(Used by permission from book, Laughter of a Crazy Man)
Korvah yelled at his second wife, “Don’t you ever talk to her like that,” for mocking Savlee, his childless first wife. Lorpu told Savlee any advice from her on childcare was worthless because she had “never laid an egg.”
Savlee felt insecure and worthless, but Korvah supported and respected her. His firm stand ended the open mockery, but she was unsure of his love. Savlee was a beauty once desired by every worthy male in Belleh Country. Her husband, Korvah, was fortunate to have her. She had a ready smile for everyone but showed morose resignation and sadness when alone. She was his first wife and childless, and as it was in those days, he married two other wives. The other wives blessed Korvah with kids, and she saw how proud he was to be a father. Savlee feared Korvah will find some excuse to get rid of her, but he did not. In fact, he strongly reprimanded anyone and give her all the privileges of head wife.
Desperately wanting a child, Savlee tried everything. If someone suggested a fruit or food promoted pregnancy and fertility, she got it and gobbled excessive amounts, sometimes until she developed diarrhea. She visited magicians who gave her an assortment of balms and lotions to rub over every conceivable part of her body. Savlee shuddered, remembering baths taken in water stained with many types of herbs expected to wash away her bad luck and drinking countless potions to make her fertile for a baby. Korvah offered silent support and obediently complied with whatever she asked but did not feel the scorn and reprehension she endured. One of the soothsayers, a friend of her husband, even attempted to seduce her under the guise of helping her to have a child. She concluded, it was ungrateful to complain, blessed as she was in so many ways: unquestionably the most beautiful woman in her clan, the best cook, one of the best weavers and a prize wife since her farm made her husband rich. Years later, when her husband had several kids with two new wives, she stopped trying.
It was an afterthought, when she missed her moon, as the female cycle was called. She quickly discounted that it could mean anything; after all, she was a mature woman. Over several weeks, she noticed nausea but refused to accept it as a sign of anything. It was not until she visited her mother in the nearby village. “Savlee, you look different,” said her mother. “Are you sick, or is something happening?” she continued. Savlee answered readily, “I’m fine.” “When did you last see your moon?” asked Ghanay. “I don’t remember,” Savlee answered. Ghanay was an experienced traditional midwife and in a short time had news for her. The trip home was short; Savlee skipped her way home, and the sun seemed brighter and grass and trees looked greener and full of vitality.
Creation had a new life and nature had a new shade of happiness. Savlee thought it was too good to be true and too early to celebrate and kept quiet until there was no way to hide the pregnancy. Korvah was elated and showed a renewed interest in her. When people commented on her increasing girth, he said, “Old cutlass can still cut down tree.” No one asked if he was referring to Savlee or himself as the old cutlass. Savlee was quiet but ecstatic, with head held high, proud she had silenced her critics.
It was no easy pregnancy, with cramping, back pain, swollen feet, nausea and vomiting until the very end, but she endured with stoic resolve. She continued her daily chores and activities to show strength and never asked for help or complained. She left no stone unturned and followed all the traditional proverbs and advice about pregnancy: “If you eat monkey, your child will look like a monkey; if you eat eggs, the child will learn to steal; if you laugh at a deranged or deformed person, your child will look just like that person; don’t eat chicken foot, or the child will be a nomad.”
Even when sick, she refused help. If she asked assistance, she feared, they would all be saying that she was old and not suited for pregnancy. Savlee daydreamed about the son she hoped for… strong, handsome, proud bearer of his father’s name.
Delivery was an ordeal. The pain was interminable and the hut hot—it smelled like smoked, dried fish. The bed of straw was hard but offered the best comfort she had. Rays of sunlight streaked through the windows and eaves of the house, providing illumination; in the corner, she noted rice, dried meat and other articles on a pallet placed over the fireplace, displaced to accommodate her. Her mother assisted the other women. As was their custom, she did not cry or moan despite the pain and was sure her mother was proud. Savlee was sweating and miserable, but she willed herself to be silent and not complain. She was anxious something could go wrong and some misfortune befall her child. Soon as she delivered the baby, tired as she was, she craned her head to learn it was a boy and alive. “Ma, is he all right?” she asked her mother.
“Everything is right, Savlee,” her mother reassured. The baby was bathed in warm water, greased in palm nut oil, swathed in a soft cotton cloth and then lifted in the four directions of the compass while they incanted thanks to the creator for his coming. According to the custom, friends and relatives would assist her for the first three days, but Savlee kept moving until the helpers realized she did not need any help. She was overprotective of her son, who latched on her breast with such ferocity that she feared he would make sores on her nipples.
