Short Stories by John Oryem Ernest Loguca, Ph.D.

Potato Thief

When dad arrived we were paraded in front of our mother, scared like puppies. Sleep stole us faster after we had eaten cowpeas leaves, soaked in sesame paste. It was very tasty indeed! The millet bread made us thirstier. That night as we played in the moonlight, we had to come from time to time to the family pot to quench our thirst while we played hide and seek. The water in the pot that night tasted sweet like Kenana sugar. We wondered why our thirst turned Kinyetti River water to taste that way.

Despite earlier information from Mama in the morning about dad's arrival; 'he may come today', dad arrived late; and he found us spreading in the open. It was hot. The heat wave in the town was excruciating as if, a blacksmith had died in the town. If it were wet season, the very spot were we had slept would have been hyena's hunting ground, no mater even if it was just in front of our mother's hut. Sometimes Mama used the flattened ground for drying fermented beer flour in preparation for several occasions that come and go.

When it was about 11:30pm that night, we were overwhelmed by the headlamps beaming out of dad’s 109 Land Rover. The lights flashed right into our eyes as the car dragged itself to park in front of dad’s room which was only meters away. I woke up before Mama; she was breastfeeding Olweny, our newly born brother. Mama only raised her head in protest from the bright headlamps.

As soon as the car stopped, I rushed to open the car's door to my father. Dad rubbed my head in admiration. I felt his rough fingers passing through my curled hair. I grabbed dad’s brown briefcase from his hands. He picked his sandals from the backseat of his car; “here Sam, put them under my bed.” I did as dad told me. The driver and some strange youth who had arrived with dad struggled to pull a heavy wet sack from behind the car. “Put it in the kitchen there till morning!” I heard dad telling them. Darkness and sleep could not allow my curiosity to search for what dad had brought from the countryside. But grandma always sent us fresh maize, potatoes, pawpaw and most valuably, sesame paste in a foremost milk container. Whenever we went to our village during summer holidays, grandma would always be happy, moving faster while serving us. Our demands were unending. Grandma loved us and often referred to us as 'my elephant tusks.' If we were for school in Torit and dad went to the village alone, grandma would present her gifts to us through dad; she always said shyly; “take them to my worms. They don’t have these things in your town there!” The day we arrive at our village, grandma’s rheumatism would become thing of the past. "You take my pains away when you come!" she would always whisper to us. At night we would fight a serious battle to determine who would sleep in front of grandma. Feeling her soft stomach was all what each of us would fight for.

Our school being 6 miles away, I woke early the following morning, brushed and washed my face quickly. I packed my school bag with my books. I removed my mathematical set and put few potatoes in its place at the left pocket of the school bag. I mended back the sisal sack with a nail from the kitchen. When Mama saw me sewing back the opened sack she asked; "why can't you roast them first?"

"No time Maa!" I said.

The first three periods went smoothly though my heart lingered for the raw potatoes in my school bag. I folded them tightly in a separate nylon bag. During break time, we either went to the football pitch or hung under the legendary mahogany trees in our school compound. And that was where our school market operated from. I had carried my bag with me to the courtyard. When I was replaced after only about seven minutes, I picked my bag and began to clean my raw potatoes and began eating them like a goat. One boy came and begged me for some bites; I refused and wetted the whole piece in front of him with spittle. Another boy came and begged me for the second time. I did to him like to the one before him. After few minutes I became thirsty and began to stroll to the borehole. I was holding one last piece in my hand. On my way to the borehole I met the two boys who had begged for my potatoes earlier. The boys intercepted me before I could quench my thirst. They started shouting instantly; "you thief! You potato thief!" The shouting went on for few minutes. It gained attraction and shortly went wild. Some girls even joined the boys; "thief, thief, thief!" Within minutes my books were scattered everywhere. The market stopped, footballers fled to where I was being taken. "Thief, thief, he is caught today." The school compound roared beyond control. Before I could reach at the teachers' quarter, my entire body was in total pain; blood was oozing from my right ear, dropping in my white cotton school uniform.

