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Tom and his Dad are Missing

By Matano Lipuka  (Kenya)


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The undergrowth was dense under the oil palm plantations, and that’s where we hid. Further along the beach the broad leaved plants seemed to bask in the glory of the sun while its intense rays reflected off the white sandy beaches; funny how Mother Nature operated.
The beach was now deserted, even the water seemed to have run away, and there was no sign of the heat  simmering.
There was  melancholy  among us as we sat on the protruding grass and devil thorns, hoping they didn’t find us.  
It had been seven days since the fighting started and we hadn’t gone home since. At first the attacks had started out as a rumour, and some had said that there was nothing like the ‘Kayabombo’ but word spread as whispers through the
Villages.  My late grandpa usually said in Swahili that whatever is said, must be there. It had caused fear and a sense of anger among us.  We were angry that we were being evicted from our homeland by the unseen rebels who  attacked at night.
That afternoon, there had been the four of us hiding on the beach. Tom, twelve, my eldest son, had been laughing loudly, often throwing stones at his siblings, and at times challenging them to mock fights.
"Stop it Tom, you're going to draw attention to us," I  cried, covering my face with my hands. Tom  just shrugged, ran away and continued throwing stones; this time aiming at the coucal birds which had been perched up on the palm tree leaves above us.
"How long are we going to stay here? And where is papa? Has he gone to chase them away from our house? Me, I am hungry and I want to go home." Marrieta, six, my youngest daughter  whined. (Don’t overuse the word “had”.)
Kilumbwazi, Tom’s twin brother had shrugged, "Go home if you want, or you can go to the sea and begin catching some fish and eat..."
Tom came  running toward us and said he had seen some people with machetes and axes, but I  ignored him. He was always a crywolf, and no one ever believed him.
Marrieta  jumped to her feet and slapped the dirt off her flower-print lesso. "Go away with your lies. They would never find us here…” she  paused and lowered her eyes at me. “Would they… mama?"
I  shook my head, “ no”.
           Kilumbwazi broke in, "coward… if they came, they’d better carry you with them... you and Tom… isn’t that right mama?"
             Before I could reprimand him, Tom jumped in.“I would wish to give you another black eye so that now you have two black eyes. Seems your friend papa didn’t give you enough a beating..." Tom said, disgusted.
"And you. What made you burn your arm the other day, stealing some stew from a boiling pot?" Karisa shot back, causing the rest of them to laugh and start chanting "mwizi wa nyama," or meat thief.
It  was nice to laugh, too, after a week of worry.
Tom’s face  turned red and became stern, "Shut up all of you!"  He batted a small pebble at them. I yelled at him to stop, and he lowered his head in guilt.
He looked up. “Mama… I have seen them again. There is one coming our way now."
          "Listen here, Tom!" I warned. “I will not have you scare us all. If you are having nightmares during the day then that’s your problem, but me, I have enough problems to worry about.”  
Tom remained mum for a while and walked away a couple minutes later. Just as I was about to tell him to come back his shrill squeal cut through the air. There on the beach, wandering up,  was a mean-looking, tall man adorned in ornamental regalia with a machete in his right hand. The children sat frozen, eyes on Tom, who was  now running along the beach, still screaming, running further away from us. The man  began running after him and Marrieta  began to scream at the top of her lungs, “Leave my brother alone!”
The man heard her and was now coming toward us. As he drew near he started slashing at the undergrowth with murderous intent.
Tom  disappeared from our sight  and everyone fell  silent, the slashing of the machete and our heavy breathing  became the only sounds.
            The man gave up after being warned by his colleagues that the police were coming our way.   He ran off.  We  sighed  in relief, but  we still had to find Tom. We combed the beach for a while, but later gave up and left the search  to the police.
It has  been over a month now, and still no sign of Tom or his papa, but we are still hopeful.  Every night, when I lie alone at night, I still see my husband’s face in my visions.   I also see Tom’s face standing next to him, and Marrieta is always asking when Tomato, as she used to call him, is coming back.   I have no answer for her.


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