One day, while bathing the baby, she noticed fullness of his sac and felt to ascertain if all was fine. She felt three small seeds like testicles, three testicles! She was shocked. Unsure, she checked later that day and started to worry. “Is something wrong with my son,” and, “should I tell his father?” Later, she thought and realized this was her son; her husband had other kids. She would bear the blame if something was wrong. She refused to give others reasons to ridicule her child. She concluded this was something her husband should never know. Korvah would seek answers and help, and soon others would be involved. Savlee became obsessed with protecting the privacy of her son. She allowed no one, not even her mother, to care for him. People noticed and felt that she had been warned by someone of a plot to hurt her child; others said that her husband’s other wives had a secret plan to get at her through her son. Some people even quoted and named a “strong” medicine man or juju man they claimed told her this, for it was the nature of these people to create plausible answers to most riddles. While most kids ran naked around the town, her son had a loin cloth, as early as many could remember. As her son sprouted and grew tall like a palm tree, he looked normal, strong and fine, and she examined to note three testicles, but he was no different from the other kids—maybe more handsome and virile but no different. Korvah, her husband, sensed he had no place in her life with the coming of their son. Savlee was a good wife: she coordinated work in his home, made meals and came over to his hut on her turn; she was distractingly beautiful, focused and driven. Her culinary skills were legendary, and people claimed that even if she boiled water, it was tastier than sauce or soup diligently cooked by most women. His younger wives gained a wealth of knowledge from her. But now, she was a new person; Kollie, her son, was her renewed purpose in life, and in their tribal expression, this boy was the one holding up her sky. Some evenings, Korvah narrated stories of war, trickery, and wisdom; the kids loved it and begged for more evenings to be spent doing this. He took Kollie and his brothers out to his traps and taught them rudimentary trap-building skills but left detailed training to their teachers in the Poro society. While the other boys naturally tagged their father and stayed around his hut in the compound, whether they were called or not, Kollie came only when summoned. Kollie was much older but not a man, since he was not yet been initiated into the Poro society, and his mother still continued to examine him or check if anything had changed in his peculiar anatomy. One day, as everyone gathered in a noisy assembly in the town center, she indicated that he should come after to her hut. He followed, but when she invited him in, he hesitated near the door. She asked to check him, but he shook his head, saying, “Ma, I’m okay.” She paused, thinking a little, and said, all right. His virility was unquestioned, for, as they say, you can tell the tree that will tower over the forest while it’s still a sapling. She saw but ignored telltale signs of women giving him responses and looks reserved for men. Then, she realized, he had outgrown her control and let her fear settle down. Strangely, she realized with certainty, like she could read his mind, that he would leave this little town after his initiation in the Poro society. She loved him beyond reason but accepted it; he needed room to grow, but the separation would hurt. Kollie was everything Savlee prayed for. Handsome to cause women to swoon; tall and strong and so much a man; yet blessed with an innate understanding of women that few men could claim and willing to use it to great advantage. He studied nature and took clues from the animals, watching mating habits, rituals and procedures. Observing the necking habits of rabbits in heat, he took cues and tried it on a few girls in his village and noticed the pleasurable response and worked at perfecting it. After noticing female foxes giving pleasure to males by licking their private areas, he did the same to one of his female partners and noticed how she was cooing for more. The men of his tribe prized themselves as being well endowed, boasting that on the day of creation, God made them first, which explained why they have generous amount of manhood. His greatest talent was probably his soothing words; he had the right word for every situation and the right answer for every question. Kollie was initiated into the Poro society where he learned duties and expectation of adults in his culture. After the ceremony, he settled in the nearby town where his grandmother lived. It boasted a larger population and was important to the region, compared to the village of his birth. His father and some relatives went over and assisted in building his house and set up the beginnings of a compound for his family. Ghanay, his grandmother, noticed a steady stream of women going to see her grandson and worried since they were wives of other men. Worse yet, it appeared he was making no effort to get married. She thought this was temporary, but as months passed, she considered it important that she intervene. When he came over for a meal, she raised the issue. “Kollie, maybe you don’t know, but I sleep with my eyes open,” in essence telling him she was involved in magic, occult arts and witchcraft. “If you continue chasing people women like this, nobody will be able to protect you; you really need to get your own woman and be like everyone else,” she recommended. He murmured, “I agree, Grandma.” The new wife did nothing to curb his appetite and rumors persisted of his numerous conquests. Over time, Kollie added value to greatness, and even before he left his village, he had a reputation and a following. In those days, pleasure and satisfaction of the females were measured by the vigor of sex and how much energy was expelled in the act—in essence, how loudly the mattress creaked or shook. Finesse or techniques to accentuate erotic pleasure were crude and not even considered. There was no tantalizing moment or foreplay; it was straight to the coital act.
