Mamalego was the pillar that held our home. The glue that gummed us together. The guard that kept us safe. The light that brightened our paths. The reason we are who we are. The one who kept dad grounded at all times, in more ways than one.
She exemplified the true meaning of a virtuous woman. She was beautiful, kind in her deeds and with her words. It was her act of benevolence and selflessness that earned her the name Mamalego aka Mama let them chop!
There is this story that Mamalego and grandma always told. It was a story of when she had a close shave with death.
It was planting season. Three young boys had volunteered to help grandma with planting yam on one of her farms. However, that morning, a violent mad man escaped from home and ran into the bush.
His escape shot a wave of panic through the whole village and a lot of people canceled their plans of going to the farm. But grandma — ever so fearless and fierce — against all warnings, headed to the farm with a 3-month-old Mamalego and the three young boys.
She’d later blame herself for not staying back. She’d wished she had listened and stayed at home.
The farm was a walking distance from the village. Grandma had joked that morning that if she ran into any trouble she’d call on those at home for help. The farm, she said, was so close to home that if she screams those at home would hear. The joke might have been funny when she said it. But it wasn’t when she ran into trouble and screamed so loud that her lungs literally hurt but no one from the village heard her.
Not too long after they arrived, the loon showed up, machete in hand and death in his eyes. The man, renowned for extreme violence due to his mental condition, was related to grandma somehow. They were distant cousins.
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Grandma and the young boys were planting the yam, Mamalego was sleeping peacefully under a nearby shade when the loon suddenly appeared from nowhere.
He said he was very tasty and needed water. But grandma’s gallon of water was not in sight. It was inside the hut close to the boundary (you know the one built with wood and bamboo.)
The loon had walked in from the direction of the hut. Apparently, he had been there and had seen the gallon of water. He knew, to be able to fetch it, grandma would have to leave him alone with the kids.
Grandma tried to get him to go back and get the water himself. But the loon refused. Grandma then asked one of the boys to go get the water, again the loon said no. He wanted grandma to do it.
Afraid, and sensing that the loon was up to some mischief, grandma stylishly asked the boys to run for their dear lives. She then picked up a sleeping Mamalego but as she turned her back to the loon, he began to cut her repeatedly. Not the cry of the baby nor the screams of the mother could get him to stop.
He chased after grandma with so much rage and fury that made grandma declare that it was more than just madness that possessed him.
As the loon was chasing grandma through the farm, one man who was at his farm a stone thrown from grandma’s heard her screaming and came to inquire what was going on. But the moment he set eyes on grandma in a pool of blood, he took to his heels. He later said he was shocked and plummeted and didn’t know what to do.
Grandma and Mamalego would have died that day save for an Iwela man, who was taping palm nut close by. It was him that kept bellowing at the loon to stop while he hurriedly came down from the tree and ran to Grandma’s aid. He held his machete and threatened to kill the loon if he dares comes close.
While the Iwela man battles the loon, grandma escaped and ran to the village. By then, Mamalego has lost all five fingers in her left hand and Grandma had a lifetime scar on her back.
Grandma and Mamalego were rushed to the hospital and a search party was sent to the farm to retrieve Mamalego’s missing fingers. They found all but one. Grandma would later find the decayed bone inside one of the holes they had dug for yam.
Mamalego would spend the rest of her days without a finger.
Every time I heard Mamalego or grandma tell this story, I picture the farm, the bags of yam heads, the loon, the machete, the boys running in the bush not knowing what would become of those they left behind, the pool of blood that marked grandma’s part as she ran. I picture the shock in her eyes when she saw the loon on her farm, I imagine the pains that she went through. The desperation and the cry for help. I picture Mamalego, before the attack, sleeping peacefully under the shade, oblivious to what was coming. I picture her lying in the hospital bed with all her fingers gone. And I feel so thankful for the miracle of life.
Mamalego was a very good storyteller. If only she sort a career in writing, you would have rivaled the Stephen Kings of this world. Mamalego recounted this same story over and over again — and expect for days when she is angry or busy, she never got tired of sharing the details of an incident that she didn’t witness. She tells it so vividly that right now, as I type this, I wish I can hear her tell the story one more time.
Mamalego was the woman with the missing finger but…. to be continued.