I was taken to Sr. Appolonia's office. Our class Prefect was called, accompanied by the two witnesses who followed me inside Sister's office. On seeing me, Sr. Appolonia reached out for her notorious whip. "What is it? What is it?" she asked angrily.

"He stole potato from the school field." said Lado our class prefect. I was already trembling and in tears.

"Clean your face, that blood….." Sr. Appolonia ordered.

"Yes Sister, we saw the potatoes in his pockets. He brought them from the field there."

My two accusers lodged their case in unison.

"Is it true Sam?" Sr. Appolonia asked me.

"I brought them from home." I answered.

"No, no, we saw him in the field." Ohisa insisted. "Keep quiet who told you to speak!" Sr. Appolonia shouted to the other boy. We were all silent. My tears began to dry.

Four teachers passed through the verandah where we were standing in front of Sr. Appolonia. The last teacher went and rang the bell for the fifth period.

"Come here!" ordered Sr. Appolonia. I moved forward closer to her; her whip still in her hand. Sr. Appolonia moved her right hand closer to my face, white dust up to her wrist. As soon as I reached few inches from her, she strengthened her fingers into my cheeks. She rinsed my cheeks as if she was killing lice. Sr. Appolonia pulled me upward, then downward till I was about to collapse. I cried like a child. The prefect and my accusers laughed at my torture. When Sr. Appolonia stopped, I felt as if I should give strong 'hook' in the faces of my accusers.

"Go back to the class quickly." ordered Sr. Appolonia.

I adjusted my falling shorts, tied the front buttons and went with my traitors towards our classroom. "You will see me on the way today!" I said to the boys while pointing my fingers in the air. There were lots of piping and commotion when we reached our classroom. Lado was unable to scare everyone shouting at me;

"Thief, thief, potato thief."

"Thief, thief, potato thief."

Assistant Head Master who was passing by heard commotion in the classroom and entered in the class abruptly. Within few minutes dead silence followed. "What is it?" he inquired. "Thief, thief, thief." Other children roared; all eyes in the class were sternly fixed on me. Some girls were even pointing at my direction when the teacher arrived. My eyes were buried in my palms. "Quiet please!" shouted the head teacher. It was mathematic period and everyone knew how serious Teacher Alex was in his lessons. When he came for his lesson, all assaults on me stopped abruptly. The prefect had temporarily moved me behind the girls for fear of assaults from bigger boys. Some boys were pinching me, others threw pencil dusts inside my shirt; "thief, thief, thief" some kids were still whispering at the back of the class while teacher Alex was drawing mathematical tables on the blackboard.

That afternoon, it was a day of many unusual things on our way home. I was shouted at until the gate of our family home. Neighboring boys who were not even at our school began spreading news about the incident involving me in our school; "he stole school potatoes. He is a thief!" Fearing being bullied on the way to Kinyetti River for bath in the evening, I stayed in our compound and played under acacia trees next to our fence. When dad arrived from workplace he found us idle and invited us for weeding in our family farm along the main road. We collected weeds and grass; gathering them to be burned by Mama the next day. All passersby would greet dad as he continued digging and weeding in the field. Just before we could retire, Sr. Appolonia appeared from the Mission riding her bicycle. Dad rushed to greet her after she had stopped. My eyes were kept away from them because they seemed to have been discussing serious matters of dogma. It wasn't the first time for dad to be talking to Sr. Appolonia. Dad would often ask Sr. Appolonia about our progress in school. "Let's go home!" dad ordered us after cleaning his hoe and rake. We pulled our gumboots and took bath with cold water from the barrel next to the kitchen.

"Sam, Sam, come here!" I her dad calling. I went and sat in front of him like a dog waiting for bones. "So you are a thief ehh?" I kept silent, dumfounded.

"Sam I never knew you were a thief!"

"No Baba." I pleaded.

"Who told you to steal school potatoes?"

"I did not steal Baba." I said fearfully.

Dad descended on me with heavy whip. I cried hopping for help from Mama. She had intervened at times in the past. My voice penetrated the evening skies. Nyekese my dog barked as I wailed. Unable to save me, it fled outside our home, badly confused. "I will kill you!" dad announced.