With ingenuity and brilliance, Kollie added a new dimension to everything. Some women felt it had something to do with his peculiar anatomy, which could explain virility and vigor but not the pleasure he delivered. Whatever the reason, people overestimate the value and size of hidden treasure with time, and in a few years, rumors slowly became legends. A gossiper recounted that he was so well endowed that a delegation of women demanded and had him place a ring on his phallus to prevent full erection lest he causes damage to some pleasure-seeking woman. The traditional adage proclaimed that men are like pepper, and until they are tasted, you never know their strength; many ladies came seeking a secret tryst but tasted a forbidden fruit and were hooked. He was like honey, and the women chased him, begging to get a taste. Others gossiped that he had a talisman or fetish, and if he wanted a woman, he had only to call her name and blow dust and she would be dreaming of him, or he could touch her with the amulet and she would be under his command. Whether they came out of curiosity, since Kollie was rumored a champion among men, or based on testimony from other adulators, they were not disappointed. He quickly married three wives, but his voracious appetite kept him on the prowl for he was not one to respect the property of others. Kollie was God-sent to the women, anathema to the men. All women were good but other people’s wives were forbidden and definitely better. It seems like every man in the town had accused him at one time or another of chasing their wives. Flomo, the town chief, sensed interactions between Kollie and his wife, Mawu. From furtive glances to them seemingly conspiring to be in proximity at occasions, he was suspicious. He stalked her and asked their kids if she secretly met anyone but got no information. He had seen men of honor disgraced by women with roving eyes and swore it would never happen to him; no woman would make him an object of ridicule. Deep within himself, he realized it was less of disgrace than his love for Mawu. Though not the most beautiful of his three wives, she had an earthliness and animal magnetism that outshined women far more beautiful, something that made a man want to come back.
Philandering men like Flomo always imagine others inflicting on them what they did to others in their heyday when they lose their advantage. His frustration worsened as his tigress realized that her tiger had only growls and roars but no teeth. Suddenly, he was territorial and hated young men doing just what he did at their age.
Tired of the cat-and-mouse game, he confronted Kollie. Eyes squinted, face furrowed and voice muted with restrained anger, he snarled, “Leave my wife alone. I’m not joking. If you continue, she will be the last woman you mess with. Small boys can run but they can’t hide,” he warned. As usual, Kollie apologized and denied any intention. Whether caught, suspected or accused, he never gave up the quest but apologized profusely. In private, he jokingly justified preying on the wives of others, saying he only wanted to “taste something” and was a good man who would never “eat or take the whole meal.” Not long after, Kollie had a secret rendezvous with Mawu, wife of the chief. The tryst was at his farm kitchen, the makeshift structure used for cooking while away working on the ranch, since farms were usually a distance from the town. Mawu was ready; she laughed and joked when he sucked her breast, but since cuddling and touching were not a part of the usual sexual routine, this was her first exposure. “Kollie, are you hungry, or is your wife not feeding you? You’re acting like a hungry baby sucking my breast,” but her voice trailed off and became low moments later as she felt the sensation of pleasure and moaned, “Oh, oh, oh,” and words became imperceptible. Her years of experience were no match for his skills. Until now, she believed she had seen and experienced everything. Next, he started touching her in secret places that no one had touched, and she became transfixed, breathless and catatonic. Then, she yelled in pleasure. Ecstasy at this level was new to her. She trembled; she moaned and lost track of time. After that, she was so tired and had an overpowering somnolence, despite realizing an urgency to leave. This was strange to her; men fall asleep after sex, but never had this happened to her. Mawu woke up realizing that her life could never be the same after her tryst with this young man. As she told her close friend, “From the time I was born, this is the first time man made me enjoy like this” but Mawu was not his first, and he was not any man. A week later, everything went helter-skelter. Kollie’s son, Zankollie, ran to town desperately seeking the medicine man or the chief. Strangely, both had traveled that morning to the nearby town; next, the boy went to see an elderly lady to ask if she could be of any help. His father had been bitten by a black mamba snake. They tied a rope around the limb to prevent spreading of the venom and tried sucking it up and were looking for someone with snake medicine. Soon, a group of villagers ran toward their farm, but no one had any plans or means to help except they believed action was better than doing nothing. As they reached the farm, Kollie lay on a makeshift bench with a tourniquet just below his knee