Mih John Fung

Grass Bird for Supper
Chapter 1
      It was break and the pupils of St Martha Primary School could be seen everywhere like swamps of bees in search of what to eat. Anang left like a cat and sat on a slope behind their class. He took out an exercise book from his plastic bag, opened it and began to read. After a couple of some serious reading, Bahmbi came with a loaf of bread. He broke it, gave Anang a slice and they began eating. They went into the valley and drank some water from a spring like thirsty horses. Anang raised his head like a cow would do after a drink. He took in a deep breath and breath as a sign of relief and satisfaction. He turned and looked at Bahmbi into his eyes and said ‘thank you’ in a whisper. Bahmbi nodded. Anang continued reading his notes meanwhile Bahmbi began producing some illustrations on a plain sheet of paper.
      ‘You see’, Anang began in a most pathetic manner. ‘I sometimes weep because of the turbulence and endurance I’m going through’. Bahmbi dropped his pencil on his exercise book and directed his gaze at Anang as he recounted his story. ‘There wasn’t any much breakfast by the time I was leaving for school this morning’ he continued. Only some left over corn fufu which Mama smashed in water and gave me to eat. In the evening I may only drink water and go to bed. Tomorrow will be same; some raw garden eggs and corn fufu for breakfast and lunch. And the day after will be cassava and bitter herbs without palm oil nor salt for breakfast, lunch and supper. I haven’t paid my fees. My parents say they don’t yet have the money. The Headmaster will surely give me some strokes on my buttocks first thing tomorrow morning. My parents sleep on animal skin spread out on the floor while my siblings and I cluster on a small bamboo bed like puppies. The walls of our hut have dilapidated and the old thatched roof which now looks like decomposed grass above have developed openings through which one can easily see the heavens. The lone window is so tiny and almost touching the roof, causing the smoke to hardly find it’s way out when ever there’s fire in the hearth. When it rains especially at night, we would all stay awake like bats struggling to look for means of preventing the water from flooding our room. Behind our hut are over six graves. Mama said they are hiding the bodies of some of my brothers and sisters who passed away some years ago. And that two of them a boy and a girl even died on the same day. When ever she’s working at the backyard and she sees the graves, she will sit on the bare floor and grief for several hours. I…’
      ‘I can hear the school bell jingling’ Bahmbi interrupted. ‘Let's hurry back to class before Mr Ntonchi comes in. I will like to listen to more of that story later’. They hurriedly picked up their books and left.
      Nansen had over a thousand inhabitants who were mostly peasant farmers. The roads were undulating, uneven and narrow. The inhabitants equally suffered from lack of electricity and pipe born water.
      To ease administration, the Chief whose name was Besombo had to split the village into five quarters namely Nanasensi, Nansendum, Nansenam, Nansenmbi and Nansenkwa. The different quarter Heads and their subjects could now handle their own matters and pass judgement independently meanwhile Chief Besombo still had his place as the supreme traditional ruler of the entire village through whom some of the matters which couldn’t be solved by the quarter Heads and their councillors were referred.
      With the help of some Missionaries, a school was built for the children of that entire village. It was called St Martha Primary School. That is the school Anang was attending. The Headmaster was called Mr Ntonchi. He was of average height, about 1.90m tall and fair in complexion. He was fun of gnashing his teeth and murmuring when he was alone. He had over ten farms which he usually visit after school to make sure none of his tenants took home any piece of firewood or food stuff from there without his notice. Anang fed Mr Ntonchi’s pigs every Wednesdays and Fridays with fresh grass, boiled bananas and cocoyams peelings as punishment for not paying his school fees on time. Meanwhile the girls went to the market on Fridays to sell brooms for the school Master.
      Mr Ntonchi wife was called Mammy Helele. She and her husband usually sat on the veranda at night with bush lamps between their feet either peeling some beans for koki or threshing maize for sale. While working, one could hear them discussing about the plight of the other villagers and laughing to the top of their voices.
      The Headmaster had three children namely Epe, Anepin and Sela. They seldom came around their father in the evenings. They were afraid he would ask them a few questions from what they have been reading, and also if they have done their assignments. And since none of them ever gave him the right answer, they usually suffered from severe beatings from Mr Ntonchi before they went to sleep.
      Mr Ntonchi’s children were very good at sports. Anepin and Epe were excellent football and handball players. The Headmaster took delight to see his children play, but he preferred to see them excel in their book work as well.
      Although the Headmaster was a neat man, his children were always looking shabby. They kept long and dirty nails and unkempt hair. They also had the habit of fighting over food like untamed dogs.
