Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

A Short Story

The noise that kept coming (Part II)

by Ato Imbeah

see Part I

The hunger in our village became worse, and I learnt not to eat throughout the whole day, and even the next. I always felt as if there was a ball of fire in my stomach to drop off from their sockets. My ears seemed to collect all the heat from the sun, and the beautiful dress my father had bought for me was very dirty and torn into shreds.

One day everybody ran to the marketplace. It had ceased to be a market for a long time, as there was nothing to sell or buy. They told us that very important people were coming with food, water and beautiful clothing. My mother, sister and brothers were among the first who went to the marketplace. They were very hungry. They did not eat the previous day. My father somehow found a finger of plantain and roasted it for me. I thought it wise to walk with him, to hold his hand. It was not that I was afraid to get lost, no, but it seemed to me that my father did not walk straight. He always seemed like falling down. So I stayed by his side always, I did not want him to fall down.

There at the market place were the very important people. They came in a beautiful car, and they seemed to have forgotten one thing, they wore the beautiful clothing they had promised us. And there was no food or water in sight also.

When my father and I got nearer to the assembly of the important people and the villagers, I heard the fattest man amongst them, with a very big pot-belly stomach, shouting at the top of his voice... everybody should be free from exploitation in all its forms and should enjoy an equal opportunity with his fellow citizens, to enjoy a fair share of the national cake. And to do this we must have our own Esima nation governed by we the people of Esimaland. We shall fight and fight till we have achieved this, our great aim.

But the resonant sound of his voice, echoing on the hollow torsos in front of him, was drowned by the approach of a very big truck. People dressed in one uniform came out of the truck and all of a sudden, the noise I had heard on the farm long ago came back. Everybody started to run. The very important people got into their car and drove off hurriedly. But the noise did not stop. This time they came from the sky. They came from sticks or toys in the people dressed in uniform.

Everybody ran about looking for a place to hide from the noise. Many people fell down and did not move, others gripped a part of their bodies, either their legs, arms, head or stomach and they shrieked like dogs in pain. I held on to my father and ran along with him. I had wanted to take him home, to take him away from the noise. But then he fell down. He wriggled a bit and stopped. "Father, father," I shouted, "get up and let's go. The people are coming here." But he did not move. I shouted again and made to move him from the ground. A sticky red liquid that usually came out of a hen when its throat is slit open, mixed with sand, covered his face. I then started to cry, but for what I did not know. All of a sudden everywhere seemed calm. The people in uniform had gone, but littered about were many people who had fallen like my father.

Later, Papa Yogi came back and took me home. Everybody was crying. I asked whether my father had woken up and they told me that he had gone on a distant journey. I said no, but my father was lying on the ground with these villagers. They said it was true but my sister and two brothers had gone far into the bush and he had followed to bring them back. I asked when he intended coming back home to me and they said that if my sister and brothers agreed to come back with him all of them will come together. I did not understand but I waited every time for my father to bring back my sister and my brothers. The day after the incident, the remaining people in the village cried a lot. Later they carried some objects wrapped in white calico and went far into the bush for a long time. Later they came back without their loads, but father did not come with them.

My mother cried all the time, calling on my father, my sister and brothers to come back. Papa Yogi came to our house often to see us. He told my mother that the people who came making that noise were sent by the government to arrest the important people. So I did not like the govern- ment. He sent people to come and make awful noises which frightened my father, brothers and sister away. I hated the noise, but I hated the people who made them the more because they did not arrest the very important people but rather frightened the villagers.

It had been a long time and I had not heard anything about my father. I could walk no more. There was nothing to eat, nothing to drink. I always slept on my back. My mother was on my side weeping all the time. Then one day she did not talk, she only lay there. I had wanted to call her but I could not move my lips. I made an effort to touch her but it looked as if I had glue covering her whole body. I felt very sad. Papa Yogi and some men came for her and all the women wept. They made noises but no tears came, and everybody prayed that she should be the next to go. Papa Yogi came to stay with me. He always sat by my side making faces at me, as though he wanted to smile. I wanted to know when my father, brothers and sister were coming back and also where my mother had gone to, but I could not speak, I only looked at him and wished he could read my thoughts.

One day he carried me in his arms and joined the remaining villagers at the marketplace. Then they all started to walk. We walked on for a very long time. It was a tiresome ordeal. We rested when the sun came up and walked on during the night. Papa Yogi was very kind to me. Just like my father used to, and he carried me with affection.

After several days walk we came upon a village. There were no houses here but white tents. When the people living there saw us coming, they ran to us, very curious and eager to know everything about us. But suddenly it happened again. The noise came back, and this time it came from the sky. It became louder, every minute. I wanted somewhere to hide. I wanted to vanish.

But there was nowhere to go, as Papa Yogi cradled me fondly in his arms. The only place I could think of then was my eyes. I closed my eyes as the peopled stampeded around me. Then I felt so serene, so peaceful, I seemed to float. I heard the chirping of birds on tree tops and the sweet scent of flowers engulfed me. I was in a beautiful garden. The next minute I was in the high heavens. The twinkling stars started shooting towards me. The scenery was beautiful, everywhere so bright and peaceful.

All of a sudden, I descended from the heights, the chirping of birds became a distant noise and the sweet flowering scent gradually faded away as the bright twinkling stars became specks in the black sky. Everywhere was perfectly calm. The heat in my belly started to cool off and my limbs seemed to acquire some energy. I opened my eyes.

What a shock! Looking at me straight in the eye was my pink baby doll, the beautiful one my father bought for me. My baby doll had grown up to be a big man and was looking at me. Papa Yogi was by my side and he, looking very happy and a bit refreshed, told me that the white man came in the aeroplane with food and medicine. But I was not interested in what he was saying. I was interested in my baby doll that had grown up. He smiled, showing a set of white teeth. I smiled too. I felt very happy.

"Baby," I said in a whisper, "my baby. You have grown up, my baby."

And I started to cry.

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