The mad Cow
Balemba village was blessed in the sense that it had the only high school in the province. By high school I mean an institution where students were prepared for the G.C.E. Advanced Levels. Because the high school was the lone one, students who obtained the G.C.E. Ordinary Level from the many secondary schools in the province vied for places at the Bangara college of Education, as it was known. It was called a college because the government intended to upgrade it to an institution that could then award HNDs. But that has never really happened. You know how it is with bureaucracy. Anyway, that is another story.
Bangara College was an entirely boarding school whose students were adults (aged over 18) and treated as such. For instance, they were served fish three days a week, chicken two days and meat two days. They ate well with their meals being varied and rich. Each of the three items had a supplier. For example, chicken was supplied on Tuesdays Thursdays and Saturdays, chicken on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Meat, and that is what our story is about, was provided on Fridays and Sundays. The incident I am about to recount happened on a Friday and concerns a cow that went mad. But first, a description of the topography of the area will help the reader to understand the incident better.
To go to the college, one had to branch off the trunk road that cut through the urban district of the village. Taking the right hand branch that was opposite the one leading to the college would mean go to the hinterlands of the village and eventually the Fon’s Palace, which was three miles away. However, a mile before the palace was a left branch leading to the cattle market. It was the largest cattle market in the group of five villages in the area. Trading took place there every Friday and on such a day, around fifty cows were sold there. Two men, one of whom from the front, pulled and directed the animal from a leash tied to its neck, took them away. Another from the back, held a leash tied to the beast’s leg. He would pull if the cow were moving too fast and therefore posing a threat to the foreman.
On the Friday morning of the incident, early morning buyers were coming away from the cattle market with their cows being herded by the foreman and the hind man.
“Gafara!” the hind man would say, lashing out at the cow with his whip, if the animals slowed down unnecessarily or started changing direction into the bush.
“Hai! Hai!” said the foreman to warn pedestrians that a cow was coming down. The warning was necessary because sometimes some cows became very wild and would charge at onlookers, thus throwing them in disarray and even causing some of them to lose balance in the stampede, fall down and injure themselves or be trampled upon.
Despite the danger, little children loved taunting cows by rubbing their neck with their hand thus telling them that they were going to be killed. To stress the point, the boys would stamp their right feet on the ground. One would normally think that a cow, being only an animal, would not understand that kind of language, let alone its implication. But far from it, they did. That is why any cow thus teased, would take offence and thus charge at the provoker, At such a position both fore man and hind man would summon all their might to control the enraged beast. Often they hurled abuses at the poor animal murmuring in Fulani, the language of the majority cattle grazers in the region, or in their own language or in pidgin.
“You cow! No start da your nonsense!”
Meanwhile, the little school boys, feeling they had their joke, after all, would laugh while running away at a speed neither the cow nor the two herdsmen could match.
On the day of the incident, one cow that was being led out of the cattle market started the day on a bad note. After the herdsmen had tied a nozzle and successfully flung it around the neck of the cow, they secured it, and then skillfully provoked the cow into putting its right foot into another nozzle that had been purposely placed on the ground. Quick as a flash, the hind man leapt at it and pulled it so that it got tightly secured on the cow’s leg. For this unfortunate cow, of all the cows that left the cattle market on that day, none went through as many tribulations as Ali, for that was the name the cow was given by the original owner who raised it.
As there was a school, a Catholic primary school so close to the cattle market, it turned out that once the two herdsmen and Ali stepped onto the motor road just outside the market, they ran into a group of deviant children who started booing the cow and hurling stones at it. As might be expected, some of them made the death sign to Ali. It took a lot of shouting and threats of beatings from the two herdsmen for the boys, six in number, to disperse.
For Ali though, it was too late. He had been worked up beyond the point of no return. The foreman and his counterpart noticed this at once, for Ali’s countenance had changed. He was headstrong and stamped his feet, instead of galloping. The two herdsmen had been in the business long enough, that is thirteen years, to know when an animal was turning into a beast.
