Once upon a time, there was a man named Korto. He was so jealous and suspicious he harbored the thought every man in the village was in love with his wife. It was said that you could scarcely smile at the woman in his presence than he would fly into a fit of rage.
If he had been any other man than himself, people would have laughed at him. But he was Korto, and they cowered with fear at the sight of him. He was a very huge man, with muscles that stood out on his chest. His arms looked like giant clubs at his sides. And he was all too willing for a fight, which no other man in the village could stomach, because Korto was a very strong man. Thus the villagers, particularly the men – and Korto distrusted even the women – kept clear of Korto’s wife whenever he was around.
Bendu, for that was the wife’s name, was an extremely beautiful woman. At twenty-four, she was slightly built, full breasted, with a neck that was as graceful as a swan’s. Her teeth sparkled like stars and her waist was very slim, with big buttocks that swayed heavily.
But unlike Korto, who was short-tempered, suspicious and kept to himself, Bendu was easy-going and sociable, especially when Korto was away on his farms, which were bigger than any other farms in the villages and towns in Voinjama. Often, Bendu would go to the neighboring villages to visit her friends, and at other times they would pay her a visit as well, plaiting hair, playing ludo, and gossiping. No one ever told Korto about these goings-on because they hated him as much as they feared him.
But although Bendu was fond of the villagers, she was not a dishonest wife. She had never cheated on her husband and was always obedient to him except that she disliked his intolerance and would often urge him to make friends in the village. Even so, Korto kept his eyes on her as best as he could and often thought she was cheating on him behind his back.
One day Korto left one of his farms earlier than was expected. He had had a bad headache, and was growing dizzy as he cleared underbrush for the yam he was going to plant. He was approaching his hut from a distance when he stopped in his tracks, and froze. Listening instantly, like a dog sensing an intruder, he heard excited laughter and conversation inside his hut, as though the whole village had gathered in his home. He couldn’t believe it. A feeling of rage turned his blood to fire.
Suddenly Bendu came running out of the hut, a young man at her heels. Korto stared in shocked silence. Hardly believing his eyes, he watched as his wife fell to the ground and on top of her came the young man. They rolled over, Bendu’s legs in the air, while the young man tickled her sides and she exploded into laughter.
Gripping his cutlass, Korto ran toward them. By the time the young man saw him coming it was too late. Korto’s cutlass slashed into his back. He screamed at the top of his lungs and fell off Bendu. Korto raised his cutlass to finish him. Bendu, shocked almost out of her senses, wept and pleaded with him.
Just at that moment, out of Korto’s hut came three women and a man walking on tiptoes. They had heard the young man screamed, and had grown as terrified as he was. Now they tried to slip away as quickly as possible before Korto could set eyes on them.
But they had only gone a few steps from the door. Korto spun round, almost by instinct, and came charging toward them. They fled. Korto was after them in a flash, screaming his rage. He would have caught one of the women, but he went after the man, who could run faster than he. By the time he had chased the man down the road, and then lose him into a bush on the outskirts of the village, the women had already gotten away.
Returning to his hut breathless, his heart pounding hard in his chest and more furious than ever, Korto swore to himself he would kill the young man. But when he reached his hut the young man had gotten away as well. So he turned on Bendu. He took her into the hut and beat her unmercifully. And then he fell asleep, for his headache had grown so bad he felt as though his head was being pounded inside with mortar pestles.
But moments later Korto came out of his hut. He had heard people shouting his name and threatening to kill him. It was the village chief and elders. Behind them walked a mob carrying crude weapons. Korto saw them from a distance, and immediately rushed back into his hut. He came back outside with his cutlass. He stood in the yard and waited, breathing heavily, his eyes blazing.
But as the mob drew nearer to Korto, their angry threats of “Korto must die!” fell to whispers. The people had grown suddenly afraid. They had seen Korto gripping his cutlass, his feet wide apart, and looked so malevolent they knew he was the devil.
Eventually the mob, together with the village chief and elders, reached Korto. The chief raised his hands for quiet, and the mob fell silent.
Surveying the sea of faces in front of him, the village chief asked, “Where is Mr. Sakor?”
A short, rotund and bearded man appeared in front of the chief. He was gripping a stout stick, and livid with rage. Korto looked at him and smiled. He could crush him. But Korto knew the man had been brave enough to carry a stick intending to beat him because he, Korto, was outnumbered by the mob. Korto told himself he would deal with him later.
“Mr. Sakor is the father of the boy whose back you chopped, Korto,” the chief said. “Now, what have you got to tell him?”
“I’ve got nothing to tell him,” said Korto calmly.
“Nothing at all.”
Instantly there were shouts of rage. A few reckless men tried to grab Korto. But he stood immobile like a mountain. His eyes were still aflame, and his hand gripped his cutlass so tight his knuckles turned white.
“Silence! Silence, my people! Silence, I say!” the chief bellowed over the noise of the mob. “We’ve come to speak to Korto and not to kill him.”
But it was only after a few moments that the mob quieted, and the village chief could speak once more.
Turning to Korto, the village chief said, “Haven’t you got anything at all to say to the young man’s father? Haven’t you got any remorse for what you’ve done?”
