No one knew exactly from whence he hailed. There were several versions of how he ended up at Tot market, each story more incredulous than the next. It was claimed that once, he had been a very rich business man from the fertile highlands of Mosop who made his fortune selling potatoes to the people of Keu and Kolowa at Tot Market. He would make trips twice a week, accompanied by one handyman and ten donkeys laden with heavy sacks of potatoes that were almost bursting at their seams. After selling all his potatoes, he would spend the night and return home the following day.
One day, he finished his stock even before the sun reached the centre of the sky and decides to make the journey back. The donkeys were weary and hence trudged on slowly. Darkness fell before they could cross the dreaded Embolot river. Those who come from the area know why Embolot was feared as thus. It was the largest home of Ilot, the water spirits. Now after 6pm, if ever you wanted to cross Embolot, you had to carry some kipketin (a sacred liquor made from fermented honey with water), a tiny branch from a rare tree and a food gift for the Ilot’s children. You would the gourd of liquor by the bank or pour it into the river; then you would throw in the branch and gift and shout a request for the Ilot to allow you to pass, citing your various reasons for being late before crossing the river. If the Ilot found your reason genuine, they would let you cross without a hitch. If however you lied, or were a dishonest man, chances were that you would drown, even in the shallow waters. The Ilot would however not condone any person who came by empty handed and would either drown you if they were not in a good mood, or whip you the entire journey until you reached the boundaries of your village. Everyone who saw a water spirit became deaf and dumb or mad. This was the fate that befell Solwo, the potato seller. He had not anticipated arriving at Embolot after sun went to its second wife’s house in the West and hence, naturally, had not carried any of the items. The Ilot took his donkey and handyman as vengeance for his daring to crisscross their home after dark. They then proceeded to escort him all the way home with whips, slaps and kicks. Since then, the man lost his mind and had never uttered a word.
Another very popular version claimed that Solwo was once a petty thief. He would steal everything and anything from everyone and anyone. Cows, cattle , chicken, goats, sheep and animal skins topped his list. He would then sell his loot at the markets in far-off villages. That way, no one could suspect him. His thievery flourished and enriched him until he made the mistake of stealing a black sheep from an old woman who was rumoured to be a witch. The woman cursed the person who had stolen her beloved sheep with madness and hence the predicament that befell Solwo.
Others yet, held that Solwo was a perfectly normal man up until his second wife sought to use the “tuliza” love portion from a powerful witch doctor on him so that he could love her more. She however failed to give him the dosage correctly and the potent medicine drove him mad. This version was mostly spread by first wives to discourage their husbands from polygamy.
The village elders blamed Solwo’s madness on breaking of a sacred blood oath he once took. All the young men from the tribe, during circumcision, took an oath to protect their villages against the rustlers from Pokot. A man was not allowed to showcase any form of cowardice. During one of the raids, Solwo was captured and the Pokot warriors gave him two options; either he shows them where the villagers were hiding their cattle, women and children or he loses his head. He chose the cowardly path and chose to save his own head. The ancestral sprits were vexed by this treason and jumbled up his senses. They seized his tongue so that he would never speak again.
Mothers warned their sons not to engage in “kukunywa bangi” because apparently, the shrub, which was heavily frowned upon in the area, was the reason why Solwo lost his mind.
Many were the tales of how the mad man came into being. It was impossible to discern which were true and which were concoctions of a fertile imagination.
Solwo sat, almost immobile, on a pile of rotting garbage at the corner of the market. The flies, not distinguishing the dirt from the human, swarmed on and around him. Some made for his ears, eyes and nostrils. He sat still, not the least bothered by their shenanigans. His scruffy beard and Rastafarian hair made him look like an ancient caveman. His body was covered in layers of greasy tshirts, coats and old trousers which the market women who sold mtumba had donated to him. On the right foot, he wore a greenish Bata slipper and on the left, a discoloured Umoja sandal. One could easily confuse his toe and finger nails with the grime filled talons of a vulture. He looked like a man who had not touched any water in half a decade.
It was almost mid-day and the sun was unbearably hot. With each passing minute, the heat seemed to go a degree higher. As the heat intensified, the stench from the rubbish pile worsened. The flies became more restless; as if on cue, they started buzzing around in a dizzying frenzy. Solwo wiped sweat off his brow with the back of his hand. He was famished. The last thing he had eaten were the overripe pawpaws from Mama Toek’s stall. She always saved all the fruit that was smashed during transportation or those that were too ripe for him. Sometimes she would bring him cooked food wrapped in a big black paper bag from her house. He did not know what he had done to deserve such kindness from a stranger. All in all, he was grateful.