So, not even the friendly taps on the back of the animal or the fondling of his male genitals meant anything to this offended mammal. As a result, the warning calls from the foreman to onlooker and passersby were more strident. Some understood the danger and immediately took cover. But again, the children walking to school continued to be a stumbling block, as they continued to taunt the cow. At one point, the hind man almost lost control of his leash as the animal suddenly made a dash for some boys who provoked it and were trying to escape. But the foreman was an old hand. Within a few minutes, he had brought back Ali under control. By the way, it is not haphazardly that the foreman and the hind man are chosen. The foreman is usually hefty and strong so that single-handedly he can pull the cow back if necessary. The foreman is by any standard an athlete who can run faster than the cow, if it were to break free from the hind man. That was exactly what the two men on this day were. Even so, this was not to be their day for their cow received more provocation on the way than any other cow they had ever led away from the market. These constant interruptions made the journey unnecessarily long.
Back at the college where the cooks were expecting the cow, there was beginning to be some agitation as already the cow was an hour late. Usually it got there by nine, after which the two herdsmen were paid extra to slaughter it and cut it up into major parts such as the head, the two thighs, the two forequarters, the neck, the inside contents, the four legs, and the skin. The rest was left to the cooks, under the supervision of the Chief cook.
Usually the Principle allowed the cooks and stewards to share among themselves the head, the tail, the intestines and the four legs. The legs were no problem because, since they were four and the kitchen staff four, sharing was easy. For other parts like the tail and the intestines, they shared them simply. When it came to the head, they agreed that it was never a good thing to share a head because it would be like casting lots over a head made by the Almighty God. That in turn could bring them ill luck. So they decided that member would have a turn in carrying the whole head home. On this day the notorious cow was expected, it was the turn of the Chief cook, Godlove, as students were fond of calling him. That was his name, anyway. The point is that the same stude4nts called the other kitchen staff by their surname, in some cases prefixing it with “Mr.” But perhaps the problem with Godlove was that of familiarity breeding contempt. Of all the kitchen staff, he was the only one who at night, would throw off his work clothes, have a good bath, put on his “show boy” clothes, perfume himself and go dancing in the one and only night club in the vicinity, called Spot Bar. Here he rubbed shoulders with students from Bangara College. They sat together, danced together, and drank together and cracked jokes together. He got a chance to dance with the prettiest girls. He could even dance blues that enabled him to press girls’ breasts to his chest and feel good, or “high” as he used to put it. When it came to dancing rock, which most people found difficult, Godlove was always a champion. Everyone who went to nightclub knew him. He was a star in his own way. In fact, once in a while, in the night club a certain Dominic, would buy him a free drink, because let’s face it, he also attracted customers to the bar in terms of the number of people who came there just to see Godlove.
Back on the road, the going was getting tougher and tougher. Children’s taunts had worked up the cow so much that it was annoyed just with anyone and saw everyone as a threat, even the two herdsmen who knew it by name.
Of the three kilometres journey, the cow had made only two kilometre, which was slow. They were now by passing the late Pa Nebashi’s compound down below on the left. The late man made his name in the village by being the first man from there whose son became a headmaster, and the only one whose son became the first headmaster of the village school, St.Joshua’s school. On this day, the herdsmen and the cow had left the market at the usually 7:30am. Normally, by the time it was, that is, 9:30am, they should not still be at Pa Nebashi’s compound, a compound which they always get to at about 8:45am. So, today must be really a bad day. Amungwa the senior herdsman said to himself.
“Ashanga, this is not a good journey we are having today”, he said to his companion.
“It is certainly not,” Fundum replied, “As they talked over the cow to each other, it groaned loudly as if to say they were disturbing him.
“Oh, shut up, you cow! You’ve given us enough trouble for one day already!” Ashanga shouted.
The cow was panting heavily as it galloped also Saliva was trickling down its mouth, often a sign that he was exhausted or thirsty, or both. But the foreman and hind man in no mood to compromise and let it have a drink of water.