Soon Mama kicked the door open; breathless, she pushed away dad's foot from my head. My teeth were colored with dust.

"What is it? What? What?" Mama asked hurriedly. "He stole potatoes from school this morning." Dad said to Mama.

"You are wrong; the potatoes are the ones you brought from the village yesterday! I saw him putting them in his bag this morning."

Dad had already moved steps away after my rescue by Mama. Turning to me she asked; "did you steal potatoes Sam?"

"No Mama they were the very ones I put in my school bag this morning." Dad did not say a word to Mama though he was still standing nearby.

"Why do you want to kill the boy because of a potato?" Mama asked.

Jimmy’s neighborhood

Once a week, Jimmy, Peter and Mary would accompany their parents to their family farm at the outskirts of Juba town. Lado, Jimmy’s father inherited that farm from George Wani, Jimmy’s grandfather. Jimmy’s grandfather was a colonial army officer until mid 1950s. After retiring from the Sudanese Army, he built his family farm in Rejaf, a village 20 km south of Juba town.

It was after getting his pensions from the army, that Jimmy’s grandfather bought 230 acres of arable land to develop a farm. The farm was developed gradually until he handed its administration in 1986 to his eldest son, Lado Wani, Jimmy’s father.

Jimmy’s parents, his brother Peter, Mary his sister and all those in the family would go every Saturday to; Wani & Sons: Rejaf Farm in the early hours of the morning. Jimmy’s father was an agricultural engineer; he was educated in America during Anyanya war in 1960s.

When they were together in the farm, they could clean, plant, weed, and harvest at the end of the season. In Juba, rains would come in April until late October when it subsides. People owned many farms in the town.

Saturday was a farming day allover Juba town and many parts of Southern Sudan. All students would stay at homes working in their fields, compounds and kitchens. The students would clean their compounds from insects like mosquitoes, cockroaches and grasshoppers. In the process, they would use some insecticides or other chemicals. The pupils used agricultural implements for cutting overgrown grass in their compounds if their parents assigned them. Female students would just help their mothers with home chores. Some students in Juba would go to the River Nile for laundry. Few good swimmers went to the Nile to enjoy the strong current of the Nile coming from Nimule.

* * *

As the family was going to the farm, the kids and their parents would have the opportunity of seeing beautiful trees and various crops planted along Juba-Rejaf Road. They would also cross the beautiful Nile over Juba Bridge. Seeing Rejaf Mountains was a happy experience to Jimmy, Mary and Peter. On top of the mountains, they could see monkeys, jumping from one tree to another. Older monkeys were playing with their young. The family also saw other animals like the squirrels, rabbits, gazelles and foxes. When Jimmy first saw an animal with bushy tail one day through the window of their Landrover, he shouted to his mother; “see, see Mama,” his mother turned and said calmly, “Jimmy my son, that is squirrel.” Mary, Peter, and all those in the car looked through the window until the squirrel slipped into nearby bush when the car failed to run over it. “My children,” said their mother, “that animal is a great thief, it steals groundnuts, maize, cassava and potatoes from the fields.” “Where does it stay Mama?” asked Jimmy curiously. “It is living in the bush and sleeping in the dark holes where her children are.”

Other days when the family was crossing the Nile, they could see hippopotamuses playing, gushing water high from the middle of the river. Crocodiles and octopuses were also found in the Nile, they stayed in places were Nile current wasn’t strong.

In the middle of the Nile, some men and women would be seen in their canoes coming from Juba-Na’Bari Islands; they were going down at the other shallow banks. They were carrying things to Konyokonyo market where they were sold. There were fresh vegetables, mangoes, guava, papaya, potatoes and bananas. The Congolese were good fishermen in Juba; they brought fish like the perch and tilapia in their baskets. They used wooden boats for fishing with nets and hooks.

At Juba Boats’ Yard, there were small and large boats. There were old steamers at the edge of the River Nile. Small children who could swim rowed canoes in the Nile like their parents. When the family was crossing the Nile, Jimmy was scared sometimes because of the large size of the Nile. Like other children, he would swim only at the edge of the Nile not deep inside. Children who went deep got drowned or eaten up by crocodiles or big fish in the Nile.