and another at his groin. He moaned that he was feeling sick and vomited. He was given water to drink, and a wet towel was placed on his brow, but in a short time, he started murmuring and died. When they realized he was dead, people started crying. Later, the men placed his body in a hammock and brought it to town. They waited, as was the custom, for the medicine man to come and examine the dead. The town was engulfed in grief; many women were hitting their breasts with open palms and turning them up to the sky, crying; others fell to the floor, refusing to be consoled. For the men, it was different. He was kind and sharing, had the best jokes under the palm wine tree, where the men gathered, but he spared no woman except his sisters. His insatiable appetite had him chasing every woman available and his demise was a relief to some. Like they say, he had drums, but he also enjoyed beating other peoples’ drums. Ironic but true, the chief and the juju man had both confronted him about chasing or having dalliances with their ladies. Ghanay was aghast, looking at her grandson; she had delivered this boy. She remembered the apprehension of her daughter. Ghanay felt an erection in death was the ultimate punishment given to her grandson by a jealous husband. Her grief was overwhelming; she muffled cries, but tears broke through at intervals. “I think something behind this snake bite,” she remarked, questioning if the death of her grandson was natural. “Let’s wait for them to check.” There was a reason for every death: either the ancestors wanted the person, or it was witchcraft. If it was witchcraft, they believed the victim was either bewitched or practiced sorcery and got overpowered by it. The witch doctor or juju man performed a ritual to settle the question. No sooner had the chief and the medicine man returned, they were informed. The medicine man went home and returned wearing his war gown. It was frayed at the sleeves and neck and encrusted with cowrie shells and amulets and a vertical gray-white color pattern. His face was chalked, circled around his eyes, and he walked slowly. Kortomu surveyed the body and went to Kollie’s leg; using a small knife, he cut out the tourniquet. He inspected the snake bite site. “Bring me some water,” he asked, and a wooden bowl filled with water was placed on the floor near the dead man. “Everybody, leave,” he ordered, and the room emptied except for Ghanay, who was the Zoe, the highest-ranking woman in the clan and privileged to remain. He removed the covers to reveal that Kollie had an enormous erection. “Why does he have an erection?” his grandmother asked. The medicine man said, “I saw it once, when a black mamba snake bit a man, many years ago. I think something in the poison make the blood get thick and clotted.” Then, he started chanting and removed his knife and made a small incision just below the rib line on the right and went deep. A dark piece of tissue was deftly removed and examined. It was a portion of the liver. He placed it in the calabash filled with water, and it floated. Kortomu repeated with a larger piece of the liver, and it floated. “Death itself did not kill him. Somebody hand in this; we will catch that person,” he said with a determined look on his face. The ritual had determined that witchcraft was the cause of death, and Kortomu planned to make an ornament or talisman to empower the spirit to come and seek revenge. “I will put something in the grave tomorrow,” he said, and she understood. Walking out, still in disbelief, she covered Kollie’s body with multiple sheets and mats. She signaled his head wife and last wife to bring water, and the two bathed him and rearranged the body with his head propped up. An announcement was made that anyone who had something to say to him should come. This was a mainly ceremonial event where those who were owed money or goods by the dead were expected to look in the face of the dead and state their claim; the people believed no one could look in the face of the dead and lie, so the family usually took care of the stated debt. There was beating of drums and crying mainly by the women, and every time a relative or friend came to town from another village to offer condolences, the cries of lament reached crescendo. Savlee arrived that evening tired and surprisingly not distraught, as many expected. Her grandson, Zankollie, rushed over and hugged her, with tears in his eyes. She reached out and wiped his eyes using her headwrap. She said, “The people who did this want to see you crying,” exhorting him not to cry and show emotions. She noted a lot of onlookers as she talked to him and thought, “I hope these women not looking at this boy like they looked at his dad.” Everything transformed slowly into a festive event; the women of this town and all the nearby towns considered him one of their own for obvious reasons, and the multitude thronged into town and prepared food, performed and sang and created a joyous event. There were acrobats, wrestlers, singers and the spontaneous feast surpassed many scheduled feasts. The ladies, led by Mawu, the wife of the chief, composed an emotional song that very night that was sung with unusual fervor.
Cane juice and wine make you feel fine. That’s what they say; that’s what they say. Kollie is gone; how can we feel fine? That’s what we say; that’s what we say.