“When they got to the bridge over the street that was between the area where Pa Nebashi’s compound was and “God’s Promise” off licence, the animal came to an abrupt stop and refuse to continue, regardless of what was done or said to it. The senior herdsman called it all kinds of names in all kinds of tones.
“Debo!” (Woman in Fulani)
“Ndjala ku!” (Nonsense)
“Bi wa ad dere djo!” (You good for nothing)
The reason why the herdsman chose to address the cow in Fulani was because the bulk of cattle rearers in the country were Fulani. So everyone had the general belief that cattle were first and foremost a Fulani thing and that all cattle understood the Fulani language.
In a way, such a belief was not far fetched because if we trace the cow Ali to its birth we shall find that it was very much Fulani. Firstly, the market where it was bought, although located in Balemba village, had cattle sellers who were all Fulani. They drove their cattle from their distant villages and brought them to the Balemba market. Ali in particular was born into a typical Fulani family, the Mustafa’s. Ali’s parents and grandparents were from Fulani families. That was as far as any living person could go with the cow’s family tree.
Even so, there are high chances that generations far back were also Fulani.
So much was cattle rearing and obvious occupation for Fulani families that it was common for parents to keep children away from school so that they can help with looking after cattle. However, with government sensitization, the community throughout the country was beginning to wake up. Fulani elites were getting together and forming associations to fight Fulani marginalisation and get Fulani themselves to realise that education was the key to long-term success.
Nonetheless, it doubtful that as Ali the cow was given the two caretakers hard times on the bridge, he was even remotely thinking about the Fulani problem. Ali was simply reaching to a situation. For it, enough was enough and there was no way he was going to go beyond the bridge.
Finding that even insults in Fulani would not move Ali, Amungwa now lashed its back with a stick. As the cow define him by not budging, he rained more strokes on him until the stick got broke and he threw it away. But it had left weals on the cow’s back. Yet, he did not move. Curing Amungwa pulled sharply several times on his own leash that was tied round the animal’s hind foot. Still no respond. So, the foreman, Fundum pulled hard on his own leash, tied around the cow’s neck, to make it move forward towards him. Still it did not work. At that point, Fundum had an idea. Passing his leash from his right to the left, he walked over to Ali, and stroking his neck affectionately, he said.
“Listen, Ali. If you think you are punishing us by digging in your heels, you are actually punishing everyone, including yourself. The longer you keep us here, the more tired we’ll all become. So, just cut it out and let’s go.”
As if by magic, the cow relaxed and started walking forward.
“Yowa! Yowa!” shouted both Amungwa and Fundum in Fulani.
They both noticed that the cow was exhausted. It was still panting and was losing a lot saliva through its open mouth. Here Amungwa felt that in a way, it was the animal’s fault because while at the bridge when they had tried to lead it under the bridge for a drink of water, it had categorically refused not knowing that they were doing it a favour. It now he was thirsty, that was his problem because there would be no turning back.
Meanwhile at the college, Godlove was clearly getting impatient.
“This is not normal. Why has it taken so long for the cow to get here today? Its nearly two hours late.”
“I hope they haven’t mistakenly taken it to the village market, since today is a market day? It’s easy because on a day like this several cows leave the cattle market for the village market where they are slaughtered and sold to butchers on the spot who then retail it to the market customers,” said Brown the cook.
“Perhaps we ought to start thinking of what the students will have for lunch if that cow does not come in the end.”
“I think so, chief.”
“Okay, Brown, do we still have enough fish that can replace the meat just in case?”
“I’ll go and look.”
Upon that, Brown disappeared into the dining hall storeroom. Godlove removed his bunch of keys from his pocket, singled out a long and small key with which he started cleaning his teeth. Richard the steward who was watching him while peeling plantains at the washing up point situated on the side of the kitchen building suddenly remembered a story his junior brother who was at the St. Andrew’s college told him. This story was about a classmate of the junior brother’s who during a lesson had the rounded top of his pen break into his ear as he used it to clean his ear. When the poor boy tried to pull out the foreign body with the nib of the pen, he instead pushed it inside. He then started crying and the class teacher -the lesson was geography -took him to the principal who sent him to the hospital with a personal note for Dr. Rosenkeimer. The principal wrote:
Dear Dr. Roe.
