“All cows eat grass” is a mnemonic in music but for a present-day Nigerian, it means much more. For Femi Otunbade, it was the best way to curb the menace of the nomads from Northern Nigeria.
His music teacher had just drawn the bass clef on the chalk board when a shrill from one of the class rooms caused a stampede. In half a second, everyone was running towards the gate. The teachers left their canes, and their rickety cars as they fled for their lives.
Two days ago, they might not have taken such drastic measure for an ordinary cry but after the bodies of five missing students were found in the school garden, they knew better than to relax when such a cry rang out.
Femi ran as fast as his legs could carry him to his house, which was a few blocks away. His sick mother had begged her only son to always rush home whenever such danger ensued. His father was a welder and returned home late in the evenings, since he usually purchased groceries for the family after each day’s work.
Femi dashed through the front door and took his catapult and went right out the door, without paying any attention to his mother’s plea. Although he could hear her calling him, he proceeded to complete his self-assigned mission of seeking revenge for the death of Damola, one of the victims of the herders.
He returned to the school through a bush track and climbed a tall cashew tree, positioning himself on one of the branches from where he could see everything happening inside the school compound.
About three herders dressed in rags with long sticks placed on their shoulders had released their herd to feed on the school garden and were checking the classrooms for any remnants.
They appeared excited by the adventure and greeted themselves with a sign of peace when one of them led a crop of students out of the sports master’s office. Femi could almost taste their joy.
He shook his head in disappointment and felt his heart leap into his stomach when their whips started falling on the backs of the students whom they had captured. They were three vulnerable students -two blind girls and their guide, a younger boy, who looked remarkably small for a teenager.
A tear dropped from Femi’s eye when the boy sprang off leaving the girls to suffer in the hands of those blood thirsty creatures. His speed was like that of a sprinter and with the way his legs swept the ground, the herders wouldn’t catch up with him if they tried.
The herders shouted something that was inaudible from that distance and the girls shivered in fright and fell on their knees, eating some earth in the process.
His mind began to race as he tried to figure out how best to get them to safety. A distraction was necessary but their number had increased. Four others crept out of the bush and joined them in manhandling the girls and there was no help in sight.
The vigilante usually provided security at night and went about their businesses during the day. So, it was very unlikely for them to show up out of nowhere in the middle of the day.
He aimed his catapult at one of the cows and struck. Although he had been a shooter from childhood, he lost confidence in his weapon and prayed that it hit his target: the fattest cow.
It took about fifty seconds for him to realize that he had injured not only one but two cows and the herders were raking the bushes in search of him. A bright-eyed, lanky fellow whose body barely had any real covering ran straight towards the tree housing him and said aloud, ‘he is here!’ Femi had only seen him when he was a few meters away and had little or no room for escape.
He thought about his mother. Poor woman. She had warned him. His father would die of heart attack. Damola would be sad to see him in the land of the dead when he finally dies. There was nothing he could do at that point except stay still and wait for the others to arrive.
The herder who had discovered him suddenly sighed and ran towards the herd. Another cow had fallen. The others turned sharply and followed him. They seemed to be taking orders from him. Femi watched with interest. There certainly must have been a coincidence.
He only struck once but now, there were three deaths. Just before they reached the cows, two more had slumped. Ah! His curiosity peaked. It couldn’t have been the two blind girls. They were still buried in dust and writhing in pains. Could it have been the boy? He waited.
One of the herders picked a metallic object and showed the others who scrutinized it. It was a metal gong. What was it doing in the school garden? As they tried to make sense of it, two more cows died. Now, they were terrified.
Femi caught them gazing in his direction and wondered if they had suddenly forgotten about the blind girls or if they felt that he would be in a good position to unravel the mystery behind their discovery.
Hot, peppery fluid escaped from his pants and he began to make his way down the tree. His bravery was over. His parents still loved him. Damola would understand that there was only so much a fifteen year old could do.
Just before he jumped down the tree, he looked in the direction of the blind girls but there was no sign of them. Mogbe! Had he not just seen them lying in mud pleading for their lives? He slowly turned towards the herders and saw only a cow standing. The others were dead and the nomads were fighting among themselves.
Suddenly, it dawned on him. The metal gong was laced with charms to kill the herders who were notorious for destroying farm produce and all that was needed to activate the charms was one brave person. The gods had heard his plea to avenge the blood of his best friend, Damola and thought him a worthy servant for such a worthy cause.
He felt great pride as he strolled to the herders who we’re now all dead and took the only surviving cow to the shrine of the chief priest. Everyone who saw him pulling the stubborn animal prostrated and showered him with praises, with their faces shining like polished sculpture.