SHORT STORY: When forewarned be forearmed

Tuesday November 30 2021

Even as she looked up to where the arrow had come from, another was sailing through the air, burying itself snugly in her chest. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


Read Part I: Caught between life and death


Bound and gagged inside a spacious tent dimly lit by tens of candle stubs that were dripping yellow fragrant wax, Pepo lay on a dirt floor in despair and stared up at a tall man who stood menacingly over her.

Banished from her tribe for speaking out against the elders who’d sold her tribe's fertile lands along a river to strange men who wanted to dig up pebbles, grains and dust particles of yellow earth they reverently called ‘gold’, Pepo left; wandering half starved for days until she’d found herself here.

And now, all her hope had turned sour like the tangy porridge her mother would sweeten with honey and spices… Pepo choked back a sob, she had to speak up against what was happening, after the famine took her mother, she had to speak up…

“You have a choice, leave or die,” the tall man, Jora, muttered harshly under his breath, before storming out of his tent. He had his people to deal with, with their questions about who this strange woman was, and what she’d meant about warning them.


Writhing into a more comfortable position, Pepo drew ragged breaths through the leather gag that was biting at the corners of her mouth. What would happen now? Should she leave? But where would she go? As far as she’d heard, this was the closest tribe to hers, and it had taken her far too long to find them, so what were her chances back out in the wild?

Hyperventilating from panic, fear and a torrent of unfiltered thoughts raging through her mind, Pepo pulled herself up to a seating position and leant forward to retch when her eye fell on a rough bench in a corner of the tent, spread with half-finished weapons and tools.

Her mother’s voice wafted into her ear and cut through all the noise inside her, ''I named you for the wind Pepo.You can’t stop it flowing, it goes where it goes, how it goes.''

A surge of fierce defiance flowed through her, she would not be cowed. Shuffling awkwardly in the powdery dust of the dirt floor, Pepo made her way slowly to it, angled herself backwards so she could pick up a sharp, as yet unattached arrow head and begun clumsily sawing at the scratchy rope that bound her hands.

Outside in the hot sunshine, the village was bustling. Jora stood under the shade of a short pawpaw tree, fanning himself with a leaf and watching his people work. Great prosperity had visited his village since the strange men seeking the yellow earth had arrived, and besides, he’d not given them all their agricultural land, just a few lengths along the river…well, more than a few, but that didn’t have anything to do with its recent dwindling levels, no, he shook his head as if to dislodge the thought, it was just the usual seasonal ebb.

Now Pepo had come to spoil everything, but he’d not let her. His fists closed and he flexed his fingers. Time was up, she ought to have made her decision and he hoped she’d chosen to leave. Moving abruptly, Jora started towards his tent but he’d taken only a few paces when Pepo burst from the dimly lit structure, streaming past him like the wind.

“Listen to me!” she screamed as she ran, “I have come to warn you!” maybe if the people heard her, they would protect her from Jora.

The village baker, elbow deep in soft mushy cream coloured dough, looked up in shock at the commotion, knocking over a bowl of flour that sent a cloud of white powder into the air, leaving her and her scrawny assistant in choking fits.

“Listen! Do not sell your land to the diggers of the yellow earth,” she paused for a breath, still dashing madly through the village.

The blacksmith, bent over his forge in complete concentration, started at the noise and jerked his arm, sending a tiny drop of molten metal flying. It landed on his thick hairy bare calf and he howled in pain as Pepo streaked by.

“You cannot eat what they are trading you,” Pepo slowed her pace as a crowd begun to form, “You must not…”

Pepo’s words froze on her tongue. Her eyes opened wide and she gasped in surprise. Staggering back a few feet, she stared down unbelievingly at the shaft of an arrow sticking out from her torso. Even as she looked up to where the arrow had come from, another was sailing through the air, burying itself snugly in her chest. She grunted softly, sagging slowly, a puppet with its strings cut off, and collapsed quietly on the ground. The villagers turned in unison to where the arrows had originated, seeing their chief standing somberly with a bow held laxly by his side.

“She was a spy,” his voice held no remorse, “The other tribes have heard of our luck and they mean to thwart our rise,” he gently lowered his bow to the ground and spread his hands, “I have led you well, no?” his voice held a challenge, a threat, “You’re all getting rich, yes?”

As he spoke, the people became more and more convinced, and those more discerning averted their minds from the obviously dwindling river, its flow lessening subtly like the red trickles of blood that ran in tiny rivulets and mingled with the dust at their feet.