It was a sullen night, different from all other nights. And Sylvia felt it. She lay inside her hut, trying to fall asleep but she couldn’t. She felt all sorts of pain in her lower abdomen: Scratches, kicks, pricks and punches. It was not the first time that she was feeling this – she had felt it before giving birth to her now sixteen-year old son, Ogwang. She was sweating profusely when she yelled out. Ogwang was sleeping in the next hut and was the first person to hear his mother’s cries. He came in hurrying and pushed the door open to meet the groaning sight of his mother. “Call me someone! Acaye. Acaye, where is Acaye? Acaye...” Tossing and turning where she lay on the mat, she cried out repeatedly calling the name of her husband, as though she were reciting a lyric. Her son got out and rushed to his father’s hut a few metres away. Acaye, a man of four wives had decided to erect his hut in the middle of the homestead, surrounded by his wives’ small huts. He had given his wives caution, not to bump into his ‘bungalow’ unless called upon and the women always kept their distance from the central hut, always waiting to be summoned on by their husband.
“Is anything wrong?” Adong asked from inside the hut, in response to the familiar voice that called out through the door, panting.
“Mother…mother wants him” Ogwang responded to his mothers’ marital bed-rival as the door opened for him. Adong lit a candle that aided Ogwang’s vision and the figure that lay next to the water pot was no doubt his father’s. “Mother wants him.” He emphasized, pointing at his father.
“I suppose it is time up. Yes, I think the time has come. Acaye – Acaye has let us down! This is not the time for him to have drunk his head off.” Adong said as she looked at her husband who lay down unconscious. He had dragged himself home in the coldness of the night and had lost all his strength at the door way. Adong had to pull him into the hut like a heavy sack. In his drunken state he had forgotten about the restrictive camp curfews about wandering at night, and risked his life staggering himself back home from the drinking venue. “What can I do?” she asked in a confusion that struck Ogwang as well and he wondered what to do. “Acaye this is it: you despised my plea for you to dessert liquor. You beat up every wife who cautioned you to stop alcoholism. And alcohol became your companion. We concluded amongst ourselves that you were bewitched. Right now Sylvia is in need of you and it is the time you are supposed to be most sober” She knelt down beside him feeling angry, while Ogwang left the hut to go back to his mother and a silence invaded the hut for some moments as Sylvia was silent a while. “How am I going to help Sylvia?” Adong suddenly stood up sounding rhetorical and erased the silence. “Did you think I can ride to the hospital?” She rebuked her unconscious husband before she rushed out towards Sylvia’s hut where she found Ogwang inside, looking helplessly as his mother rolled on the floor like a snake hit on the head.
“You will be fine” Adong said soothingly as she knelt down and gently touched Sylvia’s abdomen as she asked, “How do you feel?”
“My abdomen is getting torn. Pain! Torment! Pain – suffering! Where is Acaye?” Sylvia screamed still writhing on the floor as she held her stomach.
Adong realized the confidence women derived from a man’s presence. Sylvia, her co-wife felt she needed him. When she asked of him for the second time, Adong looked in a different direction and gestured to Ogwang that they move out.
“Ogwang I don’t know how to ride a bicycle. But your father’s bicycle is okay. Can you manage to carry your mother on it?” she asked once they were outside.
He thought of the darkness, of the soldiers who guarded their internally displaced people’s camp and then of his several other fears but; his mother’s sharp wailing melted all those away.
“Yes” he answered firmly as they stood in the night amidst the cold blowing breeze.
“This is urgent. You will have to ride on without fear of darkness up to Kwoo Ber clinic. I am going to follow you together with some women. I only need to wake them up.” She said as they stepped inside to begin to arrange the trip to the hospital. The road that led there was flat with no slope and it was no doubt the ride would be easy. A lantern lamp would stay lit hanging from the bicycle handles to show the way as well as to alert the soldiers that it was an emergency. The pair rummaged through the hut looking for a lantern, stopping with anxious hearts each time Sylvia yelled, as all the noises from the hut disturbed several neighbours in their sleep. Some of the neighbouring women had come out concerned about their colleague.
“You will feel okay” one of them said as though imitating Adong.
“So take her to Kwoo Ber clinic.” Adong finally spoke up to give the parting shot in a tone of reassurance, “there she will be handled quickly and with care.”
Together with the neighbour women, Adong helped Sylvia onto the bicycle, with Ogwang’s legs set astride to attain balance and the bicycle frame between his legs. The women promised to follow immediately on foot to the clinic, that was two kilometers or so, from the camp.