* * *

In his farm, Jimmy’s grandfather George Wani planted many trees like teak, mahogany, eucalyptus, oak and tamarind. He planted them long time ago in 1970s. The trees were very attractive and beautiful. There was coffee plantation in a separate piece of land enclosed with barbed wire fence. Banana plantation was scaring; inside was always dark and infested with wasps and other biting insects. Jimmy’s grandfather planted also some cereals.

After arriving the farm, first the kids would fetch water from the well into a barrel near farmhouse. Jimmy, peter, Mary and their parents would work hard for two hours after arriving their farm every time they went there. Kaku, their mother and Mary, would prepare hot breakfast and tea. After taking breakfast while the children were relaxing by playing games, their parents would be taking hot coffee in the farmhouse. Jimmy’s father always kept his blue thermos at the kitchen table. After an hour or two, the kids and their parents would resume their work in the farm; collecting twigs, grass, logs and roots before burning them near an anthill in the middle of their farm. They used hoes, rake, axes, and spades plus wheelbarrows. The tools were cleaned and put back in store after work had finished.

The kids and their parents would remain in their farm till evening. When they had cleared the land and the soil had become soft, they would plant maize, sorghum and cassava in the soft-leveled soil within the designated acres of their farm. Eggplants, onion, tomatoes carrots, cabbages were also planted in their farm. The vegetables were planted in rows. They looked beautiful from afar.

There were several nests on the branches of tall trees in their farm. Jimmy and Peter would go around under the trees with catapults to shoot and kill many birds like dove, weaverbird and other tropical birds, which destroyed their crops and fruits. When it was raining or drizzling, the family would take cover in the old farmhouse. There were many rooms in the farmhouse.

Mary was the family’s young Doctor. She kept First Aid kit in the farmhouse. When one of them sustained injuries, iodine or spirit was put in the victim’s wound immediately. From her medical box, she could pull out; scissors, bandage, plaster, cotton and other medicines. There were many thorns, sharp sticks and other dried trees, which were harmful to human flesh. Lado, Jimmy’s father had his black gumboot and umbrella with him always in the farmhouse. When crops had already grown in the farm, Jimmy will help his father, spraying insecticides in the fields. Ants and other tropical insects were eating up their maize, sorghum, potato, cassava and the vegetables.

In the farm, there were some animals like cows, goats, pigs and rabbits. Pigeons, turkeys, ducks, geese and chickens were reared together with the animals. The birds were very happy with water in the pond. Their beautiful feathers were attractive. Loro Tombe, the farm’s shepherd took care of all the animals and birds in the farm. He was very kind and friendly to all the animals. He milked cows and made cheese to the family in Juba town. Loro Tombe always said to the kids; “milk is good for your health my children.” Peter, Jimmy’s younger brother was fond of milk and yogurt, which their mother Kaku would prepare every evening and put in a gourd. Yogurt that was ready for consumption was kept in a refrigerator.

Jimmy’s mother had separate field where she ploughs with oxen. She planted tomato, cabbage, carrot and onion for family consumptions. The children ate their mother’s produce. “My children, I will cook for you what I cultivate,” their mother would say to them. Jimmy’s mother taught all her children how to plough with oxen. If the oxen weren’t in use, cart was attached so that it carries things from the fields to stores in the farmhouse.

* * *

Nobody was a good storyteller like Jimmy’s mother in the family. She narrated to them many stories, tales and legends of their people who first settled at the foot of Rejaf Mountains hundreds of years ago. They knew how their ancestors crossed the Nile and settled along the banks of the great Nile. She told her children stories about hyenas, tortoises, rabbits, squirrels and elephants. Her children liked those stories very much. Some animals were clever, cunning, and wise, others were elusive, lazy and stupid according to her narration of the stories.

Jimmy would polish his father’s shoes in the morning before they could go to school with his brother Peter and Mary. After handing his father’s shoes, his father would tell him; “thank you Jimmy my son.” Their family courtyard was divided into three portions, each for every child; Mary, Peter, and Jimmy. Each one was expected to clean and throw the dirt to the litterbin. They did their manual work before taking tea and leaving for their school in the morning. Their father insisted to them always; “your mother is old, she can’t sweep the whole courtyard alone, you must help her.” Their father would inspect their work when he wakes from his sleep.

