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Sunday, February 25, 2024

The adventures of Alkatan: Furious dancing

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When the two men reached the outskirts of Kaira Kunda, Afang Njonji suddenly stopped. He turned towards Alkatan, sighed, shook his head and walked on without saying a word. Alkatan said,

“Afang, you wanted to tell me something, but you changed your mind.” Afang Njonji stopped again and regarded Alkatan with grave eyes.

“Yes, that is true Alkatan,” he said. “I know if God wills, you can help us with Tabali. But I’m still worried about my daughter and how Tabali will see your presence in Kaira Kunda. He is a very crooked man Alkatan. He has no respect for the elderly and last year, he beat an elderly man to near death. For him, young and old, men and women are the same. He is just like a wild animal. He knows only what he wants, Alkatan. I’m worried that he will be rude to you.”

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Alkatan placed his hand on Afang Njonji’s shoulder and said, “Afang, do not worry about me. Tabali can only be rude to himself. And when we see him today, he will not talk about your daughter. He will never talk about your daughter again Afang.”

“Ah, Alkatan,” Afang Njonji responded. “That would be very pleasing to me.” Knowing Tabali, Afang Njonji was not entirely convinced that he would just stop talking about his daughter. Just like that? Hmmm. Only if he saw it with his own two eyes!

As the two men entered the Alkalo’s large compound, Afang Njonji turned to Alkatan again and said, “You see that man sitting on the chair before that house, that’s Tabali. And that’s my sirangbaa, the Alkalo’s throne he’s sitting on. No one but the Alkalo ever sits on that chair. But since Tabali came this year, he sits on my throne and I sit on the ground. That’s a great shame to me, Alkatan.” Afang Njonji’s eyes appealed to Alkatan and made it rain in his heart.

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“He has not done well,” Alkatan responded, and they approached the large figure sprawling on the Alkalo’s throne.

Tabali was a tall, bulky man with bushy eyebrows and flaring nostrils. He had a bushy beard, large red eyes and lips that curved downwards as if in an angry scowl. Tabali never smiled and always seemed to be smelling something in the air and looking around. His large arms displayed ridges of bulging muscles as he reclined in the sirangbaa like a king. As the two old men approached and greeted, Tabali sat up. He ignored the greeting and said in a deep, dry voice, “But alkali what took you so long? Who is the old man with you? Is that your elder?” He stared from Afang Njonji to Alkatan who promptly responded to Tabali’s rude queries.

“A long journey takes a long time to cover Afang,” Alkatan said. “That’s what took the alkali so long. And if someone greets you, you should return their greeting before asking them questions.”

Tabali was so taken aback that his mouth fell open. He glared at Alkatan with blank eyes, and for a moment, was lost for words. Then from somewhere deep within his chest, he snarled at Alkatan.

“But in fact you old man; who are you? Do you know who I am?”

“Yes I know who you are, Afang,” Alkatan responded, looking straight into Tabali’s red eyes. “I just came here today to tell you that you cannot marry the Alkali’s daughter. And since I found you sitting on the Alkali’s chair, let me also tell you that a person should not sit on somebody else’s chair without permission. Only people without heads do that.”

Tabali howled with laughter at Alkatan’s words. It was strange dry laughter interspersed with heavy squeaks from Tabali’s chest. He held his mouth for a moment, glared at Alkatan and slowly shook his head.

“Did you say I will not marry the alkali’s daughter? Your life has ended old man! Everything you own is over!” Tabali exclaimed, as if making a proclamation that even the deaf could hear.

“But before I tell you what I will do to you, let the alkali take care of my dinner.” He turned to Afang Njonji and said, “Alkali, your wife says your chickens are finished. You go find me a chicken for dinner. When you come back you will not recognize your guest. And then we will tie the marriage.”

“You will eat no more chickens in this village Afang,” Alkatan said, looking straight into Tabali’s eyes. He saw the fear in the sorcerer’s eyes, but he knew that Tabali would not become human, that he would proceed to threaten him; and then the drumbeats of fate will arrive, and Tabali will dance to his own tunes.

Tabali sprang up and menacingly towered over Alkatan and Afang Njonji, who was getting amused at Alkatan’s daring.

“I know that you are angry Afang,” Alkatan said, looking straight into Tabali’s eyes. “But I want you to know that whatever you want to do to me is what you will do to yourself. Maybe your jinns can help you.”

Tabali stepped away and said, “In fact, I will not beat you or kill you old man. That would be too easy for you. I will make you dance in front of the whole village! Today you will dance for me!” He turned around and addressed Jali Kosila, the village drummer who was among the small crowd of onlookers now gathered in the alkalo’s compound.

