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They were assembled in a large hut, next to a crumbling, schoolhouse to which no children
came any more, all of them hard and ruthless men who had seen woeful days and never
forgotten about them.  They were all former formers and united by having been formerly
something that they could no longer be.  They were labourers and lawyers, doctors and
drivers, mechanics and muggers, students and smugglers and men from all walks of a former
life; people condemned to the Pit for any number of reasons including their ethnic heritage and
their political thought, or simply for being on the wrong side of the fence when the call was
sounded and the gates slammed shut; for reasons none of which mattered now.
Some of them took part in the creation of the laws that now classed them less than human.  
Others had built the fortifications and the barricades that now kept them out of the City.  Still
others had enforced the evacuation and ostracised their kin before they too were kicked out of
the City.  They were indignant and intractable men, outraged men with a massive axe to grind,
men who would do anything to be let back in human society.  And they were united in their fear
and loathing of the system which had so publicly rejected and humiliated them.
The Boy, however, knew them for what they were - men so desperate to get out of hell that
they would sign another pact with the Devil.  Men who argued too much about what they could
do, what they should do and what was necessary to do.  Though they spoke the same
language, their meetings were always a cacophony of ideas, ideologies, purposes and egos.  
Among them was a new face, a man with a bandage on his head, and a pained expression on
his face.
They stopped arguing, when the Boy entered the meeting place, and turned on him like a pack
that had found a new prey.
“You are late,” one of them said.
“Where have you been?” asked another.
“How can you keep us waiting?”
“You are always late,” said another.  “Where did you go?”
The Boy, feeling the air of cold desperation that permeated the room, said, “I missed the
house.”
“This house?” exclaimed the Lawyer.  “You missed this house?”
“I was angry,” said the Boy,  “I didn’t look where I was going.”
“Have you been listening to that old fool again?” the Smuggler asked him.
Irrational anger surged through the Boy’s heart.  He fought to control it as he stood by the
doorway looking round the room at the men gathered there.  They sat on the floor and on
wooden crates, on upturned buckets and on the two unmade beds and on anything that could
be sat on.  They leaned on the sooty walls, making them sag outwards.  They were not only
angry but also tired of waiting.  They were tired of waiting for the Boy, weary of waiting for
something to happen to end to their perpetual limbo.  And they were tired, as the Smuggler
often said, of living in the Devil’s anus.  But they could not reach the Devil so they blamed it on
each other and the Boy.
“The Old Man is not a fool,” he said.
“Not a fool?” the man demanded.  “What is he doing here?”
“The same thing you are,” said the Boy.
“He was inside when it happened,” the Smuggler vented.  “He was right in the thick of things,
and what did he do?  He stepped back like a fool, opted out of it all and walked away while the
rest built palaces and castles on the hilltops.  He could have made himself a fortune, been a
bona fide citizen in the City, but what did that old fool do?  He became a poet, a self-appointed
hero of the masses and, of all things, a Pit crier, a singer of dreadful dirges wasting his breath
on any fool that will listen.”
He had many hateful things to say about the Old Man, and he said them with great resentment,
desperation and despair.  The Boy remained calm, and heard him out, for he too knew that it
was true.  The Old Man had been a chief too, with money and power and status.  He had been
there when they changed the constitution, in an underhanded manner, to allow themselves to
rule forever and ever and ever, and he had been there too when the master-plan was drawn
up, when the death militia were formed in every village and commune in readiness for the
massacres to come.  Everyone knew that the Old Man had been summoned by the plotters to
join the interim Government that would later initiate and supervise the killings of hundreds of
thousands of people.  It was even rumoured that he had been offered the vacant presidency
as inducement but had turned it down and consequently sealed his own fate.  He could have
blown the whistle on the plotters and been damned for all time.  But, for whatever reason, he
had not done so; though he claimed to have written numerous reports to human rights watch
and to other organisations and concerned peoples, warning them of the imminence of a
massive bloodshed.  He had no proof of any of it though, for his old life had been razed down
along with his house.  Now people vilified him, or praised him, as convenience and memory
served them, and there was nothing he could do about it.  Still, some were gracious enough to
remind others that he could have kept quiet and continued to eat and grow fat, and to prosper
among the chiefs and the thieves, and the foreign wolves that would eventually eat up the
whole country.  He had chosen, instead, to speak and become a pariah among his fellow
chiefs, a man marked for banishment, and worse, long before the Pit was conceived.
“And you tell me he’s not a fool,” said the former economist to the Boy.
He was bald and had eyes that discharged hate like puss from an infected soul.  His
indignation, as all present knew, stemmed from his resentment at having been locked out of
the system that had enriched his peers beyond human imagination.  And all because he was
different.