Please, kindly attend to this student with foreign body in his ear.
Fr. Paul Lehman
Although it took the Doctor only seven minutes to extract the object with the sophisticated instrument his father had sent him from Bristol (England) the operation was very painful.
“You’ll be alright. Just don’t fool around with your ear any more. The ear is a very delicate part of the body.”
“Yes Doctor. Thank you Doctor.”
This was what Richard thought. Nonetheless, as he poured out the dirty water from the basin of peeled plantains, he shrugged his shoulders and said to himself.
“Anyway, that key is not a pen knob and Godlove is not the student who stuffed it into his ear.”
By this time, the party of three, that is, the cow, the foreman and the hind man were approaching the urban part of the village, which was intersected by the high way that linked Mondamo Administrative Division to Bazongo Division. When approaching the centre of the urban area from the south, one found to the right, the road that led to the primary school, the cattle market and the village Fon’s palace.
Another road that branched off to the left, led to the college and an agricultural station. At the angle between the northbound highway and the road leading to the village, there were, as there usually were everyday, women sitted in an area a little larger than one half of a handball pitch. They called it a market. Normally, it looked too small to be called a market, but as far as they were concerned, it was a market, their market. They sold a wide range of foodstuffs: roasted groundnuts, ripe pears, bunches of plantains, ripe bananas, cola nuts, sugarcane. Nearby, there was a butcher’s slab. He was a middle-aged man called Pa Bone, because he sold soft bone that many buyers loved.
“Gafara! Gafara!,” shouted the hind man as the three galloped down towards the “market.” As they did so, the angry, tired, fuming cow trotted as if it would kill anyone in its way.
Some people, saying how fierce the cow looked, quickly stepped away from the earthen and wet road and took cover in the nearby corn farms, or plantain farms or coffee farms, as the case might be.
However, some two boys, in their attractive light blue shirts and khaki shorts that were the uniform of the village Catholic school, suddenly stopped unto the middle of the road, and in full view of the approaching cow, made the death-to-you sign and stamped their feet on the road to emphasize their death sentence. As if stung, the cow leaped at them, taking both the hind man and the foreman by surprise. In the struggle to regain their balance, both men fell to the ground, but being as die-hard as Spartans, they hung on to their leashes. The result was that as the cow chased the boys, it dragged both men along, off the road and unto the nearby farms. At some point they lost their grip and the cow continued along learing foreman and hinding, moaning and writhing in pain. In their panic, the two schoolboys fell over the farm ridges several times, staining their school bags. Unfortunately for the cow, the two boys disappeared as they hid in a nearby thicket.
A bit calmer now, the cow continued its journey, although it is doubtful whether it really knew where it was going or whether it remembered at this point whom it had been chasing in the first place. It walked over and across the groundnut and corn farm, smashing ridges, distorting their form and killing sprouting crops. It was certain that the poor woman whose farm it was would curse the animal on finding its hoof marks. But what would it matter, since the cow would be gone anyway?
Ali the cow came across a side road and took it. Fortunately it found no one on the way. As there were no farm beds to impede its movements, quicken its pace and soon broke into a run. The side road led into the village road from which the schoolboys had diverted the cow. As it entered the road, a group of market goers screamed:
And ran helter skelter. Some onlookers who have seen the incident involving the two boys quickly ran towards the direction where the cow was. But it was now heading towards the small market located at the angle. Before it got there, saleswomen who saw the unmanned cow were in disarray. They all got up and ran helter skelter, some screaming and calling the names of their late parents or grandparents. One said in English. “I am covered with the blood of Jesus!”. Some fell over others and were trampled upon, although not to death.