“Jali, go bring your drummers and tell Tamakat to bring his talking drum too because today the drums will talk and this old man here will dance for us. He says he is challenging me.”

“Aha,” said Alkatan. “Then let me sit and wait for the drums. Afang Njonji, let’s sit.”

The two old men sat on the bare ground and Tabali sat back into the sirangbaa. His large red eyes were larger than usual, his nostrils flared, and he kept flexing his arms. The small crowd stood around in silence, most holding their mouths, most just staring. They were afraid and felt sorry for the old stranger who was soon going to dance to Tabali’s cruel tunes. They knew the sorcerer was merciless, and they knew he had cruel jinns whose handiwork they were all too familiar with.

But Alkatan remained calm. He sat quietly and stroke his small beard and regarded Tabali with the eyes of truth. Those eyes that are always sorry but not sorry when they looked at a cruel and unjust man. For do people not choose what they do to themselves by what they do to others? Alkatan was always amazed that such a stark reality was lost to the Tabalis of this world. Sitting next to Alkatan, Afang Njonji was quietly amused at the unfolding drama. A mischievous little smile brightened his wrinkled face for in his heart, he knew that was the day Kaira Kunda would be rid of Tabali once and for all. He munched his cheeks and waited.

As soon as Jali Kosila, Tamakat and the other drummers arrived, Tabali sprang up, and stretching himself to his full height, pointed at Alkatan and growled, “You foolish old man, get up and dance!” And to the drummers he said, “beat the drums!”

Jali Kosila and the drummers took their positions and beat up a lively tune. Suddenly, Tabali jumped into the air and stamped his feet and wiggled his waist and thrust both hands to heaven and to the sides and gnashed his teeth and shook his butts to the accompaniment of the frantic drumming. He rushed this way and that, this way and that, and trotted like a horse to the rhythm of the drums, glancing this way and that, this way and that with wide, fiery eyes like the great wrestlers of old, the ones that defeated the jinns and their evil masters. He yelled and shrieked and did the somersaults and beat his chest and shook his hands, fists clenched, at the drummers and yelled, break the drums! The drummers changed their poise and launched into the famous seyrouba beats, to which Tabali responded with rapid jumps and thrusts of both legs and hands to the sides in rapid succession. The crowd shouted and clapped and shrieked and hooted as Tabali flung his hands and danced, as if to the beats of a quick marching band. Without warning, Tamakat jumped forward and squeezing the talking drum under his armpit, interposed with a blast of the famous mbalax beat, to which Tabali responded with a furious whirling on his feet and a rapid shaking of the butts. He swung his waist this way, this way, this way; then that way, that way, that way as Tamakat’s drum spoke the language of the ancestors, the language of those who had no care in the world but to enjoy themselves. But Tabali was not enjoying himself. He was dancing like mad and not knowing where he was. His face was a ghastly rock of wet black skin and dust as he danced and danced and danced to the shattering beats of the talking drum.

Almost half the village were now gathered at the Alkalo’s compound and were hooting and clapping and rolling on the ground with laughter as they saw Tabali furiously dancing to his own tunes, the tunes he demanded of the drummers; the tunes he demanded of nature by his cruel actions. Do we not beat our own drums and dance to our own tunes, Alkatan pondered. Why do we often insist that others beat our drums for us and dance our tunes for us when we very well know that is impossible? How could this fact be lost to the Tabalis of this world? Alkatan tapped Afang Njonji on the shoulder, leaned over, and said, “I think he will soon run away, Afang.”

“Yes, let him go!” Afang Njonji exclaimed, laughing. “Let him go and never come back here!” He was not shouting and clapping with the crowd, but the Alkalo was mighty amused at Tabali’s dancing fate. This man had cruelly terrorized him and his people for six years in a row. Now there he was dancing like the lunatic he was and Afang Njonji was not about to miss a moment of the unfolding magic. Just as the alkalo leaned over to say something to Alkatan, Tabali let out a frightful scream and rushed out of Alkalo’s compound, galloping much like a mad horse towards the nearest outskirts of the village. With a series of terrible screams and squeaks that seem to come from the spirit world, Tabali fled out of Kaira Kunda, his angry jinns cracking their whips of fire on his naked back. He was never seen in Kaira Kunda again.

Alkatan spent the night in Kaira Kunda as Afang Njonji’s guest and the next morning, he returned to his beloved Tonya Kunda where he was now commonly known as Tonya Moriba.

Here ends the adventures of Alkatan, Man of Truth.

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