She lay in his embrace, moaning a maternal pain, tossing her arms and working her legs. With his lips he swallowed her
tears and soothed her face; this was her husband. She held his thumb, so surely a bystander would have
thought he was her giver of life. He soothed her hand with fingers from his other hand whose thumb was not held. His
eyes guarded about and his eyelids kept blinking; this was her father.

‘Hold yourself, Moya,’ implored Yiddi her father, ‘our flight is far from its destination. The blaring and clanking are
done in pursuit of us. Death sees us clearer as we are tighter engulfed.’
‘Painful, Pa-Yiddi. My tummy will erupt,’ groaned Damoya.
‘Naught shall erupt in you, sweet child.’
‘Something shall. Tiny, many blades slice me within. I’ll drop soon and die.’
‘You shan’t, Moya, its merely a sensation of maternity.’

She groaned her loudest of the night, tucking her belly and kicking her legs. She fretted in his embrace, which made
him as fretful, her husband.
‘It’s aggravated,’ communed her spousal Zowdor with his in-law.

‘Let me handle her,’ Yiddi communed back, picking and folding her into his own embrace. ‘Relax, Zowdor, fret less.
We did it once on foreign soil and we’ll …’
‘Forgive me, Pa-Yiddi?’ she went on a wailing spree. ‘My
willful disposition has left you in grave agony.’

144 § Gabby Ozems

‘You are blameless, my child.’
She stretched her hand to Zowdor.
‘Hush, sweet Moya,’ implored Zowdor, caressing her hand.
‘Forgive me, Zowdor?’ wailed she.

‘Hush,’ both men implored.

Damoya rocked her legs off the embrace and they formed a slant on the ground. She spun her bust, swaying her waist
and sinking her head downward till the whole of her lay flat on the ground. The men each tried to offer assistance, but
she crawled backwards, swerving them in all their efforts.

‘Go away,’ she implored. ‘I’ll be the snare of you. Here, I’ll end my journey.’
‘We won’t abandon you,’ returned Zowdor, caressing her temple.
‘You need help, Moya,’ Yiddi entreated.

With docile faces and affectionate gestures, she was beckoned to calm, which beckoning she succumbed to, and
while her violence jumped to calm the men heaved, their faces elated. Suddenly, she tucked her tummy and wailed
and gnashed.

‘It’s crumpling my stomach,’ she said.

‘What is?’ queried the men.

‘The baby, it’s swimming down. I feel slippery inside. It swims. Believe me!’

‘We do. We do,’ assured the men.

‘She may be due?’ Yiddi whispered to Zowdor.
‘But she’s only as pregnant as seven moons?’ Zowdor rejoined.

Wails Damoya, ‘My soul is slithering out of my skin!’
Yells Yiddi, ‘Let’s lay her in comfort.’
It was happening on a street on whose flanks lay two warped footpaths. Thus, seeking to lay their daughter and
wife on comfortable ground, the father and husband
THAT CUNNING MASK § 145

trampled some tall grass at the mouth of the left footpath, weaved the bunch level with the ground and added the
attires of their bust for a covering.

Simultaneously, Damoya and them that were speedy about in search of her and her family howled. They who
were speedy about were almost as close to her as she was to delivery. She yet howled and the men took her upon a carriage of
their hands to the comfort they had woven on the left footpath, resting her in comfortable majesty. Much moaning,
tucking and wobbling brought her to the verge of the grueling duel in all maternity. So it came, as has come to all
who dared to born, that as Yiddi waited beneath her maternal throne, a scalp with barely any hair did an
appearance do. He cuddled it and followed in the manner of birthaids.

Zowdor was a solace to her maternal soul¾he ate her tears, stroked her palms and from his mind, which presently
reasoned like a lunatic, spoke into the depths of her heart the things:
‘Cascade! lone cataract of crimson grace,
Hush: the tresses of Taluu adorn thy face Within two blissful hosts of sultry balm.
Restful be thy soul while you docile calm;
Lily: yon tempting bloom and weed of love
Enamoured as the sweetness of a dove;
Soft and mild a ditty chimes, nay softer;
Jocularly, the daisies maneuver;
Undaunted, we stride, time a toothless foe, Among solemn violets devoid of woe;
Nirvana the kin of affinity, Unsullied our pact of eternity.’