He had been a chief economist at the Ministry of Finance, the man in charge of the
Government coffers and a facilitator of that corruption.  He it was who had invented some of
the most diabolical schemes to clean out the Government treasury.  He it was who had
devised, implemented and presided over the worst theft of Government funds in human
history.  At a time when the national economy was in tatters, the central bank on its knees and
the population languishing in poverty, he and the Big Chiefs, their friends and relatives had
conspired with international thieves, for the Government to pay out millions of dollars as export
compensation to non-existent exporters of non-existent gold from a country that did not have
any gold worth mining.  Everyone had got away with it, except himself.  Designated sacrificial
lamb long before he got promoted to the job, he had been unceremoniously dumped by his
chiefs the moment the World Bank asked why.  It hurt him especially hard when, instead of
being publicly honoured, as other master thieves before him had been honoured, he was
publicly vilified and consigned to the Pit like a common criminal, along with the hoards he had
helped impoverish.  And all because he was different.
He who had never harboured any ethnic, racial or sexist sentiments, and would have stolen
with anyone regardless of their origin, had been one of the first casualties of ethnic paranoia.  
It drove him mad to think that he had eaten, drunk and partied with people he considered his
friends, but who were meanwhile plotting to kill him and all his family and friends.  Secure in his
false belief that a civilised, educated and democratically elected leadership did not turn against
the electorate and aid and abet mass murder, the former economist had hobnobbed with some
of the worst mass murderers of all time and never even had a clue.  He did not, and had never,
cared for anyone but himself.  He did not and had never cared for anyone in the Pit.  He
tolerated them as long as they kept to themselves and kept their scabbed brood and their
dogs out of his way.  No one liked him, and he liked no one.  They tolerated him because he
was a man of means and commanded the gangs of smugglers that fed and clothed the Pit.
“There,” the former economist-turned-smuggler spat at the Boy’s feet.  “I spit on your Old Man.”
The Boy, disregarding the provocation, said to him, “You were there too when the Old Man
was there.  What did you do for yourself or for anyone else?”
The Smuggler shot to his feet.
“One more word out of you and I’ll ...”
“Kill me?” asked the Boy.  “Is that all you know to do now, kill anyone who stands in your way?”
The former student stepped between them and said,  “We have better fights to fight today.”
The Student and the Smuggler faced each other. The Smuggler was known for violence, and
for his proficiency with the machete he carried strapped to his waist.  He was bigger than the
Student, but the Student was known for his courage. In his university days, he had led every
vicious confrontation between the police and student protesters and was targeted for
assassination long before the genocide started.  He had a long, scar across his face, where a
genocider had slashed him when he led resistance in the hills.  Stories were told of his valour
and his resourcefulness, and of how he had wrestled the machete from his would-be-killer and
decapitated him with it; of how he had downed dozens more murderers with the same weapon,
while blood flowed like a river down his neck.  Then, it was said, he had taken a gun from the
Colonel who had come out to help the militia and scattered the gang of killers with it.  He would
have killed the whole lot of them had he not collapsed and nearly died from loss of blood.
“I have no quarrel with you,” the Smuggler said to him.  “But where I came from we did not let
boys talk back at men.”
“And see what happened where you came from,” the Student said.
The former teacher and the former farmer rose wearily from their places and stepped between
them.
“Gentlemen,” said the Teacher.  “Let’s behave like civilised men now.”
Gaining their courage from his, the rest of the men stirred and began to speak up.
“Peace,” said the former mechanic.  “We must keep the engine running; let us keep the peace.”
“Peace,” said the formers.
“Peace,” they said.
“There’s nothing to be gained from shedding our own blood,” said the man with the bandage
on his head.
“Nothing at all,” said the formers.
“We have enough enemy to do that for us,” he said.
“Enough enemy,” they agreed.
The Smuggler and the Student glared at each other.  Only the old Teacher, standing like a
rock between them, kept them from tearing each other apart.  The Teacher, who, it was well
known, had braved many machete-wielding militias in the hills and survived, albeit with too
many scars to count, looked on the Smuggler’s machete with apprehension.  The last, the
deepest and the cruellest, machete blow he had received during the entire ninety days of
madness and of facing up to bloodthirsty murderers from dawn to dusk, had been delivered by
a student, his own student, an ace student he had shepherded through algebra and dyslexia
and a lad who had grown to be like a son to him.  A sane and intelligent student who had wept
bitterly as he chopped at his Teacher with a blunt machete while the militia, the headmaster
and fellow teachers urged him on.  Now, as he faced off with another Student and the
Smuggler, the Teacher had nothing but pity for anyone who had committed genocide for fear
of being murdered himself.
Mercifully, the Smuggler returned to his place on the bed and the Student went back to leaning
against the wall.
“Come inside,” said the Teacher to the Boy.
The Boy finally entered and sat on the floor near where the Student stood.
“Gentlemen,” said the Teacher.  “Now that we are all here, we may begin our meeting.”
And so they began.
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The Big Chiefs
HM Productions Intl.                                        All Rights Reserved
copyright 2008 by HM Entertainment Inc.
HM Books cover of The Big Chiefs by Meja Mwangi
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