Never make any presumptions; always ascertain and establish the facts before you react. Be informed. This is one of the many lessons I got from my father. The investigative instinct became part of my very being as I grew up.
It is twilight, and the birdsong is blending in with the mooing of the cows coming home. An occasional cricket song punctuates the evening sounds. This for me is ‘rush hour’, because I have to finish many chores as darkness sets in; there is no moonlight and the kitchen is some 10 metres away from the main house. It is 1975, and I am only 10. There is no electricity in my home village.
Along the path that leads to the well, stands a guava tree, which is quite close to the kitchen, making it look even darker. I can hear the swaying of the banana leaves in the plantation on the upper side of the kitchen. I am now in the process of taking into the main house some of the kitchen utensils I no longer need. It is a night like any other, following the usual routine.
Then, suddenly, I hear the most frightening sound coming from the path leading to the well. With precision, I locate the ‘animal’ sound right at the guava tree. And, promptly, I employ my vocal chords to produce a shriek, equally annoying sound, as I scamper for dear life towards the main house.
My father, who is listening to the evening news bulletin, is jolted by my screams. He hurries out to the verandah, panting, visibly disturbed and confused; but, even more shocking, angry at me for shouting at the top of my voice! This clearly means I cannot run into his arms!
“What is it, Alex, why are you making such an alarm?” He sternly asks me, not giving way for my small trembling body to get past the door. I am now shaking like a leaf, in fear of the unidentified creature, but also of this symbol of authority standing before me.
“There is an animal at the guava tree, making a terrible noise!” I now whisper.
“Did you see what it was?”
I am taken aback. Daddy really expects me to know what it is! What happened to instinct?
I am accustomed to challenging him and defending myself at any cost; but he is not taking any nonsense today. So he tells me: “Never make any noise before you establish what it is – whether it is a lion, a leopard, or, a domestic cat! Once you know what it is, then react accordingly”.
While I appreciate his reasoning, my dear hero, the protector of the home, is, in the meantime, keeping me outside the house, within reach of the strange creature! What if it draws nearer and attacks us both?
By now my ‘strange animal’ has made its way into our compound, to which I have my back as I strategize to sneak past any gap my father might leave at the door. “Marita!” I hear him call out. I turn around, only to see our elderly neighbour Marita, walking towards us, her hands behind her bent back. I cannot put it any different form from the way he shouted at her in Runyankore language. “Iwe Marita, niki ekirikukureeta ekiro, kukanga abaana bangye?” “Marita, why do you visit my home unannounced, at night, and alarm my children?” He shouts angrily at her.
Marita says she was coming to ask for some kerosene for her lamp, to which my father angrily retorts that she ought to be more organized and plan her day. I am now completely confused, but, like a little kitten, I quietly enjoy the stroking of my father’s hand on my head in comfort, as I listen to the scolding meted out on poor Marita. It turns out that she actually has a bad cough, whose unexpected sound in the dark played on my wild and active imagination. Marita boldly stretches out her hand and presents my father with a dirty green glass bottle, for ‘her’ kerosene. Daddy leads me into the house, his reassuring hand on my shoulder. Marita is given some kerosene and admonished not to make a repeat of the night visit. We have both received a scolding, and if Marita has not learnt her lesson, at least I have.
We did not talk about the incident again that night, and only laughed about it much, much, later. But I learnt my lesson, and till today, I must first establish my facts before I react – is it a lion, a leopard, or a mere domestic cat?
© Alexandra Kukunda 2015