Ogwang set off to a shaky start on the bicycle, swinging from left to right with his pregnant mother on the carrier, as the women’s hearts pounded, before he finally got his balance. They watched the light of the lantern get steadily swallowed up in the wide darkness until it finally disappeared when Ogwang was done with the first corner. He knew the road so well that he did not hit into any of its many potholes. And though his mother seemed to be badly off, he was glad that he was about to reach the clinic where he could relax, well knowing his mother would be in safe hands. He wondered if he would find anyone awake there to help with getting his mother off the bicycle and take her in. That task remained a great worry for him. He rode on and stayed focused on the road ahead despite the darkness.
Adong and two other women disturbed several huts with the noise they made before they were able to get a second lantern that they would use for their journey to the clinic. They walked in silence, each wishing that their feet could carry them faster. A sea-darkness loomed from all sides, too large and too thick for the little lantern that appeared like a dotted star in the far sky to possibly dispel. They walked on in silence, the only noise that could be heard being the creaky sounds from the joints of the lantern’s handle and the grainy sounds of their bare feet against the moist ground, and the weather terribly cold at this time compared to the day’s heat. None of them would have moved in such a night, but the necessity of it and the company of every individual brought forth such brevity in them, that they dared the darkness. Everyone was occupied by their own thoughts as they trekked on.
“Huu – huu! Huu – huu!” They heard the frightening hoot of an owl. They stopped their movements in response to the Acoli belief, that an owl’s hooting was a bad omen.
“Let us go back” One woman said with resolve. “We cannot continue.”
“No. It means nothing at all. An owl is just a bird. It is not a spirit. Let’s move on”, replied Adong, sounding determined.
“We never proceed with a journey when an owl hoots by night, or when a monkey crosses one’s pathway by day.” Another woman added in support of the first. “Has anyone ever done it?” The question fell for Adong.
“Huu – huu! Huu – huu!” An intensified hooting went on accompanied by the coincidental blowing of the night’s wind. Trees yelled to the wind that tormented their branches and the grasses bent low to give the ladies an embrace of the cold breeze. They turned back in panic, with Adong left alone in brief contemplation on whether to move on or not. She turned due to fear and rushed back with the rest. The harsh wind blew off the lantern and they were left to the mercy of the Lord of Darkness, as they dashed home forgetting all about Sylvia.
Ogwang rode on; with his uncomfortable mother at the back. Her writhing and jerking from the back of the bicycle made him lose balance. He tried to stablise the bicycle on the bumpy road but the front tyre was beyond his control as it slid through the sandy roadside. Ogwang found himself horizontal but luckily, the lantern had not gone off. His right hand had lost strength because of the twitch the handle had given him. He grabbed the lamp to rush and look for his mother who had fallen off a few meters away. Her yelling was no more and Ogwang resisted the thought of her being dead. In his search for her, Ogwang almost stepped on his mother, who lay facing the galaxy. She lay there panting and heaving heavily. Her left ear gave way to a trail of blood oozing out.
“Ppuull out my dress. Pull off, Pull up to here!” She yelled in her helpless posture.
Ogwang felt he could not stand this and desisted from doing so. He could no confront the challenge before him, to see to it that he helps his mother deliver.
“Ma..ma,” he stammered in total confusion. He could definitely be of no help, he felt. There was no way he was going to pull his mothers dress off, to see her naked.
She panted and heaved on heavily and gave a loud scream that left Ogwang terrified. Blood jetted out from between her legs and changed the lantern’s glass with trails of red colour as the lantern in turn, gave fumes in its attempt to dry off the liquidated alien.
Ogwang wondered what would follow next, before he saw a small human head coming out between her mother’s legs as she, in her screams, endeavored to pull back the dress herself. He was tempted to pull out the baby but failed. Soon the baby lay just between his mother’s legs in a pool of blood and Ogwang tried to carry it away, before he realized there was a stringy attachment between the baby and the mother. He was sweating amidst the coldness of the night, lost in his trauma and always wondering what next. His mother’s voice was lowering down to a groan.
He carried the lantern to face his mother. She was staring into space, without a blink, with her teeth giving way to her thin delicate tongue that was slightly out, exposed to the coldness.
“Ma..ma…MAMA!” Ogwang called out inconsiderate of the night he had feared so much before.
“Hmm! Hmm! HMM!” the sound came from his mother, without her tongue shifting direction. Ogwang got hold of her hand which was too cold for him to hold longer. She lay still and lost her breath. No more sound did Ogwang hear from his mother in the heart of that darkness.
He rushed to check on the baby and in that dash-out, the lamp went off. He felt for the newborn with his hand, feeling the thickness of blood that had settled on the ground.
The object in his hand, as he knelt on the ground carrying it, was still and stiff. It gave no indication of life, for there was not a cry, not a breathe. He lived alone in this total darkness and cried endlessly wondering when daylight would ever come for him to share his agony with other homo sapiens.