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Short fiction from Sudan and South Sudan: ‘Labour’, by Victor Lugala in Juba, South Sudan.
23.11.2016  |  Juba, South Sudan
A women fetches water near Juba. (photo: The Niles)
A women fetches water near Juba. (photo: The Niles)

It was late afternoon. The sky was a dark cotton wool of wandering clouds. A cool breeze whistled through the tree leaves. Then the sky rumbled like barrels rolling down a hill. Suddenly the dark clouds parted and cracked with a spark of frightening flashlight. Thunder. The pregnant cloud turned darker and menacing, as a strong wind began to blow, swaying tree branches violently as if about to uproot the trees. The first rain of the year was imminent.

The dark cloud that hung heavily over the village caused a commotion. People scampered pell-mell: lactating mothers collected their babies and rushed with them to their huts lest they get drenched, lest they catch a cold, lest they develop fever. The bigger children jumped up and down, giggling.

The villagers were happy because rain was about to fall. The fields would be wet, green vegetation would sprout and the villagers would grow crops. When there are crops in the village there is life. Water is a source of life.

Rain drops began to fall, wetting mother earth.... tap tap tap.... they pounded the earth ferociously.

Then the sky opened her flood gates, soaking the whole village. The heavy rain made visibility difficult. The main road of the village and the huts were covered in mist, rain. The leaves and grass were wet. The village huts were wet and dripped with water like a spring, yet smoke escaped gently from the roofs of the huts. The huts’ interiors were warm. The prudent ones who had dry maize cobs in their food granaries were roasting some for hardening their teeth, while leaving some for the planting season, which was at hand.

The main village road was wet with pools of water here and there. The water seemed to speak in their language as they rushed and gurgled down the gullies, gutters, streams. The wet, dirt road turned slippery.

It was muddy, sticky and foreboding as the angry rain continued to pound with impunity.

It was as if the sky was angry.

Now the road was foggy.

At a distance a hazy, staggering figure could be discerned, struggling against the wind. The figure approached the village shielding his face from the painful raindrops with his left open palm. He was wet through and through – his pants dripped as if he had urinated on himself.

He trudged like a drunk, a spook. It was bad to be caught up in such bad weather. He shivered as if he had fever, maybe he was hungry.

It would have been worse if he was drunk. He would have fallen in the gutter and maybe drowned.

The lone man stopped to scan the village with difficulty. In spite of himself, he instinctively branched off the main road. His unsteady legs struggled with his meagre frame as if he had lost his sense of direction, an indication that he was from another village. In his right hand he carried some small luggage in a gunny sack. The gunny sack looked like a stone because it was drenched in rain water. The man obviously looked disturbed and perhaps confused in his search for shelter from the storm.

He branched off to the nearest hut, with smoke slowly spiralling from the roof. It must be warm inside there, the man presumed, for he badly needed some warmth whether artificial or natural. He cleared his throat and clapped his hands loudly, to announce the presence of a stranger. There was no answer. He clapped again and a man with a torn, white vest stood at the door of the hut. He squinted at the new arrival to his house.

“Come in, come in brother. Come and take shelter. The rain is heavy,” said the man with the torn vest.

“Come in, you must be very cold. Maybe even hungry. Sit down at the corner there, and feel at home.” The stranger sat on a low bamboo stool at the corner of the hut, as the owner of the hut retired into the second partition. The hut was semi dark and the traveler had no access to the hearth in the next room. He shivered like a man suffering from a serious case of malaria. The hut was quiet when he arrived. It seemed the man with the torn vest lived alone.

It was quiet except for the rain outside.

Now the rain poured gently, continuously.

Soon crickets started chirping, prompting the frogs to croak in their ugly and dull tones.

A moment later, the owner of the hut emerged from the next partition with a dry gunny sack which he handed to his guest. “Use this for keeping you warm, we don’t have a spare blanket. We rarely receive visitors,” said the owner of the hut who turned his back to the stranger and returned to the next partition which served as his bedroom.

It was still raining, but gently. It was serene inside the hut, but the man had not fully recovered from the cold. His wet clothes were plastered to his body. The wet clothes smelled of sweat and body dirt. He wished he were in the comfort of his own home, his wife would have made for him some warm porridge to chase away the cold.

