When news came that the rebels had raided school Pa Joe was seventeen blocks away absolving sobriety the very way he knew best. Ma Jane had her hands full on Friday evenings like this, when every present Trouser in her tiny den reminded her that it was only a week till the month ended.
So she went around filling every empty glass on the tables with her tattered book in her left hand. Once in a while she would stop, pop her head forward-back, sideways then scribble on the book. She was one of the very few mothers around who could sum up a few numbers. Some said she had gone to school albeit to learn the fundamentals, some said that it was actually Jane who took her through Maths lessons every evening after school.
The news struck fear into every man’s heart in the room, and silence reigned supreme. From Ma Jane’s old transistor radio, the 4 pm news reporter had been brief. Ten shot dead; fifteen abducted. This was a surprise, intelligence reports from the local Police Constable had only warned of spies planting landmines and grenades around the village. Not an attack in school. No, they had never warned of this.
Pa Joe felt warmth trickling down his thigh, round his patella and down his leg. The thought of losing Joe weighed heavy on him. All men in the room immediately metamorphosed into fathers, drinks fell, and sobriety- like an unwanted Boma Mongrel- crept in again.
‘’Infidels!’’, the hearts of men cued to recite the curse. They hurriedly left for their homes.
For the first time Ma Jane watched, leaning on her door lintel, no man staggered out of her den.
‘’Ma, will they bring back Jane?’’, Joe tugged at his mother’s hand on the way to Church.
Pa Joe walked a few steps ahead. He adorned in his black suit today, the one he wore during his elder brother’s burial. He only wore it on important occasions, and the man leading his family to Church after many years was one such occasion.
‘’Yes, they will. God-willing’’
The rebels massacred seven teachers, and three pupils from Joe’s school. In haste, they took fifteen pupils and made away with them; Jane was one of them. Ma Jane had not opened her den since full details of the assault came. She had locked herself in her room and dried her tear pots of any liquid.
‘’So Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, ‘If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’.’’
Pa Joe knocked his head onto the old man seated in front of him, and Ma Joe coughed incessantly to avert attention from the congregation. Father Consuelo’s sermon had softly slid a pillow beneath Pa Joe’s neck and the Word of God only resounded in his dreams. The last time he was in Church, Joe was being baptized, and before that Ma Joe-then a modern day lass- had successfully dragged him to church to have their marriage official.
Outside Church, a frog croaked the heavens down. The altar boys frequented the overlapping slices of rock outside in a bid to make the amphibian stop competing with Father Consuelo’s microphone. Each time one went out, the frog would stop, take a pause and probably take a puff of whatever it was smoking beneath the rocks. As soon as the altar boy would return to the church and sit, the croaking would resume, this time on a double pitch.
Joe turned over in his sleep back and forth till he fell off the bed. His mother heard and called him out. He took comfort in learning that he wasn’t the only one having trouble with sleep.
‘’I’m fine, Ma’’, he sat on his bed and reached out for a book on the table.
It had the neatest handwriting in the entire school, and on this page he stared at, had all sums marked correct. Surely Jane would take first position this term, he pondered. But he knew that would only happen if Jane were there, and sat the exams the week that was to come. Joe had borrowed Jane’s Maths book on Friday afternoon, and with it he sought to exorcise his own Mathematics demons.
He folded it back, switched off the light and lay on his bed. A frog croaked from outside. He shot up and sat back once again. Alert in all his senses, sleep evaded him, and darkness sat heavily on his chest. It was slightly some minutes over midnight and the frog had decided to welcome Monday in style. Joe heard it close, he wasn’t sure if all frogs croaked the same but this was exactly what he heard while in church earlier in the day. Rhythmic, coarse and came in condescending notes of the F Major.
Joe got up and headed for the door, Ma Joe heard him get up. Pa Joe launched his loudest snore yet, probably what the frog outside was competing.
‘’Just leave the bloody animal, it will tire its lungs out’’
‘’No Ma, I can’t sleep’’
Joe moved slowly in the darkness, a rod in hand, closing in on the unsuspecting amphibian. It hid beneath the rocks Pa Joe had lined up the flower garden with, Joe suspected. Thus he moved, but stopped when no more croaking came from the rocks.
Three more steps and he saw the thing, it didn’t move an inch. How? Why?
‘’Joe come back and have some sleep’’
‘’Come and see Ma, its silent. The Frog is dead’’
Joe kicked the black thing.