It was at 7am that their father would go to his office. He would take Jimmy, Peter and Mary along, dropping them at St. Joseph’s School. His driver Amos was a kind man. He would clean, and check the engine of his Toyota car before taking off for work. Kaku their mother would prepare porridge for them and their father before he leaves for office. He would come home at 3pm and take siesta immediately. When he was resting, his children would play far away from the house not to disturb him. Sometimes Jimmy and Peter would wash their father’s car themselves. Every time they clean their father’s car, they would become fascinated with many things inside the engine. Their father worked at the Ministry of Agriculture. He was an inspector in the ministry. While her children were at school, Kaku would cook delicious food for them before they were back from school at noon.

* * *

At the beginning of each academic year, the children were given pairs of school uniform, boots, books, pens, rubbers, mathematical sets and school bags. At St. Joseph’s school, Jimmy’s sister Mary moved with other girls of her age while her brothers played with other boys. Mary was in primary five; “My best subject is mathematics,” said Mary to her brothers Jimmy and Peter, when they asked her. “For me, I like history and geography,” Jimmy told his sister Mary. Their mother or father would go and pay all school fees required by their Head Master. Weekly, their father would go through their books and make revision with them in their study room. He would pick his children’s exercise books one after the other. He checked thoroughly mathematics exercise books, English and geography. Their father had a red pen for correction. Jimmy, Peter and Mary would study early before supper, after they have eaten, they would go to bed immediately. There was a large blackboard at the veranda; near it was their father’s chair and table.

At St. Joseph’s School, punctuality was very high in the list of disciplines. Reaching late was almost shameful especially when a student was lashed in front of other students. All the students strictly followed school timetable. Sweeping schoolyard and classes was the duty of the students. There were no papers or leaves around the school compound. In the parade all students sang national anthem, they knew it by heart. The Head Master’s office was very clean. It was next to the assembly.

There were several neem, eucalyptus and mahogany trees in the school. All classes were built with bricks, stones, iron, wood, cement and tiles. Taban Gore was the school’s watchman. He would open the school gate very early during school days. Whenever everyone was inside the compound by 8:30am, he would close the main gate immediately. He would only open it at 2pm. His dog was always in chains by the gate, barking at strangers.

Students played games and enjoyed Physical Education periods. There were several games played; volleyball, basketball, handball and soccer. Jimmy was a soccer striker of his school. He boasted about their school; “Our school soccer team is undefeatable in Juba town. We competed with different schools and defeated them all. We are the champions.” When Jimmy, Mary and Peter were back from school, they ate lunch together, after their meal; they would go to watch Disney children’s movies for few hours. Good characters in the films impressed them a lot. They followed World Cup and African Cup of Nations championships on TV together with their father. Their father supported Cameroonian and Brazilian soccer teams. “My players are Ronaldo and Solomon Olembe,” he would say to his children. “I want to be like my hero Austin, Jay Jay Okocha of Nigeria,” Jimmy would tell his father. Jimmy, Mary and Peter weren’t allowed to watch adult films like the Terminator, Lethal Weapon or Missing in Action from the family collection. Their uncle, Tombe, taught them computer games, jigsaw puzzles and scrabble. The three of them all watched video games.

* * *

Near the family home at Kator suburb, there were shops and groceries from where they bought sugar, salt, bread and other foodstuffs. Salt and sugar was always weighed in scale. Charcoal and cooking gas had separate stores. If the children were sent to buy sugar, no one was to put some in his or her mouth before reaching home as some kids did in their neighborhood of Kator. Community video center was situated near the market. Indian films were featured and liked by many children in Juba. Congolese musical dances captured hearts of teenagers. There were also recording and photographic studios around Kator. Nyakuron Cultural Center was a beautiful place. Many people would go there to watch drama, comedies, dances and theatrical shows. Like all children in Juba, Jimmy, Mary and Peter went there once or twice a month. Children and adults enjoyed the performances.