“I’ve got nothing to say to him,” Korto repeated firmly. “And I don’t have any remorse. His son looked
“What do you mean, his son looked for it?” asked the village chief.
“I caught him with my wife,” said Korto.
“Where they in your bed?” asked the chief.
“So how come you chopped him?”
Korto told the chief, the elders and all the people what had happened.
The chief called Bendu. When she appeared in front of him, he asked, “Bendu, you’ve heard your husband, haven’t you?’
“I heard him, all right,” said Bendu, who had a black eye from the beating she had received from Korto.
“Now, are you in an affair with Mr. Sakor’s son?” the chief asked.
“Of course not,” said Bendu. “He and those people were only my friends, and they came here to play ludo with me.”
Turning back to Korto, the chief said, “So you can see that you were wrong to think the young man was your wife’s lover.”
“The way he was playing with my wife, “said Korto, “could have infuriated any man.”
“But that is no reason to try to kill someone, especially when you hadn’t caught him in bed with your wife. And the fact that the young man and Bendu came out into the yard to play, so that everyone else could see them, was only harmless. Besides, those other people were present in your hut at the time, weren’t they?”
“I didn’t know until they’d come out of my hut.”
“Well, you should have grabbed the young man and given him a little beating. Surely that would have thought him never to flirt with your wife again. But you nearly succeeded in killing him. And the extent of the damage you’ve caused is terrible. Your rusty cutlass tore through his back and into his spinal cord.”
There was a collective gasp of disbelief, and once more the mob shouted for blood.
Again the village chief raised his hands for silence, and then waited a full minute for the shouts to subside.
Glaring at Korto, he said finally, “Your wife has been loyal and faithful to you ever since you came into this village eight years ago. Isn’t that so?”
“How would I know?” said Korto. “I don’t have eyes to see behind my back. Besides, I’m often away on my farms. And the fact that she should have brought someone into my hut, though I’ve often warned her to have nothing whatsoever to do with anyone else, especially in my presence, shows what a faithless and disloyal wife she is.”
“Your wife is only human, Korto,” the village chief said, “and one would expect her to have friends. But you’re so jealous and suspicious, a man can scarcely look at your wife, you would immediately accuse him of being her lover. It is outrageous, and poses a threat to everyone. And that includes you. Look at what you’ve done to a poor young man.”
But Korto only glared at the village chief and cursed under his breath.
“Now,” said the village chief, “you’ll pay a prize for what you’ve done. Come tomorrow morning, you’ll carry a goat, twelve hens, and five thousand dollars to Mr. Sakor, so as to pacify him. Then you’ll take his son to a medicine man so that he can be cured, and now. If the young man recovers from his wound but is badly disabled, you’ll bring him into your hut and be entirely responsible for him; while you pay a monthly sum of five thousand dollars to his father for a period of five years. If he dies, you’ll be tried for murder and hanged.”
With that, the village chief and elders departed, the mob following them.
Korto took the young man to a medicine man and did everything that was expected of him. Fortunately, after a few months treatment, the young man was considerably cured, though he walked with a slight limp. But since that wasn’t as bad as the village chief had thought, Korto paid an additional ten thousand dollars to the young man’s father. And then, on his own, he gave him five bags of yams and another goat, apparently feeling remorse for what he had done. After that the matter was sealed.
But if Korto had known a little peace in the village, now he knew nothing but terror. The people began to hate him worse. Even they were bold enough now to come into his face and threaten to kill him. Once or twice, he had been lying asleep in his hammock in front of his hut when someone had thrown rocks and cut him on the forehead. He hadn’t seen them because it was too late at night to make out anything but shadows. And they had taken to relieving themselves right in front of his hut at night. And sometimes in his wife’s fire hearth. And they would throw rocks on top of the corrugated zinc when he and his wife were asleep. Besides, each morning when he went to his farms now, he found his rice and crops almost destroyed
And so Korto became afraid, in spite of himself. He knew the villagers would kill him if he didn’t get out of there in a flash. One night he called Bendu and told her his plans.
“My dear wife,” said Korto, and there was sorrow in his voice, “let’s leave the village at once, so that these people wouldn’t kill us. You’ve seen how they have acted ever since the incident with the young man. Sooner or later someone will burn us alive while we’re asleep.”
“But where else can we go?” asked Bendu. “We’ve lived in this village for so long. I doubt neighboring villages would welcome us, now that you’ve made yourself an enemy of the people so that your very name has become a curse.”
“That is nothing,” said Korto as he glared at his wife. “We will go and live in the forest where no one else will bother us.”
“And what will become of our farms?” asked Bendu as tears stood in her eyes.
“We will leave them here,” said Korto, “and let the villagers do to them whatever is pleasing to their eyes. There’s nothing there already, because they have stolen and destroyed everything. Once we go to the forest, I’ll become a hunter. Even I could use the gun to protect us from intruders.”
The obedient and faithful wife she was, Bendu nodded as tears streamed out of her eyes. She packed a few of their belongings and, together with her husband, departed for the forest.”
To be cont’d.