146 § Gabby Ozems

The sounds of charging feet closed in on them, and at this
time the premature foetus that took on the guilt of bona fide
babies was wholly cuddled in Yiddi’s palms. A he it was,
and it did in the ways of notorious babies.
‘This creature is a glutton,’ Zowdor nibbled the baby’s finger and told.
‘Zowdor!’ shrieked Damoya, laughing and sobbing, wanting to comment, but not finding the strength to air.
‘This creature acts like babies,’ Zowdor kissed the baby’s cheeks and told.

‘Zowdor!’ Damoya laughed.
States Yiddi, ‘And, and, all baby-like creatures are given
gifts of identification, for through such identification society identifies with them.’

‘Name him, Zowdor,’ shrilly Damoya urged, beaming.
‘He won’t need a name,’ returned Zowdor.
‘Why?’ asked Yiddi and Damoya.
‘Because we shall sacrifice him to the spirits of here.’
Daughter and father, gloomy their faces got.
‘A lie that was,’ spoke Zowdor, fetching the baby into his
palms. ‘His eyes have beheld the moon, so I name him
Witanda, son of the late lamp. Witanda Nemoso. Men shall
admire you, prince of Taila.’
A termination by Yiddi, somewhere along the maternalafter
and nature’s own evictions unfastened mother from
baby, and not long after that, voices came across the street
on whose flank Witanda, now an external foetus, was born.
Yiddi leaned backwards and sent his eyes a-spying,
spying right, up, left, down; curse the pursuers, two of them
trotted along the far horizon upon the street, both of them aspying
here and there.
‘There is two of them on the far end,’ reported Yiddi to his
company.
‘Are they headed here?’ Zowdor and Damoya asked.
THAT CUNNING MASK § 147
‘They aren’t in motion now,’ Yiddi reported. ‘The one
faces us with his side, and faces his henchman with his face,
his henchman does same. Their fingers are involved with the
soil, mapping strategies, doing other things unknown.’
‘Do they see this way?’ asked Zowdor, cuddling his
Witanda.
‘To air it with the intensity of a rumour, I’ll say they
don’t.’
‘A rumour is as true as a rural myth, and intense as a
famed scandal,’ pondered Zowdor, aloud. ‘If we’re to them
as invisible as a rumour is believable then we’re indeed
unseen.’
‘Hmm!’ returned Yiddi.
‘Take Witanda,’ Zowdor gave Yiddi the baby.
‘Is there a thing I am to do with this little bundle?’ Yiddi
questioned the relay, kissing Witanda’s chest.
‘Cross with him to the lean road yonder,’ instructed
Zowdor. ‘I’ll lie by the foundation of this growth, spying for
your safety. When you are there, you also lower your eyes aspying,
so I can ferry Damoya by your captaining to the
other side; where grouped we shall flee.’
Yiddi showed Witanda to Damoya. ‘Wish us well,’ he told
her.
Her throat, so clogged by sorrow, was in a wordless state;
therefore, she blessed them with tears and caresses. A hug
briefly fastened Yiddi to Zowdor.
As gifted by the recently fallen Titiadi, the weapons were
of three makes. Yiddi, the baby in his left grip, gripped a
club into his right hand, then heaved, then nodded.
Zowdor the vigilante, seeing the nod of readiness, settled
himself by the foundation of the growth. He spied like a
poaching wolf, like an idling crab, like a thieving mouse, and
like an eloping bitch; then, signaled, ‘We cross now,
comrade.’
148 § Gabby Ozems
Yiddi waved his club at Zowdor and Damoya. Yiddi
hopped into the street. Yiddi moved like a daytime burglar.
Yiddi sneaked onward with a guilty countenance. Yiddi
gripped Witanda tighter. Yiddi forever heeded Zowdor.
Zowdor. This spied on the kneeling assailants. He
observed them in their plot against him and his family. So
close was Yiddi to his destination when Zowdor saw one
assailant’s head stopping still and motioning about. It first
motioned that way before starting this way.
‘Dodge it!’ alerted Zowdor, fidgety and wide-eyed.
‘What?’ enquired Yiddi, as he directed his gaze to the
kneeling assailants.
Clash! His gaze met with an assailant’s. This assailant
hastily shook his colleague and they together caught a brief
final glimpse of Yiddi. Their mouths became wide open as
their eyes became wide open. Their feet set into motion and
upon that motion their wide-opened mouths cried, ‘Tukule!’
