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Freed, but living in chains

In the olden days, weaning a child was not a complex issue. Having stopped breastfeeding, the child would be sent to stay with the aunt, probably to forget the taste of breast milk.

That is how I ended up living with my maternal aunt. Life in the village was generally good. There were no time schedules of when one was supposed to eat, bathe or run into the fields. My mother’s sister was a loving woman, less strict in child upbringing and always jolly.

Her only thorn in the flesh was her brother-in-law! The brother to my aunt’s husband was a pain in the true sense of the word. The land wrangle these brothers were entangled in had raged on for decades.

It was a battle protracted from their youthful days; little did we know that this wrangle would leave the once-united and jolly family divided.

My uncle loved alcohol in the same measure he hated his elder brother. On this fateful day, after a drinking spree at the village joint, he came home with rage. He was swearing that he was blood-thirsty and the smell of his brother’s blood was his only craving.

In his drunken state, he staggered to his brother’s hut swearing and cursing. This was quite unusual because both brothers had never dared cross the invisible boundary that separated the two households. We held our breath as we waited for what would unfold.

Growing up, we had been warned countless times never to indulge in anything that would bring us in contact with our enemies’ family. Accusations and counter attacks about witchcraft, jealous and all sorts of evil are what each family accused the other of.

As children, we helplessly looked on as this became a routine for both families. That evening, the drunken state of my uncle sparked off the fight that had long been brewing.

Not even the World War lords had embraced the battle with such anger and hatred. At the speed of lightening, my uncle’s brother left his hut with a panga. In a twinkling of an eye, my uncle was lying lifeless on the ground, with blood oozing out of his neck.

These blood-thirsty brothers finally ended up in the unthinkable. The wailing and shouting that filled our compound drew hundreds of neighbors. They formed cliques and were talking in low tones.

The murderer had already disappeared in thin air. Realizing that there was hardly any time to waste, the villagers started a search for the slayer.

That was the longest night in my life. I feared and hated in equal measure the place that hitherto had been called home.

For the first time, I regretted why my mother’s only sister had married into such a family. I thought about my cousins; how do you even mention that your father was murdered in cold blood by his own brother?

I wanted to run away and forget all these crazy questions that crowded my mind. After three days and nights of searching, my uncle’s murderer was found in an isolated cave in the outskirts of the neighboring township. The mob battered and left him for dead.

We later learnt that the police operatives in that township took him to hospital and later relocated him to prison. He confessed to having killed his own brother because of a land wrangle.

On learning what had befallen their daughter, my maternal grandparents came and took us back to my mother’s village.

Whatever we could not take with us was set ablaze. The once-lively village, with a cold breeze and happy people everywhere, looked deserted and desolate. That chunk of land that left my aunt’s husband dead looked cursed and barren.

After two decades of imprisonment and his accusers not showing up for the court case, the murderer was pardoned.

When an emissary brought to the village the message of his release, the villagers sent back a reply that the gruesome murder incident was still fresh in their memories. The prisoner has not returned home. Although free, he still lives in chains.

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