The man was absorbed in his own private thoughts when he heard some funny noises in the next room, where the owner of the hut had entered. Somebody breathed heavily, as if in agony. Sweet agony? The man became curious as he cocked his ears. Curiosity made him forget about the cold in his chest. He forced a cough as if to say ‘hello!’. Now the heavy breathing became rapid. There was struggling, panting, moaning, cursing.

The man could tell the voice was that of a woman.

Eh eh! What battle goes on inside there? Are husband and wife fighting in this bad weather when they are supposed to huddle close to each other, to feel warm and happy? Strange people, these ones! The stranger wondered, shaking his head from left to right. But the moaning, panting, struggling went on unabated. The funny noises came from the woman of the house. She sobbed. Whaaat! It is really a woman’s voice! The stranger became more interested. He hoped the rain did not stop abruptly before he knew what agony went on in the next room. The struggling resumed again, and then it seemed the woman was slapping the man repeatedly and crying ‘mama, mama, I’m dying...’.

Ah! The traveler mumbled to himself. He engaged in a monologue to keep himself company: My host must be a brute, eh? How can you beat your wife at this time? Hmn, You must be crazy. Crazy man indeed. A wife beater indeed. An idiot indeed. (He spat against the wall.) Or is it the woman who is causing all the trouble? I don’t know how she looks, this man’s wife. Maybe she has pout lips of a trouble maker.

Maybe she has sparse hair of a rascal. What could they be fighting about in this cold weather, anyway? I think she is mean. Maybe she is denying him the sugarcane? But what sort of rude woman is she who has no feelings when some of us are dying from cold?

Outside the hut the rain poured gently and the chirping of crickets and croaking of frogs increased. The man was silent but his mind was in the next room. From the cracks on the partitioning wall the stranger could hear the woman of the house moaning as if in some sweet but inevitable pain.

The man swallowed hard and continued in his wild thoughts: She might have given in. The man might have pinched her backside hard. Maybe they are making love now or what? But the man in this house must be very wicked and inpatient indeed. For how could he make love to a woman in the presence of a stranger? But do they know me anyway? Let them enjoy themselves.

As these thoughts raced through his mind, the stranger began to think about his wife at home. He felt some longing for his wife and was immediately overwhelmed with some strange warmth. A stupid smile lit his face. And he felt good. He left like running home. Before he could pronounce his wife’s name – Denya - he heard the woman of the house shout loudly as her husband tried to console her with inaudible words. The woman hissed and breathed heavily.

The woman’s noise-making was followed by a brief silence when the stranger heard the piecing shrill of a baby’s cry.

Wow! So they are blessed with a newborn! God bless you, good people.

The rain stopped. The man stood, stretched himself and yawned. He dusted the seat of his wet trousers and felt like peeing.

What name will the couple give to such a baby born on rainy day? It must be Jokudu or Lukudu. The man asked himself as he stared into the distant world of his imagination. He thought about his wife and six children all living under the roof of one hut.

I hope that roof is not leaking again. He thought. If it leaks my children must be on their feet dodging the cold rain drops. My wife must be cold too, poor woman. Suppose the rain blew off the roof of my hut? Supposed rain water forced their way through the weak mud wall of the hut?

The man looked miserable and felt like crying when these negative thoughts swept through his mind. He had a few kilometres to journey through the muddy road to reach his homestead. He was a bit unhappy. But when the newly born baby’s cry reminded him where he was he smiled a bit.

When he thought about the new born baby’s cry he remembered his six children. He remembered them as babies. How does this new baby look like? Like father? Like mother? Is it a she or he?

He badly wanted to pee.

The rain was over and the cold evening was being swallowed by darkness. Fireflies were flying.

“I didn’t know I brought blessings to this house. God bless you abundantly, good people,” he announced loudly for the couple in the partition to hear as he collected his gunny sack, threw it over his shoulder and stepped out of the hut. “I leave you in peace.”

The man’s bare feet sloshed the rain water as he hit the muddy road.

This article is part of:
Water: A fool won’t even find water in the Nile!
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