When annual regional football tournament was staged, the whole neighborhood would go to Juba Stadium to support the most popular team, Kator Football Club. Jimmy, Peter and their father would attend all the preliminaries. Richard was a great striker in the team. He was Jimmy’s mentor in soccer. Many rich football clubs gave Richard financial offers for their clubs, he refused them all. Richard never wanted money; his Kator Football Club was his concern. He was a top scorer allover Juba town.

In the family, when one of the children was sick, their father or mother would take him or her to Juba Teaching Hospital. Pediatric ward was full of children, many would cry when they see nurses with syringes or scissors. There was a long line, patients waiting for consultations with the children’s Doctors. When laboratory technician takes blood samples, he examines it with microscope and call names aloud. Children and their parents were to wait for their results in a cement seat nearby. If malaria was found, one received Chloroquine tablets or injection from the pharmacist.

On Sundays, Jimmy, his brother, sister and parents attended church services. Musical instruments like guitar, flutes, drums and accordion accompanied singing by members of the church’s choir. A girl or boy did conducting in front of the choir and the faithful.

* * *

At Jimmy’s school, there was an open-day, once in a year at the end of the examinations. Students in the school played sports and enjoy all artistic performances. Parents also would come to celebrate with their children. There were head teachers responsible for all the classes at St. Joseph’s School. At the end of the year, the students were awarded gifts for academic achievements. Those who passed went to new classes; those who failed were to repeat classes. There was school picnic celebrated along the Nile in Rejaf together with teachers and workers after second term examinations. Some boys could swim to the islands for sightseeing and fishing. On their way, they would come back to the camp with lots of sardine in their bags. The girls and elderly women in the picnic would cook the fish. Though Rejaf Mountains was scary, students and teachers would climb until the summit where they had the opportunity of viewing the Nile and Juba town in full. The airport looked glamorous especially when the planes were landing. The Nile from the peak of the mountains would appear like a thread, planes were like doves in an open space.

Inside Juba Zoo, there were several animals that were seen by visitors. The zoo was attached to Juba City Park. Teachers and students of St. Joseph’s school had a day touring the town in their yellow school bus. Students sang beautiful songs. School Scouts guided all the students. They wore white and blue uniform. Their parade was wonderful, many children were admiring them. During summer holidays, students who don’t go to spend holidays with their relatives in the countryside would have courses organized by the school authority. Jimmy would bid his friends and wish them happy holidays. Jimmy’s mother would have prepared already bags for all her children traveling again to their grandparents’ village.

* * *

During long summer holidays, Jimmy, Mary and Peter would go to their grandparents’ village far off to the countryside. Their village was 228 kilometer, south of Juba town. His grandmother and all other relatives were living there as peasants. They cultivated pumpkins, potatoes, maize and tobacco. They also hunted animals and caught fish from Ayi River.

While at the village, Jimmy, Mary and Peter slept in their grandma’s house. She fed them with beans, sesame paste, cassava, fresh vegetables and honey. She brought them dried game meat. With other cousins, nephews and neighborhood boys, Jimmy and his brother Peter would go hunting in the forests. Rambo, their hunting dog would accompany them; chasing animals and catching them especially when they were wounded by arrows or spears. Jimmy and his friends also went fishing other days with hooks and nets. The boys were fascinated of hunting and harvesting honey from anthills or big trees in the forest. Bees were wild if they smelled smoke, they stung the boys. Their grandmother was concerned about them as they went hunting. Some days they came home with swollen faces, noses and fingers. At afternoons, the boys will sit under big tamarind tree in the middle of their grandmother’s compound. They made toys with old cans and stocks. They would give the toys to other children in the village.

The day Jimmy, Mary and Peter would leave their village to go back to Juba for school, it was very devastating to their grandparents who were so happy seeing them around during their holidays. They helped their old grandparents in the village. They brought them firewood, water and carried maize and sorghum from the fields and put them in granaries. They cared for their sheep and goats. Back in Juba, their parents would become happy seeing them healthy and happy. New school year was also exciting for their children.

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