The cow now entered the highway. It could have turned right to go up towards Bazungo Division, or straight ahead towards the agricultural station or even towards the college for whose students it had been bought. But the cow instead went left and down the highway towards the village market. Towards the north the highway was steep for about a kilometre and south where the cow was heading, it was down hill for about two kilometres. It probably chose this route because it was easiest going down dale. So, it followed the line of least resistance, the primitive path.
So down the road went the mad cow, saliva dripping from his mouth. Now that he was on the tarred highway, its hoofs made its galloping sound so loud that people could hear it before it came into view. Of course some mistook the hoof echoes for those of a horse, horse not being uncommon in the village. The reaction was the same. As soon as people realized it was a loose cow, they scrambled out of sight for cover.
From where the cow and that was half way between the women’s makeshift market and the main market, there were practically no more provocative pupils still walking to school. This was because they were already at school. So, the cow was spared any more taunts.
When it got to the part of the highway that passed just in front of the highway, it scared the many people, there, some of whom were haggling others buying and others about to board waiting taxis. Yet some had their private cars. Some others, notably women, stood in groups, greeting and chatting. As the cow came closer, people scattered in all directions. Then it suddenly found that it was caught between the parked vehicles on the left and right and a line of some three vehicles approaching it from down. Instinctively, it stood still. Then the driver of the vehicle right in front of him, probably impatient of waiting, probably nervous or even frightened, let out a long and piercing hoot on his horn. Frightened, too, the cow leaped over one of the cars and made a dash into the market.
Here all hell broke loose, for the entire market was in total confusion. The cow ran about wildly, knocking people and things down. Some victims cried out for help, others started weeping and exclaiming in their mother tongue, people ran wild with some just running because they saw others doing so. The cow even ran into njangi huts and market bars, breaking some down. The biggest victim was Pa Awantang whose hut was partly damaged, his jugs and calabashes of njangi palm wine broken, njangi members in panic as they tried to run, unconscious of where they were going. The cow got out of the hut and unfortunately for one mother, her 11 years old son was running towards the cow without noticing it. Before the mother attempted to rescue her child, the cow had picked him up with his horns and hurled him unto open large bags of garri. He was not hurt. By this time, it appeared the entire market had known there was something wrong. So in loud singular chorus, they booed, the way they always did when it had rained and was slippery and someone slipped and fell in the market.
As everyone was scared of the cow and making way for it, it ran towards the back of the market and exited through the gap between the butchers’ slap and the second hand clothes section. It then entered a nearby a corn farm and started ploughing through it. Some men and boys gave chase. Because of the ridges of the corn beds, the animal’s movement was inhibited and because the chasers were pressurizing it, it soon fell and as a result of its large size, it could not get up quickly. The pursuers pounced upon it with sticks and stones. Some five minutes later, it stopped movement apart from breathing.
“Don’t kill it, please! Don’t, please!” That was the foreman, followed closely by the hind man. Both were tearing through the huge crowd that had gathered round the animal. The two men then explained to the other people what had happened.
“If we don’t slaughter it at once, it will die out of exhaustion and the blows. And if it dies, there is no way it can be slaughtered. The veterinary assistants will not allow anyone eat meat from an animal that dies before slaughter.”
With the consent of the two herdsmen, the butchers went to work. They were three and within twenty minutes, they had finished the job.
The hind man took a chance, not knowing what the chief cook at the college would say, and gave the butchers the head, the skin, the tail and legs. They paid some idle boys a little money and they transported the meat on their heads to the college.
The kitchen staff looked lost when they saw nine heads in all bringing parts of a slaughtered cow to the refectory. When the hind man narrated the story to Godlove the chief cook, he said.
“I knew there was something wrong”.
“Didn’t I tell you, Brown?”
The question for Brown was more or less a rhetorical one.
“Okay, wait here, I’ll go and tell the principal what has happened..”
When he told the principal, the latter said to him:
“We have only an hour left for the students’ lunch. Have you prepared something else for them to eat in place of meat?”
“Yes, sir. There is fish.”
“Is it ready?”
“Fine. Prepare fish for lunch and the cow for supper. I don’t see anything wrong with that.”