Katongo watched as the sun rose over the horizon illuminating the sky above his village, Mwishi. And it was an exhilarating view from the top of his parents’ thatched roof. And he wondered why he had never thought about going up there before now!
But he was up on the roof because mother had instructed him and his siblings to do so, for a different reason. The rebels had run over the town and were advancing village by village, with theirs being next in line. Father had said the mutineers did horrible things to those they branded ‘enemies’ and he would rather die than see us get conscripted! It was a topsy-turvy war, in which the line between protagonists and antagonists was blurred and roles were frequently interchanged.
Soon the rebels emerged, along with their guns, boots and all. Kicking, butting, and trampling down everything in sight.
Their commander was a short, pot –bellied man, who seemed to be in a foul mood, with a booming voice that sent shivers down the spine and a facial scar that seemed to come alive as he spoke.
“We need more men and supplies and we need them now!” he barked to no one and everyone “Where are the boys and young men?”
Father summoned up the courage and gave a reply.
“The government came here yesterday and picked them all up”
For father’s efforts, he received a blow to the groin with the butt of a gun, which sent him reeling to the ground, writhing in agony.
Katongo looked at the gory spectacle in fear and disbelief, a part of him desiring so much to be at his father’s side, to come to his defence in anyway a fourteen year old could; the other part wanting to scream out in fright.
At that moment, his mother’s voice interrupted his thoughts: ‘Whatever happens, Katongo, you must promise to stay quiet and not cry. Just lie down and wait until it is all over. Then take your siblings and make your way to the World Commission’s headquarters. You will get the help you need there.’
For one thing, Katongo was a bit relieved that his siblings had had their eyes blind-folded, for he could not guarantee that they would comport themselves if they witnessed what was happening!
The voice of the now very irritated rebel commander broke his train of thought:
“Do you think the government cares about you? No, all they want is to ride in big cars and live in mansions in foreign lands. They loot our common till and leave the rest of us to grovel in the left-overs. Since you do not want to cooperate with us, then you will pay the ultimate price” he ended terrifyingly.
Which began what Katongo could only describe as wanton madness, for in full view the rebels commenced a destructive spree; killing some, maiming others as well as having their way, savagely, with the women, both young and old. And for some curious reason, they did not set the houses on fire.
Long after the invaders had departed, leaving in their wake the relics of death and destruction and with the village of Mwisho enveloped in a deafening silence, Katongo could make out the lifeless bodies of his father and others. People, from whom he had learnt valuable lessons while sitting at their feet. He had seen his mother as well the other women become unwilling wives and concubines; their deathly cries of defiance and anguish met with brute force and resistance!
From the roof top, he reached out and felt for his brother and sister; they were still there, frozen by fear but alive. He also reached for and felt the hunting knife that lay hidden in his pocket, whose purpose lay in the stern instructions of mother again : ‘In case you are discovered before everything is over, use this do to yourself and your siblings , what you do to the goats and chickens. Do not hesitate!’ He sighed, as he recollected that the knife was a coming-of- age gift from his father, passed down from several generations.
Katongo then looked up and saw other boys and girls on other roof tops, who had also silently witnessed the carnage. And he knew with a certainty, that they would be newest additions to his family, in rebuilding the ruins of their lives!