LIFE! WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA
BA JOE was now a week old in the Kamfinsa remand prison in Kitwe and was quickly getting used to its harsh conditions.
He had been appearing in the Kitwe magistrateâ€™s court for alleged possession of property suspected to have been stolen or unlawfully obtained, and was waiting for his next appearance for continued trial.
This particular day he and other inmates were â€˜relaxingâ€™ outside the cell block (icitolokoshi), unaware that there was one task he was yet to accomplish before earning his full acceptance.
One of the kapitaoâ€™s (cell captainâ€™s) henchmen accosted him and said, â€œBakaamba Ba Joe, lelo nimwe muletushimikila akashimi ubushiku (big man Joe, tonight it is your turn to tell us a fable).â€
He explained to Ba Joe that each of the other cell mates had already told a fable.
Ba Joe had been a good story teller in St Anthony compound, near Chachacha township, but he couldnâ€™t remember when he last told a fable.
A fable is a story that conveys a moral lesson, usually with animals as the characters.
Ba Joe rummaged through the nooks and niches of his memory to come up with one, but he couldnâ€™t remember any.
The kapitaoâ€™s henchman was aware of the struggle raging in the manâ€™s head and warned him, â€œYour story has to be clear and convincing. Anything short of that attracts punishment. It has to please the kapitao and his â€˜aidesâ€™.â€
Ba Joe took the warning seriously, very seriously for he knew the consequences of doing otherwise.
He finally settled for the easiest character, Kalulu the hare. He had heard so many stories about Kalulu and his exploits.
By the time the â€˜courtâ€™ was sitting, around 20:00 hours, he had managed to piece together a story he had heard years back in the village when he was a young boy.
The inmates sat in a semi-circle in the overcrowded cell facing the story teller. Ba Joe was directly facing the kapitao and two of his four henchmen.
After the formalities one henchman, a mean looking fellow with an evil squint in his left eye and a scary scar running across his face, gestured to Ba Joe, â€œYou can start your story now.â€
After clearing his throat nervously, Ba Joe bowed and greeted the kapitao, â€œUmucinshi ku cipuna (I hail the chairman).â€
Then he started telling the fable.
â€œPatile akantunse, kaikele ngefi (once upon a time), there was a kingdom where animals lived happily and had abundant food. Ubushiku bumo Ka Kalulu kaimine ukuya kuli Ba Nkalamo (one day small Kalulu went to visit Mr Lionâ€¦,â€ he said, but before he could continue a gesture from the kapitaoâ€™s henchman cut him short.
â€œStop there; you just said Ka Kalulu (small Kalulu). That is a very serious offence. You canâ€™t say â€˜Ka Kaluluâ€™. Itâ€™s an insult. Ni Ba Kalulu (itâ€™s Mr Kalulu),â€ scar-face said.
The henchman explained that among the inmates Kalulu the hare was a revered name because of his ingenuity and creativity. The animal was to always be referred to as Mr Kalulu.
After explaining to Ba Joe the offence he had committed the henchman handed the â€˜caseâ€™ over to the kapitao, who had now assumed the role of a judge or magistrate.
In a grave voice the kapitao said, â€œIcilye cakusanga no mulandu wakutuka Ba Kalulu (the court has found you guilty of insulting Mr Kalulu). Do you have anything to say in mitigation before I sentence you?â€
Ba Joe turned to one of the kapitaoâ€™s henchmen, who had been acting as the â€˜defence counselâ€™ for the inmates on the lines of the Legal Aid Board.
The â€˜counselâ€™ said, â€œMwe cilye (your honour), the convict has found himself in this situation for the first time. No one had warned him that it is an offence to belittle Mr Kalulu.
â€œI therefore appeal to this honourable court to exercise maximum leniency on him.â€
The kapitao leaned forward and raised his hand sagely. â€œI have heard the mitigation from your â€˜defence lawyerâ€™,â€ he said. I have also taken into consideration the fact that you are a first offender.
â€œBut the offence you have committed is a serious one, and this court has a duty to protect the name of our beloved Mr Kalulu. I therefore sentence you to ifidindo fibili (two thumps on the back with an open palm), and you will forfeit tomorrowâ€™s meal.
â€œYou do not have any right of appeal here.â€
Scar-face stepped forward and ordered Ba Joe, â€œYou may bend now so that we carry out the sentence.â€
Ba Joe did not have a choice but to comply. After stoically receiving the punishment he continued telling the story, every now and then wincing from the pain in the back.
Life was not rosy at Kavey in the 1980s bane.
LIFE! WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA