We ran for cover. No one checked if the other was fine. We knew it was absolutely necessary that we escaped for no one amongst us was prepared for what would happen should they be caught. Although no one had been caught before having done what we had just done, we were fully awake to the drill that happens every time one of us was unfortunate enough to be caught red handed in similar circumstances. Our crimes ranged from letting the animals graze a few metres away from us, to swimming in the same pond that the village drank from to climbing trees, to forgetting to greet a stranger. In our book, the old people could find you guilty of anything they chose. Almost all of us could show scars from being walloped for picking a fight on the way from school, and then yet another scar from having not fought back. We were even afraid to breath when confronted by an unknown adult. Still we ran. Forcing our way through thick “mosu” branches that were fencing off the field to keep away both wild and domesticated animals. We had made a wrong choice and were now dealing head on with the consequences. No one wanted to be caught. Not here. Not today. Not after what we had done. Whenever we felt pangs of hunger on our way from the 16 kilometre walk from school, we had taken to mischievously raid a nearby field for water melons. We left behind a trial of destruction for in our haste we would pick even those water melons that were far from ripe. We had no time to conduct the ripeness test on the water melons. Who would be caught still tapping the water melon with their finger and then depending on the sound it made declaring it fit for consumption? Time was of essence. The test could wait. We had to move in and out with lightning speed. In fact, we have been doing so well for a couple of months until today! We ran for our lives literally depended on it. Thousands thoughts went through my mind as I ran. Who had rattled on us? Where did we go wrong? Our plan was fool proof or so we thought until today. We never raided the same field twice, at least not in one week. We spent days checking, scouting before we struck. How could this man have waited for us at the very spot where we had planned our entry? Now we were running for dear life without having taken even a single water melon! Clearly there was a mole amongst us, but who? My thoughts were interrupted by a shrieking sound. More screaming ensued as the crack of the ‘mophane’ whip could be heard piercing through the tiny body. One of us was caught. It was game over. There was no need to keep running. Within seconds we had regrouped and were hurriedly walking towards the captured fellow to hand ourselves over. We found a huge man with armpits that smelt so bad we almost choked still walloping our dear friend. We took the beating like the men we were. He had demanded we take off our shirts and lie on our bellies, all six of us. Though no one amongst us knew him, he knew us all. He knew our parents, our siblings, our uncles. He knew us by name. As the beating progressed I knew it was a matter of time before I betrayed my fellow detainees. For, as we handed ourselves we swore never to give the cruel man the pleasure of hearing us cry, unlike the weak Kashwada who screamed like a girl! As the pain became unbearable, I suddenly stood up and attempted to run, but the man with the smelling arm pits tripped me before unleashing yet another whip that caught me right across the face.
Hours later, bruised and bleeding we sat under a tree and wondered in silence. The man with the smelling armpits had after hours of beating us given us the very same water melons we were trying to steal! We had not touched a single one of them. How could he chase us for hours, torture us with beatings and his smelling armpits then give us the water melons? We were no longer hungry. We were worried about two things. The first one being how we got caught and the second most-scary being the thorough beating that awaited each one of us once we reach home. We broke open the watermelons, peed on them and left. Our pre-raid test had never failed us before. We avoided it like a leper, fields whose owners were known purveyors of witchcraft. This intelligence We gathered this intelligence through eavesdropping on elders. Elders never lie. That we knew for a fact. We knew which fields were allegedly protected by mysterious creatures that rendered intruders motionless until the owner of the field arrived. Though we did not know the size shape or form these creatures took, we knew who was rumored to have such and the man with smelling armpits wasn’t one of them. One field was said to be protected by a huge snake with a beard that also spoke with a tiny voice. It is said that one of the most popular mad men in the village had in his youthful innocence found himself in that field. As he was preparing to leave he was confronted by the said snake which smiled at him and politely asked him to return the watermelon to the exact spot where he had picked it. The boy lost his mind the same day. Now a grey haired man, he walks along the road the whole day wearing a heavy coat whether it is scorching hot or freezing cold. He also lost his speech except for one word – Legambezana! No one knows what the word means. He smiles as he says the word. Those in the know say it is the name of the snake! We therefore knew that such a field was an absolute no go area. The impromptu meeting resolved that we would lie low for a while until the fiasco with the man with the smelling armpits was forgotten. It was also resolved that we shall continue in our mission to delay arriving home early as this made us vulnerable to chronic abuse at the hands of the old people. As soon as one arrived home they were sent to all sorts of errands ranging from having to go and ask for salt from the neighbours, to making tea and eventually to taking over looking after goats. We held tight as the animals galloped leaving a canopy of dust behind us. We have been doing this for weeks now and it was show time. The six of us were now expert riders and we had given them our own fancy names. It had taken weeks of hard work and a couple days of missing school. We knew Friday was the perfect day to show our skills. The cheering was deafening as our peers looked on and turned green with envy. Just when we were about to reach the end of the race, the animals went berserk. They jumped so high kicking wide their rear legs and scattering us all over the place. In the confusion that followed they stamped on two us, breaking our tiny arms instantly. One fellow was kicked right on the knee dislocating it twice. I dragged myself to safety as the animals continued their rampage. As the dust settled and the place went eerily quiet we could not believe our eyes. The man with the smelling armpits stood there akimbo. The donkeys we have been riding were his. We took our beating and left, for we were boys and boys did not cry.