It was an odious, frosty morning in August 1211 when Amos went to visit his grandpa Madembu. They talked over a cup of joe made by Auntie Joy. It is at this point the grandad decided to tell Amos the story of two heroes of his land as passed down from ancestors – since 800BC. It is said that one of the hero – an old man – was the man on the Clapham omnibus
“Amos, let me give you the whole megillah of the story I swore to narrate. A long time ago before the spinning wheels arrived, there was a young man by the name Kalicho. Kalicho wanted to travel to a remote country that was inhabited with ogres. The objective of this odd mission was to assemble leaves of Mutima tree that was a cure for a deadly rare disease that eats up the skull and destroys the victims in three days.
As he travelled on foot through the thickets and bushes of adjacent lands, he came across a wasted man by the name Mudula. Mudula was sitting beside the road. He appeared frail, dejected and rejected. Kalicho gave him water and nuts to eat. Then he gained strength. He recounted to Kalicho how he had been disowned by his family because of old age. He begged Kalicho to carry him along.
Kalicho knew this was going to delay him. Moreover, the customs of the land did not allow for a man on such a journey to cut it short midway. This arrangement was going to result in two losses, that is, in case they are caught by the savages. Additionally, food supply and water availability was an obstacle.
After a few minutes of solemn contemplation, Kalicho decided to carry the man along.
They went from one village to the next, as people laughed at him, ‘Look at this jerk, does he think he can be able to reach the land of medicine while carrying that pale man; a man who is adding no value to him!’
There were times when Kalicho felt like quitting on the old man. There were other times when he felt like giving up the quest altogether.
By the time they were on the edge of the country of man-eaters, Kalicho was now weak, skinny and looked twenty years older than his actual age. They began to descend the edge and eventually set foot in a land that everyone was terrified of. The land of headhunters.
They became very unadventurous as they crawled on their fours lest they raise a rumpus. The mean-eaters would roam their territory hunting for game meat and human flesh.
My son, remember that before beginning the quest, Kalicho was given instructions from savants, as passed down one thousand years, that the tree with medicinal leaves was located at the middle of the territory and adjacent to a huge pool. It was the only pool in the land. And the man-eaters used it a source of water for daily use.
The first day came and went without farce, comedy or drama. The second day came, the third and the fourth too. They continued to move in wariness and worry. Then on the fifth day, they came close to the pool. It was perhaps five kilometres away. It was now within the vicinity.
On the sixth day, they arrived at the inclines of the spacious pool. Kalicho looked around and saw a tree with leaves like a snout. He presumed that it was the one.
The legend had that one thousand years ago, a village hero Mubelende had undertaken a similar venture triumphantly. And he is still mentioned in dispatches. This was the saga that was passed down from generation to generation.
Remember the disease was spreading wildly and furiously, and it was just a matter of days before it wiped out every living soul. This stark reality rendered this quest supreme.
Kalicho climbed the tree and took as many leaves as he could. Then as he jumped down, ten vicious men; with six digits on each arm, brownish teeth and terrifying faces, approached.
They tied Kalicho and his friend on a tree and examined them. They would look at their eyes, legs, noses, and stomach, then they would mutter as if it was not a big matter. They kept them captive for two hours, after which a guy who looked like their general – wearing a puggree – arrived with ten wild children accompanying him. He went straight into inspecting them too. After about five minutes, the guy shook his head and motioned the rest to follow as he took a beaten path and vanished into the horizon.
Kalicho and his friend were free again.
They quickly went away fearing that another group of man-eaters might get them. They travelled for the next seven days before getting back home. Interestingly, the old man declined to enter the city and remained at the gate. He requested that he be brought new clothes and food at the gate.
The leaves were still fresh. They were ground and the concentrate drunk.
The villagers were shocked that Kalicho escaped the man-eaters. The healthy country people flourished, their city grew and their villages came alive, teeming with life again. All along, the fact that Kalicho was spared by man-eaters, was a mystery. It was said that five attempts in the past had failed miserably with victims being devoured.
Several years down the line, the old man, who went to the land of medicine with Kalicho, died. But before then, he wrote something on a piece of paper – the paper had been brought by short people, with small eyes – and handed it to one trusted gateman to give it to Kalicho when he comes for the funeral.
The note read,
‘My son, this is my last voyage. My life is ebbing away. And I want to let the cat out of the bag before I join my fathers. I heard that you were planning to go look for the leaves of that medicinal tree. And I knew you needed my help. I remembered that the man-eaters do not feed on old men and frail young men. Hence I lied to you that I had been abandoned by family. I didn’t have any family. I decided to wait for you beside the road. I took less food so that I get frail. I intentionally wanted to share your food. I knew you had carried food for one person and by sharing the two of us would be emaciated by the time we reach the tree.
That way, the man-eaters will leave us, for they hold that scraggy people are accursed. I got this knowledge from my great-grandfather, whose father was the great-grandson of Mubelende. And he is the only man who knew that Mubelende was spared by man-eaters for his slimness. That is how your quest succeeded my son. Please tell your friends and foes that they should continually …………….’
The old man departed before he finished scribbling.
Kalicho was shaken. He wondered what would have happened if he had snubbed the old man.
What do you think the old man wanted to say, my grandson, before he breathed his last?”
Grandfather Madembu finished the story as he sipped the sixth cup of joe.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.