‘Kai!’ the Fulani herdsman exclaimed at something he had been thinking about. He stuck his tongue between his teeth and ejected a straight stream of saliva. It landed some distance away.
He was standing on one leg, his thin wiry and weatherbeaten frame looking fragile against the backdrop of blue sky and green savanna grass. His cattle grazed nearby leaving dark green puddles behind them as they moved.
The flash startled him and he looked up, distracted from the water bottle he was about to put to his lips. Without moving his eyes scanned the area the flash had come from. They came to rest on the boy crouching in the bushes, a camera held to his face.
Slowly, deliberately, he corked his water bottle. The camera flashed again. The leg he had been keeping off the ground came down and the stick he had been leaning on left the ground.
With the deadly aim the herdsmen are known for — that aim with which they fling a 2-meter stick at a wayward bull 80 yards away and never miss — the angry man let fly his staff. It hit its intended mark but not the intended object.
My friend Uzoma had dodged just in time. He was the fastest runner in my set and he was putting his skills to good use. Over the ridges he flew, not daring to look back as was his habit when racing.
The man retrieved his staff and set off after him. Uzoma may have been fast, but he had apparently never dodged bull horns or run continuously for kilometers. He huffed and puffed but slowly and surely, the herdsman gained on him.
As he ran, he thought about one of the big boys who had been given a very good stick beating by a Fulani boy who couldn’t have been more than ten. If the man caught him, he would be done for. Out of breath, he reached the hostels. He ran through the flower hedge, stubbing his big toe as he ran up the steps.
His pursuer cleared the steps behind him…
‘Yusif! Yusif!’ he panted as he burst into the first room. ‘Abeg come and help me interpret.’
‘Uzoma, what’s the matter?’ Yusif looked up from the kwado he had been preparing.
There was no time to reply. The patter of rubber-soled shoes announced the entry of the herdsman. He looked just as calm as he had been in the bush but his demeanor belied his intent as he moved towards the two boys.
Yusif called out in Fufulde and the herdsman stopped, taken by surprise. They exchanged greetings and negotiated. Uzoma shivered every time the man gestured at him with his stick.
‘He does not like people taking his picture,’ Yusif explained. Uzoma tried to show as much contrition as he could and the man appeared appeased.
‘You’re very lucky,’ Yusif told him after the herdsman had gone.
‘I know,’ Uzoma said. ‘Now can I have some kwado?’
Â© Azuka 2005. Semi-fictional