Theresa Takafuma’s story continues
All my life I had known homelessness as a problem to those in urban setups. I had seen some mentally-challenged people in the rural areas roaming the fields as I grew up but they were not totally of no fixed abode.
From time to time they would be seen returning home for a meal, after which they would go back to the hills—it was not a surprise to find such people claiming the hills to be their territory.
Back to my heartbreaking encounter with Charles and Talib, I kept thinking about them that night. As fate would have it, there was a storm later that night and I could not bring myself to catch a wink until my body finally gave in to the weariness of climbing the hill.
At one point I regretted ever meeting them because I could not do anything to help their situation.
As I fetched water at the community borehole the next morning, I eavesdropped on a conversation of two familiar elderly women, one of whom was a distant relative of my mother’s.
“Those thieving kids must be reported to the neighbourhood police. You should see what they did in my garden. They destroyed the unripe mealies I planted with those government seed. If I see them I am going to beat the stealing demons out of them,” fumed one of the women.
“No vatete (aunt), you should lace the mealies with poison. That’s the only way you can get rid of them,” our “relative” replied.
I got closer and greeted them, after which I told them about my encounter with two boys in the hill. They admitted that of course they knew them and were just talking about them.
There was so much hate in the women’s tone as they described the kids as possessed and that they must be taken to the neighbourhood watch police and be thoroughly beaten.
My attempt to explain the boys’ fate as sheer child negligence was met with so much venom, as the women even tried to use me (and my phone of course) to lure the kids into the village so that they will be caught and disciplined.
For the next few days I continued to hear about Charles and Talib, but for all the wrong reasons—some were saying the two boys had been possessed by their father’s spirit, while others said either their mother or their grandmother was supposed to confess so that the kids would be freed of the demon that possessed them.
After about a week, I took a walk along the stream adjacent to the hill where I had met the two boys and as I went down, towards the foot of the hill, I saw them again. This time they were fetching water using old two-litre plastic containers.
When they saw me they made no effort to run away as I walked towards them. Their courage though was intimidating because I was not sure whether or not they could attack me like they had done the first time we met.
The mere fact that such little boys had turned out to be a threat to my safety made me shudder—fate had dealt harshly with them and whether or not they stole from the community’s gardens, they were now common enemies whose heads many wanted on a platter.
We sat on the grass near the thicket at the foot of the hill talking about the last time we had met and, when I asked Charles why they had fled when I mentioned taking them home, he accused me of having been sent by Mbuya Mai Sarah to catch them.
I felt a little guilty because I was trapped between a rock and a hard surface—talking them into going home or telling them what they were in for if they would decide to go home considering the conversations I had heard about them earlier.
The former was a better option, and luckily this time the resistance was not as strong as on out first encounter— this time they simply told me that they would not go back home and after some convincing they promised sneak in at Mbuya Chipara’s in the evening.
I told them that good children do not steal at which they insisted that they do not steal, they take. I told them everyone in the village had poisoned their garden and they could die if they “take” poisoned food which might have changed their minds.
We parted ways after I had realized that I had come to the end of my wits and there wasn’t much more I could do.
I later heard they were forced to go back to their maternal grandmother’s home after being located in the hill by a hunter.
I also heard they were once taken to the neighbourhood watch base at Man’a Business Centre where they were beaten and were made to swear that they were never going to steal again.
Almost everyone who knows them however agrees that they only stole food, which can be a direct result of hunger since no one really cares.
A friend of my mother, who at one point was Charles’ Grade One teacher, constantly gives me updates about them, and I heard they had been separated — Talib now lives with some relatives from his father’s family while Charles has remained at Mbuya Mai Sarah’s place.
I last saw Charles on my recent visit and suddenly after seeing me he vanished into the bushes and I could not figure where and why he had fled from me. Perhaps he thinks I am to blame for whatever they went through after we met.
Maybe one day I will see them again and we will sit down on the grass, or on the boulders in Sahanga Hill and talk about the horror of being fugitives at such an age. Perhaps one day they will tell me about their true feelings. I just wish I could know more, and I pray that day comes soon.