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    Wednesday, 17 June 2020


    In African folklore, the tortoise is regarded as the poor man of the jungle, who has absolutely nothing to his name. He has to laboriously carry his home, an empty hard shell, which is his only  earthly possession, on his own back, everywhere he goes. He has a grey skin of dry scales, and he is awkward and clumsy of gait. And slow on top of it.

    In African folklore, both humans and animals treat tortoise with derision and disdain.

    Tortoise personifies poverty.

    Yet tortoise's eyes always twinkle with the spark of happiness and contentment, in the face of all adversity.

    I had a cousin who came from the tether end of Mguzumbi Village, towards the homelands of Tubugare.

    He dropped out of school and had little education. The reasons for him becoming a school drop out were mired in controversy and rumour.

    Some said he was dismissed from school because of truancy. Others said he flew out of the window when Teacher Mbenje of Mabedzenge Primary School tried to impose corporal punishment on him for failure to recite the multiplication table, and he fled towards Musavezi River, never again to be seen at Mabedzenge Primary School.

    Others yet, had an even more dramatic story for my cousin's failure to finish primary school. They said that one day at school, my cousin observed a teacher buying vegetables from a woman who was passing through Mabedzenge Primary School. After paying the vegetable lady, the teacher replaced a wad of cash into his back trouser pocket. It is said my cousin then started, unobtrusively, to observe and monitor the movements of the teacher, searching for an opportunity to pounce on the cash.

    The story says my cousin's opportunity presented itself in the afternoon, after the teacher removed his trousers, changed into his sports kit, locked up his house and left for the sports field, leaving his trousers lying on his bed.

    But he had not closed his bedroom window.

    For fear of leaving his footprints near the window, my cousin is said to have plucked a long gum-tree offshoot, pruned it of its leaves, and from a safe distance away from the scene of crime, he fished out the loaded trousers, emptied it of its treasure, and restored it to its place on the bed, again using the same  gum-tree offshoot with which he had stolen the teacher's money.

    He vanished from the scene.

    The rumours provide sketchy details about how my cousin was caught, but those who spread them were  adamant that the daring theft resulted in my cousin being expelled  from school.

    What however is a proven fact is that my cousin grew up alone, herding people's cattle for a fee, and doing other odd jobs. He developed a great fondness for tobacco and liquor, and spent every penny from  his earnings at odd jobs to enjoy the pleasures of liqour, tobacco and song.

    His clothes were threadbare, but clean. His laugh was infectious,  but sincere.

    And he played the traditional drum with endearing devotion.

    My elder mother, Maiguru Mai Eriza was famous for her traditional home made brew. Whenever she brewed beer, imbibers from far and wide descended on her homestead, and had a helluva good time, which invariably climaxed with them indulging in song and dance.

    The merry makers beat the drum and pounded the floor with their feet and sang their voices hoarse, fired by the frenzy of Mai Eriza's famous brew.

    One day, my cousin passed through our home and confided in me that he had been paid a good settlement for digging someone's well. He wanted to take me to Mai Eriza's for a few frothing mugs of her famous brew. I couldn't miss it for anything in the world. I happily accompanied him.

    Other drinkers were already on top of of their game and we joined them with verve. The singing and dancing was already in full swing, and we joyously joined in.

    But the mood changed when my cousin took over the drum. He stared at the drum long and hard, clearly engrossed in deep thought. He started beating the drum softly into a sorrowful and steady rhythm.

    The patrons picked up the rhythm and nodded their heads in unison with the  solemnity of the moment.

    And my cousin's sonorous voice sang loud and clear;

      "I'm as poor as they
      With no cattle in my
      I only got donkeys, they
      are not even game
      I'm indigent, l carry
      tortoise's burden, oh

    The imbibers joined in and sang with grief and danced with gusto.

    A few of the imbibers shed a tear or two as they sang and danced, engulfed by the powerful trance of music laden with meaning.

    But my cousin smiled as he sang his sorrowful song and played the doughty drum of the dejected and downtrodden.

     The spirit of the tortoise, which happily carries the burden of poverty and ridicle, was surely mirrored in his being.

    I wept.

      (THE END)
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    1. This story touched the utmost part of my heart. I must have shed more tears than did the writer.


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