The heat intensified. His head was spinning around in concentric circles making him feel faint. He could no longer stand it. He rose to his feet and made for the large acacia tree across the dumpsite. The shade was decent. He fished out a crumpled newspaper from deep in his coat. Inside was a bunch of tobacco leaves. He crushed the leaves between his palms, tore off a piece of newspaper from the crumble and proceeded to roll a fat ciggy. He again dived into his seemingly humongous coat for a matchbox and mechanically lit his cigarette. After two long drags on it, he felt much better. The nicotine cleared his head but he the aftertaste on his tongue reminded him of his hunger. He scanned the market place to see where his next meal would come from. All he had to do was hover around an eatery or stall, the owners, not wanting to be associated with a mad man would give him some food and chase him away.
With the cigarette done, he headed to the stall that specialized in boiled goat head with ugali. He had not eaten meat in a long time. He stood at the entrance and stared at the stout woman that ran the joint with sad eyes.
“Solwo, what has your madness brought you here for? Eh?”
He continued staring at the woman, then glanced over at the huge pot of boiling goat-head parts.
“Hunger has brought you, eh? You are lucky today I am in a good mood. Go sit over there. I will bring you something”
Solwo quickly walked to the backyard where she had pointed him to and sat down. A few minutes later, the stout woman came with two plastic plates. One was filled with steaming tongue floating in a creamy broth and the other had a huge chunk of millet ugali. He dove right into the food like starving mongrel.
“Eh, eat slowly now!” The woman admonished. “You want to choke on ugali so that the wretched market women can blame me for killing a mad man? Eh?No you shall not. Not in my stall!”
He slowed down his pace. The woman left him to his meal.
After he was done, he headed off to the tap, rinsed his plate, drank some water and returned the two plates to the woman. You could see the gratitude in his eyes.
“Eh! Sometime I doubt if you are really a mad man! A mad man with manners? Jehova!”
He left the stall. Went back to the acacia tree and lay down. He was feeling drowsy. What with the heavy meal and heat. He fell fast asleep after a few minutes.
In the dream, he was seated on his desk at the Tambach Teachers’ College accounts office. He was wearing his favourite cream shirt, navy blue trousers and polished black shoes. His neat afro gleamed as the rays emanating from the window hit it. He looked ravishing. In fact, it was a known secret that the female trainee teachers constantly pestered him with romantic demands and hence he never lacked someone to warm his bed.
Father Ambroso, the Italian priest who also doubled as his boss, walked over to his desk carrying a file. “Andrew, I need you to analyze these. We shall be going to inspect some land the college wants to purchase in Toror later in the day. Make sure you are done by then”
That afternoon, they drove down to Toror with Father Amboso. Things were going well until a lone cow suddenly appeared on sharp bend. The driver swerved to avoid hitting it, not realizing that there was an unprotected escarpment on the left. The next thing he remembered were loud screams and the car rolling rapidly down the hill. Then there was darkness.
When he woke up, he found himself in a tangle of bushes. There were bruises all over his body. His head felt like lead on his shoulders. He sat up and stared at his surrounding, trying hard to look for anything that seemed familiar. There was none. He stood up, panicking! Where was he?
He tried to scream, but no sound came from his mouth! He tried again. Nothing!
He could hear groans from wild animals coming from the forest and he started running; not knowing exactly where he was going. He ran and ran, got tired, started walking, sat down, slept. His feet were bleeding, he had not noticed that he had no shoes on.
Finally, after 3 long days,he finally saw traces of human existence. He walked over the first hut; children were playing outside. Upon sighting him, they started screaming. “Mad man! Mad man!”
He tried explaining to them that he was not a mad man, but his efforts were futile. He looked down at himself. His clothes were in tatters, his body was filled with sores and wounds. He understood why the children were so terrified.
A group of young men who were passing by came to inspect why the children were screaming. Thinking that the mad man had assaulted the children, they started chasing him. He ran for dear life. The men were fast catching up with him. They had sticks and clubs; he was frightened. He tripped on a stray tree root and fell down. The men rained blows on him. He tried telling them that he was not a mad man, but not a sound left his mouth.
He woke up suddenly. A thin line of cold sweat trickled down his face. He remembered the painful events as if they had just happened the previous day. Ever since, he had been roaming about in market places; common mad man; feeding on the charity of strangers. He could not speak, neither did he have any recollection of his home or how to get back there.
A catholic mission van pulled over near where he was seated. He walked over to it, hoping to get some biscuits, soda or candy from the ever generous white priests and nuns. The window rolled down, the familiar face of a man peeped out of the window.
Could it be??
The man stared back at him in awe.
“Andrew, is it really you? Am I seeing my own things” He was in awe.
The man hurriedly stepped out of the car and rushed to inspect him before embracing him
“Mother of Mercy! We thought you had died. We looked all over for your body but couldn’t find it” The man’s voice was breaking down, he was weeping.
“Come let’s get you back home”