A cry that was to many a call to duty: many who converged
at the far arena where Zowdor’s eyes were at sport, aspying.
Zowdor Nemoso. He, king and spy, father and husband,
comrade and in-law, was crushed in his spirit. Pitifully, his
father-in-law knelt fretting. More pitifully, his wife lay
moaning, tears streaming across her face. Most pitifully, his
early son hung in exhausted grips, with a visage that told
that the world about was to him a mystery.
In his arms, Zowdor took his Damoya. ‘Run!’ he told
Yiddi. ‘Do your flight in that direction, a zigzag flight, an
invisible flight, a tactical flight. We shall do ours in this
direction. Upon the waters, we shall merge and thus unified
we shall properly flee.’
Up. Hasty. Racing. There, abnormally goes Yiddi, speedily
in a zigzag, disappearing into the tall grass.
THAT CUNNING MASK § 149
Zowdor tensed his muscles and set about his own flight.
He had gone no more than three steps than Damoya
wobbled and fell. He angled his hands to scoop her back into
his grips.
‘I won’t go, Zowdor,’ she cried, crawling speedily toward
the street.
‘What are you doing?’ Zowdor stopped her.
‘Take flight, Zowdor,’ wept she, ‘I’ll distract them while
you flee. Go, Zowdor.’
‘Believe, Damoya, we shall be safer together,’ said
Zowdor, caressing her head.
‘I want to believe you, Zowdor. But … look at Pa-Yiddi.
We don’t know what lies ahead of him. He’s already
exhausted. With me in your care you shan’t be swift. We
shall all perish. Go, Zowdor, if you love me. Give …’
‘Shhh!’ Zowdor clasped her lips. He ferried her some
yards into the grass beside the footpath.
‘Where are we going?’ she asked him.
He stopped. ‘Stay here,’ he instructed her. ‘I’ll go race the
villains and lead them afar off.’
‘What if …’
‘Hush … don’t …’
‘I love you, Zowdor.’
‘I’ll forever love you, fair Damoya.’
Zowdor’s eyes were watery and he shut them, so that they
wept two stout tears. He hurried to Witanda’s birthplace,
where was a machete and bow and arrows. Possessing the
bow and arrows, he launched into the street.
Assailants. They chased their approaching target, the
Zowdor Nemoso. They did their fastest race of the night,
shouting battle cries, shouting any words that had any
tendency of being an emergency signal. The two assailants
who had spotted Yiddi first closed in on Zowdor; he felled
them with arrows. More assailants were approaching the
150 § Gabby Ozems
Zowdor. He leaped into the bushes right of the street.
Leaping and sprinting, he onward went. They went after
him. The assailants went, crying, ‘Tukule!’
A sinister cry arose from ahead. It was oncoming and
distant. ‘Osunda! Masanda!’ it cried.
Zowdor raced. Zowdor kicked a bevy of grass. Zowdor
murdered an inquisitive snail. Zowdor aborted a mango
seed. Zowdor did all these while he yet raced. There came a
time when there wasn’t a bush to race in, when what lay
ahead was a plain. Here was he contained in two chases. The
chase by which he had come this far; and the chase that had
‘Osunda! Masanda!’ as battle cry.
Danger dwelled behind and ahead. Peaceful were the
sides. Zowdor turned to the side neighbouring his left. Curse
the assailants, they craftily secured the space. Zowdor now
headed to the side neighbouring his right, and, curse the
assailants again, they secured this space as well. The danger
ahead had a meaner cry than that behind; thus, Zowdor
turned and started away from meaner danger.
‘CEASE ATTACKS!’ commanded a prancing Zomo
Nanna, his two hands waving across each other.
‘Conserve the attack!’ Tsambo ordered his men.
‘CEASE!’ roared Zomo Nanna, racing, springing, passing
Zowdor, and prancing to Tsambo’s men.
‘Cease,’ Tsambo told his men. He gave Zomo Nanna a
hideous stare.
‘It’s all about the archer’s mantle,’ stated Zomo Nanna.
‘We are surrounded by warmongers, for that reason a
coward cannot be lorded over our archers. The bogus priest
shall be put in the dimness behind Ninaya’s tomb. Whoever
shatters his breath shall be chief archer of all Taila.’
‘On condition that one of my men shall shoot first?’
Tsambo spoke with a voice trailed by quarrelsome echoes.
Zomo Nanna pondered deeply. ‘Yes,’ he at last accepted.
