Dead dried up purple flowers were spread all over the compound. No more were falling, the tree was completely bare. The old man sat beneath the jacaranda tree, looking for what shade that could be found underneath the branches from the scorching sun. It’s likely that he didn’t know where he was. His only company was worry, a tangible thing that sat on his chest and sucked away all his air.
Like a madman, his fingers were twirling a coin round and round, round and round. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast. He could hear Kamaru and the other children playing near the granary, a game that on any other day he would have encouraged and even joined, but today the thoughts in his mind held him down like a sack of potatoes.
His granddaughter came out of the house carrying a cup of watery porridge and set it at his feet. Even though he averted his eyes, he knew in his mind how her bones showed through her skin, how hollowed out her cheeks now appeared, how dry her lips now were and how she looked like she could be blown away by a gust of wind. It pained him.
The rains had failed again. Prayers to the deities had gone unanswered. The face of luck was turned away from them. Food supplies were dwindling and watering holes were drying up. Like him, no one knew what to do about this situation.
Scouts had been sent out far and wide to look for a way out. It was not looking good. Madeze’s son, the latest scout, had been gone for two weeks. Madeze didn’t speak much these days, the former storyteller of the village now reduced to mumbling the same thing over and over. He knew, even without being told, that his son was no longer of this world. He felt it deep inside, as only a parent could feel, the snap as the rope connecting their life force was ruthlessly cut. The light had gone out of his eyes a long time ago. It wasn’t just the drought that made his body gaunt and his eyes dead. He no longer had anything to live for.
The old man shifted on his stool. So much had gone wrong over such a short period of time, and it was only likely to get worse. He couldn’t remember the last time he had something solid to eat, but it wouldn’t have mattered much if he were alone. After all, he’d been eating all his life, and old men like him didn’t need much sustenance. He would be fine, yes, but that was a hollow victory. He had to think of Kamaru, who at nine was an innocent too young to understand anything about life’s struggles; what a drought meant for their family. As long as he got to play with his friends, like he did now, and come home to a plate of food, his little world revolved in the right direction. He had to think of Nalia, at fourteen still too young and fragile to have the weight of the world thrust upon her shoulders. Already she knew that the food they had would only last three days, a fact he’d failed to hide from her, and now he could see she was eating even less in a vain attempt to make it last. It broke his heart.
He desperately wished he could turn back the clock. Maybe things would have worked out differently if their mother were alive. He wished he had a way to dig them out of this hole they found themselves in. He didn’t have many earthly possessions, but he would gladly sell them all if the children, the light of his life, never had to go hungry again. Just then the rays of the sun shone upon the coin in his hand and made it sparkle, and just like that a plan began to take shape.
Silver it was, with the engraving of a phoenix on one side, and a single feather on the other. It was said to bring luck upon anyone who took ownership over it. Mzee wasn’t much of a believer of luck – hard work and reaping from it was all he knew – and yet…. Didn’t he have it in his pocket when he’d gone to ask for the village beauty’s hand in marriage, even while knowing she had rejected all the young men in the village?
He could sell it, but money couldn’t be eaten. He couldn’t even say that he would buy food with it as none of them had the strength to walk at least a day’s journey away for it. Thankfully, they wouldn’t have to go far. He knew the one person who could help them right here in the village.
Roiyo was the village chief. He was a big, round man, with a honeyed tongue that could convince a cheetah to change its spots and grant him use of them. Rumor had it that he was the cousin to a big time politician in the city. Several times a year, a convoy of big cars could be seen heading to his compound, trailed by a large cloud of dust and exhaust fumes. One time a helicopter had landed on the children’s field and the occupants driven to Roiyo’s house, sending tongues wagging.
It was like scarcity never hit Roiyo’s house. In fact, he’d never looked better. It was said that food was delivered to him directly from the city every week. He’d taken to selling miniscule portions of food at very exorbitant prices, causing many people to sell or barter their possessions to him to sleep partially full. Roiyo was a good man, most of the time. His major flaw was that he liked things. Many things. Shiny things. He like to flaunt his old gold watch, using any opportunity to ‘look at the time’ while angling it towards the sun to make it sparkle. He would love the coin, how it shone in every light. Maybe that would get them enough food for a month, after which only the deity knew.
*Originally posted in STORYMOJA