Okuku is repairing a fishing net that is spread across the grass outside his house. He removes twigs and sea plants that are entangled in it and sews gaping holes in the net.
Five boys, aged between five and eight are watching him while playing nearby. One is holding the thread for Okuku. He dwarfs them like a colossus.
“Hey! Watch the goats lest they stray into the garden.” The boy holding the thread tells the other boys.
He looks at Okuku for support as the other boys ignore him and refuse to comply. But Okuku goes on working on the net, his eyes and muscular hands move quickly in concert. His muscular arms move like a machine, flinging debris and mending tears. He removes a small eel from the net and flings it away.
“A snake! A snake!” The boys shriek and jump in mock terror. Okuku’s eyes shift to them momentarily. He doesn’t shift his bulk as they run to hide behind his tree-trunk legs, away from the eel.
“It is not a not a snake. It is an eel.” Okuku says without pausing.
“Okuku, is it true that there are big snakes in the lake?” the boy holding the thread asks, squinting up at Okuku.
“No, they are few and are harmless if you do not provoke them.” Okuku says reassuringly.
“Is it true that when snakes bite someone in the lake, the victim grows scales?” another boy asks.
Okuku pauses and faces them. “Snakes avoid biting people and only do so in defense or if they are sent by a charmer to attack someone.”
“A snake charmer?” They chorus.
“A snake charmer must wear a necklace of the snakes’ skin to keep the snake under his spell.”
He sticks the threading needle on a float and picks a tendril which he wraps round his neck to illustrate the way a wizard wears the snakeskin. They look at him incredulously as if the tendril were an actual snake.
“Like this.” He explains. He notices that they have stepped back and beckons them to come closer. They warily approach him, their eyes fixed on the tendril round his neck as if it can turn to a snake anytime.
“Even when charmed, snakes avoid people unless the charms are very strong because the human psyche is too heavy for a snake and crushes a snake when it kills a human being.
This nature’s way of preserving order because a man is greater than a snake.” He says, looking into their enchanted eyes.
“And what if it bites someone – what does it do?” One of the boys ventures. Okuku lowers his voice to a whisper.
“To free itself from the weight of her victim’s psyche, the punishment for violating the order in nature, the snake has to lick the grave of her victim. It comes in the cover of darkness at night because it is weak and cannot move fast and only regains its strength and freedom after licking the grave.”
Okuku moves his hands in a snake-like motion to add drama to the narration and sticks his tongue out. He moves his eyes left and right to indicate that the snake he is portraying ensures that it is not detected.
At this point they are paying rapt attention, their boyish imaginations captured by the prospect of the snake slithering in the dark.
Okuku suddenly lurches his snaking hand at them.
The startled boys fall down in mock horror and frantically evade Okuku’s hand as if it were an actual snake. Then they all laugh.
Okuku looks up at the gathering clouds and looks at the direction of the path to the lake. His brows furrow in concern at Ochieng’s absence as he gathers the mended net and flings it over his shoulder. He strides purposefully toward the house as the boys roll over the grass playfully.
To Be Continued Soon...