THAT CUNNING MASK § 151
Twelve men were tasked with transporting Zowdor to the
arena of his execution. These men had clubs and contented
faces. Zowdor laid down his weapon and showed his palms
to this men, telling, ‘You are forevermore doomed. The
blood of a pregnant woman wails for your head, that of an
innocent sailor also, and when I do die, there shall be three
wraiths upon your case, all three wailing for your heads.’
Honks Dikomo, whose head was tucked into the hips of
two Zomo Warriors, ‘Power has already been won by some.
Some have slain the pregnant one, and the homeless sailor.’
‘My men …’ started Tsambo, but was cut off by Zomo
Nanna, who dogmatically said, ‘Killing the living is what we
are about. The dead are dead.’
The twelve carried Zowdor and headed for Ninaya’s
tomb. Once, his crown fell and a Zomo Warrior picked it up.
‘Give me!’ roared Tsambo, pulling the crown and fitting it
back on Zowdor’s head. ‘This crown shall not leave this
skull until an arrow decides where it should go. Until then, it
belongs to none.’
Zomo Nanna shook his eyes.
Zowdor was taken to Ninaya’s tomb and bound to one of
the thinnest trees behind the tomb.
Zomo Nanna’s eyes were an eagle’s eyes. His feet were a
beaver’s tail. His hands were a gorilla’s hands. So he moved
with an able stick, marking a yard, two yards, three yards,
four yards, five yards, ten yards, fifty yards, hundred yards;
and leaving a trail of twenty and hundred yards at the end
of the marking. ‘This is the range, the perfect range,’ he told
Tsambo.
‘My men are very skilled!’ Tsambo frowned and
responded.
The lot in favour of Zowdor’s execution gathered behind
Zomo Nanna’s range-line. Tsambo stood beside Zomo
Nanna, a yard in-between them. Behind Zomo Nanna was
152 § Gabby Ozems
Yomyo and his followers, and Zomo Nanna’s Zomo
Warriors. Behind Tsambo was the Spear Makambes.
Between these two groupings trod Nsora and Dikomo.
‘Who shoots first?’ Nsora put to the two groups.
‘US!’ Tsambo quickly stated, pointing at his chest.
‘In ten counts, they must shoot,’ Zomo Nanna instructed
Nsora.
‘In ten counts, King Tsambo,’ Dikomo said to Tsambo.
Tsambo smiled a dry one. He chose his first archer,
equipped him and placed him before the bound target.
Counts Nsora, ‘One … two … three … four … five … six
…’
Shot!
Darts wide.
‘Aw!’ cries Tsambo.
‘Talentless!’ sniggers Zomo Nanna.
‘You’re next, King Zomo,’ Dikomo clapped. ‘For ten
counts, you shall be in contention of that crown and the
archer’s mantle.’
Zomo Nanna called his first archer; he showed a bow and
arrow to Ninaya’s tomb and gave it to this archer.
Counts Nsora, ‘One … two …’
Shot!
Yards wide.
‘Ey!’ cries Zomo Nanna, throwing a blow that caught his
archer at the nape.
‘Craftless!’ snickers Tsambo.
Round the second. Spear Makambes dart wide. Tsambo
screams, kicking his feet. Zomo Nanna sniggers. Zomo
Warriors shoot wide. Zomo Nanna fists two of his men.
Tsambo snickers.
Round the third. Tsambo’s archer darts terribly wide.
‘Tactless!’ mocks Zomo Nanna, as Tsambo groans. Zomo
THAT CUNNING MASK § 153
Nanna’s archer shoots awfully wide. ‘Unreasonable!’ teases
Tsambo, as Zomo Nanna flies three punches to his men.
Round the fourth. Tsambo coached his archer to the
range-line. The arrow was tensed in the bow.
Counts Nsora, ‘One … two … three … four … five … six
… seven … eight …’
Shot!
Narrowly misses.
‘Great!’ applauded Tsambo. ‘You shall shoot in the next
round. Aim more prudently and the glory shall be ours to
keep.’
‘Never!’ quarreled Zomo Nanna. ‘None shall have a
double shot.’
‘It is a double measure,’ Tsambo returned the grudge. ‘I
thought the quest was for a competent archer? I was wrong,
for if it was, a promising shot would have attracted another
shot.’
‘Anything apart from shooting the target isn’t promising,’
sniggered Zomo Nanna.
‘Nsora, we’re rulers, aren’t we?’ asked Tsambo.
‘We are. We are,’ responded Nsora and Dikomo.
‘So let’s vote,’ Tsambo stamped his right foot.
‘Yes, vote,’ consented the Nuambans.
‘Not now,’ quarreled Zomo Nanna. ‘My men are at the
summit of their energies; needless hesitation will kill their
morale. Nsora, count for me.’
Zomo Nanna put a man at the range-line. Yomyo went