Who can make us see the light in the night? Who else know how to hold us tight? Who else know to do the thing just right? That’s what we say; that’s what we say…
Mawu hoped activities would lessen her grief. The song did not help; it only made her cry. This man truly changed her dull life into bliss. As the other ladies sang songs of praise, she decided to dance and celebrate his life. She ran from the gathering into the open space and put her hands up to the sky, motionless momentarily, which cued the drums that started slowly. Then, she bent, almost touching her toes. As the tempo of the beat increased, her body began to undulate slowly, and a gentle tremor with ripples spread from foot to legs to buttocks. Her waist started to oscillate, undulate and quiver as she began to rocking spectacularly. Hands went to her sides, and her feet kept moving to the beat, so fast it was only a blur, the rhythmic gyrations of her hips synchronized with the drums, and then she started to twirl and spin, faster and faster. This was superb dancing, and Mawu was a great dancer, but she seemed possessed by a spirit that transformed her. In her mind, totally detached from a body that floated in rhythm and careless abandon, she remembered kindness, jokes, smiles and the great pleasure he had given her. As she slowed and gradually walked to join the gathered group of women, her eyes were tearing, and everyone was sure this was a dance experience unseen in years. “Kollie, how can you leave me like this?” Korpo said to herself as she left the room after assisting with bathing his body. She had been married to Kollie for few months only and still could not believe the events were real. Kollie looked so serious in death. Is this how death can change people? She had to stop fooling herself that he was not dead. It was his body; apart from the serious face, it had to be him. The emptiness wrenched her heart. Everything was so unbelievable and surreal; this was just a dream, and it would surely end. Kollie showered her with kindness, respect, love and untold pleasure. They had private jokes, and she had a name for his manhood that stood proudly even in death. His other wives had enough time with him and enjoyed him for many years, but she had nothing. Did she bring the bad luck in his life? Why was he taken away when they had not even scratched the surface of their relationship? It was torture to just smell it, while others have stayed, tasted and enjoyed it. Suddenly, it all became clear to her. She would not let him go completely. There had to be something to remember him; a memento, emblem, and she had a plan. Did he not say it was for her? She placed her short knife in the waist of her wraparound skirt, bundled up the cloth at the waist. She also put on an additional lappa to use later. Korpo went into the central hut where the body was being viewed. Few friends were sitting outside, but no one remained inside. Quickly reaching under the many layers of cloth and mats, she used the knife to skillfully cut and remove his penis. No one would know since the body would not be examined again. She placed her souvenir in the additional lappa, slipped it in the gourd and balanced it on her head. Walking out of his hut, time and the distance seemed long; her steps were shaky, and she worried, nervous, that someone would ask questions, but no one noticed. The prize was taken to her hut and concealed. Kollie was buried just outside the village; Kortomu placed an amulet, a sword and the horn of a wild bull in the grave; Ghanay placed a bow with arrows. These were items the deceased would use to find his killers or those who plotted his death using sorcery. Kortomu chanted a song of praise to the ancestral spirits and informed them of one who was coming to join them and asked them to continue their blessings. He besieged them to intercede to the great one, to bless his people, and asked forgiveness for anyone who may have caused pain or suffering for the dead man. After that, water was sprinkled on the immediate family in a rite of purification. The other wives were dejected and depressed, but Korpo seemed fine. There was nothing celebratory about her, but Korpo beamed an enigmatic smile and spent a lot of time home, alone in her hut. Kollie was gone, but her connection was not lost. How long the souvenir lasted or the function it ultimately performed were things no one could surmise. No one knew if the prize stopped working or if it was damaged or broken, except that Korpo started crying earnestly and bitterly two weeks after Kollie died. Suddenly, she was distraught, bereft of hope, and could not be comforted. It seemed like she had just gotten the news of his death. People conversed in low, hushed voices and did not understand the meaning of the words as the young lady wailed bitterly, “He’s really, really, gone,” and, “The only thing I had to remember him is gone.” On the next day, the town’s chief died in a hunting accident, gored to death by a bush cow; he was also accidentally pierced by an arrow when fellow hunters were trying to free him and kill the avenging bull. The bull escaped unscathed. Many years after, when she retired in her village, Savlee continued to receive gifts and guests, invariably from women thanking her for good deeds her son had done. Sometimes it was a huge cut of preserved meat, other times, beautifully dyed cloth or a total stranger effusively thankful for unnamed kind deeds Kollie had done. After all those years, the loss of her son still hurt, but she knew in the short span he lived, Kollie really enjoyed himself to the fullest.
© Michel Dioubate, Laughter of a Crazy Man, 2019