By Baba Galleh Jallow
The people of Tonya Kunda were so happy that Degere had changed so much after Alkatan threw him down. Now they knew he would not dare beat anybody up because Alkatan was around. And to their surprise, Degere did not only not try to beat anybody up, he became one of the most peaceful and friendly people in Tonya Kunda. He now wore a permanent smile on his face and did not hesitate to say to anybody, you are a good person. But his sudden friendliness did not endear him to the people of Tonya Kunda; rather, they were happy that they could now ask him in so many ways just who he thought he was! For the transgressions of Degere were just too much!
Now when Degere passed by, people would call out to him and ask when he would next wrestle, adding that they really missed his famous faity style. Degere would always say “ah, now I stopped wrestling. I have left it to the children.” People became so unafraid of Degere that some would come up to him, give him a snappy handshake, and ask if he had seen Alkatan lately. Degere would say, “no, I saw him just yesterday. Or when was it, this morning? A good man.”
And when Degere now passed by the well at which the women did their laundry, the women would stop their work and all stand up to argue loudly as to who was their champion wrestler. Some would loudly say “As for me, Degere is my champion!” and loudly clap their hands and laugh out aloud. Another would say, “Degere? That Degere the old man threw down? Muk! As for me, Alkatan is my champion!” The women would laugh and make loud references to the fact that a scorpion is small but if it stings you! And some would say, “I would rather marry an old man than a young man who could be thrown by an old man!” Degere would walk past, pretending not to hear. Before the Alkatan encounter, Degere would always stop by the well to brag, flirt and have the women tell him which among his victories their favorite was. Was it when he threw Nyambo down? Or did they think it was what he did to Falo of Sembe Kunda village? “Ah,” he would brag, “you all saw what I did to Cheepu! As for Mbahalo, I almost killed him!” Now, he just quietly walked past and the women always repeated their drama whenever Degere passed by.
In the days and weeks following their encounter, Alkatan had a lot of visitors and heard a lot of strange stories about Degere that often made him cry. Everyday people would come around to thank Alkatan for dealing with Degere. “He saw that he had more power than me so he beat me up. I did nothing to him,” many would say. Alkatan would listen in utter amazement as people told of how Degere publicly disgraced them and how they had not been feeling well ever since. The stories unfailingly made Alkatan sad, but they never made him angry, for Alkatan had become incapable of anger. But he was deeply pained to imagine a big and strong man like Degere fiercely pouncing upon an old and frail man, smashing him to the ground and severely beating him up just because he thought they were looking at his wife the other day! Such stories made the tears fall in Alkatan’s heart and made him wish that he was there to deal with Degere. And they made his heart cry not merely because of the absurdity of Degere’s cruelty, but because of the utter helplessness of his innocent victims as Degere unleashed his bulky fury against them. He could never understand the human capacity for cruelty.
Alkatan’s heart cried at the scale of Degere’s unjust behavior against the powerless people of Tonya Kunda. Yes you could beat somebody up if he committed some beatable offence, but you certainly could not beat somebody up just because you thought he was looking at your wife the other day, or because he dared request that you repay his small debt. “He tells you sweet words when he wants to borrow from you,” many villagers had said of Degere. “And if you don’t give him a loan he would say you think he is dishonest and a thief. And he would pounce on you and beat you up. That is why he fell on me and broke my hand. See, it is still swollen and it hurts a lot,” one villager said, showing Alkatan his swollen hand. Alkatan could not hold back his tears, and promised the man he would find a cure for his hand the following day. A woman came who said because she refused to do what he wanted, Degere beat up her sick husband, and he died shortly afterwards and made her a widow. Now she had to feed her three children all by herself. “I said I did not want to play with him and he said did I think my husband was a better man than he. I said no it’s not that; but he said yes it was but he would show me. When my husband came home that day, he told me Degere fell on him and beat him up because I said my husband was better than him.” Alkatan held his mouth and listened and the tears flowed in his heart.
One afternoon a man in tattered clothes came to Alkatan’s hut. His face was wet with tears and he clearly was in great distress. As he entered Alkatan’s hut and sat down, he was wiping his tears and struggling to greet the old man with a shaky voice. Alkatan was hoping to hear another tale of cruelty about Degere, but this man did not speak of Degere. He spoke instead of the Alkalo seizing his only goat. “When Kiyanka’s father died and he became alkalo last year, he immediately said everyone must now give him a goat every year as taxes. His father did not do that but he said he was not his father and that he was now the alkalo. Kiyanka is a rich man. He has three herds of cattle and hundreds of sheep and goats. Last year I gave him my male goat, and this year he forcefully took my female goat which is suckling her kid. My wife is sick and her breasts have no milk, and we use the goat’s milk to feed our daughter, who is only six months old. Now the baby does not have anything to eat and last night she cried till morning because we only had water to give her. So I said let me go to Alkatan and tell him. Probably God will help us though him,” the distraught man told Alkatan.
“So the alkalo has three herds of cattle and hundreds of sheep and goats, yet he took your only goat,” Alkatan said. “Yes,” the man replied. “And each herd has over two hundred cows. But everyone paid a goat last year and this year. I was the last person to pay because I only had one goat and my wife is sick and her breasts have no milk and it was the goat’s milk that we gave our daughter. But yesterday Kiyanka sent his men and they forcefully took my goat away and the baby was hungry and cried all night and we couldn’t sleep. She is till crying at home.”
“Ah,” Alkatan sighed. “I think we should go have a chat with the Alkalo. I think he should return your goat.” With that Alkatan rose and followed the man out of his hut. The two men walked towards the center of Tonya Kunda where the Alkalo’s compound was.