over and whispered into the ear of this man. This man knelt
and tensed an arrow in a bow. He shut one eye and Yomyo
put his palm some inches above the tip of the arrow, as if to
guide the arrow through its whizzy journey.
‘Pity!’ chuckled Tsambo.
Counts Nsora, ‘Lone … two … three … four … five ... six
… seven …’
154 § Gabby Ozems
Released. Zooming. There. Crunch, into the head of the
diadem, halted.
He yowled; the target yowled and pouted painfully,
dangling his head all about, before settling his chin on his
chest.
‘Mat Modidi!’ honked Zomo Nanna, hopping fast,
slapping his laps, kissing his teeth a strain, twisting his
shoulders.
The Zomo Warriors, Yomyo and his men, these did
merriment.
‘Nobody dies this soon?’ debated Tsambo, gyrating forth,
towards the shot target.
‘Lay no hand on my catch!’ quarreled Zomo Nanna,
trailing Tsambo.
That moment, a ghostly gust hit the stillness upon the
growth behind the shot target, awakening bats, owls, and
sparrows.
‘It is no wraith,’ Tsambo comforted Zomo Nanna; the both
of them calling for backup and putting their backups ahead
of them.
Whereupon, a tattered voice squealed, ‘Ni.’
And a weathered one echoed, ‘Ni-ni-ni-ni-ni.’
The journey to the shot target halted.
Then, the tattered voice squealed, ‘Na.’
And the weathered one echoed, ‘Na-na-na-na-na.’
The members of the journey strode backwards, aborting
the journey altogether.
Yet the tattered voice squealed anew; it squealed, ‘Ya.’
And the weathered one echoed, ‘Ya-ya-ya-ya-ya.’
Up shot the gust, from behind the target, descending
before the retreating members of the journey, in the form of
a human skull, and rolling religiously.
Journeymen and their cohorts, off they fled.
‘Die!’ the tattered voice squealed after them.
THAT CUNNING MASK § 155
‘Die-die-die-die!’ the weathered voice echoed upon their
souls.
Ah, but the venue became desolate and deathly as the
ghost towns of Geesa.
It took a while before the tattered voice weaved forth,
entangling the echoes of the weathered voice, shaking every
leaf along its path, till it was two yards away from the shot
target, and here it sobbed like a baby lizard.
‘Yiddi?’ whispered the shot target, contracting and
relaxing its lips. ‘Is that you?’
‘He lives. He rules,’ squealed the tattered voice, crawling
to sit behind the tree to which the shot target was bound.
‘Hey, Yiddi,’ called the shot target, ‘untie me. These ropes
are climbing plants. Break them. Find a stone.’
‘Uono’s done all this doings, good king,’ squealed the
tattered voice.
‘I’m grateful, crafty son of Ninaya,’ Zowdor thanked
Uono. ‘Quickly undo the fasteners.’
Uono pounced on, nay, he meandered onto a knot, fisting
it, chewing it, pulling it, bending it, wrestling it, so that the
knot loosened and disappeared. He meandered onto other
similar knots, depriving them of their curly gracefulness.
Zowdor hopped clean of all his roped limitations. He
drew the arrow from his crown; it was stuck in its lining and
he said to Uono, ‘Come with me; Taila is ensnared.’
‘My days are fully unfolded,’ squeled Uono, meandering
his wrists. ‘Death whispers in my spirit. My bones shrink.
My blood clots. Go, my king. Leave me here, to haunt this
place with my final breath. Live long, king of Taila.’
‘Farewell, wise Uono,’ Zowdor bowed to him.
The duo hugged and parted, the older into the woods, the
younger through the woods.
The assailants were in their flight. Ringed segments were
created by Zomo Nanna and Yomyo, and their men.
156 § Gabby Ozems
Yomyo’s men and most of the Zomo Warriors ringed Nsora,
Dikomo, and Tsambo’s Spear Makambes. Tsambo was
ringed by Zomo Nanna, Yomyo and the remnant of Zomo
Nanna’s men. Tsambo was armed with a club, which Zomo
Nanna smashed away with a bigger club.
‘Your present mischief!’ Tsambo roared and heaved.
‘It is my valediction, Tsambo,’ screeched Zomo Nanna,
showing Tsambo a curved knife.
‘What … do you mean?’ spoke Tsambo, trying to
repossess his club, but was pounded on the wrists till his
hands were incapable of gripping his club.
‘An opportunist is one who prays to his enemy’s god,’
Zomo Nanna did a cold smile and told Tsambo.
Tsambo, his Spear Makambes, Nsora and Dikomo, death
was the end of them all.