      The next day was a Monday and everyone was expected to be in school by 7am prompt. When the Pupils saw Mr Ntonchi coming towards the assembly that morning with a huge bundle of whip over his left shoulder, they began shivering and screaming like a people before a ghost. The pupils called his whips docta do good because the Headmaster saw it as the only instrument which he would use to subdue those whom he thought were not doing the right. He went into the crowd sniffing like a buffalo that has just received a bullet on the head and began inspecting the pupils. Those who didn’t have robbing oil in their homes began using their spittle and applying them on their faces and arms. Others with long nails began trimming them with their teeth meanwhile those with unwashed uniforms were now struggling to hide behind their neat friends. A serious roll call was conducted shortly after the inspection.
      Mr Ntonchi promised hell to those who weren’t present in school on that day, no matter what reasons they may give. He saw it as a deliberate act to abstain themselves from the transportation of planks from the farm of a certain farmer several kilometres from the village, following previous arrangements he had made with Pa Somanjo the previous day. ‘I’m like a barber and you pupils are my clients’ he told the pupils. ‘Never shall you ever escape from my snare. And those of you who are still owing fees should make sure you meet me in my Office latest tomorrow morning before I send you out of the examination room. Have I made myself clear?’
      ‘Yessss sir!’ they pupils answered in chorus. Anang’s classmates turned and looked at with some degree of pity. They knew he had not paid even the first installment. And when he realised that the whole crowd was now staring at him, he bowed his head and his eyes began to water. Mr Ntonchi further informed the pupils to bring a huge bundle of broom and a log of firewood each the next day. He came to where Anang was standing and gave him one solid stroke on his back under the pretext that he wasn’t singing with the others. He wept in hysteric as he kept twisting his body like a wounded snake under the frozen weather and pleading to the Headmaster not to add any more stroke on him.
      On his way home after school, Anang bumped into one of his favourite songs:
       The pains I am feeling
       Has gone deep in my bones
       The pains I am feeling
       Has gone deep in my bones
       The pains I am feeling
       Has gone deep in my bones
       O parents you tell me what to do.
      When Anang arrived home, he met Mbong sitting on the veranda and threshing some maize. He laid on the floor and began screaming like someone on fire. Mbong got some warm water from a clay pot and a piece of rag and began massaging his son’s buttocks. After the exercise, Anang turned to mother and said ‘Thank you Mama’.
‘Don’t mention’ Mbong replied. ‘It’s all part of my duty, son’.
      When the pains finally got subsided, Anang collected two calabashes and went out to fetch water from a nearby spring, meanwhile Mbong went to the backyard and began gathering the palm fronts which Leng had began cutting from one of the trees.
      Darkness was fast approaching and so Mbong needed some light to enable them see what they were doing out there. Anang had just returned from the spring and was now struggling to make a fire. Mbong began calling: ‘Anang’
‘Yes Mama, I’m coming’.
‘Where are you?'
‘I'm here'.
‘And what are you doing there?’
‘Trying to make up a fire’.
‘Can I feel you now, son?’
‘Can you come here so I can feel you, son?’
‘Yes Mama, you can’. Anang came out from the kitchen and went very close to his mother and said ‘Mama here I am’ Mbong began feeling him from his head right down to his toes. ‘Why not go into the hut and bring out the lamp so we can see what we are doing here?’
‘And what about Afuh and my sisters? Are they going to stay in darkness?’ Anang asked.
‘What should we do? You should pock in more wood into the flame and ask them to sit around it and narrate tales until we finish what we are doing here’.
‘Can’t I tell them to come and join us here, Mum?’
‘No, too much cold and mosquitoes’.
‘And what about the firewood?’.
‘Does that want us to cut down all the trees we have in this piece of land and take to his house? Eh? Let him know that the seeker of an elephant may one day collapse under its weight’.
‘Mother how do you mean?’ Anang didn’t understand the proverb.
‘I mean what I mean my son. That glutton may choke from his excesses’.
      Anang ran into their hut, brought out two knives and shared them out to his parents. He sat on a bamboo seat and began dozing. He fell off from it to the ground when he began to snore. Leng and Mbong carried him into the hut. When Tsung the youngest saw his parents bringing Anang in, she burst into laughter: ‘Ho ho ho! Mama what did that lazy boy go to do out there in the cold?’<
> ‘No, he’s not lazy, he’s rather tired’ Mbong replied, smiling.

Last updated on November 10, 2008. Maintained by Andrzej Gutek, (www.agutek.com)