran across his father’s threshold and courtyard the seventh leg, stumbled several times and fell over his face but the grass in the lawn was as soft and thick as a pillow; so he didn’t hurt himself. It was at this moment, as he ran desperately for the big bird, that he first grasped the futility of his adolescent liberty. Here he was, running for all his worth, looking like the leading actor in a drama- but in reality, he was only a ridiculous marionette pulled back and forth by the will of those laughing faces. That killed his morale and his acceleration even suffered, reducing his slowness to the progress of a caterpillar and as good-humoured as Mr Bean.

He perceived in that moment that, when a young boy turns a rebel, it is his own freedom, which he tears down. He becomes a sort of a void faked replica minus a free will. And it is the conditions of his freedom that, he shall spend his life trying to stir his so called independence and so in every crisis he had to do what his impersonation expected of him. He puts on a masquerade, and his features grow to fit it. He had to catch the cock. He had committed himself to doing it. A rebel has to act like a rebel, he has to appear determined, to know his own mind and do definite things.

To run and run, after a puny bird while soldiers watched, and then to trail away feebly, unable to catch the cock—no! That was not possible. Even the slowest chameleon learnt the hard way and ran faster when the forest was on fire! He had to ‘Catch Am!’ Or else what? The other boys would laugh at his defeat? But, his whole life, as with every rebellious adolescent life, was one struggle not to be laughed at.

Soon however, his head cleared of the drunken stupor and an idea forming in his dazed and tired mind, ripened. He knew he was a bigger man, why then was he running after a small bird like a mad fellow while the soldiers, the Captain and his parents stood there in laughter urging him with mocking words to keep up with the race? No way! The flight of the cock seemed to free some hilarious spirit within him; something that struggled in there like the Genie in the bottle found by the Arab fisherman. The cock was going to be his liberator. At birth, he had been forced to take part in a game that he was not ready to lose- a race he was not prepared to lose. He increased his speed and ran for all he was worth. He was going to run away in spite of himself.

And the cock, as if reading his mind, scampered into the thicket, leading him into his liberation. And he too, realized, as he sprinted up the hills to his rebel group for help, that his parents, had to be liberated too. The cock had given him the freedom he so desired and his brilliance was that of the rising sun; the more it rose on his mental horizon, the more he was lost in its admiration and splendour- the true adolescent liberation where none could ‘catch am’ like the cock.

The last he saw of the cock was when the bird dived from a small anthill, half-flying and half-scurrying in mid-air, crowing and cheering him with cock-a-doodle chuckles. His vantage high point enabling him to see the earth, spread out like a carpet on which the outlying hills acted as weights to keep it steady on air. An air of that dream clung to his will, a dream rising out of reality. This renewed his muscles to make him feel liberated—and he was untouchable at the majestic heights as he leapt like a little plane looking for a landing strip.

--end.

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